pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

…you see it written in ASCII and your mind automatically fills in the appropriate diacritics. (In some cases, even guessing them based on some kind of statistical process.)

I shall have to make some time to brush up on my Slovak before I head to SES again this summer, but probably not till after my Cornish exam in June as I don’t want to get mixed up.

Recently, Maltese has started to tickle the back of my brain again as well. We’ll see which language will be the next to take hold of me. Though currently I’m hoping to stick with Cornish till at least next year and take the level 3 exam then.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

In La Quotidiana, they have a regular feature right now where they publish installments of Notiztgas dalla Sizilia by Linard Candreia (in Surmiran). (Is that the right word? Where they take a text and publish it a bit at a time, day by day?)

The other day, I was reading part 31, and came across this bit:

Chegl tgi fò smarvagler ad en Rumantsch an Sicilia è la preschientscha da pleds sicilians tgi sumeglian fitg (u èn schizont identics) cugl sursilvan! Cunchegl tg’ia na sung betg igl om digl fatg per sclareir tals misteris linguistics, surlascha l’explicaziun digl fenomen gist numno alla fantascheia digl singul lectour…

Which I understand as:

What makes a Romansh person in Sicily marvel is the presence of Sicilian words which strongly resemble (or are even identical to) Sursilvan! Since I’m not the kind of expert who can explain such linguistic mysteries, I’ll leave the explanation of the phenomenon I just mentioned to the imagination of each reader….

That bit reminded me of what I had experienced occasionally, where I would recognise a Romansh word here or there as one I had first come across in the context of Maltese (whose Romance word-stock, of course, comes mainly via Sicilian).

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I was just reading the German Wikipedia article on Grammar of Rumantsch Grischun when I came across the section on "collective plurals", in which it says:

Ein typisch rätoromanisches Phänomen ist der Kollektivplural. Er tritt auf bei männlichen Substantiven, die häufig im Plural vorkommen. Er verhält sich wie ein feminines Substantiv im Singular.

  • il mail -> der Apfel
  • ils mails -> die Äpfel (zählbar, nach Mengenangaben)
  • la maila -> die Äpfel (nicht zählbar, allgemein)

That is, some masculine nouns form a regular (masculine) plural but also a collective plural (called "a typically Rhaeto-Romance phænomenon" here) which looks like a singular feminine noun.

Which is (as regards the grammatical genders) pretty much the opposite of what happens in Maltese, as I understand it: the examples there would be:

  • it-tuffieħa (fem.) -> the apple
  • it-tuffieħiet (fem.pl.) -> the apples (e.g. counted plural, after numbers: 3 tuffieħiet)
  • it-tuffieħ (masc.) -> the apples (not specifically counted; apples in general)

Similarly with ħobż "bread (as a material)", ħobża "a (loaf of) bread"; ġobon "cheese", ġobna "a cheese"; ward "roses", warda "a rose"; etc.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Apparently, Hebrew Amen ("so be it") and Maltese emmen ("to believe") are related, both going back to the root 'mn meaning (in Hebrew, according to Wikipedia): to be firm, confirmed, reliable, faithful, have faith, believe.

(And Mammon may also be related, possibly from *ma'mon =? "security, deposit.)

Emmen is an interesting word in Maltese because it's one of the very few verbs of Semitic origin beginning with a vowel. (I'm not sure how many there are, but ISTR reading that there were only a handful.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

I just read in this comment:

I'd write
mae ganddi hi for 'she has'
mae ganddo fo for 'he has'

and it struck me how similar it is to Maltese: jien għandi "I have", hu għandu "he has", hi għandha "she has". Purely by coincidence, of course, but still fun.

(And also how the construction works out: apparently, in Welsh, "I have" is literally "Is with me", and in Maltese, "I have" is also "(I) at-me" (with "is" understood, e.g. "at-me a table" = "at me, there is a table" = "I have a table"). Though AFAIK you can also treat it like a verb and, for example, put an optional subject pronoun in front, so you could have "jien għandi mejda", or literally "I at-me table".)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

The thought came to me that apparently in Maltese, "egg" literally means "a white thing" -- for example, "a white egg" would be "bajda bajda", if I'm not mistaken, i.e. roughly "a white white-thing". (So I suppose Casablanca, or Ad-dar al-Bayda [Id-Dar il-Bajda], could also be "The Egg House" in Maltese, not just "The White House". Casadelhuevo? But "the egg white" is, I believe, "l-abjad tal-bajda", i.e. "the white[masc.] of the white[fem.]")

Also strangely enough, one of the dictionaries I had seemed not to have an entry for "bajda", which is unfortunate since it would be good to know the individual and collective plurals (bajdiet; bajd), for example. Fortunately, the other one I have does. (But that one doesn't list "bajda" and "bojod" [feminine and plural, respectively] s.v. "abjad" [the masculine/citation form of the adjective "white"], so it has its shortcomings, too.)

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Philip Newton

June 2015

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