The Last Speaker of Taushiro.

Nicholas Casey writes for the NY Times about Amadeo García García, the last speaker of Taushiro (also known as Pinche or Pinchi), and how he and his language got to this point:

The waters of the Peruvian Amazon were once a vast linguistic repository, a place where every turn of the river could yield another dialect, often completely unintelligible to people living just a few miles away. But in the last century, at least 37 languages have disappeared in Peru alone, lost in the steady clash and churn of national expansion, migration, urbanization and the pursuit of natural resources. Forty-seven languages remain here in Peru, scholars estimate, and nearly half are at risk of disappearing.

I came to the river outpost of Intuto, 10 hours by speedboat from the nearest city, to figure out how the Taushiro, like so many other cultures, had been brought to this kind of end. The journey began in forgotten linguistic papers and historical sketches. It even led me to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, where a retired Christian missionary rummaged through the last existing pictures of the Taushiro, nearly coming to tears as she looked through them for the first time in years.

And it brought me here, to the banks of a silty brown river, where the cumulative experience of the Taushiro people swung alone in a hammock: A man around 70 whose memory was fading and whose grasp of the language was slipping away because he had no one to speak it with. […]

Now Amadeo lives alone in a clapboard house behind the town’s water tower, spending many of his final days drinking. Desperate to speak and hear whatever Taushiro he can, he sits alone on his porch in the morning, reciting the only literature ever written in the language — verses of the Bible translated into Taushiro by missionaries who sought to convert the tribe years ago.

Ine aconahive ite chi yi tua tieya ana na’que I’yo lo’, he read aloud one morning. It was the story of Lot from the Book of Genesis. Lot and his family become the sole survivors of their city when God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot loses his wife when she looks back at the destruction, against the instructions of God.

It’s a sad story, but well written and well worth reading. Thanks, Eric and ryan!

Comments

  1. I have a question for readers – a woman who was documenting the Taushiro language and also trying to convert the remnants of the tribe to Christianity ended up adopting the 5 children of the last speaker and bringing them to Puerto Rico, at a time when the man, divorced, disconsolate and alcoholic, had just experienced the kidnapping of his 9 year old daughter by sex traffickers (she was rescued and returned to him), then given the kids to a local orphanage, which in turn was unable to handle all the kids in need of a home.

    Two of the children were gone for 4 years (the others may have stayed in Puerto Rico – it’s not clear.) These two – Jonathan and Daniel Garcia Garcia, returned, so they seem to have spent most of their adolescence in proximity to their father, yet still didn’t pick up any of the language. Which suggests to me that the father either wasn’t speaking much Taushiro to them or wasn’t spending much time with them.

    Notably, the mother was from a different tribe and language background, and abandoned the family to return to her village. So they had probably been raised in a third language, itself isolated.

    A linguist is quoted as saying that in any academic circle, taking the kids to Puerto Rico would be considered unethical.

    I find this statement shocking. Yes, the language died out in the aftermath of this ‘event.’ But it seemed very likely to have died out anyway, probably without any of the kids learning the language even if they had stayed in the provincial Peruvian town where the father was living.

    I find it hard to believe that the typical academic would say it would be more ‘ethical’ to let the kids languish, in a linguistic environment that was predominantly Spanish by then anyway, and a social environment in which they were getting little attention from their father and also little from the overstretched orphanage where they were living.

    Perhaps I’ve loaded the terms of the argument. But read the article and then see what you think.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    ryan,

    I read the article on Facebook as a linguist posted a link to it. It is a very sad tale with the father himself having gone through several life disruptions which made him unable to look after a family.

    Anyway, I too was shocked about the “unethical” comment. It is hard to say whether the linguist quoted was shocked by the removal of the children “away from their culture” (or what was left of it) or by the fact that they would not learn their father’s language (by staying under conditions which made it impossible for them to do so anyway).

  3. The key to saving language is saving people who used to speak it and documenting the language.

    It doesn’t matter if the language stops being spoken for a generation or two, it can always be revived if there are people who consider it their heritage and if there is something left (books, dictionaries, recordings) from which they can learn it later.

  4. It doesn’t matter if the language stops being spoken for a generation or two, it can always be revived if there are people who consider it their heritage and if there is something left (books, dictionaries, recordings) from which they can learn it later.

    That’s very far from the truth, unfortunately.

    Even with the best documentation, it’s spectacularly difficult to get the momentum going for language to be reestablished. It’s much harder even than to get already-fluent speakers to pass the language to their children, which is hard enough, even with documentation and state support.

  5. It’s difficult, but not impossible. It was done with Miami language, for example (native English speaking tribe members learned the extinct language from 19th century grammars and dictionaries and successfully revitalized it).

