Sunday, December 31, 2006

Heb’ Kab’nal
The Lacandones

A Q'anjob'al Maya story

Ay jun ab’ix chiyal intxutx yet heb’ jichmam tzet maxyun pitz’oj heb’ a heb’ anima yet payxa. K’am chi pitzk’oj heb’ yuj no’ tiltik chijayi chi chiontoq no’ chiyab’en no’ b’ay chiajteq heb’ unin okoq. Maxb’et chalayayteq a no’ chib’et chaonayteq. Chi pitzk’oj jun jun unin chi chionaytoq no’ k’am chipitzk’oj heb’ anima. Axa P’elixh maxnaoni tzet oq-yun pitzk’oj heb’ anima kaq ti’ ta kak’alti’. Maxpitzk’oj heb’ maxsayon rason. Maxb’et sayonteq te’ q’olal taj maxtoj b’ay nanlaq ak’al. Maxb’et chikon chib’ej. Maxyab’en no’ tiltik tu’ jab’ chib’ej tu’ maxayk’ay no’ kaq chiyun yayk’ay no’ ostok. Maxb’et maxayk’ay no’. Chikon P’elixh tu’ te’ q’olal taj tu’. "Echinb’el wuxhtaq oqachlowoq ti’ chiwat’nej alob’ej." Maxyi’onaj te’ q’olal taj tu’ lanan yuqi te’ maxq’anwontoq yul nuq’ no’ tiltik tu’ kax chikamel no’. A b’ay chib’etek’ jun junel chib’et ya’kan kam, otaqk’on waqtaqk’on lajlajonk’on tiltik. Kay tu’ maxyun kami. Kay tu’ maxyun pitzk’ojkan heb’. Axkatu k’amxa maqtxel oqchiontoq heb’ kax maxpitzk’ojkan heb’. Axkatu maxyun pitzk’ojkan heb’ anima yet antiwo ley yet heb’ jichmam.

There is a story my mother tells about our ancestors, how it happened they grew [progressed] those people from long ago. They do not progress because of the lacandon. They [the lacandones] come, they eat, they hear where they [children] go up, the children enter [the steambath]. [And they] go to receive, those animals go receiving to themselves. Each child is born, the animal eats him up, the people do not progress. And so Vírvez [P’elixh] was thinking: How will it happen the people grow, thus if it is [to be] they grow [and he] looked for a way. He went looking for pine resin, he went in among the valleys. He went to cook meat. Those lacandon smelled the meat [and] they fell as it happens the buzzard falls. They went, they fell down. That Vírvez was cooking that pine tree sap. "Wait, my brother, you will eat, here I am preparing your meal." And he raised up that pine tree resin—it was boiling—[and he] threw it down the throats of those lacandones and they died. There he went by every time he went to leave them dead—five, six, ten animal lacandones. Thus it happened that they died. Thus it happened the people continued to grow. Thus no more will anyone eat them up and they progressed. So it happened the people grew in the old law of our ancestors.

This story is about a group of Ch'ol-speaking Maya people called the Lacandon, or Lacandones, who were never conquered by the Europeans and who were apparently not on good terms with the Q'anjob'al at this point in history. Note that the story-teller (see below) uses the term no' tiltik for the Lacandon, instead of the usual Q'anjob'al term naq kab'nal. The no'(1) is a classifier for animals (most Q'anjob'al nouns take some type of classifier usually translated 'the' in English), and the tiltik was described by informants as an inhuman, vampire-like creature with deep red eyes and long black clothes over a skeleton. There is one occurrence of lajlajonk'on tiltik, with lajlajon (ten) and k'on the numerical version of the no' classifier for animals. The word naq is a human classifier used with kab'nal, the actual term for the Lacandon, but her repeated use of no' tiltik seems to indicate her equation of them with something less than human probably due to their behavior.

Note the Spanish borrowings: anima (borrowed into most Mayan languages and in Q'anjob'al means 'person' or 'people'), rason (razón, reason), antiwo (antiguo, old), and ley (law).

This story was told by Eulalia Garcia M., a native speaker of Q'anjob'al, as it appears in an International Journal of American Linguistics (IJAL) article of 1980 by Laura Martin.

The article's English translation is not too smooth, but it gets the basic idea across.

(1) In Q'anjob'al, you cannot simply say "I have a dog" or "There is a house." You must use the appropriate classifiers for dog or house: Ay jun no' hintx'i' (exists-one-[animal]-my-dog) or Ay jun te' na (exists-one-[wood]-house; te' the classifier for houses, wooden objects, etc.). There is no verb 'to have' in Q'anjob'al.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A real Yukatek Maya perspective on the movie Apocalypto

I especially liked his ending sentence:

"Perhaps Gibson could make a movie showing how the Mayas still are suffering discrimination, even to the point of being cheated out of our lands and displaced, because of the ships he showed arriving as the finale of 'Apocalypto.'"

Not to mention his remarks on the Yukatek language as spoken by non-Maya actors!

Who were the Maya?

Not the people in 'Apocalypto'

Staff Writer

The Mayas were savages and needed to be straightened out.

That is the message Mel Gibson's movie "Apocalypto" conveyed to me when it contrasted savage bloodthirsty pagans meeting with arriving Europeans carrying the symbol of the cross.
But we are not savages.

Spanish invaders who arrived among the Maya in the 16th century depicted natives as barbaric people dedicated to devil worship in order to justify brutality and conquest. We all know native peoples didn't fare well under Christianity; some cultures were completely lost. Coincidentally, Christianity is the foundation of Gibson's belief and spirituality.

But a more serious massacre -- that of the Yukatek language -- begins early in the movie. The non-Maya actors of North American Indian heritage pronouncing their rehearsed Yukatek lines sounded like Hollywood Western stereotypes saying: "How! Me Tonto, this Painted Horse."
Although I was born a Yukatek Maya and raised in a Yukatek village, speaking Yukatek as the first of four languages I know, I had to glance at the subtitles to figure out what the actors were trying to say.

It was slightly refreshing that Gibson cast an elder, a storyteller, who spoke the language without pauses, with such musical flow and accuracy that for a moment I thought I was in my village listening to my own elders. But, sad to say, the only other significant part in the movie where the power of the Yukatek language was genuinely demonstrated is when the tiny village girl talks about the prophecy of the jaguar ending the evil and vile ways of the devil people.

The film is full of violence, floods of blood, throat-slitting, beheadings, heads rolling down the steps of temples and hearts being wrenched out of gaping holes in upper abdomens.

I had to turn to my friend, Robert Sitler, a Latin American studies professor at Stetson University, to ask for his reaction.

"Sadly, 'Apocalypto' will leave mainstream American moviegoers seeing Maya as heartless savages," Sitler said after the movie. He said the movie "unwittingly reinforces a long-standing tradition of virulent racism against the Maya among white Europeans and their Spanish-speaking descendents."

The film falls short of Gibson's intention -- which, remotely, appears to be telling the story of Jaguar Paw, the hero played by Rudy Youngblood, and the prophecy of his rise to power. The film fails for two reasons.

First, Gibson bogs down the plot with his craze for blood and death. Second, just as Jaguar Paw appears to be achieving success, he runs into ships anchored in the bay with boats rowing ashore carrying grim-faced conquistadors bearing the symbols of the cross.

