7.27.2006

Language stories and Tammish

In analyzing the recent topics of my blog, I feel I have gotten away from the real heart and soul of Foreign Words. That is not to say FW isn’t a mulit-topic blog, but let’s admit it: I’ve somehow gained the reputation of speaking seventeen languages. A few anecdotes: (this is mostly to welcome a newbie to my blog, whose name will [maybe temporarily but probably permanently] be Book Reader for two reasons, one, because she is, and two, because it is synonymous with her name. We like her.)
This is one I’ve told everybody, but I actually had to re-tell it to defend myself the other day.
I Dunno and I were at this really good sushi bar for lunch a few weeks back because Mom was having a luncheon thingy. We had to get out of the house. We sat at the bar and watched the Japanese chefs cut, slice, dice, and prepare fish and all sorts of delightful meals for the other patrons. They mostly kept to themselves, but every once in a while would toss a few words at a co-worker in Japanese. Many of the menu items, however, were in English, so I Dunno said, “can you understand what they’re saying?” With a reasoning tone, I said “I Dunno, I don’t speak Japanese…” He said, “Oh, I thought they were speaking Chinese…” Because evidently I speak Chinese, too…
Secondly, another installment from someone I’m not going to mention (think think think). We’re in the car yesterday on a call. There are three of us: me and this person and someone else. The someone else commented mid-story-I-was-telling and said “it’s always cool to hear about the things you’ve read about or have seen, etc.” which isn’t much, but apparently this person’s interests in international stuff pales in comparison to mine. Duh. She continued to explain how last week we were discussing the state of affairs in North Korea, and an online travel guide I stumbled upon for those “lucky” enough to get in. We discussed communism in that country and how militant things were, etc. and the other person said, “Are they the ones that wear the stones between their eyes?” “No. Those are Indians.” “Well, what’s the difference between Koreans and Indians?” Imagine my surprise.
I proceeded to discuss the subtle differences in the two ethnic groups: the pale complexion as opposed to the darker skin, the minute differences in religion and worship, and the minor geographic discrepancies between the two areas. Not to mention the linguistic similarities between a language isolate and a country that contains more official languages than (I think) any other country in the world, with fifteen. After about an hour, I think we had it all cleared away. It’s just so funny to think that there would be someone on the planet that would pair THESE two specific groups together. All not look so same. And that, my friends, would be a useless website. Entirely. (But maybe not as much as previously thought).
I wish I could find it now, but I had saved in my favorites, at one time, on some computer, a dissertation by a linguist who (I think) was challenged to make connections between Tamil and Finnish. Tamil is the 18th(ish) most spoken language in the world. It’s most closely related to Malayalam, and is spoken in Sri Lanka and the southern portion of India. If you follow India up the east coast toward the Kerala region you’ll begin to find Malayalam speakers, but that’s irrelevant.
Finnish is a Finno-Ugric language, and one of the three major languages belonging to this group. All the others are extinct or spoken by so few people that they are hardly worth mentioning, and some even consider them to be dialects of the Finnish language. Anyway, Finnish is most closely related (albeit very distantly) to Estonian, and even more distantly to Hungarian, the highest estimates of mutual vocabulary or grammar to either being about 5%, as I recall. It’s also considered (by most) to be the hardest language in the world to learn. With fifteen noun declensions in the singular and sixteen in the plural, it’s quite possibly the most complex language on earth. Coupled with the pronunciation and length of words, it’s near impossible. Most Finns will learn a few other languages, so there are very few people that tackle that language.
Anyway, this linguist derived a number of similarities, through only one or two degrees of separation, and sometimes directly, between Finnish and Tamil. With loanwords, specific articulated sounds, or constructions and such, he was arguably able to draw conclusions that could not historically be backed. That is, the Finns never did actually settle and conquer in India, thus creating any kind of blending of the cultures.
This could go on forever. Do your own research.

7 comments:

Horse N. Buggy said...

Does Book Reader share a first name with one of your aunts?

The Polyglot said...

She most certainly does.

Horse N. Buggy said...

Is she gonna join in the commenting fun?

djwegaljdgropjmadwef ... oops, wrong spot.

Book Reader said...

How funny that I have now been included in your blog. Flattered & Surprised - apparently you know me too well and knew that I would check back in and be intrigued enough to post on your blog. ESP or just superscarysmart? I don't know which.

Horse N. Buggy said...

UPDATE!

Affable Olive said...

Oh no! It's the update bug! Get it fast before it starts multiple comments.

Jules said...

seriously, can we get an update here?