    On the other hand, if all people who used to speak a particular language have died out without leaving any descendants, no one would ever be interested in reviving it at all.

  6. ə de vivre says:

    Wait, do you guys not see anything potentially unethical about a missionary using their position of power to unilaterally decide to take indigenous children away from their community?

  7. marie-lucie says:

    I agree with Y.

    Exceptions exist, but they are few and far between. I know of one: the Miami language (not spoken in Florida but a member of the Algonquian family), which is being revived in a community thanks to the efforts of Darryl Baldwin, a tribal member who studied linguistics in order to start revitalizing this language, which had not been spoken for generations but for which there were a lot of (mostly missionary) documents.

    Getting fluent speakers to pass on the language to their children when the normal way they speak to them is in English, French, Spanish or whatever the country’s main language is, is very difficult, because a) it is unnatural to start speaking in a different language from the one already used for normal communication between parent and child; b) competent native speakers (meaning anyone above the age of 5 or 6) have no idea how they themselves acquired their mother tongue, they only remember learning some items of vocabulary or the proper way to speak to certain people (elders, strangers, etc) at a much later age than that of first acquisition; c) competent speakers tend to want to teach individual words, or standard phrases (greetings, thank you, and such), not realizing that such items will not teach learners to create even simple sentences in order to carry on some form of conversation; d) fluent speakers tend to make fun of learners’ pronunciation, thus discouraging learners from trying, and themselves from persevering in their teaching task.; e) for an untrained person, “teaching” a language (especially their own) means providing individual items, often through translation, and encouraging the learner to use the words within sentences in the dominant language, which is also used for description, explanation and encouragement, so that the learner gets minimal if any exposure to the language to be learned, outside of the individual items. These are only some of the obstacles, which are often present both singly and in combination, the result being that very few people (born linguists!) get to achieve more than a minimal level of proficiency.

    Still, “minimal” is better than “none”, and in many communities there are gifted people who may be able to build upon even a limited foundation.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    ə de vivre : Wait, do you guys not see anything potentially unethical about a missionary using their position of power to unilaterally decide to take indigenous children away from their community?’

    I see what you mean. I had been struck by the fact that it was “a linguist” who criticized the move, and I assumed that he probably was talking about the (potential) loss of language documentation (which the lady missionary had been involved in for years with the children’s father).

    The situation described in the article, not just about Amadeo but about the community, is horrendous, and the children had been left to fend for themselves before their father handed them over to the orphanage, which could no longer keep them, so there was no place for them in the village, not even with their father, who had no relatives there, and even less with their mother who had left them all. The missionary woman who was persuaded to adopt them was also under heavy pressure, rather than exerting her “power” (which belonged to her order more than to herself). She must have needed the father’s approval in order to legally adopt. I am not trying to defend her, but this was a very difficult situation with no obvious solution.

  9. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    It doesn’t matter if the language stops being spoken for a generation or two, it can always be revived if there are people who consider it their heritage and if there is something left (books, dictionaries, recordings) from which they can learn it later.

    The only successful example I can think of is Hebrew, but I suspect that it bears little resemblance to the Hebrew that was spoken when it was still an everyday language. (Does anyone know better?)

    There are claimed to be people who still speak Provençal, but whenever I’ve heard it, for example at a Provençal mass in Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, it is spoken with a strong French accent — clearly people who had learned it as adults.

    There is a big effort to revive Cornish, but I don’t think anyone speaks it as a living language. (Incidentally I’m not of Cornish ancestry, except very remotely: “Cornish” is not a Cornish name, and insofar as it exists in Cornwall it has been brought by immigrants from Devon.)

  10. In the hierarchy of ethics human life and well-being always come before language. The death of a spoken language is sad for various reasons. The community that used to speak it loses an important part of its identity; the linguists lose an irreplaceable source of data; the world’s pied beauty becomes a little less pied. But if most of the native speakers become bilingual and then gradualy shift their allegiance away from their indigenous language, if they stop using it at home and let its system attrite through imperfect transmission, there’s little we can do to save it.

    Recently we witnessed the death of Livonian, a Finnic language spoken in Latvia. It showed signs of revival during Latvian independence (1918-1939), followed by a dramatic setback under the Soviet rule. After the collapse of the Soviet Union it was officially protected by the Latvian state and European instiututions, it was taught locally in schools and at several universities (in Latvia as well as abroad), a Livonian Culture Centre was founded, a newsletter and volumes of Livonian poetry were published, etc. But the number of people considering themselves ethnic Livonians had meanwhile dropped to just about 200, just a few of them still spoke Livonian as their mother tongue, and we saw them go one by one, until the last true native speaker died in Canada in 2013, aged 103. There are still linguistic experts, some young Livonians and miscellaneous other enthusiasts who speak Livonian as their second language. There is even an active Livonian-language website, so, in a way, the language still enjoys an afterlife of sorts, but I doubt if remains even potentially viable.

