Posts Tagged ‘linguistics’

(I’m reading Introduction to Modern Mathematics right now. It’s very entertaining)

Anyway, in 1967 children were learning too:

The little girl, showing in her domestic play the overriding absorption in personal relationships through which she will later fulfill her role of wife, mother and “expressive leader” of the family (Parsons & Bales, 1956), learns language early in order to communicate. The kind of communication in which she is chiefly interested at this stage concerns the nurturant routines which are the stuff of family life. Sharing and talking about them as she copies and “helps” her mother about the house must enhance the mutual identification of mother and child, which in turn, as Mowrer (1952) and McCarthy (1953) suggest, will reinforce imitation of the mother’s speech and promote further acquisition of language, at first oriented toward domestic and interpersonal affairs but later adapted to other uses as well. Her intellectual performance is relatively predictable because it is rooted in thi early communication, which enables her (environment permitting) to display her inherited potential at an early age.

The same thing happens in boys, but to a lesser extent because they cannot so easily share their interests. Their preoccupation with the working of mechanical things is less interesting to most mothers, and fathers are much less available. Probably too, effective communication about cause and effect presupposes a later stage of mental development than does communication about household routines. The small boy may be storing a great many observations, but his conversation tends to be limited to such remarks as Train stop until he is mature enough to ask Why is the train stopping? … His language, less fluent and personal and later to appear than the girl’s, develops along more analytic lines and may, in favourable circumstances, provide the groundwork for the later intellectual achievement which could not have been foreseen in his first few years.

(Moore 1967, pp. 100-101, cited in Macaulay 1978, p. 360, cited in Eckert, McConnell-Ginet, Language and Gender, 2003)

One has to mention that while extremely creepy, biased and unquestioningly supportive of the extant social order, this sort of pseudoscientific attitude is by no means gone. One only has to smirk derisively at The Female Brain, and lo, its brainless savanna-dwelling adherents come out of the woodwork, mumbling incoherent things about “savanna ancestors”, “hunting and gathering” and “men needing to rape because evolution and also science”, desperately trying to defend the pseudoscience that validates their biases, bigotry and prejudice.

(Incidentally, having read Mark Liberman’s deconstruction of The Female Brain — and other poorly done/described neuroscience research — one has to come to the conclusion that Louann Brizendine is a fraud and a kook. There are only so many end notes that give references to research that doesn’t support her most important claims — or in many cases has nothing to do with her claims at all —  one can read without suspecting foul play(1). Or possibly, she didn’t understand a word of what she hopefully *did* read.)

(Also, there are rumours that there’s a neat deconstruction of Brizendine in Cordelia Fine‘s Delusions of Gender, which I haven’t yet read, and which was recommended on PZ Myers’ blog earlier today. The comment section of that post is, predictably, filled with angry ape-descended savanna-dwellers. For them, I have a message: guise, penis enlargement stuff can be found in the “spam” folder of your mailbox. Have fun!)

(1) Liberman never says it, repeatedly assuming Brizendine’s good will. This is because he’s a nice and also a serious person.

I am neither.

I was going to sleep, but I’m still all smug about having written 25 pages today. 25 pages, guys(1).

Anyway, somewhere between page 16 and page 16 1/2 I took a break and read “Itineraries and travellers in the Middle Assyrian Period” by Betina Faist, from SAAB XV/2006, where I found the following edifying(2) quotes.

1) Having summed up various peculiarities of travel during the MA (Middle Assyrian) period, BF states:

“Finally, a brief mention is owed to aspects unattested so far. In the religious realm, we do not have any indications referring to pilgrimages to the important shrines.”

Tsk, tsk, Betina. Something obvious and self-evident in your culture doesn’t have to be obvious, self-evident, expected or even present at all in others. Take Introduction to Anthropology or something, plz.

2) Trying to tie-up things cutely — something I’m absolutely in favour of — Betina(3) quotes a 1755 letter of a Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, to his sister, Wilhelmine, who was very enthusiastic about her journey to Italy:

“…I have a very high regard of the beauty of Italy, her wonderful climate, her monuments, her past greatness as well as her modern buildings. …But I also believe the Italians to be great braggarts; they exaggerate the beauty and the value of their paintings, their statues, and a thousand things more. Everything is uno spavento, una maraviglia; big words that do not stir my ear more than would the noise of a turnspit [a kind of dog -Sendai]. …I believe if I saw Italy I should not always agree with the ciceroni, which would console me for my fatherland’s barrenness; otherwise, the comparison would be too humiliating for poor Germany…”

Aww, poor Germany.