I am not certain which Jaguar Paw Gibson tried to portray in his movie. There were several famous Jaguar Paws in Maya hieroglyphics, including one who became king of the great Maya city of Calakmul in 686 and was long gone when the Spaniards arrived 806 years later. There were no glorious Maya cities, simply small communities scattered throughout the Maya world.
And Mr. Gibson, that world is not only Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras, as you defined it in promoting your movie. It also includes what is now Belize and El Salvador.

Unlike the sadistic and violent caricatures of Maya in "Apocalypto," real Maya intensely nurture their children and honor both their elders and ancestors, embracing human mortality in the context of a cultural heritage going back more than a hundred generations.

My only hope is that moviegoers would take the movie as a misleading and distorted Hollywood drama designed to entertain.

Perhaps Gibson could make a movie showing how the Mayas still are suffering discrimination, even to the point of being cheated out of our lands and displaced, because of the ships he showed arriving as the finale of "Apocalypto."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Makahiki Hou

I was looking through some of my old notes and handouts from when I took a Hawaiian class a few years ago and came across some seasonally appropriate material:

Makahiki is the traditional Hawaiian version of New Year. The Makahiki season begins with the first sighting of the constellation Pleiades, Makali’i, in late October or November and ends about four months later with the rising of the fourth new moon. It is the time when the god Lono-i-ka-makahiki reigns over the ancient god of war , and the people enjoy peace and harmony. It is also the time for tax collection, thanksgiving, and feasting. There are various rites of purification and celebrations during the Makahiki season.

Once the Makahiki season ends, Lono(1) returns to Kahiki (Tahiti) and the time of Kū begins again, which is symbolic of the ali’i (chief) reasserting his power and imposing kapu (taboo) to be observed for the rest of the year.

Here is an ancient chant from the Makahiki season:

Nā ‘Aumākua

Nā ‘Aumākua mai ka lā hiki a ka lā ‘ākau
Mai ka ho’okui a ka hālawai
Nā ‘Aumākua ia Kahinakua ia Kahina’alo
Ia ka ‘ākau i ka lani
O kīhā i ka lani, ‘owē i ka lani
Nunulu i ka lani, kāholo i ka lani
Eia ka pulapula a ‘oukou, nā po’e o ka Pakipika
E mālama ‘oukou ia mākou
E ulu i ka lani, e ulu i ka honua, e ulu i ka pae ‘āina o ka Pakipika
E homai ka ‘ike
E homai ka ‘ikaika
E homai ka ‘akamai
E homai ka maopopo pono
E homai ka ‘ike pāpālua
E homai ka mana
‘Āmama ua noa.

To the ancestral deities from the rising to the setting sun
From the zenith to the horizon
The ancestral deities who stand at our back and at our front
You who stand at the right side
A breathing in the heavens
An utterance in the heavens
Here are your descendants, the people of the Pacific(2)
Safeguard us
That we may flourish in the heavens
That we may flourish on the earth
That we may flourish on the islands of the Pacific
Grant us knowledge
Grant us strength
Grant us intelligence
Grant us the understanding
Grant us the spiritual insight
Grant us the power.
The prayer is lifted, it is free.(3)

The translation of the chant above is not my own, and as I was thumbing through the dictionary to find some unfamiliar words, it seems some poetic liberties were taken by the translator. For instance, although kīhā is translated as 'breathing' by this translator, the only dictionary entry I found defines it as 'belch.' A belch in the heavens?! Well, I guess breathing sounds better than belching, so I'll go along with this more poetic translation!

1. Lono is one of the four ancient gods brought from Tahiti and is associated with peace, fertility, and agriculture, the clustering of dark clouds, thunder, whirlwinds, waterspouts, earthquakes, and the Kona rain. This same god is known as Rongo on Rapanui (Easter Island; Hawaiian l = Rapanui and Tahitian r) and is the namesake of the Rongorongo hieroglyphic script of that island, which has not been deciphered.
2. I suspect this is altered from the traditional chant, since Pakipika for 'Pacific' was obviously borrowed from English in post-missionary times. Perhaps the original was simply moana or kai, 'ocean' or 'sea.'
3. This is a pre-missionary, or pre-Christian, ending of a traditional prayer.

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Native Language Bill Signed Into Law

Finally, some good news from the pen of the president. This bill was signed into law on December 14. I hope it hails a new era in indigenous language preservation and revitalization!

"This innovative and timely legislation helps stem an impending tragedy for our nation; the rapid decline and potential loss of Native American languages" -- Rep. Steve Pearce

WASHINGTON - The New Mexico Congressional Delegation today announced that President Bush has signed into law the Esther Martinez Native Languages Preservation Act. The new law helps prevent the loss of an important part of New Mexico's heritage, the Native American languages that are rapidly disappearing.

The bill, written and introduced by Congresswoman Heather Wilson in February, was passed by the House in September and the Senate earlier this month with the support of the entire New Mexico delegation. "These languages will be preserved with attention and effort. Once lost, they will never be recovered," Wilson said. "The native languages were precious to Esther Martinez, and this bill is designed to help preserve them. It is a fitting tribute to her life's work." "This bill is a tremendous way to honor the memory of Esther Martinez. It aims to preserve the unique linguistic heritage of Native Americans, and I'm pleased to see it become law," said U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, who worked to ensure passage in the Senate. "For many years, tribes were discouraged from speaking their native languages and now many languages have disappeared."

This legislation will help ensure native languages are preserved, and passed on to future generations," U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman said. "Considering Esther's dedication to preserving her native language, it is a fitting tribute that this legislation be named after her," said Rep. Tom Udall. "The urgent need to protect and preserve Native American languages is clear. We must invest in their preservation by implementing immersion programs. This legislation is an important step toward reversing the trend of disappearing native languages. I would like to congratulate Congresswoman Wilson on this legislation being signed into law, and thank her for her efforts on this important issue." "This innovative and timely legislation helps stem an impending tragedy for our nation; the rapid decline and potential loss of Native American languages," said Rep. Steve Pearce, also a co-sponsor of the legislation. "I commend Rep. Wilson for her leadership in reconnecting younger generations of Native Americans to the language and culture of their ancestors while preserving an irreplaceable treasure for every American."

The bill was designated in honor of Esther Martinez of New Mexico, following her death in September. On September 14, Esther Martinez of Ohkay Owingeh was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship in Washington, DC. She died at 94 years of age in Espanola en route home after attending a ceremony at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sadly, only an estimated 20 of more than 300 pre-colonial indigenous languages will remain by the year 2050. In 1996, 175 of these languages remained, but now we're losing them at a rate of 12 languages every 3 years. New Mexico is home to 19 different pueblos and 3 tribes. Among the tribes and pueblos, there are six major languages, plus varying dialects. Language is a key element of each community's identity. A recent survey of Native languages found that among the Lipan Apache on the Mescalero reservation in southern New Mexico there are just ten speakers of the native language remaining. At the Sandia Pueblo, north of Albuquerque, most of their Native speakers are middle aged or older. Even Navajo, spoken more than any other Native Language in the U.S., is spoken fluently by less than half of the Navajo children entering kindergarten.

The bill authorizes competitive grants through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish Native American language "nests" for students under the age of seven and their families. It supports Native American language survival schools. It will help to preserve all the indigenous languages that are still being spoken, and increase the support for Native American language immersion programs to create fluent speakers, and allow tribes and pueblos to develop their own immersion programs.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Is 1491 a more accurate version of American history prior to the arrival of Columbus?