    Even much larger and more vigorous language communities (Frisian, Welsh, Upper and Lower Sorbian, Kashubian, etc.) are seriously endangered. What kills them is asymmetrical bilingualism, a declining proportion of home language use and, as a result, a reduced rate of successul transmission between generations. Decade by decade, the average speaker age rises, showing a drift towards extinction. And I’m talking of European languages still spoken in their historical homelands, with hothouse protection, funding and institutional support available.

  11. Trond Engen says:

    Hebrew is special in

    a) having had a continuous tradition and wide distribution as a ceremonial and literary language.

    b) being first revived by a small community of dedicated idealists with deep understanding of the language and its history.

    c) being adopted by a newly founded, amalgamating state with no other common language of last resort.

    c) being very much felt as a source of national pride and cultural cohesion by people fleeing the increasing Anti-Semitism in Europe in the early 20th century. And then by people having survived its culmination.

    On point a) and (especially) b) there are no lack of parallels, from Irish to Classical Chinese, but without the socio-linguistics of c) and d), they haven’t got far.

    A case like Maori is different. Here the community managed to engineer a new socio-linguistic environment before the language was completely dead. But the geography of Hawaii was obviously helpful.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    The only successful example I can think of is Hebrew, but I suspect that it bears little resemblance to the Hebrew that was spoken when it was still an everyday language. (Does anyone know better?)

    Modern “Israeli” has been called snarky things like “a Slavic language in search of a Semitic past” or “relexified Yiddish”. These are exaggerated, but Modern Hebrew is noticeably “Westernized” in grammar and phonology. Like… there’s a word that translates as “of”; AFAIK, you’re not likely to find a good old construct state outside the Bible anymore.

    Hebrew is special in

    And even so, it was lucky in that the people who considered (and still consider) the Sacred Language too sacred for everyday purposes weren’t numerous or powerful enough to stop the whole process.

    But the geography of Hawaii was obviously helpful.

    Less so than the one of New Zealand, though. 🙂

  13. If Classical Hebrew had remained in use as a spoken language past the Mishnaic stage, it would have changed beyond recognition by now anyway.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    David M: [Hebrew] was lucky in that the people who considered (and still consider) the Sacred Language too sacred for everyday purposes weren’t numerous or powerful enough to stop the whole process.

    Yes, “sacredness” is another obstacle to keeping a language alive. As if the ancient Hebrews had not used their language every day for the most mundane purposes as well as for religious ones. For people to call the language of their grandparents “sacred” is an indication that it has already fallen out of common use and is well on its way to being forgotten.

  15. Trond Engen says:

    Sacred Language

    Yes, I forgot that.

    geography of Hawaii [and New Zealand]

    I guess it’s also a point that for obvious reasons it’s not easy for someone of aboriginal descent to choose a non-aboriginal identity, or to switch back-and-forth between identities, and thereby escape the expectations of the community.

  16. J.W. Brewer says:

    One issue here is that it doesn’t sound like there’s a larger group of people currently around who self-identify as having a Taushiro ethnic identity even though they don’t speak the ancestral language, and thus no natural candidates to develop an interest in revival. Some ethnic groups shift languages while remaining identifiable groups; others just disappear as groups (whether by death or assimilation or intermarriage or etc).

    To Trond’s point, NZ is perhaps atypical in that the main islands were inhabited as of European arrival by just one “aboriginal” group with a single language (with some tribal/clan/what-have-you subdivisions). In the Americas where there was a plethora of smaller indigenous groups, members of smaller groups that fell upon hard times did on occasion amalgamate with or get assimilated into larger or luckier groups even if e.g. factors like skin color kept them from just assimilating into the dominant non-aboriginal community. (Skin color worked out differently historically in much of Central/South America than in much of North America, although I guess there are still visual clues marking the barrier between the mestizo majority and the “indios” of unmixed ancestry and perhaps less-assimilated culture.)

  17. The “Israeli” tag is to me just wannabe-clever sophistry by Zuckermann. A paper by Amir Zeldes (Is Modern Hebrew Standard Average European? The view from European. Linguistic Typology 17(3):439, 2013, Preprint here) does cluster analysis on several European and Semitic languages using 13 common features of Haspelmath’s “Standard Average European”, and finds that Israeli Hebrew clusters with Biblical Hebrew, then with Standard Arabic, and finally with European languages: ( ((Biblical Hebrew, Modern Hebrew), Arabic), (Slavic, (Yiddish, (SAE, German))) ).
    Mishnaic Hebrew is certainly distinct from Biblical Hebrew, and much of that is due to deep and long-lasting Aramaic influence. It and Modern Hebrew do not require a distinct name any more than Shakespeare’s English does.

