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!


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