View Full Version : The lesser known quirks of your language?

07-20-2011, 05:41 AM
I was doing some swedish translations today, and again it struck me how odd my native tongue is - compared to the other germanic languages like German, Dutch or English.

Swedish (with Norwegian) is unique among the indo-european languages in that it is partly tonal. It is a bit like chinese in that stress and tone of a word changes its meaning.

So, "Tomten r p tomten", can mean:

"Santa is in the yard" or "The yard is on Santa" or "Santa is on Santa" or "The yard is on The Yard". It depends on the tone and stress of the word 'tomten'.

"Fr fr fr?" looks like gibberish, but it's actually a working sentence in Swedish and means "Can sheep have sheep?"

There are many, many words like that, and it's one of the most difficult things to learn when you're studying Swedish as a second language.

But what about other languages? What sets your apart? What quirk does your language have that no other language does?

07-20-2011, 06:14 AM
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

This is a logical and grammatical sentence (albeit odd) in English. It would be more understandable with punctuation, but punctuation isn't required.

The sentence exploits homophones, words which have multiple meanings but the same spelling, and uses three meanings for buffalo:

The city of Buffalo, New York, which is used as a noun adjunct, a noun modifying another noun (that is the buffalo of the city of Buffalo, reversing the order of the two uses) in the sentence. The city name is followed by a plural reference to the bovine animal. In other words, the buffalo of Buffalo, New York.
Buffalo meaning the noun buffalo, an animal sometimes known as bison, in the plural (equivalent to "buffaloes" or "buffalos"), in order to avoid articles.
The verb "buffalo" meaning to bully, baffle, deceive, or intimidate.

What the sentence actually says is that bison who are intimidated by bison are intimidating to bison in the city of Buffalo (i.e. Buffalo, in Western New York).

You can do pretty much the same thing with other homophones:

Dogs dogs dog dog dogs.

It's the kind of joke linguists trot out at parties; see William Rappaport's discussion (http://www.cse.buffalo.edu/~rapaport/BuffaloBuffalo/buffalobuffalo.html).

07-20-2011, 06:33 AM
Another English oddity:

Dis dis dis dis dis dis dis dis dis.

The insult (dis or diss) by the insulting (dis) ladies (dis) of the underworld god Dis insult (dis) the insult (dis) about insulting (dis) female dieties (dis, plural disir).

07-20-2011, 04:53 PM
In portuguese we have a suffx - inho (or inha, for female) - that basically turns every noun into a smaller/cuter form.

It works ok in some cases: co is dog, cozinho is cute little dog (not necessarily a puppy). In other cases, you can take the biggest bad-assest thing and add the suffix to it and it goes ploof. This can be used for comedy, sarcasm, you name it.

Though not specific to portuguese, the fact we have male/female words allows for some interesting word play. Take a guy who has a very cutesy, feminine kind of beauty. We can say: Ele bonita, where Ele indicates a male subject, but bonita is the feminine form of pretty.

ETA: Remembered the name-phrases: some full names actually make a sentence. The most famous example is Rolando Caio da Rocha. This is a perfectly normal name, but it also means rolling I fall from the rock. :D

07-20-2011, 05:21 PM
my viet namese students once told me that there is no blue in vietnamese--not the french influenced language but the old language. they claimed that there is only green and gray. my eyes are gray but the sky is green.

the guys who told me this were all former army officers. one had been an english instructor at a military school. they could have been pulling my leg. they were good at this. i wonder if it is true---s6

07-20-2011, 05:32 PM
Many languages lack words. The English used to not have words for orange (other than gold and yellow-red.)

07-20-2011, 06:28 PM
in spanish to give birth is to give the light. i love that one--s6

07-20-2011, 08:49 PM
in spanish to give birth is to give the light. i love that one--s6

Same as in portuguese - makes for lots of jokes whenever there's a pregnant woman in a room that needs the lights turned on. :rolleyes:

We have two words I'm particularly fond of and the english language lacks. One is Saudade, which is akin to a longing for something. The other is Madrugada, which is the time of day that is no longer night and not yet day.

07-20-2011, 10:20 PM
Isn't that period known as "false dawn" or something like that? Can't think of the terminology / description right now. Meh, time to sleep before I stick the other foot in my mouth.

07-20-2011, 10:27 PM
One is Saudade, which is akin to a longing for something.
The only concept equally found is in the Celtic languages.

The other is Madrugada, which is the time of day that is no longer night and not yet day.

"Darkest of the night" is the closest we got in English. There is also false dawn.

07-20-2011, 10:48 PM
madrugada is spanish too. i've always loved that concept. love the mexican names, too. i have a student named aurelio. he comes from a long line of aurelios--all are called lelo. refugio is cuco. jesus is chuy. another student is cuerpie--his full name is juan del cuerpo. i had friends who were sisters. they shared the same name: maria de la luz carmen del corazon sagrado. one was carmen and one was luz. another sister was maria. the name was hundreds of years old. --s6

07-20-2011, 10:54 PM
Maria do Mar has become a somewhat common girl's name here and the translation just loses all the poetry. :)

One thing I love about english is how you can add -er and -est to words even when it's not grammatically correct.