(Done commiserating yet? Hurr hurr)

Anyway, what we have here is a typically occidental assumption that people actually mean what they say. The assumption is naturally based on the firm yet quaint conviction that people always do what they should do.

(Incidentally, this conviction also allows us to date the letter as having been written sometime before the French Revolution derp)

Anyway, it is perhaps useful to suggest to puzzled Frederick a better approach to understanding the confusingly enthusiastic Italian guides. Or, even, two approaches:

A) The guides are lying. They don’t in fact think that the Italian landscape is anything like anything they imagine a wonder to be; but they have to sell it somehow, hence the unscrupulous use of more florid turn of phrase. They do not in fact intend to communicate their honest opinion about anything at all, but rather say what they think a customer might want to hear.

B) From a pragmatic standpoint, calling something “a wonder” might mean much less to a native speaker of Italian than it would mean to a native speaker of German.

Both approaches would need testing, of  course.

This is all nerd jokes and useless pedantry, as  Frederick the Great’s couldn’t have possibly known anything about the 20th century developments in linguistics.

Betina, however, could have. Alas, directly following the Frederick the Great quote:

“Sources of that nature, relevant to the cultural aspect of travel, are completely absent from our material. Nevertheless, I can imagine Tukulti-Ninurta I reclined (sic) on his throne and musing in a similar way after having received the Egyptian delegation.”

Tsk, tsk, Betina. I recommend taking Introduction to Modern Linguistics.

Also: ah, the subtle difference between absolutism and enlightened absolutism hurr hurr de hurr(5).

Nonetheless, it was a very interesting read, not only because I immediately visualised Tukulti-Ninurta musing about his Vaterland.

Aw, it’s 3 am already, I can sleep n_n

(1) There are no words in any language I know for how smug I am. The smugness; it fills my entire room, oozes through windows, and gently slinks down onto the street; then rushes to left – towards the cathedral – or right – towards the Rhine, but then it gets worse still, but I can’t see anything, once it disappears behind the corner.

No words, srsly.

(2) I feel more edified than the cathedral today.

And the big one in Mainz, too.

(3) I’m terribly sorry (not), but the name “Betina” makes my wretched black little heart warm and gives me fuzzy feelings of malicious glee. I can’t not use the name. It is imperative that I use the name.

Betina, Betina, Betina~~~~~~~

I will not be stopped.

(5) For those of you who might be confused, a journey:

– in enlightened absolutism means going abroad and making a couple of sketches, preferably of ruins,

– in Tukulti-Ninurta’s “absolutism” would mean going abroad with an army and making a couple of conquests, preferably leaving behind only ruins.

The case of religious people who are unable to categorise stuff rationally, and demand that their beliefs be accommodated and supported by SECULAR state or the SECULAR educational system, that is, obviously,  creationists is widely publicised and widely known.

There are, of course, people in other professions for whom their religion becomes a hindrance, and who demand the accommodation of their beliefs, such as the pharmacists in the US who refused to sell contraceptives.

But. To this day(1) I was unaware of a linguist(2)  whose flaunting of their religion in a completely inappropriate manner lead to logical fallacies, wishful thinking and special pleading(3).


Anna Wierzbicka, I’d known you were religious even before I read any of your articles. The reason was:

1) Your book about Jesus

2) Somebody told me

This wasn’t, however, a problem, at least initially. I liked her articles about cross-cultural linguistics, I liked her book about keywords important in various cultures, and I found her arguments contra and pro (yes, both at the same time) prototypes  in Semantics: Primes and Universals well thought-out and extremely persuasive. However.

Is it really necessary to quote the Bible in every other example sentence? Seriously? Linguistics paper: it’s not the place for your confession of faith.

However! As usual, it got worse:

Referring to the use of the word ABOVE used in descriptions of social position and power, Wierzbicka adds:

“It is quite likely that the metaphorical use of the notion ABOVE with reference to people is universal, and that for example, the idea that God is “above all people” can be rendered, and be understood, in all languages.”

I’m so very glad (NO) that she supports the efforts of missionaries to convert the pagan (NO) masses all over the world (NO), especially in developing countries (NO and NO), but maybe the place to express her support is not page 136 of Semantics: Primes and Universals, chapter 3, Universal Grammar?