    The construct state is used plenty, but in more restricted environments than in older varieties.

  18. (Skin color worked out differently historically in much of Central/South America than in much of North America, although I guess there are still visual clues marking the barrier between the mestizo majority and the “indios” of unmixed ancestry and perhaps less-assimilated culture.)

    I’ve read that in Peru and southern Mexico this is often not the case, and that a given (Spanish-speaking) self-identified mestizo may well have greater indigenous ancestry than a given (e.g. Zapotec-speaking) self-identified Indian. I was surprised myself to learn that over 80% of total Peruvian ancestry is indigenous, despite (cultural) mestizos being in the majority.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    Preprint here

    A good paper! I have a few quibbles about the presentation of German, but they don’t change the conclusions.

    The construct state is used plenty, but in more restricted environments than in older varieties.

    Ah, thanks.

  20. @David Marjanović: In addition to what Y said . . . regarding this:

    > […] Modern Hebrew is noticeably “Westernized” in grammar and phonology. Like… there’s a word that translates as “of”; […]

    But that word occurs in the Mishna, with the same meaning as today; so it long predates the “Westernization” that you view it as evidence of. (It’s more common in Modern Hebrew than in the Mishna; but that just means that Modern Hebrew has continued a trend that began at least 1,800 years ago.)

    There’s no denying that Modern Hebrew has been influenced by European languages, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of wrongly assuming that a given difference between Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew is a result of such influences. Quite a few European languages have moved from using a genitive case to using a word that means “of”, but for some reason no one ever attributes that to influence from Hebrew . . . 😛

  21. Trond Engen says:

    I didn’t mean to claim any universality. Just that in a multi-lingual society with only one ethno-linguistic identity available per aboriginal, uh, folk phenotype, it should be easier to engineer a socio-linguistic force for revival, since people can’t conveniently use the dominant language outside the family or local community and expect it to be taken in good faith as helpfulness with strangers.

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I was surprised myself to learn that over 80% of total Peruvian ancestry is indigenous, despite (cultural) mestizos being in the majority.

    If you watch the weather forecast on television in Chile it is likely to be presented by a young blonde woman with blue eyes, even though such people are rare in the general population. I’ve not watched television in Peru, Ecuador or Bolivia but I’m told that you can make the same observation in countries with even smaller proportions than Chile of young blonde women with blue eyes.

    I didn’t notice any such thing in Colombia, but that may just mean that in Santa Marta you know that it’s going to be hot and humid the next day, so you don’t need to watch television to find out.

  23. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    If Classical Hebrew had remained in use as a spoken language past the Mishnaic stage, it would have changed beyond recognition by now anyway.

    What about Aramaic? Has it changed beyond recognition in 2000 years? (I don’t know: I’m asking, not expressing an opinion.)

  24. Neo-Aramaic is a cluster of languages which in turn are networks of dialects, not always mutually intelligible. Their relationship to the literary “Classical” varieties is at least as complicated as that of the Modern Indo-Aryan languages to Vedic and Classical Sanskrit. The modern vernaculars are not direct descendants of the literary languages of the past, and the latter do not necessarily reflect any particular spoken variety of Old or Middle Aramaic. Just to give you an idea of how different they can be, here’s The Lord’s Prayer in Western Neo-Aramaic and in Classical Syriac.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Neo-Aramaic#Sample_of_Lord's_Prayer

  25. David Marjanović says:

    it’s easy to fall into the trap of wrongly assuming that a given difference between Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew is a result of such influences.

    Indeed, that’s what most of the preprint is about! Good to know “of” is another example.

  26. >“Cornish” is not a Cornish name, and insofar as it exists in Cornwall it has been brought by immigrants from Devon

    I thought the whole point of the cornwall was to keep out the immigrants from Devon. Do such walls not work?

    The Miami example is interesting, but there is a very significant difference – Miami is v. closely related to other extant, spoken languages. That had to give them a leg up. I still suspect that a great many constructions have to be imagined from scratch today by 2nd-language speakers of Miami. Some say the point of sustaining an endangered language is mostly to sustain the endangered worldview it expresses. While worldviews probably evolve quite a bit more quickly than languages at any rate, it is hard to see how a 2-generations on re-inflation of a dead language could possibly revive any significant part of that, rather than simply allowing English concepts to be lexified in Miami.

