Amusing linguistics web searches

Maintaining a blog with musings on linguistics has brought a lot of search engine traffic my way, and I occasionally look at my server logs to see what searches bring up my website. Often these are not particularly interesting, as people either come for something very specific that I’ve written about, or conversely, for some reason one of my posts shows up for what would seem to be a completely unrelated non-linguistics search. However, occasionally I see very amusing search strings. Here are four of the most recent ones that made me chuckle:

  • is tocharian worth learning, it’s hard to imagine what position a person would have to be in to need to ask this;
  • are people poor in yoshkar-ola, well, I think bednost’ is an apt word for Mari El in many senses;
  • салфетки glagolitic, is someone making a medieval Slavic-themed restaurant?
  • navajo elders understand chinese, looks like someone has been reading Gavin Menzies.

Xenophon comix

In one of the odder installments in a university press series, volume 16 of Odense University Classical Studies is a graphic novel adaption of Book I of Xenophon’s Anabasis, where the original Greek text is paired with illustrations by Minna Winsløw. Were this somewhat larger (it is only 25 pages long, heavily abridging the text) and if the Greek were written with better calligraphy, I could see this motivating at least some students out there.

The first page from the Odense University Press graphic novel of Xenophon's Anabasis"

You can find this in a university library near you – or probably not – under the title ΑΝΑΒΑΣΙΣ (Odense Universitetsforlag, 1991) ISBN 8774928007.

Goose for an oligarch

The following recipe joke comes from an article at the Bashkir Mari newspaper Чолман:

Олигарх дене пайремым эртараш шонет гын, тудлан тамле кöстенечым ямдыле.

Тидлан ик комбо, литрат пеле йошкар арака, 500 грамм кол шыл, 15 муно, 3 стакан рис, 1 банке кол консерве (ÿйыштö ямдылыме), 3 шоган, 1 банке оливке, 250 грамм майонез, шинчал, 5 шöртньö ожерелье кÿлыт.

Кастене комбым кугу атыш пыштыман, ÿмбакыже аракам опталын, падыштыме шоганым ешарыман.

5 шагат эрдене комбым арака гыч лукман да пел аракажым подыл колтыман. Рушташ огыл манын, 5 муным йÿман, оливкым ÿйжö дене пырля кочман.

Комбым, салфетка дене коштен, ÿмбач да кöргö гыч шинчал дене йыгыман. Рисым шолтен йÿкшемдыман.

300 грамм колым тыгыдын пÿчкедыман, 200 граммжым рис дене йöрыман.

Комбо коваштеш кÿзö дене изи рож-влакым ыштен, коваште йымак 100 грамм дене кол шылым шÿшман. Комбо кöргыш ямдылыме рисым темен, рожшым шÿртö дене урген шындыман, ÿмбачше майонезым йыгалтен, калай салмаш пыштыман.

10 муным, шолтен, лош пÿчкедыман, оптемжым кораҥдыман. 100 грамм колым мясорубка гыч колтыман, 5 муноптемым, лунчыртен, 5 ожерелье дене лугыман, изиш майонезым ешарен, муношо кöргыш оптыман.

Муно-влакым, кодшо рисым, кол консервым комбо йыр оптыман, ÿмбакыже майонезым шавыман, вара салмам духовкыш шындыман. Йоген лекше ÿйым поген, комбо ÿмбак шавыман.

Кодшо аракам йÿман да муно кöргым кочман.

Кÿйын шушо комбым шыштан кагаз дене пÿтыралын, аэропортыш чымыктыман. Чоҥешташ лиеш Куршавельышке (К. Собчак дене пырля пайремым эртараш) але Кариб отрош (Абрамович деке). Тыгай пöлеклан кеч-кöжат куана.

Уфа ола.

If you want to spend the holidays with an oligarch, make him the following treat.

You will need one goose, 1.5 L of red wine, 500 g of fish, 15 eggs, 3 cups of rice, 1 tin of fish in its own juices, 3 onions, one tin of olives, 250 g of mayonnaise, salt and 5 gold necklaces.

In the evening put the goose on a large dish, pour the wine on top and add chopped onions.

At 5 a.m. take the goose out of the wine and drink half of the wine. To avoid becoming drunk, drink 5 eggs and eat the olives along with the brine.

Dry the goose with a cloth and sprinkle salt on top and inside. Cook the rice and allow it to cool.

Lightly chop 300 g of fish and mix it with 200 g of rice.

Use a knife to cut small holes in the goose skin, then press 100 g of fish into the skin. Stuff the goose with the rice, sew the holes up with thread, rub mayonnaise on top and place the goose in a tin pan.

Boil 10 eggs, cut them in half and put the yolks to the side. Put 100 g of fish through a meat grinder. Break up 5 egg yolks and mix them with the 5 necklaces, then fill the inside of the eggs with them along with a little mayonnaise.

Fill the goose with the eggs, the remaining rice and the canned fish, pour mayonnaise on top, then place the pan into the oven. Collect the juices that are released and pour them over the goose.

Drink the remaining wine and eat an egg yolk.

Wrap the cooked goose in wax paper and run to the airport. Fly to Courchevel (to spend the holidays with Kseniya Anatolyevna Sobchak) or to a Caribbean island (with Abramovich). Anyone would be happy with such a gift.

S. Novikov.

For an Eastern Mari text, this has surprisingly little Kipchak Turkic influence, unless one considers кöстенеч (absent from Mari dictionaries) to derive from Tat. күчтәнәч or Bashkir күстәнәс, though the word is ultimately from Russian гостинец.

