Word of the Day

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Tsunamirresistente es mejor que tsunami resistente, pero eso es sintaxis inglesa. En buen y corriente español es resistente a (los) tsunamis. ¿Pronto tendremos también huracanresistente, fuegorresistente, inundacionresistente, vientorresistente?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Portuguese spelling reforms

It would be easier for foreign learners of Portuguese if the circumflex accent in words like almôço (lunch, noun) and êle (he, pronoun) had been kept to differentiate their closed vowel pronunciations from almoço (I have lunch, verb) and ele (the letter L), with their open vowels. It would also be easier for said students if we still differentiated in the spelling que, qui and gue, gui from qüe, qüi, güe and güi, so once they saw a new word with those combinations they would immediately know whether the u is pronounced or not. Too late now! Now this poor teacher has to deal with the quizzical looks of his students as to why our spelling can sometimes be so chaotic. Didn't we have enough problems with x already?

A related post here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cellars, beerhouses, and stores

There is some overlap of meaning among a couple of languages as to the meaning of pivnica, piwnica, pivnice, pivniță, and sklep. In Polish, Slovak, and Romanian, a Romance language with considerable Slavic vocabulary, we find piwnica, pivnica, and pivniță, respectivelly, all meaning cellar. A Czech pivnice is a beerhouse, a pub, a tavern, an alehouse, close to the meaning of Slavic pivo, beer. In Polish and outdated colloquial Slovak, using the words of my go-to Slovak dictionary, a sklep is a store, but in Czech a sklep is a cellar or a basement.

Slovak sklep can have genitive singular sklepa, like Czech, or sklepu, like Polish.

The fact that beer can be stored in a cellar and that stores/shops are places where things are kept in great numbers may have something to do with it

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Masculine dative singular in Slavic languages

Slavic languages are divided in three main groups as far as the ending of masculine dative singular for hard nouns is concerned: u group, ovi group, or either group. To the u group belong South Slavic languages, i.e., Slovenian, Serbian, Croatian, but not Macedonian and Bulgarian, as they have pretty much lost all their cases, and Russian. The ovi group is represented solely by Polish. The either group encompasses Czech, Slovak, and Ukrainian. In this group, animate masculine nouns end in ovi and inanimate masculine nouns end in u.

u group
Slovenian/Crotian/Serbian: profesoru (Serbian also Cyrillic професор)
Russian: професcорy (transliterated as professoru)
Slovenian/Crotian/Serbian: telefonu (Serbian also Cyrillic телефон)
Russian: телефонu (transliterated as telefonu)

ovi group:
Polish: profesorowi
Polish: telefonowi

either group:
Czech: profesorovi/profesoru (profesorovi is preferred)
Slovak: profesorovi
Ukrainian: професоровi
Czech: telefonu
Slovak: telefónu
Ukrainian:  телефоновi/телефонy (transliterated as telefonovi/telefonu (телефоновi – telefonovi - is preferred)

It should be noted, though, than Bohu (to God) and člověku (to man) are preferred to Bohovi and člověkovi in Czech, and that in Polish these nouns don’t end in owi: pes – psu (dog), ojciec – ojcu (father), diabeł – diabłu (devil), Bóg – Bogu (God), czart- czartu (devil), świat - światu (world), brat - bratu (brother), osioł - osłu (donkey), lew - lwu (lion), chłop - chłopu (peasant), chłopiec - chłopcu (boy), pan - panu (sir), kat - katu (hangman), kot - kotu (cat), ksiądz - księdzu (priest).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vestiges of dual in Czech and the instrumental plural case

I was thinking the other day why most Czech have such a hard time with the instrumental plural declension after the number two. Let's take a phrase like before/in front of those two young professors. The standard Czech rendering is před těmi dvěma mladými profesory, with three different endings, but it usually comes out as před těma dvěma/dvouma mladýma profesorama, with identical endings. The funny thing, though, that there a few Czech nouns that end in ma in the standard language, such as rukama (with the hands/arms), ušima (with the ears), očima (with the eyes) and nohama (with the legs/feet)  As can be seen, all these things exist in pairs, a remnant of the dual. When such words are coupled with adjectives, these also have to end in ma in the standard language: s těma velkýma rukama (with those big hands). If there is an "exception" for such words, you could have the same for the numeral two, which is dual: před těma dvěma velkýma nohama (with those two big legs/feet), which is already standard, and před těma dvěma mladýma lidma (with those two young people), which is not standard, but I propose it be. :)

Finally, Slovenian, another Slavic language, has retained its full dual declension, which is really similar to colloquial Czech in the instrumental plural. In Slovenian před těma dvěma/dvouma mladlýma profesorama would be pred tema dvema mladima profesorjema. For comparison's sake, no West Slavic language is so similar to colloquial Czech in this regard like Slovenian, a South Slavic language. In Slovak: pred tými dvomi/dvoma mladými profesormi, in Polish: przed tymi dwu/dwoma młodymi profesorami.