An Ottoman Calendar.

Check out the remarkable page from an Ottoman calendar for 1911/1327/1329 that’s Figure 1 on this page (click on the picture to see a larger and annotated version). “The calendar contains six languages: Turkish, Greek, French, Bulgarian, Armenian, and Ladino.” Thanks, Andy!


  1. Why is the Bulgarian date (April 30th) different from both the Julian date (April 7th) and the Gregorian date (April 20th). I would have expected the Bulgarians of that time to follow the Julian calendar. A modern annotation, in red, labels the Bulgarian date as the 30th day of Kassim season. What is that? And the actual calendar has April in Cyrillic there, nothing about any Kassims.

  2. The Ladino for ‘Thursday’ reads ג׳וגיב׳יס djugeves rather than ג׳ואיב׳יס djueves, which I find surprising.

  3. Also the annotation to the picture says “22 Kislev”, but the writing says “22 Nissan” — in fact, the 8th of Passover.

  4. The Hebrew month written is Nissan, not Kislev. Cool calendar though!

  5. SFReader says

    I, on the other hand, find nothing surprising at all.

    Ottoman multilingualism was obviously a fake. This “calendar” is a propaganda piece for Western consumption designed to show them a convincing face of a new Turkey (post Young Turk Revolution) – a liberal, multicultural democracy.

    It was clearly designed by some junior Turkish official who fancied himself a polyglot (erroneously)

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    If anyone else was, like me, initially baffled by why there should be two different A.H. year numbers I think the answer probably has to do with

  7. Here’s is a recent example, the only one I could find, of Ladino jugeves, and it’s from Turkey, too.

  8. From the linked article: “To understand the enormity of the Ottoman over-reaction imagine that the US government decided to deport all members of an ethnic group because some of them had engaged in criminal activity.”

    Now where have I heard that before? Hmm…..

  9. marie-lucie says

    Ladino (d)jugeves, (d)jueves

    The (d)j suggests that the pronunciation was (or still is) the Old Spanish one, similar to that of Old French (as maintained in Modern English), but the middle consonant written g suggests something closer to the modern “jota”. Obviously it would have to be an inserted consonant between the two vowels of the diphthong ue in jueves, most likely an [h|. Is there another explanation?

  10. The is my transcription of ג׳, which stands for [dʒ] ~ [tʃ]. The ג or is [g]~[ɣ].

  11. marie-lucie says

    Y, I am sure you are correct in your transcription of the Hebrew letters, but not knowing anything about Ladino apart from its being a Spanish dialect preserving some archaic features, I was interested both in the actual pronunciation of the initial consonant and the possible origin of the one noted g. Inserting [g]~[ɣ] out of zero does not seem very plausible, but inserting [h] is more likely, and of course a change [h] > [g] is not impossible since it is independently attested in Russian. If there is another, accepted explanation for the insertion I would be glad to learn about it.

  12. I was using the Ladino values out of Wikipedia. Beyond that I don’t know either. Your interpretation would have at least a phonetic h in this dialect, which is odd. Perhaps Etienne could add something.

  13. Fortition of /w/ to /gw/, even intervocalically, is common across the Judaeo-Spanish dialects. See here or here.

  14. David Marjanović says

    Inserting [g]~[ɣ] out of zero does not seem very plausible

    Inserting the velar approximant [ɰ], which is what mainstream Spanish g is most of the time at least nowadays, into a diphthong that contains some kind of u is not surprising, especially as a hypercorrectivism. Spanish has been using gu for a long time to represent foreign [w] (Spanish aguacate and guacamole from Nahuatl ahuacatl and ahuacamolli, where hu again stands for [w]); dogs, too, make guá.

    Inserting [h] into a diphthong, however, does not make sense to me. That said, orthographic h inserted into more or less all written vowel sequences, at least sometimes including diphthongs, was a feature of one of the Italic languages, I think Umbrian.

  15. marie-lucie says

    Thanks David.

    All the examples you cite have gu ([gw]) from u ([w]), also attested from earlier treatment of Germanic w, as in Germ werra (Eng war) borrowed into Romance hence OSp guerra, OF guerre, both later with [g]. But jueves > jugeves has g (however pronounced) after u, not before.

    Inserting [h] into a diphthong would only make sense if the diphthong was interpreted as a two-vowel sequence. Surely the uge in jugeves does not suggest a diphthong. Or do you mean that g here stands for [ɰ], which I understand is labio-velar rather than plain velar? then why not write gu or hu as in your Nahuatl examples?