If any of you who are interested in American history before the cataclysmic arrival of Columbus in 1492 hasn’t already done so, I’d highly suggest reading 1491 by Charles Mann. It is a thought-provoking book based on up-to-date anthropological and archeological evidence of what the Americas really looked like before the European arrival and the mass assault on the indigenous peoples who welcomed him began.

In what little free time I have these days, I’ve been reading a couple of articles* about Poverty Point**, an archeological site in northeastern Louisiana. I’d heard of Cahokia in western Illinois (in what’s now East St. Louis) and Aztalan in Wisconsin, but I hadn’t heard of this massive site in Louisiana until now.

The site was first reported in 1873 by archeologist Samuel Lockett. But its unusual nature didn’t become evident until excavations were conducted by the American Museum of Natural History in the 1950s. An examination of an aerial photograph revealed that Poverty Point was an earthen enclosure built on such a huge scale that it couldn’t be recognized from the ground.

Carbon dating has placed the age of the main site at about 1700 BC. Villages apparently interconnected by waterways branching off the Mississippi River are thought to have contained permanent residences and these sites often contained artificial earthen mounds and C-shaped embankments which likely contained the houses of the residents. (The only house pattern so far discovered is small and circular, about 13-15 feet or 4-4.6 m in diameter.) Mounds were often dome-shaped, but at least two mounds at the main Poverty Point site were in the shape of flying birds. Excavations have not determined how the mounds were used.

The geometric layout of Poverty Point suggests that the site was built according to a master plan that indicates the home of a large resident population and a magnet for visitors and traders. In addition to the concentric C-shaped residential embankments, Poverty Point contains a large plaza, a flat open area of about 37 acres. On one side of the plaza some unusually large and deep pits were discovered that are thought to have contained huge posts as calendar markers to mark equinoxes and solstices.

There are several mounds, the largest of which represents a flying bird and stands 70 feet (21 m) high. While the majority of Poverty Point’s inhabitants lived on the embankments in the central enclosure, there’s evidence that people also lived and worked outside the enclosure perhaps as much as up to 25 miles distant.

Among the artifacts so far discovered at the site are simple pottery, stone vessels, and chipped stone and polished stone tools. Polished stone ornaments such as beads, pendants, and animal figurines are also characteristic. Among the more interesting of the artifacts are balls made from silt fashioned in dozens of different styles that were used for cooking. Archeologists have tried cooking in earth ovens made like those at Poverty Point. Using different shaped balls or objects was apparently the ancient cook’s way of regulating cooking temperature, just like setting time and power level on a modern microwave oven. These types of implements appeared to have been made up until about 1350 BC.

Obviously, reading about the Poverty Point site and its similarities to Cahokia and Aztalan (not to mention sites in Mesoamerica) made me realize that perhaps Mann’s view of the ancient Americas as consisting of large settlements, even metropolises, containing huge ceremonial centers and connected by a large network of terrestrial and aquatic trade routes is closer to the real scenario than that which we’re normally taught in high school and even college textbooks of the noble savage.

Gone are the days of seeing Native America as a simple, largely disconnected hodgepodge of hunter-gatherer temporary villages!

* Info from Gibson, J. (1996) Poverty Point, A Terminal Archaic Culture of the Lower Mississippi Valley, 2nd edition by the (Louisiana) Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism.

** Named for a plantation that once occupied the site.

For yet more info on Poverty Point, see the Moundbuilders/Ancient Southwest link on the sidebar.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Amerindian End of World Mythology

As promised in a much earlier posting, here are two stories, one from Biloxi with gloss and one from Rumsen Ohlone (without gloss, since I don't have the original Rumsen text--only an Old California Spanish translation*) both being "end of the world" stories:


Amą kidunahix ką ąyaa de ca oNni etu xa. Ekeką
earth roll DS people this die PAST they say always. DS

ąxti soNsa ątatka noNpa ye dą ayąk atowe nąk oNni.
woman one child two CAUS ? tree-? she lodge sit PAST

Nąx kide aniyą xepi kacidike de tidupi hi niki nąx
sat until water-DEF low ? go alight FUT none sit

ką exkanaskena ką “Tidu wiyakate,” kiye ką, “eke
DS Red-headed Buzzard DS "help me get down" she said to him DS " so

ko ątatka soNsa ikhu hi ni,” kiyedi. Kiye ką tiduwiye
? child one I give you" DECL-FEM she say. she say DS he help her down

xeni ką ątatkayą khuni oNni etu xa. Kadeska nącįyą
though DS child-DEF she give-NEG PAST they say. bird cloud-DEF

dustuki nąk oNni, sįdipa kiduspe nąk oNnidi sįdipadi
grasp sit PAST tail-all sink sit PAST tail-all-FOC

padi soNsoNti yuke xya etu xa. Omayina etike nąk
only-FOC? sharp ? always they say always. Yellowhammer there sit

oNni eke oNni sįdipa soNsoNti. Pukayi he etike nącįk
PAST so PAST tail-all sharp. Redheaded Woodpecker too there cloud-?

dustuki nąk oNni e he sįdip soNsoNti. Teįkayi ehetike
grasp sit PAST he too tail-all sharp Ivory-billed Woodpecker there

nąk oNnidi sįdip soNsoNti etu xa.
sit PAST tail-all sharp they say always.

The Earth rolled over and people died, they say always. A woman with two children was lodged in a tree waiting for the water to subside. She said to Redheaded Buzzard, "Help me get down," she said, "and I will give you one child," she said. Redheaded Buzzard helped her down but she did not give him a child. The bird [Redheaded Buzzard] clung to a cloud while his tail sank into the water. This is why his tail is all sharp at the ends, they say always. Yellowhammer was there too and his tail is also all sharp. Redheaded Woodpecker was also there clinging to a cloud and his tail is also sharp. Ivory-billed Woodpecker was there too and his tail is also sharp. This they say always.

This is a Biloxi flood myth similar to many others of different cultures all around the world. If we lop off all the frills of this story, the woman and the children and the birds, could this perhaps refer to an actual historic event, a natural cataclysm perhaps involving an earthquake (the earth rolled?) and a subsequent deluge?


Men and women were standing lined up on a small hill. They saw Hummingbird coming toward them. This hill was the only place that had light after the world ended, and the people did not want to give the light to Hummingbird. This was the only dry land, there in Salinas in Gabilan, as they called it, and they covered the light with the clothing they had. But there was an arrow hole in the clothing and Hummingbird got in through it. He carried the light away. Since then there has been light in the world, it is said. Eagle sent Sparrow Hawk to see if the sea was drying up yet. He didn’t trust Hummingbird. Sparrow Hawk brought up a rock from the bottom of the sea. Eagle then sent Crow to see if it was true that the sea was drying up. Crow went and saw many dead people and Crow, they say, started eating the flesh of the dead. That’s why Crow is black. Because Crow spent so much time eating the flesh of the dead, the sea was already drying up. Sparrow Hawk cursed Crow and that’s why Crow is black. Then the sea dried up and there began to be ranches, houses, and there were people again. Hummingbird is Eagle’s nephew. This is why the old people no longer pity Eagle, because he made the world again. That is the story of the Indians, how the world ended.

