Thursday, October 13, 2005

No language is an island

Ten minutes ago I was reading a Turkish magazine (in English of course :) and found myself staring at a line that said "Atatürk Havalimanı". This, I suppose, is a reference to the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. What fascinated me was the word "airport" – a combination of hava (meaning "air", cf. аба [awa] in Kyrgyz) and liman ("port").

The thing is the latter word was already familiar to me: in Greek λιμάνι (limani) means a port or a harbor. It is sheer delight to seek out new relationships between languages and to see something familiar in the unfamiliar.

If you look carefully, you will find this in any language you study. To use one of the more obvious examples, Kyrgyz has its share of Russian influences. But sometimes these influences are disguised – as with the word "момпосуй".

In his book Erik V. Gunnemark (more on him later) writes about what he calls transparent vocabulary, that is words in a foreign language the meanings of which are clear to you with no or little explanation. He further says that this transparency is different to different people. Often imagination is key to increasing the transparency of a language.
A lovely word that I learned today is торопой meaning piglet.
By the way a pig is чочко – nothing close, huh?


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