    Yes, perhaps Etienne has something to say.

  16. A clearer scan here.

    Четвъртъкъ is Thursday, right?

  17. It is, yes (“fourth day”).

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    Bulgarian fourth-day = Greek fifth-day (Πέμπτη) = English Thursday, and indeed as the Greek indicates old-style April 7 was Great and Holy Thursday on the Orthodox calendar that year. (The French religious notation struck me as another possible weird glitch b/c hey, isn’t St Agnes’ Day in January, but there turns out to be a more obscure late-medieval St. Agnes of Montepulciano commemorated on April 20.)

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    It’s not implausible that these were the six most relevant languages for the calendar’s target audience (one each for the six most numerous millets as of the 1911 Ottoman census, if you treat French rather than e.g. Italian as the right language for the Sultan’s subjects who were “Franks”), but I also wonder whether it was a bit of a stunt to show off that the printing-shop could function in six different alphabets.

  20. David Marjanović says

    All the examples you cite have gu ([gw])

    No, there’s no [g] in aguacate; there may be in the others, but only when they’re utterance-initial.

    also attested from earlier treatment of Germanic w, as in Germ werra (Eng war) borrowed into Romance hence OSp guerra, OF guerre, both later with [g].

    That’s a similar but separate phenomenon.

    Or do you mean that g here stands for [ɰ],


    which I understand is labio-velar rather than plain velar?

    No, [w] is labiovelar; [ɰ] is the plain velar approximant.

    The “w” of Iroquoian languages is [ɰ], too.

    then why not write gu or hu as in your Nahuatl examples?

    Perhaps because jg and jh would look too strange. (Syllable-final [w] in Nahuatl, which is common, is in fact written uh. There is no /u/, only /o/, so there is no danger of confusion with the other use of h for /ʔ/.) But I don’t know to which extent Ladino spelling in Hebrew letters copied Spanish conventions in the first place.

  21. FWIW, I read in Hebrew Wikipedia that the Eastern Ladino, of Turkey and Rhodes, derives from Castilian, while Western dialects have an affinity to northern Iberian and Portuguese (sic). That doesn’t help at all with the intrusive g or whatever it is.

  22. Trond Engen says

    Could it simply be an orthographic hiatus marker? The Turkish soft g is often silent, I think.

  23. Trond, the standard Ladino spelling marks a hiatus there with an aleph. The Turkish soft g is written with a breve, ğ.
    The closest interpretation which makes sense phonetically and fits with the orthography is David’s [ɰ], but since it’s not phonemic, it’s still odd that they would bother putting it in.

  24. A lovely story in Turkish Ladino, slowly and clearly told. Very easy to understand if you know Spanish. I haven’t heard any mention of “Thursday”.

    Fueron has no trace of intrusive g.

  25. Trond Engen says

    Trond, the standard Ladino spelling marks a hiatus there with an aleph. The Turkish soft g is written with a breve, ğ.

    Yes, sorry. I meant a hiatus, heard by Turkish ears and marked by Turkish means as a <ğ>, transliterated from Turkish into Hebrew.g. Now I think David’s intrusive velar approximant is essentially the same explanation: It might not have been perceived at all without a dominant language with a phonemic velar approximant with a zero allophone.

  26. If so than it should show up a lot elsewhere. I’ll take a look at the book I linked to which has jugeves.

  27. A lovely story in Turkish Ladino, slowly and clearly told. Very easy to understand if you know Spanish.

    And even if you don’t know Spanish, it’s got subtitles and pretty pictures, so check it out!

  28. If you have access to Aldina Quintana Rodríguez (2005), Geografía lingüistica del Judeoespanol: estudio sincrónico y diacrónico, which was also linked to in a comment above, she decribes the fortition process of [‑w-] to [‑γw-], and [w-] to [gw-] (as she transcribes it) in Judaeo-Spanish dialects. See pages 33-40, especially page 36. The surprising development to [‑γw-] as in [tɾuγwɛno] (sic), corresponding to Spanish trueno, “thunder”, is specific to Istanbul and some other dialects. (As Trond Engen notes above, it is interesting to consider the influence of Turkish in this change, perhaps at a stage when a pronunciation of the phoneme in the context of back vowels was still a voiced velar fricative.)

  29. Thank you, Xerîb! And here is a discussion of the whole range of pronunciations of jueves, with phonetic notation. It looks like what happened is w>ɣw>ɣ, which is what the gimel represents.

