I’ve only now learned that Ante Aikio published a detailed reconstruction of the Proto-Mari vowel sytem in the often overlooked journal Вопросы языкового родства/Journal of Language Relationship 11 (2014), pp. 125–157. Here’s the abstract:
Two different theories regarding the Proto-Mari vowel system have been put forward by Erkki Itkonen and Gábor Bereczki. This paper critically evaluates these theories and aims to establish a solidly argued reconstruction of Proto-Mari initial-syllable vocalism. It is argued that 11 distinct vowel phonemes must be reconstructed for Proto-Mari, as opposed to 13 reconstructed by Itkonen and 7 reconstructed by Bereczki.
At LiveJournal there’s a bold new blog called Пĕртанлăх ‘Equality’ consisting of photographs of signage in Chuvashia, which aims to show just how little the Chuvash language is visible in public spaces in spite of its recognition as an official language of the republic. Take, for example, the following photograph of a rubbish bin. The irony is that the park bench next to it has a Chuvash folk motif, showing some kind of ethnic consciousness, but both sides of the bin have
For a clean city written only in Russian:
This post compares a Cheboksary advertisement for 2014 as the Russian Federation Year of Culture, written only in Russian, with an analogous advertisement in Kazan’ which has a Tatar translation as well.
Not all of the photographs are dismal, though. There are a number of photographs of local businesses putting Chuvash words on their signage as at least ethnographic colour. I was extremely surprised to see that the Russian-wide bank Sberbank translated their timetable into Chuvash.
The Helsinki university library’s copy of the two-volume collection Материалы по чувашской диалектологии (Čeboksary, 1960–1963) has inserted into it András Róna-Tas’s review of it from Acta Orientalia XVIII (1965). I found this passage very important:
It was supposed formerly that the o > u development of Anatri is not a very old feature but we had no chronological evidence. The oldest monuments of the present Chuvash language (Strahlenberg 1730, the first Chuvash grammar 1769) show forms with o. But since Virjal has preserved o till the present the problem has remained unsolved. In this respect it is very important that Kornilov found in the tongue of Bardjaš (Bashkir ASR) the phone u in the same positions as it is present in the Anatri dialect. The inhabitants of this village had come to their present dwelling-place before 1770 and have since this time had no connections with the Chuvash-speaking people of the Chuvash ASSR. This can be a proof that the phoneme u was already present in Anatri in the first half of the 18th-century, and at the same time it is an indirect reason for locating the material of Strahlenberg to a Virjal dialect.
Here Róna-Tas is referring to G. E. Kornilov’s paper “Некоторые материалы для характеристики говора села Бердяш Зилаирского район Башкирской АССР”, pp. 133–161 of the second volume. Kornilov gives forms like вунӑ ‘10’, пулапр ‘we will be’ (cf. Cv. lit. пулаппӑр) and so forth.
All the more of an impetus to read up on the Mari and Chuvash dialects of Bashkiria in studying the prehistory of these languages. I all too often forget that there is a world of dialectal variation outside the borders of these peoples’ titular republics.
One of my hobbies is learning about the overland trail between Europe and the Indian subcontinent that flourished in the 1960s and early 1970s, often called the
hippie trail for its identification with the counterculture. On one hand, young people in those days had an opportunity that Europeans today lack, as Afghanistan subsequently erupted into a series of wars that ended the possibility of easily transiting the region. Some cities in Iran were developing quickly on a Western model due to the Shah regime, an era ended by the Islamic revolution. On the other hand, the journey took up to a month of hitchhiking or sitting in a bus when we today can fly today for a meagre amount of money, and many who made the journey lost weeks battling Hepatitis A, had problems with officialdom, or got lice. The publications on the era are a window into a very different world, by turns romantic and dismal.
- David Tomory, A Season in Heaven: True Tales from the Road to Kathmandu (Melbourne: Lonely Planet, 1998) ISBN 0864426291. A collection of oral histories by a number of Western Europeans (and some Americans who started from Europe), covering many different aspects of the journey and describing various places in the Subcontinent that they settled in upon arrival. This book is the best place to get started on the era.
- Patrick Marnham, Road to Katmandu (1st edition Macmillan, 1971, 2nd edition with new introduction by the author IB Tauris in 2005) ISBN 184511017X. A lightly fictionalized account of the author’s 1968 journey through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal.
- Michael H.C. Baker, Journey to Kathmandu (London: David & Charles, 1974). Instead of just hippies, this account from the spring of 1967 represents what was in fact a more typical demographic among English-speaking travellers then: fairly conventional young people trying to get to and from Australia cheaply. Baker was a driver in a convoy of three covered lorries (trucks) that formerly belonged to the army. Carrying 46 passengers, they travelled for several weeks through France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
- Borna Bebek, Santhana: One Man’s Journey to the East (London: The Bodley Head, 1980) ISBN 0370302605. Right after graduating from university in his native Yugoslavia, Bebek set off on the overland trail in January 1977, though from Pakistan he sailed to Thailand and Mauritius before finally reaching India. Set against the memories of those who made the trip earlier, this book is interesting because it documents the little-discussed Yugoslav presence on the trail, and Bebek writes of how by 1977 the hippie era was already seen as ancient history. This is an English translation of the Serbo-Croatian original published as Santhana: Putopis (Zagreb: Nakladni zavod MH, 1979).