  27. >Just to give you an idea of how different they can be, here’s The Lord’s Prayer in Western Neo-Aramaic and in Classical Syriac.

    >https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Neo-Aramaic#Sample_of_Lord's_Prayer

    Thanks. That’s interesting.

    I’m pretty sure I saw a Taushiro Lord’s Prayer in looking around for more info. I think in lieu of Swadesh lists, languages should always be compared on the basis of how the Lord’s Prayer translates!

  28. I just thought I’d add something I find interesting about the Miami – Taushiro apposition. There is a high degree of intermarriage between indigenous groups, both in the US and in South America.

    For Miami, this was presumably very helpful, as there must have been Miami-leaning people who were at least acquainted with Ojibwa (with a pretty large population of speakers), and likely some from other related Algonquian languages. Potawotami still seems to be spoken, for instance.

    For Taushiro, intermarriage worked the opposite way. At some point, the number of speakers becomes so small that outmarriage is almost required, and if outmarriage is between speakers of different, isolated, endangered languages, it seems likely that children end up hearing more, learning more of the one that is least endangered. I suspect that’s exactly what happened with Amadeo’s children – that while Spanish was an impediment to their learning Taushiro, the bigger impediment was their mother’s language, and the relative difficulty of holding onto three languages when one of them was so infrequently useful.

    Unlike with Miami, there were no related language communities to outmarry with.

  29. Trond Engen says:

    Bible translations are very useful, since they allow comparison of grammar as well as lexicon. But for the exact wording of a passage, there are just too many variables. As well as arbitrary choices between synonyms, and different syntax because the cognate structures have subtly different meanings, a difference between closely related languages is likely to reflect pragmatic issues like continuity or conscious breaks with older traditions. Even more so in a passage as central as the Lord’s Prayer.

  30. I think in lieu of Swadesh lists, languages should always be compared on the basis of how the Lord’s Prayer translates!

    Believe me, I looked hard for suitable parallel texts before I gave up and settled for the Lord’s Prayer.

  31. Of course instead of an illustrative example one could present a list of sound changes betweem Middle Aramaic and (different varieties of) Neo-Aramaic, lexical innovations and borrowings, morphosyntactic changes, etc.

  32. Trond Engen says:

    I think it’s fine. I love that kind of one-glance-explanation. It just shouldn’t be overinterpreted. Or maybe I mean underanalysed.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    While Cornish obviously isn’t a Cornish name, I’d guess it’s a Devonian* name for people who(se ancestors) were (supposed to be) from Cornwall…

    * Sorry.

    I thought the whole point of the cornwall was to keep out the immigrants from Devon. Do such walls not work?

    Only if Mexico pays for them.

    I think in lieu of Swadesh lists, languages should always be compared on the basis of how the Lord’s Prayer translates!

    That’s the traditional way to do it, popular since the 18th century at the very least. But apart from cultural issues, the greatest trouble with this is the vocabulary: a large part consists of very specific theological concepts which most languages have no established way of expressing (and most of the rest use loans).

    Another tradition uses Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s a bit short, though, and the abstract, poetic vocabulary can be hard to render precisely. For example, you plainly can’t translate the thing into my German dialect, you can at best circumscribe it: the closest we come to “are endowed with” is “have”, the only way I can come up with to render “act towards” has a contemptive undertone (because literally it’s “to stage oneself”), and “a spirit of brotherhood” – a what of what now???

    Yet another, apparently limited to FYLOSC dialectology, uses Schleicher’s fable. Nice basic vocabulary… basic for cultural children of the Fertile Crescent. Transpose it to Australia, and it fails.

    Swadesh’s and all similar lists run into issues of synonymy and polysemy, too, on occasion, and of course they hardly contain any grammar…

  34. David Marjanović says:

    “stage” as in “to stage a theater play”, in my comment that’s currently in moderation.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    I think in lieu of Swadesh lists, languages should always be compared on the basis of how the Lord’s Prayer translates!

    Having been given a book with more than 200 versions of the Lord’s Prayer, I was glad to be able to take advantage of it when I taught historical/comparative linguistics.

  36. The Lord’s Prayer is certainly the most available text in many languages thanks to evangelisation. However, its linguistic usefulness may be jeopardised by the use of archaising or high level poetic register. For that reason, and no doubt for idelogical reasons, my 1955 copy of Kondrashov’s “Slavjanskie jazyki” uses a passage from Ostrovskij’s “Kak zakalajals’ stal'”.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    archaising or high level poetic register

    And quite extremely so in a few cases. In German, it still begins with Vater unser, a word order that hasn’t been remotely grammatical in easily a thousand years.