  30. Trond Engen says

    Xerib: As Trond Engen notes above

    Not really, though I wish… But thanks for the explanation.

  31. Yes, heartfelt thanks for clearing that up so decisively!

  32. marie-lucie says

    Xerib, Yes, that evolution makes sense, thank you!

  33. January First-of-May says

    Not really related, but I’ve had a weird dream (well, dream scene) about multilingual texts today, and I’m not sure if there’s any better place to share it.

    So there was apparently some kind of poem, consisting of snippets in a bunch of different languages, with supposedly lots of cross-references and stuff. And some kind of museum had an exhibit dedicated to that poem, including the different texts and a bunch of commentary. So I went to look at said exhibit…
    The first text I noted (the rightmost) was neatly typed in Arabic script, and the commentary basically consisted of morphological analysis of one specific word (in phonetic transliteration). Said morphological analysis involved a triconsonantal root, so the language probably was also Arabic. There was no translation though (not even of that one word).
    The second text I noted was also neatly typed, but in Hebrew script. I thought for a while about photographing the text and asking someone to translate, then shrugged it off and proceeded to the Russian snippet nearby.
    The Russian snippet, together with what looked like a handwritten text of what might yet have been a section of a poem (I didn’t look at it much), also contained a hastily scribbled address in the margin. The commentary below had a section dedicated to the meaning and significance of said address (and speculation as to who might have lived there).
    I moved to the leftward side and looked at the English snippet. The English snippet was… a huge airmail envelope. No poem that I could see at all. The commentary faithfully reproduced the text on the envelope, and proceeded to say that, um, whoever gave this to the commentator might not have noticed that this is an airmail envelope – where’s the poem?
    The German text, directly right of the English, was a printout of a webpage which basically said “entry not found in the database” or something along those lines. I cannot recall what the commentary was (if there was any).
    I proceeded then to the French text, which was the leftmost (immediately left of the English). Said text consisted of a banknote with a large value in francs, from the inflation period in the 1950s. The commentary was a brochure that, as well as speculation on the specific value of the banknote (as said value was for some reason stated in slang terms, not in actual numbers – I think it turned out to be 100,000 francs), included a rather long-winded explanation (and a bit of speculation) as to how and why the French word coco, which originally only meant “coconut”, acquired in modern French the meaning “wanderer”.
    And as I realized that the last three and a half texts I checked had little to do with the supposed poem, I thought (as I distinctly recall): what if the supposed “poem” texts in Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian, which I could not read – they remained on the right side, still neatly printed – were as meaningless as the ones I could read, in English, French, and Russian?
    (At this point my mother’s call woke me up, and I never got an answer.)

    Returning to the Ottoman calendar – I agree with J.W.Brewer that the choice of languages was less “most important languages of the country” and more “hey, we can print in all those different scripts”. (And this wasn’t really influenced by the dream – I agreed even earlier. The dream might have been influenced by this, however.)

  34. For those who read Russian, it looks like there are some folks discussing the issue of ג׳וגיב׳יס here:

  35. Huh. I’m totally illiterate in my dreams: I hardly ever even see text, and when I do, I definitely can’t read it.

  36. Me too — a great many of my dreams involve bookstore/libraries (the distinction isn’t clear in dreamworld), and I sometimes notice particular books (I’ll remember that I was looking at, say, a book on Armenian), but I hardly ever read text. Which is odd, since I spend much of my life reading.

  37. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    A lovely story in Turkish Ladino, slowly and clearly told. Very easy to understand if you know Spanish.

    Whenever I’ve heard Ladino (which is not very often) I’ve been amazed at how little different it is from modern Spanish. As you say, it’s very easy to understand. How come it changed so little in five centuries (and presumably Spanish also changed very little)? Was there more contact with the old country than we tend to imagine?

  38. January First-of-May says

    Weird – I end up reading stories in my dreams all the time. Mind you, I hardly ever remember any specific phrases from those stories (only the general gist of what they were about, and sometimes not even that).

    To be fair, I agree – a lot of the time reading books in dreams devolves into watching movies and/or something akin to live action roleplaying (i.e., basically being sucked into the plot and experiencing it directly).
    But it does sometimes happen that I read a book in a dream without necessarily being sucked into the plot in any other way (it helps if, as with the multilingual poem’s commentaries, there was never much of a plot in the first place).