A bit earlier on, Wierzbicka discusses the use of the semantic primitive GOOD FOR which can be defined as:

This was good for me. =

because of this, something good happened for me

Well, I obviously can’t tell whether this definition is the best possible one with anywhere near 100% certainty (although I would actually lean towards it being correct), and I’d need some more time to think,  and people to bounce ideas off, but here’s what Wierzbicka writes:

But I don’t think that this analysis is valid. From a moral point of view, it may be important to distinguish something that is “good for a person” from “something good that has happened to a person”.

A feeling of acute WTF was accompanying as I read the above words, because for the last 130 pages or so  I was absolutely convinced I was reading a book about semantics not ~*morals*~. My bad!

For example, for many moral teachers it may be important to be able to say things such as:

When something bad happens to you, it may be good for you.

If good things always happen to a person it may be bad for that person.

A language which wouldn’t be capable of expressing such ideas could be regarded as impoverished, and we can hypothesize that all languages are capable of expressing them.

1. She should just give up the “moral teachers”. We all know you mean “Jesus”; obfuscation is futile.

2. “for many moral teachers it may be important to be able to say” is not an argument, it’s wishful thinking (I’m not saying that it’s not important for them, or that they can’t say what’s important to them; just that “it may be important” is extremely weak not-even-an-argument).

3. “a language which wouldn’t be capable of expressing such ideas could be regarded as impoverished” – well, a definition of “impoverished” in Wierzbicka’s idiolect would have to be something like:

Impoverished =

such that is doesn’t allow for making an argument that would contain or that would be based on a theodicy that is embraced by a part of an international Christian sect with whose views I personally agree

you can’t say what I want to say in a language

therefore this language is impoverished

its speakers may or may not want to say what I want to say

Otherwise, her value judgement would have to be  incorrect(4).

Cherry on top of the fail pie, from page 40:

Who created the world? – God

God is someone infinitely good and merciful

FFS STFU. This is only correct in the case of the interpretation offered by a particular Christian sect to which Wierzbicka belongs(5); there are many Gods who don’t fit the criteria she offers.

Be a good linguist, don’t flaunt your religion where it’s inappropriate.

(The whole post was actually prompted by an article about Christian bias in dictionaries, and the fail in my own dictionary that translated a completely neutral non-Christian term for an object of worship as “idol”. I’m collecting examples for a separate post at the moment, may Cthulhu eat them last — actually, not my examples, but people who are responsible for their existence in the first place)

(1) Metaphorically speaking.

(2) Well, I thought there was also this computational linguist guy who was a creationist, but: I forgot his name, and also, it didn’t stop from doing his job. As far as I remember, which is: not very far at all.

(3) To be fair: at least not in 20 century =______=

(4) There are in fact religions in which the problem of the existence of evil is not central, because, for instance, their god is not deemed to be omnipotent, or is not a creator, etc etc etc.

The whole argument is pointless in any case, because the Christian sects Wierzbicka is so eager to support can make words mean new things anyway.

Additionally, what I don’t understand is why she had to mention religious morality in the first place? There is folk wisdom stuff and proverbs that say stuff along the lines of “too much good is bad for you”, and mentioning those would seem much less like major case of special pleading, so.

(5) No, I have no idea which.

(I wanted to something completely different, but lost the book with visual aids. Can you believe it?)

Bishop of Homoco, or, in the correct Japanese transcription Honmoku, is the assumed name of possibly Hoffman Atkinson (at least according to S. Kaiser; different theories, however, do exist), who in 1879 published the second edition of the non-existent first edition of Exercises in the Yokohama Dialect. The whole book might have started out as a joke; however,  it soon took on a life of its own, occasionally popping up on internet forums to this day, mostly when the silly Asians need to be made fun of:

The reason it’s so important is that it contains the earliest examples of the “Chinese” pidgin, written in a crappy English transcription, such as:

“Am buy worry arimas?” (<— Anbai warui arimasu? <– Are you be ill?)


Cocoanuts arimas” (<— Kokonotsu arimasu <— It’s be nine)

What a joker. NUH-HUH.

(As a matter of fact, I strongly dislike the sort of HURR DURR humour where you use “foreign” sounding absurd and/or offensive phrases to make fun of a language they’re supposed to imitate. Pfff.

Is there a name for that sort of thing? There might be, and I prefer to label things I prefer to avoid)

ETA: You can read the entire book here.  The formatting seems to be pretty bizarre, though.

