A Persian insult, a northern dialect, and Urdu directions

Iran’s leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Photo: Daniella Zalcman) is known for his fruity prose. This month he outdid himself with a new anti-American insult . In a speech to Iranian expats, he  used the expression the bogeyman snatched the boob. It’s old Persian saying that mothers use when they’re trying to wean their babies off breast milk. But what’s acceptable for mothers to say in the privacy of their homes is considered über-coarse in a public setting. Some Iranians are astonished that their President would use the phrase. Their President, though, is a man who likes to show he has the common touch, especially when dissing the United States.  He appeared quite full of himself  too, in a recent interview with John Lee Anderson of the New Yorker.

Also, we hear from Cambridge University linguistic anthropologist Stephen Leonard who’s spending a year in Northwest Greenland, documenting the planet’s northernmost dialect. That dialect, or language — it’s been classified both ways — is called Inuktun, and it’s spoken by the Polar Inuit, or Inughuit of Northwest Greenland. Leonard doesn’t have much to go on. He speaks Danish and has been learning Standard West Greenlandic, both of which are understood by many of the Polar Inuit. But he only has a word list for Inuktun. The Inughuit’s way of life is severely threatened by global warming: the giant block of ice that recently broke off a glacier is close to their hunting grounds. As for cameraderie, this photo of a groups of Inuits near Cape Dorset, Canada (photo credit: Ansgar Walk) may paint too rosy a picture; also, people generally use snowmobiles these days, not dogsleds. Not many people. Not many dogs. Not much warmth. It may be a very long year.

Also in this week’s podcast, we have a report on how foreign language movies in the United States are seeking new ways of finding their audiences.  And World in Words listener and self-professed language nerd Sofia Javed tells us about the difficulties of getting from Point A to Point B in Urdu, a language that has the same word for go straight and turn right.

Listen in iTunes or here.

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3 responses to “A Persian insult, a northern dialect, and Urdu directions

  1. Moriah

    I lived in Berlin last year (August 2008-July 2009) and I was excited to get to see a German film without subtitles and experience the German cinema– I had heard it was a completely different cultural experience. So when I made plans to go, my enthusiasm entirely disappeared when I found that 8 American movies and one French movie, Welcome to the Sticks (Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis) were available. Surely there were German movies out there, but where?

    Is there something to be said about actors working in what’s considered “American” film, or even films written or directed by non-native English speakers being made in English, like The Reader? Til Schweiger and Daniel Brühl both acted in Inglourious Basterds, and Franka Potente is a face recognized by American audiences.

    Even at Berlinale, the films were mostly American. There may have been a couple German films, but the rest were heavy-thinking types and documentaries.

    Luckily my cultural experience was much broader than the world of film, but I was still disappointed that this wasn’t something I could really experience while abroad.

  2. Pingback: A grammar for cities, a dying Inuit dialect, and Frank Zappa’s lyrics | the world in words

  3. Pingback: An Inuit Dialect, a Grammar for Cities, and Zappa's Lyrics | PRI's The World

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