    Incidentally, also in the same dream as the multilingual poem – a few scenes earlier – I was reviewing (not sure of the specifics) a series of modern fiction books supposed to be sequels to, I think, the Odyssey? in any case to some Ancient Greek travel story.
    Said books were each about travel to yet another far away location of roughly the same (Ancient Greek) time period, and each had a witty but completely silly title related to said location. The one I recall the title of, I think fifth or sixth in the series, was named – I kid you not – “Da Fun of Da Qian” (as in, the fun of a place named Da Qian), and featured China during the Han dynasty. (Yes, I know that Da Qian, whatever it is, is most definitely not a name of the Han dynasty.)

  39. You called?

    Well, Xerîb solved the problem better than I could have (congratulations!): I will add that in at least one Spanish creole a similar strengthening of /w/ to /gw/ can be observed…in native Spanish words only: this seems to indicate that the strengthening was indeed (variably?) present in late fifteenth/sixteenth century Spanish.

    Athel Cornish-Bowden: in answer to your question, contact between Ladino speakers in Turkey and the Balkans on the one hand and speakers of peninsular Spanish on the other was nearly non-existent until the twentieth century. Both languages have certainly changed if you take late fifteenth century Spanish as your starting point, but neither has undergone the sort of radical phonological change which can dramatically lower mutual intelligibility (the Great Vowel shift in English, or the fall of final consonants in French, for instance): from this point of view the degree of divergence between Modern Spanish and Balkan/Turkish Ladino is fairly normal.

    One note of caution, though: Ladino speakers in North Africa did remain in contact with the Iberian peninsula, and as a result their Ladino, when compared to that of the Balkans and Turkey, is much closer to Spanish.

  40. David Marjanović says

    I do sometimes read in dreams, but it has never occurred to me to read fiction in a dream! 🙂

    It’s a frustrating experience, though. First, the text changes in front of my eyes. My imagination isn’t such that I could come up with anything coherent at the speed at which I read. Second, often I hope to find something very interesting as I read on, but I find that I can’t decide what to invent. I think a few dreams have turned lucid at this point, but mostly all I get is disappointment. 🙁

    How come it changed so little in five centuries (and presumably Spanish also changed very little)? Was there more contact with the old country than we tend to imagine?

    No! All the innovations made in Spain since then are absent.

    Yiddish is simply not the default. It has a much more complex history than Ladino.

  41. I usually cannot read in dreams, but there are certainly times when I can. In particularly lucid dreams, I can read mathematical notation and do calculus.

  42. Glossy says: Why is the Bulgarian date (April 30th) different from both the Julian date (April 7th) and the Gregorian date (April 20th).

    It is confusing to say the least. I wonder if “Kassim season” refers to the Turkish month name “kasım”.

    Bulgarians used the Julian calendar, so the date should read 7 April. There is a beautiful example of a Bulgarian calendar printed in Vienna for use by the Bulgarians who at the time (1872) were living under Turkish rule. The calendar gives New Style and Old Style dates (Gregorian and Julian), Turkish and Hebrew, and even has Bulgarian Slavic month names. See Летоструй или къщний календар за високоснъ година 1872 in Google Books:

  43. This is how traditional Bulgarian calendar really looks like:

    dilom tvirem
    dokhs tvirem
    shegor vechem
    vereni alem
    tekuchitem tvirem
    toh altom
    shegor tvirem
    (imen)shegor alem
    somor altem
    dilom tutom

  44. January First-of-May says

    That’s traditional Bulgar, though. Traditional Bulgarian should really be Slavic (and their months would thus be cognate to other traditional Slavic months).

    The Wikipedia page for Slavic calendar does, in fact, give month names in “old Bulgarian” that basically follow the regular Slavic pattern (the equivalent to April is “Brezen”).

  45. David Marjanović says

    I read in a dream just this morning! 🙂 It was very little, though, and I can’t remember what it was.

    Calculus in a dream – now that’s impressive. I’m limited to occasional basic arithmetic, done slowly.

  46. Here in 2016, is there anywhere that doesn’t use the Gregorian calendar for civil matters? When and where was the last holdout?

  47. Ah, I should have know that wikipedia would have the answer:

    “Countries which do not use the Gregorian calendar are Saudi Arabia, which uses the Islamic calendar for all purposes, Ethiopia (Ethiopian calendar) and Iran and Afghanistan, which use the Persian calendar. Some countries use other calendars alongside the Gregorian calendar: Bangladesh (Bangla calendar), India (Indian national calendar) and Israel (Hebrew calendar).”