(Scan ganked from Baacharu nihongo. Yakuwarigo no nazo by Satoshi Kinsui)

Japan’s way of coping with history is not, and has never been the healthiest one. Just a couple of years ago, a bunch of MPs from the Liberal Democratic Party (<— in Japan, the LDP is *the* crazy right-wing party full of batshit, and also the most successful one) questioned the veracity of the Nanking massacre, while proposing charmingly that:

The group said the fact that the League of Nations in 1938 voted down a Chinese resolution condemning Japan, a resolution which claimed Japanese soldiers slaughtered 20,000 people in Nanjing, was one piece of evidence that no “massacre” took place. (source)

Truth: much like science, it seems indeed to be a popularity contest. NOT.

(Was the US inspired by that when they started voting on civil liberties? We will never know)


“We believe that by China removing them, we can push ahead with true Japan-China friendship for the 21st century.” (source)

Ouch. The LDP’s definition of “friendship” is very Gorean. Somehow. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be friends with them, really.

Anyway, all things considered, it should come as no surprise that the portrayal of Chinese people in the media tends from time to time to be not exactly positive, or, to put it bluntly dehumanizing. I’ll just focus on one thing – the language – because to write about everything (like the stereotype of fat Chinese mafioso-cum-businessman) would take too much time, and also most likely several hundred thousand words, and also because it’s the easiest for me, as a linguist.

Anyway, it seems that at least since the first Sino-Japanese war, Chinese people have been frequently portrayed in the popular media, such as manga, B-class novels, anime, etc as speaking a ridiculous pidgin. At first, it seems, Western people would also be portrayed as speaking a  simplified form of Japanese, but this very soon changed (well, mostly). The stereotyped “Chinese”-Japanese has two main characteristics:

1) The use of the plain form of the verb “aru” at the end of every sentence that is not interrogative (which is grammatically incorrect, and also, grammatically incorrect)

2) The use of the adjective “yoroshii/yoroshi” at the end of every interrogative sentence. It can be translated as “OK?” or “right?”, and also in absolutely incorrect.

Exhibit 1, Dr Suranpu v. 5 page 173 (first written in early eighties, meaning, this is relatively fresh):

(All pidgin-like grammatical forms are underlined)

(right to left)

1. Ko- konchiwa. Watachitachi-

(Hu-hullo. We… <— plus, all “chi” should be “shi”s)

2. Kondo hikkochite kita Tsun-ikke aru. Yoroshiku ne.

(Family Tsun, just moved be. Nice to meet you <— plus the “chi” in “hikkochite” should be “shi”)

3. Hikkoshi pan aru ne.

(Just-moved-bread be, right?)

A very very old, and also doubly racist (blackface, anyone?) example from a really terrible, and also really popular manga, Norakuro. According to my sources(1) the manga started innocuously enough, but soon progressed to more militaristic topics, with the main character, the dog called Norakuro, serving in the army in a “fierce dog brigade” (mouken-tai) and fighting with pigs, which are clearly meant to represent the Chinese.

The following page depicts Norakuro accidentally stumbling upon smugglers selling weapons to native pirates (who also speak a pidgin-like Japanese):

(right to left, top-down)

1. (Norakuro, the main character, speaks correct Japanese)

Hahaa, buki ya danyaku o dojin ni uru no dana. Furachi na yatsura da.

(Huuuh, they’re selling guns and ammo to the locals. Dirty scoundrels!)

2. Zenbu de nijuuman en da. (Together, 200 000 yen <— note how the white smugglers actually speak proper Japanese)

3. Takai aru. Makeru aru. (Expensive be. Lose be)

4. Makaran yo. (You won’t lose)

5. Teppou bakudan takusan aru na. (That’s a lot of bullets)

6. Shuuchou, katte kimashita ze. (We bought it <— to the chieftain, uses the title)

7. Kayakuko he shimatte oke. (Put in the powder magazine <— the chieftain and “locals” use normal language when talking to each other)

Below, the interactions of the pig army, disorganised and cowardly.

(right to left, top to bottom)

1. Moukengun ha tetsudoumou wo norikoete kita. Mou sugu koko he kuru aru zo. (The Fierce Dog Brigade took over the railway network. They here soon be.)

