Sunday, June 22, 2008

Language Trivia

I've been perusing a book called Flutes of Fire by Leanne Hinton. It is a collection of essays and musings about California Indian languages. Some f'r instances which might be of interest:
  • There were likely around 100 different native languages spoken in California ca. 1800.
  • "The "pattern number" of European and European-American lore is three: fairy tales have three brothers, or three sisters. . .a hero makes three attempts before reaching his goal. . .But in most of Native California, the pattern number is four. It is the fourth try that succeeds; characters and episodes come in fours." -page 37
  • "It is not in the basic vocabulary that native Californian languages have had any great impact on English. The only well-attested word I know of is "abalone," probably coming from the Rumsen language." -page 95
  • The Wintun word buli, which means "hill," has left its mark on northern Californian geography. "At least twelve peaks in Shasta, Trinity, Tehama and Lake counties are designated by the name, usually spelled "Bally," "Bully," or "Bolly. . .Folk etymology has led to many other renditions of buli: Hayfork Bally is sometimes known as "Hayfork Baldy." Little Baldy and Indian Creek Baldy both come from buli." -page 99
  • Many European methods of counting involve a decimal system (groups of ten). Some native Californian languages are based, instead, on five. This is a logical enough system to anyone who has ever counted on his fingers, but still other languages are quarternary, based on four. Hinton hypothesizes that this still has a straightforward basis; there are four spaces between your fingers, to which sticks can be added for increasingly higher calculations. (page 113-120)

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