Saturday, November 29, 2003

After this morning's hissy fit ("World events aren't going the way I want them to!"), I wished my Muslim doctor a Merry Christmas. I also noted an increase in irate car-honking. But all that is over and done with. I am back in my insulated world of books.

I am flipping back and forth between my grade five teacher's book, The Daring Game, and a new book by Mark Abley, Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages (the first review in this Amazon link is from a guy who lives in Wulai, Taiwan!).

Abley's book has some interesting trivia:

1. The Mati Ke language of northern Australia put nouns into different classes: weapons belong with lightning while places and times go together, leading the author to quip, "Mati Ke, you might say, anticipated Einstein by several thousand years." There are three speakers of this language left when this book was published. And two of them can't speak to each other because of a taboo; the third speaks in dialect.

2. In the Nootka language one speaks differently to children, ravens, circumcised men, and people who are fat, short, left-handed, crippled, hunchbacked, greedy or have eye defects. Still spoken.

3. Kakardian (or Circassian) of the Caucasus Mountains has 48 consonants and 2 disputed vowels. It still survives.

4. Ubykh, also of the Caucasus Mountains, has 81 consonants. In 1992, the last fluent speaker of this language died.

5. Abkhaz nobility, from the Caucasus, had a special language (now extinct) just for hunting.

6. The Guugu Yimidhirr language, which gave the word kangaroo to Captain Cook in 1770, has about two dozen speakers.

7. The Iora language that gave us koala, kookaburra, dingo and boomerang is now extinct.

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