    Edit: oh, what might have saved it for so long could have been reinterpretation of unser as the genitive instead of the possessive pronoun, nudged along by an unambiguous occurrence of the former in erbarme dich unser “have mercy on us”. The genitive of personal pronouns is merely garden-variety “archaising or high-level poetic register”.

  38. January First-of-May says:

    The traditional Russian version of the Lord’s Prayer is directly written in Old Church Slavonic (not really even trying to be Russian); some of it kind of makes sense as archaic Russian (such as the opening phrase, Отче наш, or the last two lines), some, to the best of my knowledge, still does not.

    I’m sure there’s a probably version in regular Russian somewhere, but I have no idea what the wording may be, and I very much doubt that it is actually used as a prayer.

  39. Biblical Hebrew, Mishnaic Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, English, German, and many other languages can mark nominal possession by several mechanisms, such as inflection, a possessive particle, or plain juxtaposition. The choice of mechanism may depend on things like animacy and definiteness, or on pragmatic factors. In Biblical Hebrew the dative clitic l= is used when the possessed is indeterminate and the possessor is determinate, e.g. be:n lǝyišai ‘a son of Jesse’ (1Sm 16:18). This l= later merged with the relativizer še= to form the genitive preposed particle šel (i.e. ‘which is of’), of Mishnaic through Modern Hebrew. It hasn’t displaced the construct case entirely, and in fact there is a possessive which uses both šel and the construct case.

  40. Believe me, I looked hard for suitable parallel texts before I gave up and settled for the Lord’s Prayer.

    Piotr, what was that for?

  41. If you watch the weather forecast on television in Chile it is likely to be presented by a young blonde woman with blue eyes, even though such people are rare in the general population .

    I once watched Russian TV weather forecast presented by a young black man (strangely with a very Russian surname Zaytsev).

    Indeed, young blonde woman wouldn’t surprise anyone on Russian TV, so you go for something more exotic.

  42. Y: For the contrasting Neo-Aramaic / Syriac / Hebrew parallel text that Piotr linked above.

  43. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    While Cornish obviously isn’t a Cornish name, I’d guess it’s a Devonian* name for people who(se ancestors) were (supposed to be) from Cornwall…

    Yes. Robert Cornyshe, my great^12 grandfather, was already in Devon by about 1500. No doubt his ancestors had come from Cornwall a generation or two earlier. They wouldn’t give the surname “Cornish” to someone who lived in a place were everyone was Cornish. The name is common in Devon, just as “Devenish” is rare in Devon but is found in Somerset.

    George Stewart’s Names on the Land (1945) has many examples to illustrate the same principle in relation to place names.

  44. Speaking of translations of the Lord’s Prayer, I wonder what the Pope means when he says that ‘lead us not into temptation’/’ne nous soumets pas à la temptation’ is a bad translation of ‘μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν’/’ne nos inducas in tentationem’? French Wikipedia has a long section on the sentence, but from what I gather the translation is pretty spot on and the dubious theology is in the original Greek as well.

    (‘Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation’ is the new improved French version, while older non-ecumenical versions were ‘ne nous laissez point succomber à la tentation’ on the Catholic side and ‘ne nous induis point en tentation’ for Protestants).

  45. marie-lucie says:

    zyxt: The Lord’s Prayer is certainly the most available text in many languages thanks to evangelisation. However, its linguistic usefulness may be jeopardised by the use of archaising or high level poetic register

    It depends what you use it for. In my case it was as a rough guide to identifying language families. My students already knew that “related languages have a common ancestor” but not “what makes you think that languages X and Y are related?”. Whether German uses Vater unser or unser Vater is much less relevant to comparison than the fact it uses unser and uns.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    David M: the greatest trouble with this is the vocabulary: a large part consists of very specific theological concepts

    It also has heaven (= sky), earth (= world), bread (= food) and pronouns (free or affixes) for 1st person plural and 2nd person singular. The fact that the prayer has been translated into hundreds of languages shows that the translators did find ways to express the gist of the concepts, not all of which are specifically theological. But judging from one example I know, one problem is how to convey the fact that the prayer is a list of wishes, not a list of future events. “Thy will be done” can easily be misinterpreted (not by an English-speaking missionary, but by a helper, both with a shaky command of each other’s language) as “This will happen”.

  47. In German, it still begins with Vater unser, a word order that hasn’t been remotely grammatical in easily a thousand years.

    I think the influence of the Greek and Latin versions (Πάτερ ἡμῶν, Pater noster) was strong enough to conserve the order of the opening words in so many languages.

