Visiting Lameen’s blog, I found a post mentioning that “Sorosoro have just put up a webpage by me, giving a general picture of the language of Tabelbala: Korandje.” Naturally, I followed the link, and found an interesting brief description of the Northern Songhay language he’s been working on. But what was Sorosoro? I went to their main page, which was intriguing; it has a fancy and colorful layout with links to blogs, videos, and news stories, and the subtitle “So the languages of the world may live on!” Their About page says:

Nowadays, the Araki language is only spoken by eight speakers in Vanuatu, a small state in the Pacific where we can find the biggest linguistic density in the world, about a hundred languages for 200 000 inhabitants.
In Araki, Sorosoro means “breath, speech, language”, and we have chosen this very symbolic word as the name for our safeguard program of threatened languages.
For the Araki language as for many others, time is running out. The process of extinction has accelerated considerably in recent decades and many languages with no more than a few speakers will disappear very quickly.
Of course, to safeguard the 6 000 languages that are spoken today all around the world is almost impossible : we already know that only a part of our linguistic inheritance will be saved. Yet, we want to participate and to contribute, with the help of other actors from this sector, towards the preservation of as many languages as possible ; because inaction will amount to the same thing as resigning to the cultural impoverishment of humanity.
That is why, with the support of our Scientific Council, we have set up a three- faceted program….

It all sounds admirable, but one is left wanting to know more about how it all came about, who’s behind it, how long it’s been in existence, and all the stuff an About page usually tells one. But if Lameen is involved with it, I presume it’s worthwhile, and I intend to investigate what it has on offer.


  1. David Marjanović says

    I actually attended part of a “rencontre Sorosoro” in Paris a few years ago. (Presentations followed by discussions.) Definitely worthwile.
    Incidentally, that’s how I learned that the V in Vanuatu is a [β].

  2. Oh, and there was me feeling all smug to myself knowing that Kiribati is pronounced “Kiribas” and now I find out I’ve been pronouncing Vanuatu wrong all this time?! By the way, wikipedia states that Vanuatu’s anthem is “Yumi, Yumi, Yumi” – how great is that! If only the next line was “I’ve got love in my tummy”?!

  3. Naah, it’s Bislama (aka Beach-la-Mar) for ‘we, us (inclusive)’.

  4. Sorry, meant to include the translation “we, we, we”. The “- how great is that!” was my opinion and not the translation of “Yumi x3”.

  5. For a non-IPA speaker, how is that V in Vanuatu pronounced, please ?

  6. Sorry, meant to include the translation “we, we, we”.
    If only the next line had been “All the way home”! Apt for an anthem.
    Sorosoro reminds me of susurrus, in its imitativeness. Sorry.

  7. Meanwhile, I keep thinking of the physicist Virasoro.
    I was thinking of the Three Little Pigs, too. But now you’ve got me thinking of Spinal Tap.

  8. Trond Engen says

    Should we venture a guess that sorosoro is an intensive/iterative reduplication of a *soro “(single) breath”?
    I read of Bislama that it too has the genitive particle/preposition blong

  9. … an intensive/iterative reduplication of a *soro “(single) breath”?
    Why not?
    On susurrus and the like, there is similar onomatopoeic speculation for spiritus – and psyche, by some accounts:

    If in the psyche there is no breath, then there is also no voice, and thus, there is no thought. And yet the psyche – from the verb psycho, “to breathe” – could not but sound to a Greek ear like a phenomenon linked to the emission of air.

    In Greek thought psyche was a more widely distributed attribute than it is taken to be now. Closer to prana than to manas, by the Sanskrit dispensation as captured in the Taittiriya Upanishad – if I may set aside the diacritical niceties of proper transcription.
    The Soros of Young Wörter. [Sigh.]

  10. Good grief. How could I confuse the three little pigs with this little piggy?
    Do you know my favorite thing about the word Wörter?

  11. Of course, sorosoro means something quite different in Japanese, roughly translatable as ‘soon’. Examples from an online dictionary:
    そろそろ出掛けようか / Sorosoro dekakeyō ka.
    Shall we be going?/Let’s be going.
    そろそろ始める時間だ / Sorosoro hajimeru jikan da.
    It’s about time 「we started [for us to begin].
    そろそろ食事の用意が出来るころだ / Sorosoro shokuji no yōi ga dekiru koro da.
    I should think our dinner would be (about) ready by now.
    そろそろ太陽が昇る / Sorosoro taiyō ga noboru
    The sun will rise soon [by and by].
    そろそろ日暮れだ / Sorosoro higure da.
    It’s almost [getting on toward] sunset.

  12. My old standby (and I do mean “old”: published by Yale during WWII and reprinted from an earlier edition, which someone in this thread said dated to the ’20s) the Rose-Innes Vocabulary of Common Japanese Words gives the meaning as “Slowly (in a good sense)” and the accent on the second syllable (soROsoro, with the caps indicating high pitch).

  13. Paul: Like the sound of Spanish b or v between vowels.

  14. In standard Japanese I’m pretty sure it’s SOrosoro (HLLL as some dictionaries have it). LHLL sounds like some kind of dialect, which seems likely judging from the dictionary you mention. Emigration from Japan tended to be done in groups which maintained their dialectal features in their new homelands (something my wife and I found out when we heard all the Nikkeis in Hawaii speaking Yamaguchi/Hiroshima dialect – my wife’s dialect!)
    I’m guessing that the Japanese people who helped compile that dictionary were such immigrants, and the pronunciation guide reflects their dialectal features.
    As for the meaning, it originally meant “slowly” but came to mean “soon” because, as Bathrobe’s examples show, it is almost always used as a preface to an exhortative like “shall we … ?” or “let’s …” “Sorosoro ikou ka” at one time meant something like “let’s leave, but slowly (because getting up and leaving suddenly would be rude, etc.).”
    These days it’s used as a prefatory phrase that gives the listener a clue about what the mode of the verb is going to be, since the verb and attendant information always come at the end in Japanese. There are lots of other examples, like “marude,” originally meaning “exactly like,” but now also sometimes acting as a way to introduce a counterfactual analogy (etc.), which is necessary if the counterfactual involves a long clause, because the listener won’t know that you’re presenting a counterfactual until the end of the sentence, which can lead to some raised eyebrows, depending on what it is.
    An example of this would be “You’re speaking as if I slept with your wife or something.”
    “Marude ore ga omae no nyoubou to neta mitai ni hanashiteru yo.”
    Without the introductory “marude,” the sentence starts with the pretty incendiary phrase “ore ga omae no nyoubou to neta” = “I slept with your wife.”
    So the “marude” serves to alert the listener to what the mode of the verb phrase is going to be, the same way “sorosoro” does. And that’s why “sorosoro” really doesn’t really need to be translated. “Sorosoro ikou ka” is just “well, shall we go?” or “Do you want to get going?” etc.

  15. My three Japanese accent dictionaries give SOrosoro for both Tokyo and Kyoto accents.

  16. Thanks, marc, for an enlightening discussion (and Bathrobe for confirming the accent, which may well just be a typo in my edition and which I have corrected accordingly).

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