Another source of information is Nico Morrison’s project The Flower Raj, which tries to document the lives of Westerners who fell in love with India from 1950 on, a poignant task considering that so many of this generation have already passed away. The project’s blog includes a number of travelogues contributed by those who made the overland journey.
While brushing up on my Hungarian by reading through Routledge’s Colloquial Hungarian (the 2nd edition, which lives up to its title more than the 1st), I learned the previously unfamiliar word srác ‘guy’, the phonetic shape of which is somewhat unusual for Hungarian.
Searching through Google for an etymology took some work, but eventually I came across this article on the very subject at Magyar Narancs (a liberal weekly with a satiric touch roughly comparable to Private Eye):
In the 1950s srác was truly slang (just as csávó is now). The word is of Yiddish origin, that is, from the form of German spoken by Eastern European Jews, which is also the source of haver, szajré, a stikában and many other Hungarian words. The word derives ultimately from Hebrew sheretz (the plural form of which is shratzim), which refers to creeping, crawling creatures. This Hebrew word is found in the Bible at the very beginning, in Genesis 1:20, where it is used to describe the swarming of aquatic animals. Yiddish speakers, knowing Scripture, used this word in a comic metaphorical way, to describe groups of children (let’s not forget that in olden times there were many children playing together outside homes) as little swarms of creatures. Thus the word shratzim came to be used, later shortened to shratz. (The word entered German slang also as Schratz.) Today it is used only in Hungarian: in Yiddish the word did not put down strong roots, and Yiddish dictionaries published in the 20th century make no mention of it: it came to pass that in the 19th century it entered Hungarian slang (the first written attestation dates from 1888) and became entrenched there, while in the donor language Yiddish it was quickly forgotten.
As several sites I came across listed the word among Romani borrowings into Hungarian, I wanted to do some fact-checking, but indeed there is a German Schratz ‘child’ according to Heidi Stern’s Wörterbuch zum jiddischen Lehnwortschatz in den deutschen Dialekten with the same etymology (under the entry for Scheres), so it looks like the claim holds water.
The series of article collections Диалекты и топонимия Поволжья that the Chuvash state university in Cheboksary published in 1972–1977, is a great resource on language contacts in the Volga–Kama region, and anyone interested should really read all of it now, because the print on these low-quality mimeographs of typescripts is fading so quickly that already many passages are illegible in at least the Helsinki university library’s copies. Two papers in this series deal with the terms for ‘potato’ in Mari and Chuvash respectively. As potatoes reached Eurasia from the Americas only fairly recently, after many languages had already separated into divergent dialects, there is often a colourful array of names for the plant (a similar situation can be found with terms for ‘maize’ in various regions).
As F. I. Gordeev explains in his paper on the Mari terms (vol. 5, 1977, pp. 11–22), potatoes were not cultivated in the Mari lands until the mid 19th century. Therefore, there is no mention of the potato in the earliest Mari vocabularies published in the 18th century. From the 1860s on, however, the crop proved immensely popular (it was certainly the only thing I’ve ever seen planted during my visits to Mari El). Gordeev lists the following terms:
- Variants of Russian картофель, such as карт, картопка, картофка, etc.;
- пареҥге, the word in the Mari literary language, or slightly phonetically different forms. This is clearly a loan from Tatar бәрәңге, a word that Gordeev claims is ultimately from Russian Парфён, supposedly the name of a trader who introduced the potato to the region, though this sounds to me like rather an urban myth;
- рокмын < рок ‘earth’, мыны ‘egg’, lit. ‘egg from the ground’;
- роколма < рок ‘earth’, олма ‘apple’, lit. ‘apple from the ground’ (cf. French pomme de terre or, as Gordeev points out, Moksha модамарь), this is found in the Hill Mari region;
- рокома < рок ‘earth’, олма ‘apple’, lit. ‘apple from the ground’, this on the other hand is found in the Meadow Mari region;
- тури, турти, турицки, for which Gordeev gives no etymology except to point out that the last seems to contain the Russian suffix ‑ски.
Chuvash names for ‘potato’ are treated in a paper by L. P. Sergeev (vol. 1, 1972, p. 53–62). He distinguishes six names for the plant across the Chuvash dialects:
- ҫӗрулми < ҫӗр ‘earth’, улма ‘apple’;
- паранкӑ, which Sergeev claims contains an ancient Chuvash suffix ‑кӑ (so the word would be < паран + ‑кӑ) and the compound has been used for other plants like nightshade and found in toponyms, so it must be of Chuvash origin and fairly old;
- карттох ∼ картахви < Russian;
- калтток < Russian;
- кантук < Russian.
The respective papers delineate the exact regions where each of these terms is found. The two different explanations of the пареҥге ∼ паранкӑ presents a mystery, but I suspect that tracking down a similar paper somewhere on Tatar names for ‘potato’ (which would discuss бәрәңге) may shed more light on this.
