I hope your week rocked because mine sure did.
I started catching up with friends I had in Seoul and my Korean skills sure have been put to the test. Luckily, some of them speak Japanese too so I’ve been able to switch to Japanese whenever the topic becomes too complicated.
Still, I’ve succeeded in mostly relying on Korean most of the time and only pulling out a Japanese expression in the middle of a sentence as in 여기의 이야기가 盛り上がって정화 안 봤어😅
I haven’t found much time to study languages but I did buy two new Korean books through which I’m slowly plowing away. It’s slow but also an incredible confidence booster as each page feels less hard than the previous.
I’ve also done some progress researching the next deep-dive lesser-known language. It’ll be out next week, kicking off a new month of lesser-known Creole languages. It’s gonna be fun and eye-opening.
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Alright, let’s dive in!
I recently started reading the Korean version of a book inspired by one of my favorite movies: Every day a good day (매일 매일 좋은 날, 日日是好日). I mentioned it in my recent Thursday Thousandth’ Thought (TTT) about analog and digital reading but I now want to talk about the entire premise of the movie/book.
There are two kinds of things in the world. What we understand in the moment and what we can only understand after a while (금방 알 수 있는 것 and 바로는 알 수 있는 것).
This is crucial to understand for any learning endeavor and especially languages.
Sometimes, we don’t need to know why something is said in a certain way. We just need to know it is. That’s it.
Luckily, I get reminded of this once a week when I teach French to a Japanese person I know. While I try to explain the why of most things, he always has at least one question I can only reply with “It’s a bit complicated so we’ll get back to this again. For now, know it’s like this.”
We can never know everything from the get-go.
Let’s take our time and enjoy the journey instead.
✍️ Learn from my experiences
If you’re reading this, you probably already know how much I love languages. I can’t imagine a life without learning them anymore. Hell, I haven’t found the time to actively study since I arrived in Korea and I’m starting to feel frustrated because of this.
In this week’s piece, I talked about What Matters Most to Study Languages for a Long Time: an undying love and curiosity for the language you’re studying.
I explained this through two love stories. One about my discovery of Korean 15 years ago and one more recent about the conlang Manmino.
🌎Discover new cultures
Europe and North America are often seen as the ones not caring for the environment and prioritizing economic progress instead. While this is mostly true of the countries we know today, many cultures in these countries have cared for the environment for centuries.
The Sami people (found in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia) have been living in harmony with nature for a similar reason than the one we discussed last week in Shinto: they believe all things and natural elements are connected to one another, even what many consider as inanimate like rocks and mountains.
As this 2017 study explains, “Nature in the Arctic region is fragile; therefore, climate change threatens to upset the natural balance of the region.”
The main word here is “balance.” As they go on to explain,
When the reindeer leaves an area, the grouse arrives, followed by small rodents and soon after that the fox (Kihlberg 2016). Within the ecosystem, everything is connected.
The Celts (found in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany) have also had a long-standing relationship with nature due to their strong belief in animism.
While mostthink of East Asia or American Aboriginal communities when we talk about medicinal plants, it turns out the Celts also had a deep knowledge of local plants and herbs, using them to treat a number of illnesses.
People living in the Alps have also cared for their environment for centuries.
The irrigation system known as the “bisses” found in the Valais region of Switzerland is one example but the principle of transhumance in which farmers move their livestock to higher pastures during the summer and lower ones during the winter has helped to preserve the ecosystem and prevented overgrazing.
It seems there were many cultures in Europe that took care of their environment in the past but the question of whether it was by choice can often be raised.
This being said, we’ve mostly talked about past cultures this month (even though some have left a strong mark on the present, such as Shinto in Japan). Next month, we’ll talk about more recent evolutions regarding how countries care (or not) for the environment.
🗺️Repeat with me (Lesser-Known Languages)
Supyire — A language with the funniest way to count
We’re finishing our round of languages in Africa this month with a language from yet another family, the Senufo languages within the larger Niger-Congo family.
The Supyire language isn’t actually the most spoken Senufo language—this honor goes to the Minyanka language—but it is the one with the most information online. This language, spoken in the southeastern part of Mali and in the Ivory Coast, attracted me for a few reasons.
The Supyire language uses the Roman alphabet but also adds a few other letters: the consonants ɲ and ŋ, and the vowel /ɛ/ and /ɔ/. In total, the language has 7 vowels but the two mentioned previously are actually rarely distinguished from their counterparts /e/ and /o/ in daily speech.
Supyire is a Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) tonal language with four tones (high indicated with an acute accent, mid unmarked, low with a falling accent, and falling with a circumflex accent). To make a vowel long, it is simply doubled, as in taanre (“three”).
One of Supyire’s specificities is its complicated noun class system. It indeed has 8 noun classes (divided by 5 noun “genders”, the three first have both a singular and a plural form, and the last two only one):
Humans, supernatural beings, and most words taken from other languages
nàŋi → the man
motoŋi → the motorbike
cige → the tree
cànrayi → the lions
ntúni → the squirrel
kyaare → the meat
Liquids that can be poured
sinmpe → the alcohol
Senufo languages, including Supyire, have a rather simple verb morphology compared to other Niger-Congo languages. Indeed, Supyire relies on prefixes or auxiliaries to indicate basic tenses:
Mu sáha a pa → You came again.
Where sáha indicates “again” and a the past tense.
This being said, some prefixes can only be used with certain auxiliaries like the prefix n- that can only go with the auxiliaries sí, cáa (for the future simple), bú (for the distant future), or a combination of those:
Mii cáa n-pa → I will come.
Finally, here are a few examples:
U a pa taɲjaa→ He came yesterday. [
Pi na wá aní. → They are there. [They PROGRESSIVE be.there there.]
Mii káni u náhá bagé e. → I’m alone in the house. [I only he be.here house in]
Taá yi ɲye gé? → Where are they? [Where they be Location.Question]
Finally, here’s what I found most peculiar: its number system. Supyire has values for 1 through 5, 10, 20, 80, and 400. The rest is made by using prefixes with existing numbers. Interestingly enough, all numbers use gender 1, except 400 which uses the 3rd one. Now, if you think this makes no sense, you’re not alone. In fact, due to its complexity, this system is currently disappearing as the language gets influenced by neighboring people and languages.
If you’d like to learn Supyire, there are two freely available textbooks PDFs. The most detailed one (that also includes a very useful dictionary) is a 750+ pages Grammar textbook from 1994.
The second one is a more recent 30-page French explanation of the language’s basics. A convenient way to get introduced to the language... as long as you speak French!
“The conversation here got lively so I didn’t see my phone.”
Damn, just thinking about it makes me want to stop writing and go study it!
Me at least!
Not the first time I see this but I’ll never get over how this seems illogical for me since a falling accent feels it’d be a good way to represent a falling tone. Then again, I guess it makes sense since this “falling” accent is actually called a “grave accent” which fits with the idea of a low (and therefore graver) tone. Welcome to the world of my mind trying to complicate things that don’t need to be complicated.
While I find this system extremely interesting, I’m not sure I’d have the same opinion if I were to need to use it. I already struggle enough with numbers in my current languages. I mean, will I ever remember that 억/億 is not 1 million but 10 million in Korean and Japanese?
This sure made researching this language easier for me!
I think of ideas as connected with strings. You can start from any place, eventually you will reach the core and back of your head, the idea kind of keeps growing
Also i am loving your cultural takes on environment