The Rumsen story seems to share some commonality with the Biloxi story. The Rumsen myth also appears to incorporate a deluge or rising sea. Some survivors are left over to begin again.

Being that both these languages were of the oral tradition with stories passed down from one generation to the next over perhaps thousands of years, it seems logical to assume that these "myths" may be based on actual fact(s) or occurrences of ancient history. Of course the actual fact of the catastrophe has been embellished possibly for purposes of entertainment or ease of memorization, but the stories may have been based on actual disasters kept alive through the ancient memories of multiple generations.

Vine Deloria, in his book, Red Earth White Lies, encourages looking seriously at Amerindian myths and legends to find evidence of the true history of our American continent. These myths were more than just stories to entertain the kids; they were also the oral passing down of history.

* I guess one of my future challenges is to re-translate this story back into Rumsen from the Spanish and English translations once I'm acquainted enough with the Rumsen language!

** The actual title here is The Earth Died, since I don't yet know the word for "end" or "finish" in Rumsen!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tenochtitlán in 360º

Here is an absolutely incredible web site:

It is all in Spanish, but it shouldn't matter to non-Spanish speakers for the visual impact. This is an artist's conception based on ancient maps of Tenochtitlán, the ancient capital of the Aztec Empire, which you can manipulate for a 360º view of the ancient city and its surroundings. Once the site loads, and you may need to give it a few minutes (it's worth the wait!), you can center your mouse over any part of the image and left-click to change the angle of view.

You'll notice Lake Texcoco, the lake on which the island city was built, and the several causeways which connected it with various parts of the mainland.

This is probably as close as we can come now to experiencing Tenochtitlán the way Cortez did for the first time in 1521. Awesome! And the background music done by a Mexican Aztec musician is nice too!

Keep in mind that everything you see in the picture is now called México City.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Yab'ixal Ix Xajaw
Story of the Moon

A Q'anjob'al Maya story

A yet payxatu,
? at time-DEM

ix ko tx'utx' Xajaw chi tz'eq'eq'i ix yet aqb'alil axka cham ko man k’u ti nani.
CLAS 3P-POSS mother moon INCOM bright CLAS at night ? CLAS 3P-POSS ? sun ? now

Palta ix tx'utx' wojb'atz'
but CLAS mother howler-monkey

k'am chi je way yuninal ix,
there-no-exist INCOM ? sleep E3S-children-3S-POSS

yujtol k'am aq'b'alil.
that-why there-no-exist night

Axa yetoq jelanil ix
? with intelligence-3S-POSS

max k'uon ix yunetu wayi.
COM teach? E3S 3S-POSS-children sleep-SUFF

Palta eb' unin tu k'am
but 3P children here there-no-exist

chi je way eb' yuj
INCOM ? sleep 3P-for

tzeqeqial xal Xajaw tu.
shine CLAS moon there

Axa naq b'ab'el unin max
? CLAS first child COM

q'umlej ay b'a naq yetoq
converse there-is oldest CLAS with

yuxhtaq naq.
3S-POSS-brother CLAS

A nani oqon
? now ?

mulnajoq masanil k'u.
work-PART all day

Oqkowajb'aoq'oq masanil xaq' an ak'un k'al masanil
PART-?-gather-PART? all leaf PART bush and all

xaq' te' te'.
leaf CLAS wood (tree)?

Axa yet oqonwayoq, k'ojank'ulal
? there-exist ?-sleep (time)-? slow

oqtoqkomaqcheloq sat
?-?-?-cover-? face

ix Xajaw tu.
CLAS moon there

Kajtu oqjejiloni yet k'ualil k'al yet aq'b'alil. Kaytu max yun kankan ix ko tx'utx' Xajaw
So ?-?-see at on the day and so at night. So COM 3S-make? become CLAS 3S-POSS mother moon

tu yin q'eqq'inal.
there in darkness.

Once upon a time, our mother moon was as bright in the night as the sun in the day all the night long. But the howler monkey's children could not sleep because there was no night. Then the mother of the monkeys taught the children to sleep thanks to her intelligence. But the children could not see their dreams due to the light of mother moon. Then the oldest child made an agreement with his brothers. Now they would gather leaves and at the time to sleep they would slowly cover the face of mother moon. That would make difference between day and night. And so our mother moon only shines with a weak light in the darkness of the night.

Traducción en español

Una vez, nuestra madre luna alumbraba toda la noche igual que el sol en el día. Pero los niños del mono aullador no podían dormir, ya que no hubo noche. Entonces la madre de los monos les hizo dormir através de su inteligencia. Pero los niños no podían ver sus sueños por la claridad de la luna. Entonces el hermano mayor de los monitos hizo un acuerdo con sus hermanitos. Ahora iban a trabajar todo el día. Iban a juntar todas las hojas de monte y de los árboles y en la hora de dormir iban a cubrir la cara de la madre luna despacio. Asi iban a poder ver la diferencia entre el día y la noche. Y así quedó alumbrado suave nuestra madre luna en la oscuridad.

As many of you know, I’m taking a class called The Structure of Mayan. In this class we’ve had to select one Mayan language (out of 31 total, both living and extinct) on which to work, researching and doing papers on different aspects of it such as phonetics, morphology, and syntax. I partnered with a classmate and friend of mine to work on Q’anjob’al, one of the highland Mayan languages spoken near the border area of Mexico and Guatemala. In the process of doing some online research, I came across this short story. I tried to gloss it as best I could with my current knowledge of the language*, which is not much as you can tell from all the ? scattered throughout the gloss. But it’s a beginning to helping me to understand the word order and syntax a little better.

Just for a little background on Q’anjob’al and Mayan in general:

Mayan languages are ergative-absolutive, meaning that they treat the agent of transitive verbs distinctly from the subject of intransitive verbs and the object of transitive

Those ‘ you see after certain consonants are the markers for an ejective stop. The ejective is one of the primary characteristics of Mayan languages. It is pronounced by holding back air then letting it go with a sudden burst after the consonant sound. The letter j is pronounced h, q is a uvular stop, tx is pronounced ch (not sure of exact difference between ch and tx), and x is a retroflex sh sound (tongue bent backward toward rear of the mouth). While b' is implosive in some Mayan languages, it is not in Q'anjob'al. ' after a vowel indicates a glottal stop.

Mayan languages have many particles, several of which are in this text. Mayan nouns take various
classifiers. For example, in the above text, there is ix, referring to females. Naq refers to males. Cham refers to older males, volcanoes, stars and planets, among other things. Te' is for wood or things made of wood. No’ refers to animals, so that ‘a cat’ in Q’anjob’al is jun no’ mis (one CLAS cat).

Verbs, as you can see, pose great challenges in the number of aspectual and various other markers they may take.

There is, of course, much more for me to learn!

* Some of this may change once I speak to my Q'anjob'al-speaking friend!
** Note that, in the text, COM refers to completive aspect, INCOM to incompletive, CLAS to classifier.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

More Hawaiian

In case you haven’t realized by now, I’m a big fan of the fascinating Hawaiian language. As with the Amerindian languages, the more I study Hawaiian the more intriguing it gets! No language deserves to die, and Hawaiian is a good example of a language whose many nuances of thought and expression would be lost to us forever if it went extinct. I’m very glad that Hawaiian (and its close cousin Māori of New Zealand) has a strong, successful revitalization program that serves as a poster-child for indigenous language revitalization efforts everywhere.

