24 January 2011


My linguistics teacher seems to have studied Yucatec Maya extensively, and he shared this tidbit:
In Mayan, "uts" means "good" and "uts so wich" means "how are you?" but literally means "how´s your face?"  This made me laugh.  Although I can´t find any evidence of this being true (the webweb shows lots of different ways to say it, not surprisingly), I believe him.

It´s funny that the Mayans identified themselves as their faces, literally,
which made me think of this:
I see this at work all the time and it also makes me chuckle.  It´s our copier.
They all say face up, face up, face up--until we get to the Spanish, literally "mouth up" (well, the German says picture up, but that makes sense because it´s a copier).  Curious that the Spanish define the front half of the body by the mouth and not the face.

[I don´t know what the Japanese say or WHY there would be 2 in Japanese, and Khya´s not home.  I´ll have to ask him once he gets here.]


Edit: Ok, Khya came home and woke me up to answer my question.  The top one says "copy side placed up" more or less, and the bottom one says "transmission [fax] side placed up"--so neither of these are really metaphorical at all, just more descriptive of what to do with the sheet of paper you have in your hands before you turn it over to the machine.

As to WHY there would be two in Japanese and only one in every other language, we can only safely guess, either A) it´s a Japanese machine so Japanese language takes precedence or B) Japanese users of this machine must be so dumb they can´t figure out what to do with their fax even if they know what to do with their copy.

Edit part 2: I emailed Nitzkin about the Mayan phrase above.  He responded:

Remember, I said there are 22 mayan languages! You were probably looking at qiche or yucatec. I was talking about kaqchikel; the phrase is "la, utz a wach" with unlauts over the "u" and the second "a", pronounced "la, ootz a wuch" (wuch pron. Like "butch"). Literally, It means "hey, how's your face?"
Many of those 22 languages are actually as different as french from italian or more. Kaqchikel is the 3rd largest, and is spoken in the mountains of guatemala. Most people when they say mayan, mean yucatec, which is spoken all over yucatan (where most tourists go).

And then he said:

Excuse me, actually, most literally it means "hey, good your face?"

And then he said:

Oops, excuse me again--that's 22 in guatemala alone. Don't want to mislead you!


Translating Animals

Ok, so you know I'm studying linguistics officially, right, and I'm in this Languages of the World (really like an intro to linguistics) course.  There are really interesting tidbits all the time--like on day 1, Nitzkin told us how humans are different from other animals in our ability to speak, and communicate about not only the concrete, but the abstract as well.

While other animals communicate to each other, this is generally done through instinctual sounds being made in response to some threat or stimulus.  Then perhaps other animals respond to that sound, instinctually.  There´s obviously no chatting involved.

But I was thinking about that awesome movie from my childhood, Project X (starring a very young Helen Hunt and an even younger Matthew Broderick), and about all those chimps that supposedly learned sign language.  What about them??

Well, I read this article on NPR about how humans are linguistically different from monkeys, and it says, first of all, monkeys´ vocal chords are shaped differently from those of humans, so they´ll never really be able to make the sounds we do--obviously--which is why scientists went on and gave sign language a go.  To summarize about the sign language obsession researchers had in the 60s and 70s, monkeys are smart enough to make certain shapes with their hands in response to certain stimuli (like twisting a fist by the corner of the mouth when shown an apple), but still, the number of words they learn seems to peak at about 300.

But by the end of high school, we have about 60,000 words, the average human. And every chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, they all sort of hit the wall at two to 300 words, which is also where a dog hits the wall, or a parrot. So there's something really different about us. And it's not to say they don't communicate - of course they communicate. And of course they have communication that can say very specific, surprising things, but it's not language. [...]  And what became clear to the researchers doing this was that the human infant had a language, a vocabulary explosion at a very young age that never occurs with chimps.

So Nitzkin was right in saying no monkey has ever spoken better than a 2 year old child.

WHAT I DIDN´T KNOW is that although monkeys´ DNA matches like 97% of ours, cognitively, dolphins might be more similar to humans.  Studies show that dolphins are the only animals that can communicate about things not in their immediate surrounding, such as past and future events.*

I read on dolphin-world.com (that´s right) that dolphins have a greater brain-to-body-weight ratio than any other mammal besides homo sapiens and that because dolphins tend to stay within their own pods, they have trouble understanding “foreign” dolphins.  This might be an indicator that they have different dolphin "languages" in different parts of the world, even though they are the same species--if in fact they use language at all.

Well, anyway, it´s probably for the best animals don´t seem to really use language the way we do.  LEST THIS HAPPEN:


*Ok, I found this wobsite, and I can´t decide if it´s for real or not. It´s called SpeakDolphin.com, and well... they have a running list for if they ever do get to talk to dolphins, what are the questions they would ask.  Look.  You can submit yours here.

15 January 2011

World's First "Promercial"

So a few months back I blogged about this new word I heard, "prosumer."  In that post I learned, in the context that I heard the word, prosumer = professional + consumer.

So what about "promercial"?  A commercial for prosumers? The New York Times claims it's actually promotion + commercial.  Now, maybe I'm mistaken here but aren't commericals ALL promotions?  Come on, now.
What they actually mean is that not only will there continue to be product placement in tv shows we watch, but now there will be a commercial before said tv episode, promoting both the product that will be placed and the episode itself.

Obviously, this is happening because of the prevalence of TiVo-type devices that very easily allow viewers to fast foward through commercials.  ABC did it first.  A triple punch.  1) The upcoming episode of Cougar Town was going to have Diet Dr. Pepper all up in it.  2) Throughout the day, leading up to that episode, they aired promercials--previews for that night's episode--particularly the part of the episode that includes the product pitch.  3) On their wobsite, they featured extended footage from said episode--but of course before you can watch the clip you have to watch a Diet Dr. Pepper commercial.

You can watch this historic event here.

Lol I agree with Time's Graeme McMillan, "If this kind of thing continues, how long before we get a prepromercial to let us know that there might be an advertisement to tell us about the advertisement hidden in real content somewhere in our future?"

13 January 2011

New classes!

So I´m taking some classes for fun this semester!  Woooooooooo
Remember this post?

They each meet once a week, so the sessions are long--perfect for discussion.  I definitely plan to update my blag much more regularly now, seeing as how I´ll want to jot down here interesting tidbits I pick up along the way--for my own sake.  You know.

These are the classes I´m taking.