In my research binges, I still run into stuff that people do with language that I would never have guessed. But…often I forget they exist if I don’t write them down. So here were my top five “What the heck, language?” moments this month:
5. Legge romanization. Let he who is without sin, etc.–I have personally used <r> to represent /x/. If you don’t yet have the transcription experience to cringe here, just trust me that it’s an iffy choice motivated only by my own arbitrary aesthetic preferences. I’m not trying to make a functional romanization that somebody’s actually going to use!
And I guess in that spirit I shouldn’t judge James Legge too bad for his attempt to romanize Mandarin, because he certainly wasn’t trying to make a functional romanization that somebody would actually use. (Cue shock jock #owned airhorn please?)
Legge has a distinction between K and K. No, I mean literally italicized K. It’s a different sound. Also a Z that’s just Z again but in a blackletter font.
Listen, my conlang motto has always been that you should do whatever appeals to you and nothing is objectively bad. But…you shouldn’t do that.
4. The expression to the bitter end comes from rope vocabulary. The bitter end is the end of the anchor rope that you tie to….the bitts, which is the the ship accessory that exists purely to tie an anchor rope to. Somehow this all feels so cosmic and fractal.
3. Interrogative verbs. Rather than subbing in a WH-word or adding a question particle, in some languages you can switch in a verb that contains interrogative-ness.
So if you want to make “You do X” into a question–“What do you do?”–you might use a verb that literally means “do what?” Other meanings interrogative verbs sometimes cover are “happen what?” “say what?” The examples of this grammar are in the paper at the link, from several North American and Central American languages and language families (Chickasaw, Tongva, Cupan).
2. Some languages, like Kannada (India), distinguish between people known to the speaker and people not known to the speaker in their indefinite pronouns. One version of “somebody” for people you recognize; one version for people you don’t recognize.
1. This one’s a bit unfair because it’s an exonym. But I do just need to get it off my chest that there’s a language spoken in Vanuatu that linguists still call Port Sandwich.