I’ll here give an example of a typical "professional" attitude expressed not all that long ago toward Hawaiian (and I could add other indigenous [Amerindian] languages) based on old European superiority and ethnocentrism:

"There is a great want of generic terms in the language. This is a peculiarity that distinguishes it from the English, but not from other uncultivated languages. No people have use for general terms until they begin to reason, and the language of the Hawaiians shows that they have never been a thinking people…." (italics mine)

Now how’s that for a dose of ethnocentrism?!

That was written by a missionary reverend, Lorrin Andrews, in 1838 while studying and composing a grammar of the language. He was definitely a product of his times, in that anything non-European was essentially "savage" and "barbaric." (It was not, after all, Latin or Greek.)

Anyway, I was reviewing some Hawaiian grammar and thought I’d blog about a few of the more interesting aspects of this intriguing language.

First, there’s an interesting syntactic change between positive and negative statements:

a. Ua hele ‘oia.
He went.



A’ole ‘oia i hele.
He did not go.

Note that, in a negative sentence, the subject pronoun comes before the verb instead of after (the usual) with a particle inserted. (Hawaiian is a VSO language, by the way. Particles form an important part of Hawaiian grammar [the ‘glue’ that holds the language together], and they often cannot be translated into English.) Notice that the perfective particle ua becomes i in the negative.

Semi-passive Construction

I also came across an interesting example of a type of "semi-passive construction" (for lack of a better term), i.e., the sentence appears to be both passive and active at the same time!

Ua aloha ‘ia au iā Ka-lalau.
PERF love PASS 1S to Ka-lalau.
I love Ka-lalau.

This is instead of the full active form:

Ua* aloha au iā Ka-lalau.

I’m really not sure what the semantic difference is here between the active and this “semi-passive” form. If there are perchance any native speakers out there reading this, e kōkua mai! (help!)

Particle ai

This particle has been called a linking particle, anaphoric particle, or resumptive pronoun:

Ua holo mākou i laila.
PERF ride 1P-EXC to there
We rode there.

I laila mākou i holo ai.
to there 1P-EXC PERF ride AI
It was there that we rode to.

In sentence b, in order to topicalize the location ‘there’, the anaphoric or resumptive ai is used to refer back to the fronted topic i laila.

ka wā a Paka’a i ha’alele aku ai iā Waipi’o.
DET time of Paka’a PERF leave thither AI Waipi’o
The moment when Paka’a left Waipi’o.

There is a cognate ai in Tongan, another Polynesian language:

Ko e fefine na’e tokoni ‘a Sione ki ai.
PRED DEF woman PAST help ABS John to
It is the woman John helped (to her).

According to Christopher Baker (no date),

"Resumptive pronouns normally occur in ‘logical’ positions. For example, [the example above] from Tongan has the resumptive pronoun ai following the preposition ki ‘to’. In Hawaiian, though, the resumptive pronoun does not occur in its ‘logical’ position; it occurs after the verb in the post-verbal aspect marker position. The resumptive pronoun of Tongan and Hawaiian are indeed cognates. The positions in which they occur are simply not the same. The ai in Hawaiian is only found in one position, i.e., the same position as the post-verbal aspect marker; it is never found in nominal position as in Tongan."

Finally, here’s an example of a long, complex Hawaiian sentence:

Ā loa’a nā wa’a, he mau kaulua,
when get DEF-PL canoe, INDEF group double-outrigger
ho’i maila lākou ā pae ma Wai-kīkī
return here-then 3P and land at Wai-kīkī
ho’omākaukau ka holo ā holo nō ia lā;
prepare DEF sailing and sail indeed this day
ia wā ho’olā’au mai ‘o Kou, kekahi wahine
this time urge here HON Kou another woman
a Ka-welo e holo pū i Kaua’i
of Ka-welo to sail together to Kaua’i
hō’ole aku-la ‘o Ka-welo.
refuse there-then HON Ka-welo

‘When [they] had gotten the canoes, double-outriggers, they returned and landed at Wai-kīkī, made preparations for sailing, and sailed on this day; at this time Kou, another wife of Ka-welo, urged that she sail also to Kaua’i; Ka-welo refused [her].’

Pau hana.

* Ua is glossed as perfective. Hawaiian is largely an aspectual language, often making no clear and definite distinction between present and past tense, though it does distinguish between whether an action is complete or incomplete.

Examples above from (1) Hawaiian Grammar by Elbert & Pukui, 1979 and (2) a paper titled Hawaiian Relative Clause Structure by Christopher Baker (online; no date).

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Ąckana Paxexkana hą
The Crow and the Hawk
A Biloxi story

ĄckahoNna tandoyą Paxexkana yįkati. Eke hande ką thedi yįkati. EkeoNni ką Ąckana acodoNta hande oNni Paxexkana. EkeoNnidi hane dixyį wahe dusi de oNni. Etu xa. Eke xya ką hane dixyį awahe yuke xya. Etu xa.
ĄckahoNna tandoyą Paxexkana yįkati.
crow-?-DEF younger brother-DEF hawk-DEF marry

Eke hande thedi yįkati.
this doing DS die-FOC married (one)

EkeoNni Ąckana acodoNta hande oNni Paxexkana.
this done DS crow-DEF mourn PROG PAST hawk-DEF

EkeoNnidi hane dixyį wahe dusi de oNni.
this done-FOC find when cry catch go PAST

Etu xa.
3PL-say always

Eke xya hane dixyį awahe yuke xya.
this always DS find when HAB-cry move always

Etu xa.
3PL-say always

Crow married Hawk’s younger brother. Then the younger brother died. Crow mourned. Now you’ll find Crow (trying to) catch her lost husband. This they say. This is why Crow is always crying out as it moves. This they say.

Switch Reference in Biloxi

There is some debate about whether switch reference is at work in Biloxi. According to Randy Graczyk (1999)*, there is indeed a switch reference system evident in Biloxi through the particles that I’ve labeled above as SS (same subject) or DS (different subject). Actually, this short myth is not ideal for representing this possible switch reference pattern in Biloxi, and I hope to post larger stories later (in my plentiful spare time!) with both SS and DS evident. See what you think from the above. The particle , the (proposed) different subject (DS) particle, certainly seems to consistently conform to a subject change in the story line.

Imąkiyą phi ąkte.

* Graczyk, R. (1999). Switch Reference in Biloxi. Unpublished manuscript.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Maččan ‘inn ‘Ummun
Coyote and Hummingbird

A Rumsen story

Maččanmur pessoy ‘exxemur ‘ixxest. ‘Ummuninkmur was-kannew. Maččaninkmur ‘iwsen nimm ‘ummuniy. Maččaninkmur ‘urrun ‘ummuniy. Neeyink was-čacc. Neeyink ku-wattin.

Neeyink ku-pussep sa ‘ummun. Neeyink ku-‘ummuy tapper, ‘ayyken "lakkun, lakkun,” ‘ooyostinkmur. Neeyinkmur maččan ‘ummap neeyinkmur ‘urru ‘attap ‘ummuniy. Neeyinkmur was-‘otč xuyya sottow. Neeyink ku-wattiy kuumur ‘ewwey wattiy, tanmur pessepiki. Saanaymur ‘aawaaten, tanmur pussepiki ‘ayken ka-lakkun ka-lakkun. Neeyinkmur kayy maččan: "‘Ink kuka’anami was-nimm?"