  48. I don’t think it’s even possible to use the Islamic calendar “for all purposes,” since it’s “year” is not a year long.

  49. What do you mean? Of course it’s possible; by “not a year long” you mean “not a Gregorian year long,” and why should they care? For centuries nothing but the Islamic calendar was used throughout the Middle East.

  50. By “all purposes”, I assume they mean “all purposes related to dating documents”. For planning agriculture you do of course need a solar calendar, but you don’t actually need a solar year era; all you need is a way of marking your position within the current year. In most of the Arabic-speaking world, that would be the Julian months, whether under Latin names (as in North Africa), Coptic ones (as in Egypt), or Aramaic ones (as in the Levant). I don’t know the Arabian situation too well, but I believe their tradition is based around star rising times.

  51. Huh, I didn’t know that there was such diversity on that point.

  52. @languagehat: As Lameen says, if you want to do agriculture, you need to know your position in the tropical year. (The Julian and later Gregorian years are just successive approximations to the true tropical year, the “year of the seasons.”) Providing that information is the oldest (and for thousands of years the most important) function of a calendar. You can use any system you want for recording dates, but that’s certainly not the same as using it for “all purposes.”

  53. Oh, OK, I didn’t realize where you were going with that. (What can I say, I never worked on a farm.)

  54. Which is why Robert J. Sawyer’s fictional Neanderthals use a worldwide purely lunar calendar: they are high-technology hunter-gatherers (males, for example, hunt various game animals and then broil them with portable laser ovens).

  55. January First-of-May says

    To add to the list, to the best of my knowledge, Thailand, Nepal, and perhaps Japan and Taiwan use the Gregorian calendar (or something equivalent to it), but number the years differently (in Japan’s case, by regnal years – the last country to use them prominently).

    Note that the Hebrew calendar is lunisolar – there’s both a lunar month (29 or 30 days) and a solar year (which consists of 12 or 13 months). As in happens, in the formalized modern calendar, due to a very precise and detailed system of interpolation, the average Hebrew month is only about half a second off from the actual average lunar (synodic) month (and the average Hebrew year is only a few minutes off – about three times closer than Julian).
    I can’t recall what the modern Persian calendar is – for all I know it could be in the “equivalent to Gregorian with different year numbering” category. (I seem to recall reading that it’s lunisolar, but that might have referred to an obsolete archaic version, and/or might have been a misreading in the first place.)

    As for the fictional Neanderthals, they seem to be mostly living in temperate (and polar) areas, where winter is very different from summer. Even for a hunter-gatherer culture, it should be important when there is or isn’t snow, say, because different seasons have very different things to hunt and gather. So they should have a solar or, more likely, lunisolar calendar (I’m imagining something very like the Hebrew calendar).
    IOTL, historically, most of the earliest known calendars were lunisolar, but they mostly belonged to agricultural societies; I don’t know how much is known about calendars of (surviving) hunter-gatherer societies, but IOTL most of them live in tropical or near-tropical areas, where seasons aren’t that much different from each other.
    EDIT: apparently a suspected ancient hunter-gatherer calendar was recently found in Scotland. If it’s really a calendar (it’s confusing), it’s apparently lunisolar.

  56. The cycles of the moon give a nice, easy way of demarcating a period of time, and so months have been in widespread use as far back as we have any inkling, and probably farther. Humans in fact have a biological adaptation that is useful only because of the relative ease (but not triviality) and tracking the phases of the moon. The down side is that the length of a lunar cycle is totally arbitrary and not tied to anything else useful (except the precession of the tides). So many calendars combine the short-term ease of months with the more useful but much longer solar cycle. (And, of course, it’s also not uncommon to introduce even shorter arbitrary periods, such as weeks.)

  57. IOTL, historically … but IOTL most of them

    What is IOTL?

  58. In Our Time Line, I’d guess.

  59. Yes, it’s alternate history jargon.

  60. J.W. Brewer says

    The interesting thing about the Japanese system is that it resets to 1 frequently enough (and unpredictably, because it depends on the vagaries of imperial lifespans) to lead to the potential for confusion within ones own lifetime. E.g., when my family left Japan to move back to the U.S., which was exactly forty years ago this summer, the year-number was 51. But right now it’s not 91, it’s (this I had to look up) 28. I’m not sure to what extent the AD year numbers or some other more continuous system is used in the alternative for Japanese recordkeeping purposes in contexts where the need to stop and figure out e.g.. precisely how many years elapsed between Showa X and Heisei Y might be inconvenient.

