Friday, June 21, 2013

On the Idea of Learning More

First, watch this video from NASA. Pure visual poetry that reminds us the world is large and amazing, its people varied. 

Little darling, you know the sun is slowly rising....
   Next, try reading this poem aloud (and it should definitely be aloud): 

Upriver, Downriver

Bella Coola, Clallum, Comox, Halkomelem 
Lummi, Lushootseed, Musqueam, Saanich, 
Salish, Songish, Sooke, Squamish, 
Twana, Couer d'Alene, Columbia-Wanatchi, 
Kalispel, Lillooet, Okanagan, Shuswap, 
Spokane, Thompson, Tillamook, Chehalis

It sounds like one of those wonderful children's counting games out on the playground, doesn't it? But it's a list of the different permutations of the Salishan language group spoken by many Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. And the list comes to me via the The World Atlas of Language Structures.   

A World Atlas of Language Structures???? Who knew there was something so strange and wonderful?  Granted, it's not for everyone. But as far as I'm concerned - ooh! For example, Chapter 13 talks about "tone" in different world languages: 

"All languages make use of variations in the musical pitch of the voice as part of their sound systems, but they differ in the ways in which modifications of pitch are used and how many different types of functions are served by pitch variations. Linguists distinguish between two of the major uses of pitch as tone and intonation. Intonation is the term that is used to describe sentence types, such as question versus statement, or to indicate whether a speaker has finished or intends to continue speaking, or to show which parts of an utterance present new or highlighted information versus old or less significant information.

Tone is the term used to describe the use of pitch patterns to distinguish individual words or the grammatical forms of words, such as the singular and plural forms of nouns or different tenses of verbs. In the simplest cases, each syllable of a language with tones will have its own characteristic tonal pattern, which may be a relatively flat pitch at a particular level, or may involve the pitch rising or falling over the duration of the syllable. When the pitch has a moving pattern of this sort, the tone is described as a contour tone."

Contour tone = moving pattern of pitch. Must learn more!
Visi-Pitch Displays Chinese word wenti  - I have no idea how to read this.

Click here for a world map that shows tonal pattern groups. Apparently, English is one of 307 languages that has "no tone." How can that be? That can't be right. Must learn more. Navajo and certain forms of Japanese are on the list of 132 languages that have "simple tone systems" and Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai and Vietnamese all have "complex tonal systems." Something to do with tone within syllables. Must learn more!
Be sure to click on Gender Types (some languages include five genders that have to have subjects, modifiers and verbs agree syntactically, while English only has three -he, she, it - and Spanish/French only have two - he/she.) Hard to imagine what there is besides he/she/it - isn't it? (Must learn more.)

And don't miss Rhythm Types (English is essentially trochaic, that's a surprise. Swedish, Russian, Turkish have no rhythmic stresses, how is that possible? Winnebago and Yup'ik are iambic - wish I could hear that.)  Here's the map that shows Rhythm Types around the world.

The list of language features at that site goes on and on. Some sound dull. Some sound like Interesting Stuff, bound to inspire a few poems. My kind of site.
The Poetry Friday Round-Up this week is being hosted by Carol over at Carol's Corner. Head there to see what other people have posted.


  1. Fascinating! And no wonder your brain has such fabulous output--look what you put IN it!

  2. Fascinating. It is easier to hear what a language sounds like when you don't understand the words. I wonder how English would sound to me if I didn't leap immediately to the meaning of what I'm hearing.

  3. I like your repetition of "must learn more."

    The video is amazing -- the atmosphere is alive!

    And the names of the language permutations -- WOW!

    Double wow to A World Atlas of Language Structures!!

  4. That list of languages really is a poem. I heard a poem the other day that was mostly Latin names of plants. I didn't understand most of it but it sounded so very wonderful that I loved it anyway!

  5. I almost got too side-tracked by the link to WALS to leave a message -- thanks for this!!