This 2012 article by Svend Hvidtfelt Nielsen originally appeared in Danish on the website of the Danish new music organization SNYK. With the permission of the author, I present here a translation into English for the benefit of Nørgård fans worldwide, especially as the work will gain new attention with the release of its world premiere recording on the Dacapo label.
In January and February 2014, we cycled some 2000 km across South Africa from Johannesburg to Cape Town. South Africa proved a fascinating country from a number of perspectives, and I would strongly recommend it to cycle tourists. Instead of a detailed account of our trip – which would quickly bore readers with our recounting the innumerable tiny towns we passed through that all had the same shops – I shall offer here some more general impressions to guide others planning such a trip. Continue reading
On the day we were supposed to fly out of Madagascar, we said goodbye to the Academy of Free Travel house and cycled back to Antananarivo’s airport the way we came over a month ago. Piled onto the back racks of our bikes were a few giant-sized Chinese shopping bags, rolls of foam and some twine that we had bought in a Tana market. Bike boxes do not exist in Madagascar, and the ones we came with were already beaten up after the long journey from Europe, so these materials were all we could work with.
We spent a couple of hours dismantling the bikes and carefully wrapping them, then checked into our Air Madagascar flight to Johannesburg and went through security. When we got to the gate, we were surprised how few passengers there were from the Boeing 737 parked on the tarmac outside. Boarding did not proceed on time, and a few minutes later the gate agent announced that the flight had been canceled.
Probably because there aren’t enough passengers to make it worthwhile, said a Russian businessman with long experience with this airline.
After initial panic among the several dozen passengers, a somewhat orderly queue formed to find out what to do. A policeman canceled the exit stamps in our passports, we were sent into the baggage claim area to retrieve the luggage we had checked (one of the “bike bags” is already torn and in need of further reinforcement), and then we visited the airport’s Air Madagascar office where we were told of the possibility, but not guaranteed, that the flight would leave the next day.
Though we rue bitterly that we were denied the departure we had been looking forward to, at least the airline sorted for us a hotel room, a shuttle to the hotel and back to the airport, and meals. We had hoped to be lodged in one of the nice 4- or 5-star hotels near the airport (which apparently do much of their business from Chinese businessmen), but instead the shuttle took us and a number of other would-be passengers some kilometres back towards Tana, then down a very dodgy side street to a 2-star establishment known as the Les Flots Bleu.
We couldn’t complain so much: the hotel had wi-fi and the restaurant served (and gratis) the best food we’ve had in our entire trip here. Plus, we were a motley crew, and it was fun to speak to a Botswana-born hotel owner from the idyllic Île Sainte-Marie (
Visitor numbers are down, but you don’t live there for the money, you live there for the lifestyle.), a South African economist spending a lot of time in booming Nigeria, and a group of twenty or so Korean tourists.
The next day we had a breakfast and lunch at the hotel and then were shuttled to the airport. Check-in for the flight began late, but most people made it to the gate before the expected departure time. Again, just before boarding was due to begin, it was announced that the flight was canceled.
The Air Madagascar staff claimed that the flight was canceled
for weather reasons in Johannesburg. This was immediately exposed as a lie when some South Africans among us telephoned the Johannesburg airport, who said the weather was fine. By claiming it was an unavoidable weather problem, they wanted to avoid compensating us again with hotels and meals. This time the group had to hold their ground for several hours at the airport’s Air Madagascar office, essentially preventing the employees from closing up and going up before we could get our lodging/meals/transportation vouchers. Eventually they again sent us to the same hotel, telling us that the earliest possible opportunity to get out of here would be on Tuesday, in two days.
So, we were back at Les Flots Bleu, though this time the mood was more boisterous as many wanted to drink to forget, and one Dutch girl had to celebrate her birthday under these abysmal circumstances. The next morning, I slept late, only to discover upon waking that all the South Africans had left, probably just giving up and buying a ticket on the competing South African Airlines Airlink flight Antananarivo–Johannesburg that flies daily and has actually left every day that we’ve been stranded.
We spent our Monday lazily in the hotel, but towards midnight got a taxi to the airport instead of waiting for the free shuttle at 0300, so that we could beat the large Korean tour group to the front of the check-in queue. Antananarivo’s airport is open all night long, the lights are shut off completely for a couple of hours. Cleaning staff and security made their rounds, so it never felt entirely deserted as we set up our position at the check-in desks.
The Air Madagascar flight managed to leave on Tuesday morning around 0600 as scheduled, but it was nonetheless a stressful experience. Check-in did not open until an hour and a half before the scheduled departure, and boarding was delayed long past the time printed on our boarding passes. Every time an announcement was made, we quaked in fear that the flight would again be canceled. Only once a team of stewardesses arrived and a fuel truck began to fill the plane could I start to regain my optimism.
Bottom line: if you want to fly between South Africa and Madagascar, avoid Air Madagascar at all costs and take the South African Airways Airlink flight instead.