The social perils of the linguistics profession

In the opening chapter of his Introduction to African Languages (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2003), George Tucker Childs expresses a frustration that I’m sure will be familiar to many:

A linguist? When meeting new people, particularly in the United States, one is soon asked, What do you do? Admitting that one is a linguist engenders a soon familiar sort of consternation on the part of one’s questioner and usually a comment something like, Oh, I had better be careful (about what I say). On further probing, it is revealed that not only is one a linguist but also a linguist interested in African languages! This news typically dumbfounds the unwitting individual, who will quietly change the topic or make one uncomfortable by a good-hearted but clumsy effort to establish some shared knowledge. Why people like me have condemned themselves to ruining normal conversation will be explained in what immediately follows but more so by the book as a whole.

Unlikely links across medieval Eurasia

Weblog reader William Taylor draws my attention to the Sino-Platonic Papers, an occasional series edited by Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, the purpose of which is to make available to specialists and the interested public the results of research that, because of its unconventional or controversial nature, might otherwise go unpublished.

And unconventional it is. Some of the abstracts are a lot of fun. Penglin Wang’s paper, “Indo-European Loanwords in Altaic” seems to argue for some sort of cultural contact between the early Anglo-Saxon peoples and central Asian societies.

Continuing in this improbable vein, Arne Østmoe argues for some kind of mingling between early speakers of the Germanic languages and the speakers of the proto-Tai-Kadai language in “A Germanic-Tai Linguistic Puzzle”.

Unpleasant herding tasks

I’m not really sure what to make of this passage in András Róna-Tas’ paper ‘Turkic influence on the Uralic languages’, found in The Uralic Languages ed. Denis Sinor (Amsterdam: Brill, 1988). Róna-Tás is describing borrowings between Ancient Turkic and Proto-Samoyed:

PS kåptə̂- ‘to castrate’, kåptə̂ ‘a castrated reindeer ox’ (Ne, Ng, En, Sk: JJ 60) ← AT qaptï (cf. OT qap- ‘to grasp with teeth or hands’, Clauson 580). The oldest and most extended way of castration is done by teeth (cf. Lehtisalo 1932, 114).

I will certainly be seeking out the Lehtisalo reference, the monograph Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Renntierzucht bei den Juraksamojeden published in Oslo in 1932.

Danish as a complete barrier to communication

While my understanding of spoken Danish has now surpassed my understanding of spoken Swedish (it’s the Swedes who speak as if they have potatoes in their mouths!), I still love jokes about how Danish is completely unintelligible. I got a lot of laughs out of this bit (Parts One and Two) from the Norwegian comedy programme Uti Vår Hage, which begins with a supposed Dane complaining:

The Danish language has always been impossible to understand for most Scandinavians, but in recent years it has been impossible to understand for us in Denmark too. So, for me the Danish language has just collapsed into meaningless guttural sounds.

I wonder if the comedians needed much practice before they could comfortably generate pseudo-Danish at length. And I love the jab at Norwegian language politics:

There’s one worse than Norwegian we don’t understand, that’s New Norwegian [Nynorsk]. What the fuck?

Language-learning snake oil

While mainstream publishers use plenty of hyperbole in the titles of their textbooks, from Teach Yourself’s ‘Instant’ series to Hugo’s ‘In Three Months’ books, the product usually still works somewhat if you put enough work into it. Only recently, however, have I discovered that there’s a wide variety of snake oil products for language learning, and these firms cover even the smallest of Western languages. Take, for example, this hypnosis product for Occitan:

  • Boost your understanding and articulation of Occitan automatically, naturally, and effectively.
  • Create a linguist’s mindset so that you not only desire success in Occitan, but that you will find a way to excel at it!
  • Find yourself more and more confident in Occitan until you soon discover you’ve become totally fluent.
  • This CD contains three different subliminal sessions. The first one is a 20 minute study session that you can listen to while studying Occitan. All you will hear are the soft sounds of a rain forest combined with the subtle entrainment beats that will allow your mind to learn effectively, and it can be used without headphones if desired. The second session is a 29 minute musical entrainment experience designed to take your brainwaves into a proper state to give your mind the ability to rapidly learn, absorb, and speak Occitan. It can be used without headphones if desired. The final session is a 30 minute musical entrainment experience to give you more than one option musically and it is designed to be used with headphones. All three sessions have specific suggestions pertaining to you learning the Occitan language.

I can’t imagine that there’s much profit potential in this, so the producers of this CD must be doing it out of love for a threatened minority language. And nothing says ‘I’m learning a language of the Mediterranean shores’ quite like the sounds of the rainforest.

The company Brainwave Mind Voyages offers audio CDs for relaxation and meditation—and even one that promises to reverse hair loss—but they’ve got some language ones as well. I like how one Amazon reviewer responded to their Spanish offering:

This CD stands out from all the new age subliminal hypnotic affirmations trash that goes around.

Due to the limitations of the human ear, ultrasonic subliminals have no effects whatsoever on humans, which is why I thought this product is just a joke.

But I decided to give it a try anyway, and had it played in a loop overnight. Next morning, my dog starts speaking with my Hispanic neighbors as if Spanish was his mother’s tongue!

I’m astonished, and must say Quantum Subliminal Matrix Technology works! Buy this CD and expand your dog’s education with a 2nd language!


In addition to my entirely respectable studies of historical linguistics, I must confess a love of Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Borat, whom unless you’ve been living under a rock this last decade you know as the appalling reporter from an entirely fantasy Kazakhstan. There’s something just so enthralling about Borat’s accent and lexicon that makes me wish people in Kazakhstan really were like that, minus all the bigotry of course. In any event, the attempts of me and my fellow travellers to greet young people in Almaty with I like you, I like sex! went entirely unappreciated.

I was wondering if any blogger out there had set out the specifics of the fake Kazakh language that graces episodes of The Ali G Show and the Borat film. Well, back in February the proprietor of the sadly defunct weblog Language Geek put together a collection of links on the matter.