    The Polish translation has evolved somewhat over the centuries. The oldest documented versions like Oćcze nasz, jenże jeś na niebiesiech (15th c.) would be hard to understand today. However, if one compares the most popular “early Modern” version by Jakub Wujek (whose translation of the Bible was published in the 1590s) and the official text of the Lord’s Prayer used today, the differences are minimal. In the first line, Ojcze nasz, któryś jest w niebiesiech, the archaic s-stem locative plural has been replaced by the modern phrase w niebie ‘in heaven’. The two variants competed within my memory, and I suspect that w niebiesiech is still usable as a shibboleth to detect extremely conservative Christians. Another significant difference is the translation of et ne inducas nos in tentationem. Wujek chose the mechanically literal translation i nie wwódź nas w pokuszenie, while the modern version has i nie wódź nas na pokuszenie, which somehow sounds more like idiomatic Polish.

    The most recent (“Millennial”) translation of the Bible, regarded as official by the RCC in Poland, goes the whole hog in breaking with the tradition and in abandoning the very idea of Biblical style as different from ordinary literary Polish: i nie dopuść, abyśmy ulegli pokusie ‘and do not let us succumb to temptation’ (anticipating the current suggestions of Pope Francis). The translators also do away with all the time-honoured morphosyntactic archaisms (not really comprehensible to modern readers) like non-periphrasic 3sg. imperatives (święć się ‘be hallowed’ → niech się święci; bądź wola Twoja ‘be Thy will’ → niech się spełni Twoja wola), mobile personal endings (któryś jestktóry jesteś), postnominal possessive pronouns (imię Twoje ‘Thy name’ → Twoje imię; chleba naszego powszedniegonaszego chleba powszedniego ‘our daily bread’), etc. The only archaism they have spared is — guess what? — Ojcze nasz.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Lars: (‘Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation’ is the new improved French version, while older non-ecumenical versions were ‘ne nous laissez point succomber à la tentation’ on the Catholic side and ‘ne nous induis point en tentation’ for Protestants).

    I was hoping someone would bring this up!

    I learned Ne nous laissez pas succomber à la tentation ‘Do not let us yield to temptation’ (with pas, not point which is now archaic). I wonder what the Spanish and Italian equivalents are?

    The so-called “improved” version with entrer en tentation sounds weird to me. You can say entrer en religion ‘to enter a religious order’ or entrer en classe ‘to enter the classroom’ or entrer en scène ‘to enter the stage’ (as an actor in a play), but entrer en tentation is news to me.

    Note that the older Catholic versions used Vous to address God. This was changed to tu at some point. Tu was already used in the Protestant versions, perhaps under English influence.

  49. David Eddyshaw says:

    The modern [Aramaic] vernaculars are not direct descendants of the literary languages of the past,

    According to Häberl, Neo-Mandaic is the direct descendant of Classical Mandaic. (It’s also remarkable in having kept the old perfective flexion.)

  50. David Marjanović says:

    I think the influence of the Greek and Latin versions (Πάτερ ἡμῶν, Pater noster) was strong enough to conserve the order of the opening words in so many languages.

    That’s what I thought, but it didn’t work in English or even French…

  51. Trond Engen says:

    The most recent (“Millennial”) translation of the Bible, regarded as official by the RCC in Poland, goes the whole hog in breaking with the tradition and in abandoning the very idea of Biblical style as different from ordinary literary Polish:

    In Norwegian, the most recent (2011) translation finally replaced Fader vår, du som er i himmelen! with Vår far i himmelen! and Led oss ikke inn i fristelse […] with Og la oss ikke komme i fristelse […]*. The Roman Catholic Church in Norway wants nothing of the sort. After the previous (1980) translation, the Catholic Church chose to keep the 1930 version of the Lord’s Prayer. It also uses a version of the Apostles’ Creed with katolsk “Catholic” rather than allmenn “general, public, broadly rooted”.

    *) The quotes are from the Bokmål version. Simultaneous translations with parallel developments for Nynorsk.

  52. Trond Engen says:

    I’ll add that even Vår far! is really not idiomatic in Norwegian outside stilted literary circles (and Bergen). If the possessive has a place at all, it’s after the noun: Far vår (more rural) or Faren vår (more urban) And none of those would be used like that for addressing a close and caring father. I have toyed with the idea that Jesus’ Abba might be translated as traditional Norwegian han Far. The address form of that would be Du Far!. The Lord’s Prayer, emphasising the collective, could start with Du, Far vår!, which is idiomatic.

  53. I’m sure there’s a probably version in regular Russian somewhere, but I have no idea what the wording may be, and I very much doubt that it is actually used as a prayer.

