Wednesday, October 7, 2015

World Languages

I represented my alma mater, Cornell University, at the Tucson Unified School District's College Night.  Among the bright eyes and sharp minds there were those with specific needs for their next educational adventure.  Is there snow? What would a pre-med program look like?  Can I study large animals at the Vet School as an undergraduate?  I'm interested in civil engineering ... bioengineering... neuroscience ..... nutrition...  foreign languages.

Yes yes yes yes yes... Ezra founded his namesake University on the premise that any person could find instruction in any course of study. Not to worry; if you want to take Ancient Aramaic, someone will teach it to you.

All night long I wondered if I'd chosen the most obscure language taught at Cornell.  My computer problems prevented me from searching the website.  This afternoon, when the fabulous AV guy spent fifteen minutes rerouting signals and reprogramming our DVD's remote, I was tasked with finding the Instruction Manual.

In the back of that manual are two pages listing the individual codes for over 175 languages.  I'm amazed at the reach of the Yamaha DVD player, but more than that I am surprised. I don't recognize  Afar or Assamese or Avestan or Aymara.  Bihari and Bislama, Dzonghkha and Faroese and Frisian and Gallegan are equally unknown, and that is just the first of four columns.

It gets worse.  Gikuyu, Guarani, Herero, Hiri Motu .... 'twas brillig and the slithy tove is all of a sudden sounding less like gibberish and more like something I haven't yet discovered.  Komi, Kwanyama, Letzeburgesch, and Manx sound place specific to me.

As we move into the third column, Nauru and Ndebele (North and South) and Ndonga lead into Nynorsk and Occitan (post 1500).  Seriously, that's the notation.  I guess there aren't a lot of 15th century Occitan speakers using DVD players these days.)

Telugu and Tigrinya and Tswana and Twi and Volapuk and I was beginning to think it would never end and then I saw Yiddish... and I smiled.  It's such a silly word in itself, you almost have to smile when you say it.  I remembered Donna's comment, on West Wing, that words such as spatula and far-fetched should be Yiddish, even if they aren't because they sound as if they are.  I began to imagine what Lingala might sound like.  I pondered Wolof wooing.  And then I came here to share it all with you.

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