  61. Because of their big noses and good senses of smell, and the fact that women live in cities whereas men live on the outskirts (men come into the cities only five days a month), all Barast (Sawyer’s Neanderthal) women have synchronized periods worldwide, exactly one lunar month long. As a matter of culture rather than nature, they also have synchronized pregnancies worlwide, 130 lunar months apart (fertility and choice permitting). Very rarely are Barasts born out of season, as the whole culture is wired for every child to be in diapers, or primary school, or what have you at the same time. When crossing over between Barast and Gliksin (Homo sapiens) begins, the rule is for people to live according to the rules of wherever they are.

  62. David Marjanović says

    Humans in fact have a biological adaptation that is useful only because of the relative ease (but not triviality) and tracking the phases of the moon.

    What do you mean?

  63. I can’t recall what the modern Persian calendar is – for all I know it could be in the “equivalent to Gregorian with different year numbering” category.
    Maybe it is more than that. It’s a solar calendar that runs from vernal equinox to vernal equinox and counts from the Hijra. Accordingly, Iranian months tend to start around the 21st of Gregorian months. As it is observation based (the start of the New Year depends on it actually being the day of the equinox) and it has slightly different leap year rules, over the years equivalent dates can shift by a day or two against the Gregorian calendar.

  64. @David Marjanović: It’s the length of menstrual cycles.

  65. J.W. Brewer says

    Vaguely relevant to the original Ottoman-multilingualism point: last month there was a gathering on Crete of delegations from most-but-not-all of the world’s Eastern Orthodox churches. How to handle language issues? Well, of the ten non-boycotting delegations, six were headed by L1 Greek-speakers (including the Church in Albania, where a hardworking Greek fellow has been working hard in an essentially missionary role to reconstruct things after the brutal oppression of the Hoxha era) and at least as a deep historical matter Greek is the closest thing the church has to a foundational common language. But in more recent centuries one can’t expect regular bishops (as opposed to specialists doing theological or historical scholarship) to uniformly know Greek if they’re not personally from a Greek-speaking background or dealing with Greek-speaking congregations. So what to do? Well, during the point in the opening session where all ten primates made remarks, it seemed (based on my cursory review of transcripts and video clips posted on a website) that the Greek-speakers spoke in Greek, one non-L1-Greek speaker (who heads the numerically quite small Orthodox Church in the former Czechoslovakia) spoke in slow-and-carefully-phrased L2 Greek, two others (Poland and Serbia) spoke in their L1 Slavic tongues (the Serbian Patriarch pausing every other sentence for audible Greek translation from someone off-camera to be heard), and most interestingly for my purposes His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of Romania, spoke neither in Greek nor his L1 Romanian but in French. He did graduate work at the University of Strasbourg back in the day, so French is quite likely the L2 in which he is most fluent, but it was interesting insofar as it implied an expectation that (as with the Ottoman calendar perhaps reflecting the actual situation in Constantinople a century-plus ago) French would at this late date be a mutually comprehensible L2 for some meaningful percentage of his Balkan/Mediterranean audience.

  66. That is interesting, thanks for reporting it!

  67. marie-lucie says

    I agree, thanks JWB.

  68. David Marjanović says

    French appears to have been relatively popular in communist Romania.

    @David Marjanović: It’s the length of menstrual cycles.

    That’s what I feared but didn’t want to allege, because it’s a widespread misconception. Human menstrual cycles have nothing to do with the moon’s orbit, there’s considerable individual variation in their length, and even chimpanzees have noticeably longer cycles, while those of rats only take 11 days.

  69. marie-lucie says

    David: French appears to have been relatively popular in communist Romania.

    It’s the closest Romance language with some international prestige. None of Romania’s neighbours speak languages of this family.

    the length of menstrual cycles

    I think that the moon-cycle resemblance is true on the average for human females, but if the moon was influencing them I think one would expect more synchronization among women in general (starting and ending at about the same date). Apparently women living in groups (eg sisters, dorm roommates, nuns) tend to synchronize their cycles, but I don’t think that is a general rule.

  70. David Marjanović says

    It’s the closest Romance language with some international prestige.

    Also, it’s Western, but not associated with the Great Satan… it made for a nice compromise. 🙂

    Apparently women living in groups (eg sisters, dorm roommates, nuns) tend to synchronize their cycles

    Yes – with each other, not necessarily with the moon.