    My Russian Bible, which is otherwise reasonably modernized, uses strikingly archaic language in Matthew 6:9-13:

    9 Молитесь же так: Отче наш, сущий на небесах! да святится имя Твое;

    10 да приидет Царствие Твое; да будет воля Твоя и на земле, как на небе;

    11 хлеб наш насущный дай нам на сей день;

    12 и прости нам долги наши, как и мы прощаем должникам нашим;

    13 и не введи нас в искушение, но избавь нас от лукавого. Ибо Твое есть Царство и сила и слава во веки. Аминь.

  54. The Church Slavic version, for comparison.

  55. David Marjanović says:
  56. January First-of-May says:

    The Church Slavic version, for comparison.

    The version I’m familiar with ends with the “Russian” phrase from the first half of 6:13 (immediately succeeded by the “amen” line), but the rest of it exactly corresponds to the Church Slavonic.

    My Russian Bible, which is otherwise reasonably modernized

    The so-called Synodal translation (18th century) is essentially the Russian equivalent of the KJV, and much like the latter, it is now somewhat archaic (though not quite as much as the KJV is, because there hadn’t been as much time for the language to change; it also helps that the spelling is, of course, modernized).

    The lines you gave sound about typical for the Synodal text, perhaps a little more archaic than usual. IIRC, however, there are more modern translations as well, so maybe you have one of those…

  57. No, I think it’s the Synodal text, but that bit is much more archaic than most of it. Obviously they were reluctant to mess with the familiar prayer any more than they had to.

  58. Apart from the question of ‘supersubstantial bread’, I don’t know that the LP is so very theological. The Creeds of course are another matter: every clause in the Nicene creed is a way of catching some specific kind of heretic. But most of the LP imagery is pretty straightforward.

    m-l: As we’ve noted before, it is usual to address God as T in all languages (which is why T has survived in English prayer even with the otherwise general loss of T). French is exceptional in this case, and switching to T is moving toward the European and even global norm.

    The reordering of Pater noster in English is probably accounted for by the break in the written tradition at and after the Norman Conquest: the Wessex Gospels have Fæder ūre ca. 995, but by Wyclif’s 1389 translation it is Our fadir, and has remained so.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t know that the LP is so very theological

    Less than the Creeds, obviously, but temptation, salvation, forgiveness etc. still aren’t generally straightforward to render in a language not previously spoken by Christians.

    is probably accounted for by the break in the written tradition at and after the Norman Conquest

    Perhaps, but German had two such breaks, and that wasn’t enough. Admittedly, the breaks, especially the second one, were shorter and less severe than for English – for example, fewer spelling conventions were replaced wholesale.

  60. Trond Engen says:

    David M.: […] temptation, salvation, forgiveness etc. still aren’t generally straightforward to render in a language not previously spoken by Christians.

    From one atheologist to another: It may be exactly opposite. When we are forced to peel off all the religious or theological baggage, the metaphors are live with human experience. ‘Temptation’ is about being put to test, ‘salvation’ about being rescued, and ‘forgiveness’ about abstaining from getting even.

  61. David Marjanović says:

    That’s not how it has worked out. Far from a “rescue”, salvation for example ends up as a “successful [ab]solution/loosening” in German, a word used nowhere else…

  62. Trond Engen says:

    Oh, sorry, Yes, it’s probably about being set free. Scandinavian frelse is etymologically “freeing” but has been used for salvaging since forever. Either way, this becomes a question of translation of real-word concepts, and the metaphor gains from being absolved of its conventional liturgical and theological baggage.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: When we are forced to peel off all the religious or theological baggage, the metaphors are live with human experience.

    I agree!

    Spanish and Italian versions

    Spanish = French style: No nos dejes caer en la tentación
    Italian = English style: Non ci indurre in tentazione.

    So the Pope, of Italian origin but a native speaker of Spanish, considers the Italian and English versions incorrect.

  64. What I wonder is if the liturgical version of the prayer in the Latin Mass is going to be changed as well. (A bit like the doxology is regarded as spurious in the text of the NT but has been kept in liturgy).

  65. So I gather that the Pope wants the English version to be something like “And do not let us fall into temptation”?

  66. David Marjanović says:

    Yes.

  67. > ‘Temptation’ is about being put to test

    But surely temptation is a special kind of test, isn’t it? The ascetic undertones here seem specifically Christian to me (although I guess asceticism is a common theme across many religions). I do notice that different translations of the prayer use different words in this place. E.g. “trial” doesn’t seem to have this nuance to me, but I might be missing some subtleties.

  68. Oh, and I completely forgot to say:

    > that would have been considered an unethical event,” said Zachary O’Hagan […] “When a language like this disappears, you have lost a key data point

    Although I realize it might be partly due to editing, these two statements being so close to each other really makes this guy seem unsympathetic. The kids’ welfare is at stake and this linguist in his high tower is concerned about his data point.

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