To celebrate the fact that I’m finally getting my language books back on my shelves, here’s a poem in an obscure language. This is not a serious quiz à la Language Log, because the answer is easily googled (many of the words turn up a slew of pages in the language), but I thought it might be fun for people to try to guess without looking in the back of the book. Also, the title and a couple of the lines are funny (to an English-speaker), and even if you get the language, I’ll bet you can’t guess what they mean!

A la pizza
Pizza, pizza,
munts majestus!
Da vus, da l’otezza
ans vain agüd,
ans vain fermezza,
sustegn e salüd.
Eterna pizza,
munts majestus!
    —Jachen Luzzi

I’ll give the answers tomorrow.


  1. Romantsch, right?
    Here’s my try….hehe
    Pizza Pizza!
    Majestic mountain!
    It gives views! It makes you high!
    In the vicinity it’s acute!
    In the vicinity of cheese!
    Sustains health!
    Eternal pizza!
    Majestic mountain!

  2. Romansch was my guess, too. Are we right?

  3. Cryptic Ned says


  4. To the Mountains
    O mountain peaks,
    majestic summits!
    From you on high
    comes our help,
    comes our strength –
    support and salvation.
    Eternal peaks,
    majestic summits!

  5. And… we have a winner! It is, of course, Rumantsch, and I’m afraid Noetica’s translation is the correct one, as appetizing as Chris Sundita’s is. Pizza is ‘mountain peak’ (though it can also mean ‘tip,’ eg of the finger). And the author’s dates, in case anyone is curious, are 1880-1949.

  6. Ahh. So Pizza was something else! I wonder when Pizza (the food) came into being.
    But thanks for the laughs.

  7. I’m afraid I did look in the back of the book, though. Very hard to get “peak” for “pizza” unaided, it would be, say I. (And Rumantsch “pizza” can also have that flat round edible denotation favoured by Christopher, it seems.)

  8. Lots of peaks in the Rumantsch area are called “Piz …”.

  9. Is it a fairly straight Bible quote? I lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help (or something like that).

  10. It certainly seems to be influenced by that, MM:
    I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. (Psalm 121:1, KJV)

  11. Graham Asher says

    The word ‘pizza’, meaning a food item, is obviously identical to ‘pitta’ – flat unleavened Greek bread. Both words originally meant ‘pie’. The New Shorter OED cites Modern Greek ‘petta’ and ‘pit(t)a’, Turkish ‘pide’ and Aramaic ‘pitta’. Presumably the Aramaic is the source, although the NSOED doesn’t say so explicitly.

  12. It’s not obvious to me. The OED just says “It., = pie,” and Cassell suggests that the Italian is from Latin pinceus ‘of pitch.’ That may or may not be correct, but it’s certainly not “obviously identical” to the Aramaic word.

  13. Graham Asher says

    Language Hat, if you read my comment again you will see that I didn’t say that pizza was obviously identical to the Aramaic word. I merely posted my opinion, backed up by that of the NSOED, thinking it might be interesting to people – it is not meant as a challenge. It seems obvious to me that pizza and pitta are very likely to be identical because of (i) identity of meaning, and (ii) modern invention – I believe pizza was unknown to the ancient world; and (iii) Greek settlement in Magna Graecia – isn’t Pizza from that area? No, I can’t prove it, and I might be wrong. But a derivation from ‘pitch’ – an inedible substance – sounds absurd. In the absence of other evidence I think pizza from pitta is by far the best hypothesis.

  14. For “pizza”, the big Zingarelli Vocabolario della lingua italiana says only, mutatis verbis, “etymology uncertain”.
    SOED has five headwords for “pie” as a noun. The first is the bird, with this etymology: “[(O)Fr. f. L pica magpie, rel. to picus green woodpecker. See also MAGPIE.]” The second is the pastry-clad dish, with this curious and spurious-looking etymology: “[Prob. identical w. prec., perh. because the miscellaneous contents of a pie are comparable with the miscellaneous objects collected by magpies.]” Eric Partridge can do no better than this origin for the edible “pie”.
    French appears to have nothing deeply cognate with edible “pie”; and Spanish-American “pay” appears to be a late borrowing from Norteamericano.
    Liddell and Scott say that “pitta” is Attic for “pissa”, which they gloss as “pitch”, equivalent to Latin “pix”. William Smith confirms this as “pitch”, and gratuitously informs us that “boiling pitch was poured on the bodies of slaves”, and even more gratuitously adds “as a punishment”. Smith gives connexions with Italian “pece” and French “poix”, both meaning simply “pitch”, as does the Spanish derivative “pez”.
    A link between Neapolitan(?) “pizza” and Ancient Greek “pitta/pissa” (represented, as it seems, and for whatever semantic reason, in Modern Greek “pit(t)a”) looks very likely. For the rest, I can say little.

  15. I’ve always felt a connection between pizza/pita and Chinese bǐng 饼. Science or poetry?

  16. Science or poetry?
    Surely pience or so-whatry, Jimmy.

  17. Dame, me voilà bien avancé.

  18. Dame, me voilà bien avancé.
    Viens et vois! Ma balle a dansé!
    But no more, please… good taste forbids.

  19. Okay, but… is the etymology of “bread” in Eastern languages well-known? The word here in Korea is bbang (빵 probably won’t show up for most readers since, well, who has Hangeul installed?) which is, by the way, using the common romanization, not a phonetical alphabet. The b sound is just a little harder and the following vowel is a bit more sharp and tense.
    Anyway, it has always struck me as similar-sounding the French “pain” for bread, and since a number of other French words have been adapted to Korean (though fewer than English, of course), I assumed it came from French, or at least from a Romance language.
    The Chinese mentioned by Jimmy’s a far likelier source, though, since tons of Korean is from Chinese. But I wonder if the Chinese comes from the French; considering that bread would have come with the first Westerners, and (if I recall my readings of Jonathan Spence correctly) the first Westerners who hung around for very long—long enough to show off things like bread—were French Jesuits, I’d guess it’s a likely source.

  20. Japanese pan ‘bread’ is from 16th-century Portuguese (see, eg, here); I assume the Korean is borrowed from Japanese, but I’ll let those who actually know weigh in.

  21. According to this site bbang (빵) is borrowed directly from French.

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