Neeyink kuwas-‘uti-kayy mee ku-‘aa-xiče katakumewas-‘ammay, katti-‘aa-ink kumewas-nimm. Tannayinkmur was-‘amxayiki ‘ummuniy. Tannayinkmur kuuy was-waxč, waxč, xuywa-pittin. Neeyink ku-kayy maččan: "‘Ink kuka-xičiy? Ka-lakkun, yete ka-lakkun, kayymur maččan." Neeyink kuwas-‘uti-kayy: mee kuwas-čallap. "Čallapink!" Neeyink ku-xiče, neeyink ku ‘ummuy ‘ummun tapper. Aayekmur "lakkun, lakkun."

Okay, if you persisted in looking through all that and are wondering what it is, it's a Rumsen Ohlone myth. This is one of the myths recorded by Harrington when he interviewed Isabelle Meadows, the last speaker of Rumsen, in the 1930s. I just finished typing it into my computer from microfilm copy. The English translation below is mine, since Harrington's translation is in old California Spanish, which, even for a Spanish speaker, can be difficult to decipher. So I hope I at least got the gist of it down. I hope to put more of these myths up on this blog as time and energy permit.

Coyote, by the way, is a popular mythological figure especially among western Amerindian tribes. Coyote is often a trickster and sometimes is at the receiving end of jokes or pranks, as in this particular myth. Just a warning that it is a bit graphic, but in an all around humorous way.

Here is my English translation:

Coyote thought he knew a lot. But Hummingbird beat him. Coyote wanted to kill Hummingbird, so Coyote grabbed Hummingbird and shredded him to pieces. Then Coyote left.

Hummingbird revived himself. Then Hummingbird flew up, jokingly yelling "I’m dying! I’m dying!" Coyote poked the [camp] fire and grabbed Hummingbird again. Then he threw him into the fire. Then he left. Coyote didn’t go far before Hummingbird revived himself, shouting "I’m dying! I’m dying!" Then Coyote asked: "How am I going to kill him?"

They* told him: You must eat him to kill him. So Coyote ate Hummingbird. But then Hummingbird was scratching (?) Coyote’s stomach. Then Coyote said "What am I going to do? I’m dying! I’m dying!" said Coyote. Then they told Coyote he must shit Hummingbird out. "Shit him out!" So Coyote did so, then Hummingbird flew up yelling "I’m dying! I’m dying!" (mockingly).

* I'm not sure here who this "they" refers to that are speaking to Coyote.

(By the way, I'd like to dedicate this post to the memories of Isabel Meadows, John Harrington, and to all the remaining Rumsen Ohlone tribal members who still struggle for federal recognition in their coastal California homeland. I hope for their eventual successful revitalization of their language and culture.) - Shururu.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What Ainu about I know

Oh! That should be: What I know about Ainu. Heh.

Before I start on Ainu, I wanted to point everyone over to Jabal Al-Lughat where Lameen has a link to an article about the discovery of the most ancient writing yet found in the Americas, probably Olmec in origin, dating back to 900 BC. Needless to say, this is the most exciting linguistic news to hit the Americas since the discovery of Mayan hieroglyphs, previously thought to be the oldest writing system in the Americas (dating back to around 200 BC).

Anyway, Ainu. (Aynu means 'person' in Ainu.) I just wrote a paper for my Ethnolinguistics class titled, Ainu: A Grammatical Sketch. It was a very short summary of simple Ainu grammar that did not touch on its rich complexities. Ainu was once spoken on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, as well as on the Sakhalin Peninsula and Kurile Islands of Russia. Ainu is what we call a "language isolate," like Basque, not known to be related to any other language.

Ainu now has few or no speakers, most of the remaining Ainu having intermarried with the Japanese. In fact, the origin of the Ainu remains the biggest mystery of northeast Asia. Some have tried to link them to Polynesians, Amerindians, and, yes, even the Basques. Cultural and anthropological evidence, however, seems to point to southeast Asia as the likely origin of the Ainu, since they share many material and cultural traits with the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Here is a brief partial text in Classical Ainu followed by the English translation:

I-resu yupi i-resu sapo i-res-pa hine oka-an ike:- Kamuy kat casi casi upsor a-i-o-resu. Tapan inuma ran-pes kunne cirikinka, enkasike nispa-mut-pe out-santuka o-uka-uyru out-pusa-kur suypa kane asso-kotor mike kane anramasu auwesuye.

My foster brother and foster sister raising me, we lived then. The god-built mountain castle, inside the mountain castle, I was raised. The pile of treasure was heaped like a cliff, and above it the master’s swords were crossing their hilts,
and when the shadows of the sword knots swayed, the walls glittered in gold.
How beautiful and how interesting!

On other linguistic issues, I hope to type up five Rumsen* Ohlone texts from Harrington's notes, three occurring in Rumsen with Spanish translations, one occurring in Spanish only, and one occurring in Rumsen only (this will be the biggest challenge having no translation).

On the Biloxi front, I have a Committee selected for my MA thesis beginning next semester, which will focus on some aspect of Biloxi, perhaps dealing with morphological issues.

My colleague and I will be meeting with our native K'anjob'al speaker later this week to work on our next class assignment: Mayan verb paradigms.

Also, I'm in email correspondence with a member of the Tutelo-Saponi tribe of North Carolina who is trying to revitalize his heritage language, a close cousin of Biloxi. I'm excited to see what steps he'll take in revitalizing the language, especially with rather scant and spotty data. Perhaps we'll learn more about this process together.

All for now.

* BTW--Notice I'm writing Rumsen, not 'Rumsien.' This is because I came across a section of Harrington's notes where he specifically asked the native speaker the name of her language. Nowhere did the name ever occur with an extra -i-. Thus, from now on, Rumsen it is!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Another ōlelo no’eau

Okay, so I've been listening to Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu's CD "Call It What You Like" in the car lately driving around Lawrence and it's definitely got me in a Hawaiian mood. As any of you who've followed my blog know, I occasionally try to find tidbits of wisdom, proverbs, or stories from the languages I'm studying. (Notice I don't use the past tense "studied." I mean, do we ever really finish "studying" a language, whether it's a new foreign language or our own mother tongue? I think learning a language is a lifelong process and a lifelong endeavor. I point that out to my students of Spanish who think they'll "study" Spanish for one or two semesters and then they'll know it and be done with it. That just makes me want to quote Nelson on the Simpsons and say, "Ha ha!")

Anyhow, Hawaiian. Here is the latest ōlelo no’eau ("important saying" or proverb) from Hawai'i:

Maka'ala ke kanaka kahea manu.
alert DEF man call bird

A man who calls birds should always be alert.

The ancient Hawaiian ali'i, chiefs, wore capes and headdresses crafted by weaving in thousands of tiny bird feathers. The Kanaka Kahea Manu, bird-caller, would imitate bird calls to attract birds to him. When they approached, he would pluck out a small number of their feathers and let the birds go. Once he called the birds, he had to stay alert and be prepared to move quickly to catch them when they came near. This proverb advises one who wishes to succeed to be alert to opportunities and seize them when they arise.

