Friday, July 29, 2011

The Mayan Interference

I remember having read once that an early Mayan language investigator was surprised to realize that this language was actually about 90% greek in essence of words, grammar, etc. I really don't know how this came to happen, but the idea caught on really fast. It is something that would have been pretty spooky had it been real, of course, but actually it's a very weird notion. In fact, I even found some people claiming a mayan etymology for the word 'philosophy', φιλοσοφία.

PIL, to open one's eyes, be attentive, to contemplate. O, an intensifier particle. SOU, to shuffle, to untangle. IA, a hard or difficult thing.

So, voilà, we have that, according to this "faketymology" φιλοσοφία means something like 'to untangle something difficult in order to assert it strongly by contemplating it' (sic). What a wonderful fantasy has been concocted.

Back to the Real World

Not only should we forget that a Grimm's Law should occur to make pil into phil, but also we are lacking a ph in 'pil-o-sou-ia'. Not only that, but the intensifier is given a whole morphosemantic concept as "to assert strongly"! No, this is not how an intensifier particle works, and even if we were to blindly accept all this... SOU doesn't mean 'untangle' but 'to tangle, to tie a knot' just the opposite. All in all, a complete mess of a fantasy.

And this is even disregarding the fact that in greek 'philos' is a word and 'phil' is not. Also note that Mayan never used this word, and is not a valid word in any Mayan dictionary, also I think it breaks several Mayan rules.

But how? How can a language so dissimilar as Mayan be equated to Greek? This is actually a very interesting question, is it a misreading of Mayan dictionaries and Greek ones? Or is it a purposefully evil attempt at creating fake etymologies and fantasies to sicken real linguists and discredit Mayan studies?

When this doesn't work some equate it to other languages. I've read Mayan is a 70% Mesopotamian (sic), which makes no sense, since there were more than one language in use in the Mesopotamia at any time. Even that it is 70% Aramaic, which really startles me since Mayan prefers bi-consonantal roots and Semitic languages favor tri-consonantal ones, even when, by way of suffixes, Mayan can seem to have tri-consonantal roots, like for example hanal, akbal, both use the suffix -(V)l, but roots are han and kab respectively.

The most incredible? Someone wrote Yucatec Mayans and Japanese people can speak "fluently with no need of an interpreter". Really? Let's put this statement to the test, shall we? Let's write some common phrases in both languages to see how much they can understand each other;

Japanese: あなたの名前は何?
Anata no namae wa nani? Your name is what?

Mayan (Yucatec): Bix a kaaba’ ?
What your name?

Hum... I really don't think they would understand what the hell they are talking about. Certainly I wouldn't recommend you to speak Mayan to a Japanese. Let's see the answers to this, maybe they can glean the meaning from the similarity of the words for that;

Japanese: 私の名前はアレクス
Watashi no namae wa Alex. My name is Alex

Mayan (Yucatec): In kaabae Alex.
My name (is) Alex.

Hum... again, I don't think they would understand a word. Specially not if one speaks of "namae" and the other of "k'aaba'/k'aaba'e", or, for that case, "watashi" vs. "in", or "anata" vs. "a". So we can say for sure that this is not the case, then how come so many people on the Internet go by this theory? We sure love a good conspiracy or secret knowledge story no matter how wild it is.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Querétaro Incongruence

The International Day of the Spanish Language was celebrated last June 19th in Madrid, in the Cervantes Institute who promoted it. The celebration gathered more than 500 millions of Spanish-speakers worldwide in each of the institution's headquarters all around the world. The curious thing is that a poll organized by the Cervantes Institute on the Internet showed the word that was voted "the most beautiful of the Spanish language", and this word, as it turns out, is Querétaro.

Aside from it being a name of a state in Mexico, and aside the fantastically crafted meaning given ("island of the blue salamanders"), something caught my attention. The fact is that this word in particular is, obviously not even a Spanish word. It is the name of a state in a Spanish-speaking country, but it is not a Spanish word per se. You cannot speak about a "querétaro". The word is also of unknown or, at least, dubious etymology, but most probably a Purepecha name meaning, some claim, "place with crags" and this is the most probable, considering the topology of the place.

