Dandas, commas & shifts

The usage of punctuation marks in most Western languages is considered to be something systematic, organised and meaningful. Punctuation is used to indicate certain stylistics and create effects which can influence the style of writing. According to [Hasan] Ghazala, this situation is completely different in Arabic, where punctuation marks are used randomly, especially when works are translated into Arabic. The situation for Urdu and Hindi is similar, as neither language has a tradition of elaborate punctuation usage. Shifts and changes in punctuation between an original text and a translation in those languages are thus less meaningful than they are between Western languages.

— Everaert, Christine. ‘Tracing the Boundaries between Hindi and Urdu: Lost and Added in Translation between 20th Century Short Stories’. Brill’s Indological Library, vol. 32, 2010.

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The Script Jungle Book

Being so attracted to scripts, it should come as no surprise that I’ve taken a liking to Introduction to the Devanagari Script, by H. M. Lambert, ever since I first found out about it – even though I’ve just now learnt that’s Miss Lambert, not Mr Lambert as I’d previously thought.

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Urheimat: the Urals

Being interested in at least checking all kinds of languages, it goes without saying that I had my eye on the Uralic languages at some point. I’ve never thought of anything too exotic about them though – either Finnish or Hungarian (which means that not even Estonian has ever been much of an option, let alone those with even less speakers).

In a way, I can probably say I’ve always been attracted to Finnish the most, and it’s a language I at least know a couple of specific points about even without having studied it. However – and I find this rather peculiar –, it is Hungarian, and not Finnish, that I perceive as ‘exotic’ and ‘mysterious’.

Even the highly subjective impression I’ve got of both languages differ significantly. Although it’s very difficult to put it down in words, Finnish comes to my mind in white and light sky blue, open grassy fields and soft cool breeze in early spring; Hungarian, on the other hand, flows in shades of brown and black, weathered masonry, dark, ancient facades and dull, overcast skies at sunset.

I wanted to have a taste of a Uralic language, but which after all? I usually take such decisions based on number of speakers – 5.4 million for Finnish, 13 million for Hungarian, according to Wikipedia, so Hungarian clearly wins.

Yet, Finnish’s 5.4 million speakers are way far that just a few, so I just wondered what if I put it through my secondary, abstract sieve: Catholicism. According to Wikipedia again, between 15,000 and 25,000 Catholics in Finland against 3.85 million in Hungary. This was definitely beyond arguing with – Hungarian it was.

I can probably say that, although Finnish attracted me as it is, Hungarian became an acquired taste – the more I progressed, the more I got to enjoy it, and it’s now one of those languages that I may put aside, but that I always eventually return to.

Not that Hungarian is an easy language, but it’s the pleasant kind of difficult, so to speak. I can’t objectively compare it with Finnish after all, even though my overall impression is that specific peculiarities abound in both, while exact parallels might be much fewer than expected. Is Finnish really out of the game after all?

Language rank

I was trying to organise ‘my languages’ mentally and, as usual, decided to turn to some sort of standard and put it down in words. I checked the Wikipedia article on language codes and picked ISO 639-3. As I wrote down my list, I actually realised my choice wouldn’t be as precise or as properly detailed as I had in mind, but that’ll do for now.

I wrote down all the languages I’ve ever studied, no matter for how long or at what depth (so some subjectivity is involved after all) following the ISO 639-3 code and nomenclature as closely as possible (and alphabetised by the former). Then I proceeded to cross out those that, for a number of reasons, I’ve ‘put away’ for good – because I satisfied my curiosity, because they lost their appeal, because I’d picked them on a whim, etc. (no value judgement implied or intended at all).

The next step was to mark those I’ve been currently interested in and those I’ve been putting aside for the moment; for that, I’ve decided to indicate them as ⬆️ and ⬇️, respectively.

There are languages that, although placed aside, I still have gravitating around me somehow; these I’ve indicated as 🛑.

Then there are languages that I also keep gravitating around me, but which I find myself often referring back to even if informally; these I’ve left unmarked.

As for the languages I’ve been focusing on at present, I’ve marked them with the respective flags of the relevant varieties (English, being a particular case, got italicised, and Portuguese, being my native language, got bolded).

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Gotta love Vietnamese tones!

Unlike many Native American, African, and Chinese languages, Vietnamese tones do not rely solely on pitch contour. Vietnamese often uses instead a register complex (which is a combination of phonation type, pitch, length, vowel quality, etc.). So perhaps a better description would be that Vietnamese is a register language and not a ‘pure’ tonal language.

[…]

There is much variation among speakers concerning how tone is realized phonetically. There are differences between varieties of Vietnamese spoken in the major geographic areas (northern, central, southern) and smaller differences within the major areas (e.g. Hanoi vs. other northern varieties). In addition, there seems to be variation among individuals. More research is needed to determine the remaining details of tone realization and the variation among speakers.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Vietnamese phonology’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 December 2017, 07:53 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vietnamese_phonology&oldid=817421402> [accessed 30 March 2018]