2. Yarareta. (We’re in trouble)

3. Yatsu bari se no takai no hatama ga yoku ataru aru yo. (It easy to shoot tall people like them be, though <— backhanded compliment = tall = a very good thing)

4. Nigehajimetara dare ga tomete mo dame aru yo. (If we start to escape someone might stop us, wrong be)

5. Moukengun ha tetudoumou wo norikoete kita kara- (Because the Fierce Dog Brigade took over the railway…)

6. Norikoete kuru tokoro [print too tiny to read] de utsu yoroshi. Naze nigeru ka. (Shoot them with [too hard to read] while they’re there, right? Why escape?)

7. Kono gunchi toraretara make aru zo. Modore. (If the capture this place, we lose be. Go back)

8. Utte mo makeru ni kimatteru. (Even if we shoot we’ll lose)

9. Sonna wakaranai taichou ha yattsukeru yoroshi. (We beat up a dumb captain like that, right?)

10. Kora taichou no iu koto kikan ka? (Haven’t heard what the captain said?)

11. Kono aida ni nigedase. (We’ll escape soon)

12. Mukou no gunchi ga anzen aru yo. (The land over there safe be)

Charming, really. And, for the coup de grace, the freshest example, from 2000. Axis Powers Hetalia is a mind-numbingly dumb, racist manga chock-full of racist/xenophobic stereotypes featuring a bunch of anthropomorphized countries, and, basically, while my sentiments towards it can succinctly summed up with a  BURN IT WITH FIRE, it also unsurprisingly contains the racist Chinese pidgin. Below, the interactions os Russia (the blond guy) and China (the not-blond guy), pidgin-like forms underlined:

Classy, really classy.

(Most of this material is from the Satoshi Kinsui’s book. The Hetalia strip was recovered online)

(1) Satoshi Kinsui, Baacharu nihongo. Yakuwarigo no nazo.

You’d think there’s no such thing, but, uh-huh oh wow, not so much.

The phenomenon of smug Western weeaboos smugly proclaiming they don’t have to learn the Japanese honorifics, because “nobody uses them in Real Life, anyway” is nothing new. What is still quite surprising to me, though, is how wide-spread this sort of attitude really is.

(It shouldn’t, because it’s obviously a self-fulfilling prophecy)

1. In Japanese, you’re not being polite to be nice or friendly. You’re being polite to show that you can correctly read a situation as one requiring polite speech, to indicate your distance to the speaker (you can also use more polite language when you’re unhappy with someone, suggesting something like “we’re not as close as before, anymore”; one frequently finds oneself saying “gokuroosama” ironically when fed up with someone etc), and so on. This means that you can’t assume you will be able to get close to everybody in five seconds after meeting them PLUS ignore social conventions just because you’re such a special snoflake.

2. As it happens, I have Sachiko Ide’s research right in front of me, harr harr.
(I sleep with her books under the pillow srsly)
It’s an article from 1986 about degrees of politeness according to addressee in Japanese and American English requests. There’s a huge table that illustrates the distribution of polite forms in everyday speech, and as can be clearly seen in the table, the most polite forms are most frequently used towards: teachers, older people, medical doctors, secretaries, post office workers, part-time job superiors, landlords/landladies, police officers, department store staff.
Please, by all means, please try and explain why this shouldn’t be Real Life conversation stuff, and how you’ll be totes able to avoid it all the time.

I’m waiting.

(I’ve also got an article about polite form usage among married couples, FFS –> e.g. Yoshida& Sakurai, 2005, in: Broadening the Horizons of Linguistic Politeness, ed. Ide, Lakoff)

(There’s also a fascinating article by Ide about politeness and gendered speech, which explains that women’s speech appears to be more polite, because women are statistically more likely to only have  non-work-related conversations — because they might not work — which are automatically more polite than the work-related conversations in which men are more likely to participate; Ide, “Josei-no keigo-no gengokeesiki-to kinoo”, 1985)

3. That said, can a foreigner live without learning honorifics? Absolutely. They have, however, resign themselves to the position of an outsider, never getting a job, and missing out on a significant portion of the fun everybody else gets to have. A foreigner unable to use polite speech in Japanese will most likely be only friends with Japanese people who are used to foreigners and their wacky foreign ways, they might quite often not be taken seriously, and very likely will be treated like child who makes everybody happy when they manage to accomplish the trivial task of saying “good morning” properly.

I mean, nobody has to learn polite speech, if they don’t want to, but denying it exists? LOL, ignorance.

ETA: typos, as usual, meh.

I’ve got a fascinating article about fieldwork and the blunders linguists-cum-anthropologists sometimes do.