My point is, this is hardly a valid word for the vote. It is not more of a Spanish word as Oklahoma or Wyoming are English words, and I don't expect these wining the award in this language. Even names of spanish cities as Zaragoza or León have more claim to be regarded as a "Spanish word" than Querétaro or, by the same logic, Mexico or Nicaragua. At any rate it is a Purepecha name taken and adapted into the Spanish language, being the probable original name; K'erendarhu.

A very interesting flaw in judgement by the Institutions of the Spanish language.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Selk'nam concordances

A very nice, interesting language the Selk'nam, it also belongs to another indigenous people of Argentina who dwelled in the southernmost tip of the American continent. They have also been called Ona and they were part of the Chon linguistic and ethnic family.

Their language is intriguing in that it has a great number of words with very complex consonant clusters, for example; a word ʂq'òːht'èː means 'to gather', notice the retroflex with the ejective occlusive, also in the word haʔmqn which means 'coast'.

Most important about this language is the grammar, which includes a system of evidentials, namely, a dubitative, a surprisive, and a certitive. This, along with the pronominal prefixes can create quite a mouthful. The language does not take any markings for gender, but the certitive ending varies according to gender or neutrality, for example;
jah t-ahjqe-nn, I see (him), masc.

1st 3rd-to.see-CERT.masc.

jah t-ahjqe-èn, I see (her), fem.

1st 3rd-to.see-CERT.fem.

jah h-ahjq-n, I see it, neut.

1st 3rd-to.see-CERT.neut. 
In fact the same endings are also applied to the tense particles, so if we have xenn 'to come', and nèj 'present particle'.
xe-nn nèj-j čonn, the man comes. 
to.come-CERT.masc. PRS-CERT.masc. man 
But this last mark in the tense particle is not added when the pronoun is left last.
xe-nn nèj jah, I come (male). 
to.come-CERT.m PRS 1st
This suffixes can also be appended to the negative particle and other tense particles as well. Another interesting aspect of the language is the different lemmatas used in word-formation. I will discuss other interesting features of Selk'nam verbs and morphology in new posts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Toba particles

Reading a linguistics magazine of the Argentinian Linguistics Society (RASAL in Spanish) I came across a paper by Cristina Messineo about some very interesting features about the language of the Toba people which I would like to share.

The Toba are an indigenous people in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay in what is known as the Gran Chaco region. In Argentina they live mainly in the provinces of Chaco (not to confuse with the region), Formosa and Santa Fe.

Their language uses a set of particles to denote presence as well as to denote motion or act as classifiers. Most common particles are: da 'extended vertically classifier', ñi 'non-extended tridimensional classifier', yi 'extended horizontally classifier', na 'in motion, proximity', so 'in motion, distant', ca 'imperceptible, absent classifier'. How do we use these particles? An example would be,

qaica ca pan
EXneg CL:aus bread
'There is no bread.'

The first word literally means 'there isn't, doesn't exist' and it is followed by the absence classifier ca. Not only one must negate the verb but also the classifier must agree. On the other hand, we have the positive of this sentence,

huo'o na pan
EX CL:prox bread
'There is bread.'

Here we see the existential verb followed by the proximity classifier, indicating that the bread is there nearby. The classifiers, as seen above, can also indicate the shape of the object or if it either in repose or moving, I find this a very interesting feature of the language. But what would happen if you wanted to ask, unknowingly, if there is bread or not,

huo'o ca pan  ?
EX CL:aus bread
'Is there bread?'

The bread here has no apparent existence to the speaker and therefore the absence classifier is used, note that the existential verb is positive. To this question we might answer qaica ('there is not') if the answer is negative. The absence classifier can even be used with the verb to convey the sense of an irrealis mood, a supposed situation or a theoretical event in the future, as illustrated in the phrase,

cha'aye huo'o ca na'aq
conj. EX CL:aus day
'Because there will be a day...'

This is a very interesting construction that may help stimulate new ideas for language creation.