By the way, that definite article ke reminds me of something. Do any ōlelo Hawai'i kine out there know the answer to this question? It appears other Polynesian languages have only one form of the definite article, such as Tahitian and Māori te. Hawaiian, however, has two: ke and ka. I know ke is used most often before nouns beginning with a vowel or the letter k (e.g., ke ala, ke kanaka) and ka is used before nouns beginning with all other consonants, including glottal stops (e.g., ka hula, ka 'aina). But why do a few words beginning with p (e.g., , dish and po'o, head) require ke instead of ka before them? So far I've found no good answers in the dictionaries or grammar books I have. Has this phenomenon even been studied? (Aw, it must have been!)

Ā hui hou.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

"...Early Hawaiian monumental architecture was comparable to ... the Maya or the early Egyptians...

since all appeared to have linked temple construction to economic, political and ritual development."

Maui's Oldest Temple, Pi'ilanihale Heiau, named for its famous Chief Pi'ilani, has now been dated to 1214 and is 400 years older than previously thought. It measures larger than a football field and stands 12 meters in height.

Archaeologica (link at right) has an interesting article from Discovery News on this temple and what it reveals about the Polynesian past.

Here are some highlights of the article:

"The most elaborate temples featured altars, oracle towers, offering pits, palisades, drum houses, and god or ancestral images carved from wood or stone."

"At some events there would have been human sacrifice, the killing of hundreds of pigs, the sounds of music and drumming, and the smell of burning fires."

"Members of the chiefly class were allowed into sacred areas of the temples, but they had to get in prostrate positions or lie down, sometimes for hours, as a sign of submission and respect for the chief."

Interesting stuff! By the way, James Michener's Hawai'i is quite well researched and offers a fascinating description of early Hawaiian (and Polynesian) culture and life right on up to the "colonizing" by Christian missionaries and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by US businessmen, descendants of these missionaries.

Question: Does anyone know where the name Hawai'i comes from?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More on Rumsen

Okay, now back to some serious linguistic stuff. I think this post will be mostly my thinking out loud to try and get a better handle on Rumsen Ohlone and Utian in general.

Utian languages seem to operate on the basis of root, stem, and theme. At least in Ohlone, the root usually, although perhaps not always, corresponds to the noun form. The stem often changes from the root form by various means, usually either through metathesis, ablaut, or vowel length alternation. (This more or less corresponds to Marc Okrand's [1974] assessment of Mutsun, a close cousin of Rumsen.) For example:

comb - n. xaxxews, v. xaxwen (past tense, to comb) - stem = xaxw (?)
wolf - n. *'um(u)x, v. 'umxun (to hunt wolves) - stem = 'umux (?)
mtn. lion - n. *xeek(e)s, v. xeksen (to hunt lions) - stem = xeks (?)

* Note that, unlike in Mutsun, the final vowel (of nouns, at least) is either whispered or completely dropped in Rumsen.

It seems that, in preparing a dictionary, the various forms of the stem must be shown or at least cross-referenced in order to help the learner in assembling the various verb forms, giving examples as appropriate. Perhaps something like:

wolf, n. 'umx (v. 'umxun).
wolves, to hunt, v. 'umxun (n. 'umx).

Ex. 'Iče mak'umxun. Let’s hunt wolves. 'Uyk wa’umxunin. Yesterday he went wolf-hunting.

Is this making some sort of sense?

Another interesting thing about Rumsien is its lack of an actual genitive form, with possessor and possessed simply placed in juxtaposition with each other:

Ka ‘ukx tip.
my friend knife
My friend’s knife.

Apparently, if one wanted to say "my friend the knife" (as sadistic as that sounds!), one would say:

Ka ‘ukx sa tip.
my friend DEF knife
My friend the knife.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Castration Frustration

OK, so I guess this is what happens when one really doesn't have anything specific in mind for a post but one wants to keep up the blog. Well, this is related to anthropology, after all, which in turn is related to linguistics. So....

I was reading a post on Archaeologica (see link at right) about the Italian exhumation of a popular opera castrato. Of course curiosity got the best of me and I had to read up more on castrati and castratism. I had no idea there was such a market for this back into the 1500s, and the practice continued in Italy until the 1800s.

Here is a Wikipedia article:

I was particularly amused, and also saddened somehow, both at the same time, when I read this line from the Wikipedia article:

Castration was by no means a guarantee of a promising career. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, only approximately 1% of fully or partially castrated boys developed into successful singers.

That must have really sucked! I mean to be neutered for what turned out to be no good reason...that must have been frustrating!

All in the name of entertainment.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Ancient Hawaiian Chant

I came across this oli ho'ohanohano ali'i or chant for revering the chief. It is not for dancing. The chanters were probably accompanied only by the sound of a single drum. It gives a sense of the reverence paid to the ancient (god-like) chiefs:

Nō ka lani ka moku, ka honua,
Ka uka, ka moana, nō ka lani,
Nona ka pō, nona ke ao,
A nona ke kau, ka ho’oilo, ka makali’i,
Ka malama, ka huihui hōkū lani e kau nei.

Here is my attempt at a translation:

For the Chief the island, the earth,
The mountains, the sea, for the Chief,
For him the darkness, for him the light,
And for him the seasons, the winter, the summer,
The moon, the clustered stars placed in the heavens.

Chant from Spoken Hawaiian by Samuel Elbert, 1970. The translation is mine.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A mixed bag

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about what to write here, but none of them have really congealed into anything that I felt like expanding into a whole post. So, I decided to just put down a few things that may or may not be of interest to the outside world. (Judging by the number of comments to this blog so far, I suspect there are only a select few of us who find this blog even remotely interesting!)

Anyway, here’s the mixed bag du jour:

Malformed Spanish place names:

I always find it interesting that many Spanish place names around the Bay Area and California in general are ill-formed, often ungrammatical, indicating perhaps that there was no consultation with a native Spanish speaker before they were named. Perhaps one of the most famous of these is the restaurant/fruit stand called Casa de Fruta near Hollister. Now, in Spanish, a definite article (in this case la) is required after the preposition de, of, in order to indicate that “fruit” can be bought here. As named, the real translation is “house built of fruit,” which probably isn’t what they had in mind and doesn’t make much sense. I always enjoyed another sign I often passed in Monterey over the door of a veterinary hospital: Casa de Amigos. Now, I’m sure they had no ill intent in naming this veterinary clinic, but, again, this should be Casa de Los Amigos indicating that it’s a house where friends congregate. As named, it really means “house made out of friends (body parts?),” not quite the impression they wanted to convey, I’m sure!

Ohlone Abalone

According to Merriam Webster, the word “abalone” originally comes into English from Spanish abulón, which was originally borrowed from the Rumsen Ohlone awlon. So, here’s a Rumsen sentence using the word:

Ačista exxe root awlonakay.
Monterey-LOC much be abalone-PL
There is much abalone in Monterey.

I’m not sure what the actual Rumsen name for Monterey, Ačis, means. (I wish I did!)