I wanted to add a quantifier like “when they haven’t done enough research before setting out on an Oceania trip”, but then I realized that, no, actually, there are things you can’t really know beforehand, because sometimes you will just make mistakes, OK?

Boldly went where no linguist had gone before

Gunter Senft researched the language (and culture, inevitably) of the Trobriand Islanders in Papua New Guinea.  The most reliable book about Trobriand Island at the time Senft was about to set out there was still Malinowski’s stuff from 1920 and 1930.

Which is why when he arrived the stuff he knew was:

1. Stuff from Malinowski’s publications.

2. The interrogative pronouns avela (who), avaka (what), ambeya (where) and the general deictic beya (this, that, there, here) he was taught by a Catholic priest from the local mission(1).

Mistakes were made

That said, some of the mistakes Senft made were rather silly and avoidable(2). This is because they were clearly caused by projecting Senft’s language on the language he was trying to learn/investigate. For instance, he showed a spider web and asked someone what it was, to which the answer was kapali la bwala. Because he already knew that kapali meant spider, he assumed that the la bwala part was another noun, which he then interpreted as “net”.

Later, it turned out that la was a possessive, and bwala meant in fact “home”, so that the whole expression should be interpreted as “spider’s house”, not web.

Other times, though, Senft really couldn’t have known.

For instance, when he heard a word bweyowa, after consulting the native speakers briefly he decided it was the deictic “here”. However, a look at a map at a map hanging at the Catholic mission(3) suggested that Bweyowa is rather a variant of Boyowa, and is actually the name of the island on which he lived.


When Senft pointed at a piece of carving (for which the islands seem to be famous) and asked for a name for it, he was told it was uligova. It took him some time to find out that the word was actually for what the carving depicted, namely “a crocodile“, which was the reason while the language speakers had continued to snigger at his wacky antics for some time.

At first children were afraid of him whenever he went(4), so an event when a kid didn’t cry was a cause for further investigation. When a mum with a non-crying kid approached, Senft decided he could ask for the kid’s name. Upon hearing his voice, the kid did finally start crying, and the mum said gwadi e-kokola, which  Senft painstakingly noted down as the kid’s name.

What the phrase means, however, is “the child is afraid of you”.

Resistance was sort of futile

The more serious mistakes were however the ones that directly threatened to make Senft a pesona non-grata on the island: the lack of proper manners, his social misbehaviours.

For instance, he kept asking people about the names of people who were already deceased, and noticed that some of them would not want to speak to him again shortly thereafter. It turned out that it was a huge faux pas to ask about one’s dead relatives on the island.

Senft also made a blunder when he asked about a word that was part of the women’s language, and which men were forbidden to utter. He also shouldn’t have mentioned profanities that were part of children’s songs outside of the context of the songs.

One of the most hilarious mistakes, in my opinion, was the one Senft made with regard to greetings. He would go out to bath every morning, carrying his towel and soap stuff, so that he was sure everybody knew where he was going. This is why he was quite puzzled that the people he would pass on his way would ask him where he was going anyway, and that they were quite discomfited when a detailed answer was not forthcoming.

Finally, one of Senft’s neighbours explained to him that he should always answer the questions as exactly as possible, because they were as a matter of fact greetings. The details were required for two reasons:

1. the practical one: there were many accidents involving coconuts on the island,

2. the sort-of-practical one: the islanders believe that the world is filled with the malevolent spirits of dead people, known as kosi, who are fond of scaring people so that they become disoriented and get lost in the jungle.

So, by asking him for his exact route everybody was showing that they care a great deal about his well-being, and Senft, by being dismissive of those questions, acted like a complete jerk.

And this isn’t something that only happens to foreign researchers. Prof Kobayashi who specialises in NE Japanese dialects, once accidentally asked about a name of a plant in a village in which the exact same words actually meant “fart”. His informant was a nice old lady; one can only imagine how outraged she was at the young (then) post-doc behaving so rudely(5)!

(from Gunter Senft, “Ain’t misbevahing? Trobriand pragmatics and the field researcher’s opportunity to put his (or her) foot in it”, Oceanic Linguistics 34/1)

(I suppose I could send the pdf if I’m asked really nicely)

(1) Catholic missions are like cockroaches. Or locusts. D:

(2) OTOH, it’s easy for me to say.

(3) At least they aren’t completely useless.

(4) As a person who had Japanese kids crying at her formidalby alien sight, I can sympathise ^^;;;;

(5) This is a story I heard from prof Kobayashi himself. There’s even an article about the word, somewhere.