  71. Trond Engen says

    The Great Satan being the pope, I presume. The Romanian infatuation with French started with 19th century nationalism.

  72. Joseph Rothschild in East Central Europe Between the Two World Wars writes of Romania: “In no other European country of the interwar era was the moral and psychological chasm between the oligarchic, bureaucratic elite and the lower classes as wide and deep; even its cultural infatuation with France and its fetishistic fascination with foreign affairs and foreign politico-legal models was a kind of flight from its own people on the part of the elite.”

  73. SFReader says

    Since we are all adults here, let me mention that pornographic classic by Guillaume Apollinaire:

    I think the novel denounces Romanian elite’s fetishistic fascination with French culture…

  74. David Marjanović says

    The Romanian infatuation with French started with 19th century nationalism.

    Sure; I’m talking about why it persisted all the way through the Cold War, instead of fading out in the 1950s or so.

  75. @David Marjanović: I thought about writing a long comment on the evidence that menstrual cycles evolved to average the same length as a lunar cycle, but I decided to keep it short. The topic was ignored for decades, until the discovery of the McClintock effect, whereby women living in proximity tend to have cycles that move toward synchronicity. After that, it became a hot topic, but research in the area was heavily influenced by individuals who approached the issue with a strong sociopolitical agenda. It is a hot-button topic, and I don’t want to get too deep into arguing about it, but I do have a couple of things to point out.

    In individual women in modern society, cycles can deviate quite a bit from the lunar period. However, in more traditional social groups with more adult women living in close quarters and poorer hygiene, the McClintock effect actually stabilizes the oscillations. Years ago, I was involved with some computer simulations of the evolution of groups of womens’ cycle phases and periods (starting with a realistic random distribution of both). The eventually synchronized cycles were generally quite close to a true lunar period in length. In community groups without a fairly large number of women, this did not occur, but the evolutionary value of lunar coordination is quite limited in that case anyway. (See below).

    Finally, comparisons to other species are totally irrelevant to the question of whether having menstrual cycles coordinate with the observable cycle of the moon is adaptive. The utility comes from some individuals (in the standard interpretation, the fertile women themselves) be able to track where they are in the cycle by observing the moon, while having the (specifically human) trait of concealed ovulation, so that it is impossible by direct observation of a woman to know whether she is presently fertile. Traditionally, this ensures that a woman’s mate needs to stick around all the time, because he does not know when she is fertile. This is just one of many adaptations of the human body that promote stable two-parent child rearing. The synchronization of cycles is also adaptive in this way, since it makes it harder for a straying male to impregnate more than one woman. Going farther afield, we have newborns that are unnecessarily helpless, which encourages child-rearing and boding activities with both parents.

  76. I’m pretty sure the last point is the wrong way around: children are born helpless (“secondarily altricial”), therefore (not because) their mothers require extra help. There are many fetal features that persist into the first year of life, like the open fontanelles, but if we were born after an 18-month pregnancy, the newborn’s head would be way too big to fit through any pelvis that permitted women to walk and run rather than waddle.

  77. There are other, lesser features that have been identified as superfluously helpless, but I’m afraid I can’t call any of them to mind at the moment. I’ll try to remember to look into when I’m back at work.

  78. David Marjanović says

    while having the (specifically human) trait of concealed ovulation, so that it is impossible by direct observation of a woman to know whether she is presently fertile. Traditionally, this ensures that a woman’s mate needs to stick around all the time, because he does not know when she is fertile.

    But having the cycle tied to the moon – or to anything else that’s public information – would ruin that.

    Going farther afield, we have newborns that are unnecessarily helpless, which encourages child-rearing and boding activities with both parents.

    Wouldn’t precisely these activities be unnecessary if we could simply be born later (which we can’t, as JC has explained – ultimately due to a size squeeze our ancestors underwent 200 million years ago that has left us with woefully froglike pelves)?

  79. @David Marjanović: The point is that a woman may know what her cycle phase is, but nobody else necessarily does.

  80. David Marjanović says

    The point is that a woman may know what her cycle phase is, but nobody else necessarily does.

    But if the cycles of all women in the group are synchronized with each other’s and with the moon, you only need to know where one woman is in her cycle right now, and you’ll know where any of them will be in theirs for ever and evermore.

