Posts Tagged ‘language’

I don’t know why, but I’ve always found visual depictions of language and texts interesting. I loved the illuminated manuscripts of the celts, such as The Book of Kells. It’s not so often the text itself, as the decorations surrounding it which seem to tell a story of its own, in pictures. Taking a closer look at the designs and symbols is almost like decoding a cipher. Making comparisons between the objects depicted, whether carvings in stone, or embossed metalwork, or painted on walls or paper the transmission of culture and ideas between peoples is often documented and codeified. The understanding of a people and a written language might require the discovery of a Rosetta Stone, however. And the deciphering of symbols and diagrams likewise requires a key the viewer may not possess, although the fascination with them persists. Spoken language reveals similarities in words that sound alike although are spelled differently in each culture.

Hapsburg A.E.I.O.U.

Playing the old game, where a message is whispered consecutively from person to person standing in a row, reveals the transformation that occurs as each individual relays the mistakes conveyed by the person who spoke to him until the final person iterates what he heard the message to be, and it is far from the original. This shows how languages could variously be transformed with old tribes confluence with new peoples as they migrated across continents, and symbols likewise be transformed by small variations and adaptations to other peoples’ ideas. For example, in the movie Avatar, the indiginous natives are said to worship the god Ey’wa. Ey’wa is two syllables similar in sound to the term Yahweh, written as four letters without vowels YHWH, and called the Tetragrammaton. Interestingly, Native Americans had a similar word for their god, and also use a term like “Elohim” in their spoken version of The Lord’s Prayer. Although it certainly sounds like the basis for theNa’vi language, it sounds like Chinese to me.

And further proving that sometimes even {olde} English can be unintelligible in the native tongue, here is the same Lord’s Prayer in Gaelic.

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At the time, I had no knowledge of the rotten eggs, the nose-pinching, the strange places Icelanders take automobiles, nor many of the other quaint and, frankly, weird passions of the Icelandic people, and I just thought Einar was a bit odd. At the time, I didn’t realize eccentricity was a national characteristic. Nor that it was contagious.
I started wondering about the Icelandic temperament when Einar Gustavsson advised me to eat trout smoked in burning horse manure. As a tourism official whose job is to convince Americans to visit Iceland, he did not tell me about the rotten duck eggs, or “hard-fish.” But he couldn’t restrain himself on the subject of the smoked fish.

“This is so good, you wouldn’t believe how natural and wonderful it is,” he told me on the phone.
“Horse shit,” I said, to be sure.

“Some horse manure, some wood,” he said appeasingly. “Mostly wood.”

Such was my introduction to Iceland, a Pennsylvania-sized island formed by a giant attack of planetary dyspepsia, and inhabited by the boisterous-yet-bookish descendants of the Vikings.

Although videos are making inroads, Icelanders are reputed to read more books than anyone else on the planet. They have always been wordy folk. Even when their young democracy wobbled out of control, leading to horrible poverty that lasted from the 12th century through the 19th, Icelanders held the touchstone of their language. Through the winter nights, they huddled in damp, turf-and-stone huts, reading the sagas aloud. In the worst of times, brought by Danish exploitation and vomiting ash that smothered the grass and starved the livestock, they ate their beautifully illustrated calfskin books, and went back to telling the sagas from memory.

This linguistic tenacity has paid a peculiar dividend: The Icelandic language has hardly changed in a thousand years, meaning that Icelanders can still read their ancient literature. These days, to protect the historic tongue from the epidemic of Global Culture Fade, a panel of Icelanders is charged with inventing new terms as needed. The telephone, for example, is a simi, or “thread.” A fax is a simibref, or “phone letter.”

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Cultural Immersion & Heritage In Iceland & Iceland – Finding Your Inner Viking | Away.com.

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from the blog “a French Word-a-Day”

Ma grand-mère française préfère que je l’appelle “Granny” au lieu de “Mamie”. Et ma grand-mère américaine préfère que je l’appelle “Grand-mère, au lieu de “Grandma.” Elles sont compliquées, les “grandmothers,” n’est-ce pas? My French grandmother prefers that I call her “Granny” instead of “Mamie”. And my American grandmother prefers that I call her “Grand-mère” instead of “Grandma”. They are complicated, grandmothers, aren’t they?

une ruelle (f) = alley(way), lane
la fenêtre (f) = window
la mamie (f) = granny
bien sûr, mais je ne suis pas très présentable = of course, but I am not very presentable
ce n’est pas mal du tout = it’s not bad at all
la publicité (f) = advertising

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