If you’re unsure what abalone is, here’s the Merriam Webster Online definition:

any of a genus (Haliotis) of edible rock-clinging gastropod mollusks that have a flattened shell slightly spiral in form, lined with mother-of-pearl, and with a row of apertures along its outer edge

A hui hou!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Rumsen Metathesis

Recently, on Jabal Al-Lughat, Lameen posted an example of metathesis from Sierra Miwok, a language rather closely related to the Ohlone languages. I thought it would be nice to show some Rumsen Ohlone examples of metathesis:

'itčen tar 'itčnen become stuck in tar
čumay aspen čumyan look for aspens (?)
meekel salamander meeklen hunt salamanders
'umux wolf 'umxun hunt wolves

These examples reflect second syllable metathesis (as in Sierra Miwok) between verbal forms and noun forms.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Drinking Tobacco

In the last couple of days I’ve discovered the Biloxi used to say

yani(ksoni) įni
tobacco(pipe) drink

While at first the idea of "drinking" tobacco seemed odd, I’ve since discovered that it is not so unusual. I’m told that "drink" for smoke also occurs in Crow (another Siouan language), some eastern Algonquian languages, and even Japanese:

tabako wo nomu
tobacco OBJ drink

Anyone know of other languages that have this idea of "drinking" for smoking?

Update: It appears I can add Hindi and Egyptian Arabic to the above. Thanks for your feedback!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Hawaiian Proverb

Thought I'd end the week with a Hawaiian proverb:

I ka ‘ōlelo nō ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make.
In words is life, in words is death.

In ancient Hawai'i, a kahuna 'ana'ana could pray someone to death or counter another's death prayer. The proverb is a reminder that words can either heal or destroy people, so we'd better be careful with our words.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ruminations on Rumsen

I’ve been working a lot on Rumsen this week, which is a language of one of the Ohlone (aka Costanoan) Amerindian tribes. Rumsen and other Ohlone languages have been incorporated among the proposed Penutian family of languages. The Rumsens inhabited the area around Monterey and Carmel. Unfortunately, like Biloxi, Rumsen is also extinct, the last native speaker, Isabel Meadows, having died in 1939. In fact, all of the Ohlone languages are extinct, although Mutsun (formerly spoken around San Juan Bautista) and Chochenyo (aka Muwekma, once spoken in the East Bay Area) have started revitalization programs.

Through the UC Davis Harrington Project, I’m working from copies of the Rumsen notes taken by John Harrington in the 1920s and 1930s as he interviewed Isabel on her language and culture. He took down copious notes on just about everything she said, in some cases regarding some very personal matters irrelevant to language and culture.

Luckily I was able to order, from UMI, a grammar dissertation on Mutsun, Rumsen’s close linguistic cousin to the east, by Marc Okrand, who was made somewhat famous by his invention of the Klingon language for Star Trek. (Okrand's ideas for the phonetics and grammar of Klingon were influenced heavily by his work on Mutsun Ohlone and other Amerindian languages.) So far this dissertation has been invaluable in helping me to discern some of the Rumsen vocabulary and grammar.

Rumsen is an interesting language. It has somewhat of a more Indo-European type of grammatical structure than other Amerindian languages I’ve studied. Rumsen has what could be called, and have been called, case endings such as a locative ta or tak suffix, as in kaawtak, 'at or on the beach.' There is another suffix som or om which, though described in Okrand’s Mutsun grammar as an instrumental, seems to serve as more of an all-encompassing oblique case marker, as in

ka ritči Rumsenom
1stSG speak Rumsen-OBL
I speak Rumsen

which is reminiscent of Russian’s я говорю по-русски (“I speak by means of Russian”). Interestingly, Rumsen seems to have lost the –s or –es accusative ending on nouns, which Mutsun maintained. A remnant of the Rumsen accusative occurs only on pronouns.

Several people at the rancho in Carmel Valley where Isabel was from used many Esselen words in their speech, including Isabel herself. The Esselen were the Rumsen's neighbors to the south who lived around Big Sur. Esselen, also now extinct, is thought to be either a language isolate or a member of the Hokan family (which includes Chumash) depending on whom you talk to. Thus, at times there are two words, one Esselen and one Ohlone, that can be used for the same object, such as koltala (Esselen) and 'orres (Rumsen), both meaning 'bear.'

Here are a couple more sample sentences:

Ka ‘uun ka ‘amxayin.
1stSG save 1stSG-POSS food
I’m saving my food.

(Notice the first person singular [I] and first person singular possessive [my] pronouns are the same.)

Misix nee sa kaaw.
good here DEF beach
This beach is nice.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more on this interesting language later!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Making A Dictionary

For about the past year and a half, I’ve been revising a dictionary of the Biloxi language. The only dictionary ever published on this language is from 1912, and it is not very user-friendly. In fact, it’s downright frustrating! This dictionary is composed of and organized mostly by monosyllabic or disyallabic so called "roots," many of which are not roots at all. Thus if one merely looks at the dictionary "root" entry, s/he will get only part of the word, and, in order to get the whole word, one must look through a myriad of subentries using the supposed root. What’s worse, words are often found in the subentries of a "root" heading that don’t even belong under that particular heading.

My answer to this lexicographic nightmare is the revision of this dictionary, which contains most of the data extant on this now unfortunately extinct Siouan language. This is my first attempt at lexicography, although hopefully not my last since I’m also currently developing a wordlist for Rumsen Ohlone as I work on the John P. Harrington notes from that language.

In revising the Biloxi dictionary, I’m discovering some of the challenges inherent in working on Amerindian languages. Perhaps the greatest challenge is in knowing just how to classify many words, since the traditional Indo-European concepts of grammar and word classification (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc.) usually don’t hold true for many of the languages of Native America. The Siouan languages, including Biloxi, have the classes of words we know as nouns and verbs, but they do not have adjectives. What normally serve as adjectives in Biloxi are actually verbal in nature. For example,

Masada thohi na.

dish blue DECL-M

The dish is blue. (Male speaking.)

Biloxi has no equivalent of the verb ‘to be,’ so that "dish blue" serves as an entire sentence. (The na in this example is the male "oral period" signaling the end of a declarative sentence. Such a declarative sentence-final marker is compulsory in some Siouan languages but it’s optional in Biloxi and could be left out. The female declarative marker is ni.) So, the question arises, what is thohi really, an adjective or a verb? Since one could also say, if one were covered with blue dye, ąthohi, where ą- is the first person singular prefix, "I am blue," it’s easy to see that thohi could also be a verb. Perhaps the literal translations of these sentences into English would be: "The dish blues" or "the dish is bluing" and "I blue" or "I am bluing."

Affixes are another tricky problem in Siouan, as well as in most other agglutinative Amerindian languages, for lexicographers. For instance, there is the Biloxi xehe, ‘to sit,’ and axehe, ‘to sit on something.’ Should axehe and xehe be considered separate words or should axehe, incorporating the Siouan a- locative prefix (in or at a place), be considered a mere variant of xehe? (Siouan languages do not have an infinitive verbal form, by the way, so the third person singular form of verbs, which is the only form without affixation, is considered the base form of a verb and is the generic form of a verb found in dictionary headings.)

My solution so far to the first issue is to classify words according to their traditional role in Indo-European grammar. If the Biloxis decide to revitalize their language, they are already English speakers and will probably feel more comfortable seeing words classified according to the grammar of their first language, English, at least until they gain more fluency in Biloxi.

My solution so far for the second issue is to place these verbal variants under their own respective headings, so that someone can find axehe under the letter a as well as find xehe under the letter x. But I’m also cross-referencing these "base" forms without affixes to the variants with affixes that can be found in other parts of the dictionary. Thus, if one looks up xehe, ‘to sit,’ s/he will also find the notation: "see axehe." Likewise for xehe under the axehe ‘to sit on something’ entry.