  81. Right. The average Homo sapiens cycle is 28 days with a wide variance, whereas the synodic month is 29.5 days with very little variance. Sawyer’s Neanderthals really are all synchronized to the moon, and in any case they don’t have concealed ovulation, because Neanderthal males can tell the difference thanks to their better senses of smell. (They can also tell the difference in sapiens females, which is a significant plot point.)

  82. J.W. Brewer says

    To revert briefly to the topic of French … Yeah, part of the background of the anecdote is presumably the long-running Francophilia of the Romanian intelligentsia. So the real question is whether in fact any significant part of His Beatitude’s audience that would *not* have understood him if he’d spoken Romanian *did* understand him because he chose to speak French, or if that historical background led to excessive optimism about the actual 21st utility of French as a common L2 in diverse international groups. And alas the most notable group of Orthodox hierachs whom I would expect to generally have very good L2 French competence (L1 Arabic-speakers from Lebanon and Syria) were boycotting, due to an unfortunate and still-unresolved dispute between the respective Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem over which has jurisdiction over the tiny group of Orthodox believers (almost entirely composed of recent immigrants) in Qatar.

  83. per incuriam says

    Up to recently learning French as a first foreign language was common in many European countries.

  84. marie-lucie says

    les Onze Mille V(i)erges

    The use of the word verge may also be considered as a pun for it is used as a vulgarism for the male member.

    The use of la verge is very obviously and intentionally a pun, but I would not say the word is a vulgarism, it is just more colloquial than the Latin word le pénis.

  85. Alon Lischinsky says

    The use of la verge is very obviously and intentionally a pun, but I would not say the word is a vulgarism, it is just more colloquial than the Latin word le pénis.

    In current Spanish, verga ‘penis’ is unequivocally vulgar, as can be seen from its frequent use as a swearword in Caribbean and Central American dialects.

    I haven’t been able to find any neutral attestations in this sense after the 16th century (though other senses, such as ‘yardarm’, are relatively frequent in their specialist contexts).

  86. marie-lucie says

    Alon, I don’t know whether you were looking for “neutral attestations” in Spanish or French. In the TLFI the word has multiple attestations for its various meanings, including the one about male anatomy, which is not listed as “vulgar” or even “familiar”.

    The TLFI does not include the additional Canadian French meaning “yard” (the measure).

  87. J.W. Brewer says

    Hmm. See the obsolete sense 6 for English Coincidence or calque?

  88. Yard also means ‘penis’ in Early Modern English.

  89. Alon Lischinsky says

    @marie-lucie: I was looking for Spanish ones to see when it lost the register that French preserves; sorry if it seemed I was doubting your claims!

  90. Neri Shneydor says

    The word in arabic script above 1911 is THURSDAY in persian.

  91. Neri Shneydor says

    The number 30 which is shown twice may represent the date in the persian calendar: April 20, 1911 (Gregorian) was Farvardin 30, 1290. I am still wondering about the Kassim Season.

  92. Thanks!

  93. I was reminded of this thread just now. For epenthetic /ɡ/ in Judaeo-Spanish discussed in the comments above, I just came across this clip, where the man from Salonika says /siɡda/ or the like for “city” (cf. Spanish ciudad), around after the 0:37 mark:

    He says it few times again in what follows, but I didn’t notice any other /ɡ/’s of this nature in a cursory listen.

    (At least, I think that must be the nature of this /ɡ/, because the intrusive gammas of Greek, as in αβγά “eggs”, were earlier in Middle Greek than the settlement of Spanish-speaking Jews in the region, but maybe I am wrong.)

  94. I think that the number 30 refers to the number of days in the month, both in the Rumi and the Hijri calendars.

  95. One more thing.
    At the very bottom, there are two numbers 110 and 255.
    20 April is the 110th day of the year, and the remaining days are 255.

  96. Excellent!

  97. languagehat: don’t tell me you didn’t say that in a Keanu Reeves and/or Alex Winter voice.

  98. I was rubbing my hands and raising my eyebrows.

  99. David Marjanović says

    What’s the name of Mr. Burns’s voice actor?

  100. Harry Shearer (who also does a zillion other characters).

  101. There is still a Bulgarian Ladino-speaking community, at least in Sofia, but it is moribund, I think. I have met people my age — late thirties to early forties — that try to use it. Probably in the two-hundreds — basically the people who occasionally go to the Synagogue. I don’t know about their children. And I have a linguist friend who has a passive understanding through his grandmother of Ladino, so I guess it’s a lot of people who have a passive, not active understanding. Most moved to Israel after its founding.

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