Genders, geniuses, and Tamil onomatopoeia

Another top five language stories. In no particular order:

5. A new line of Tamil pulp fiction translated into English keeps the magnificent onomatopoeia of the original. The brilliant people behind this are Chennai-based  Blaft Publications. They have plans for more pulp fiction to be translated from other Indian languages. Blaft sums up its first Tamil anthology this way:  Guns, cleavage, and mallipoo! And the untranslated Tamil onomatopoeia? Listen out in the pod for words like visshkda-nang, pulich and labak. One of those, by the way — guess which — mimics the sound of spit landing on a wall.

4. New research shows that no matter you much some Germans have tried, they can’t make their language gender-neutral. A doctor or a teacher in German — as in many languages — is nearly always specified as male or female. Over the decades, feminist publications in particular have tried to tinker with some of the assignations, or at least neutralize the gender specificity. But according to Swedish researcher Magnus Pettersson, they have failed.  This comes off the back of Guy Deutscher’s take on whether noun genders in the likes of German and Spanish affect how we think of the objects in questions. (eg bridge is feminine in German, masculine in Spanish; Deutscher, as a native Hebrew speaker, always thinks of a bed as feminine). I wonder if linguists, or neurologists or sociologists, have considered not how we think of those objects, but how the gender designations of those objects may influence how we think of men and women (He bridges problems; she is as soft as a bed etc).

3. A new-ish Belgian video pokes fun at the country’s linguistic battles. We poke fun at The Big Show’s beer-loving Clark Boyd, who just happens to be our correspondent in beer-loving  Brussels.

2. We hear more about two linguists who have won 2010 MacArthur genius awards: Wampanoag revivalist Jessie Little Doe Baird, who acted on a dream, studied linguistics, co-edited a dictionary and is raising her daughter to speak the extinct Wampanoag language;  and sign language researcher extraordinaire Carol Paddon.

1. Carol Hill’s adventures in Sweden. She was at the 2010 Göteborg Book Fair. She struggled with Swedish. She interviewed dozens of African writers,  who also didn’t understand Swedish but appeared to speak just about every other language on Earth.

Listen in iTunes or here.


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5 responses to “Genders, geniuses, and Tamil onomatopoeia

  1. Sofia

    I found this blog to be interesting mainly for the gender languages. German and Spanish both have masculine and feminine for their nouns and verbs. The example used in the blog was el puente, which is Spanish for bridge. This noun is masculine because ideally a bridge is supposed to be big and strong, like a man. The English, all the nouns and verbs are gender neutral.
    When Carol Hill visited Sweden, she mentioned that the language sounded similar to German. That seemed reasonable because most likely Sweden has a German influence, like it does in other countries. Of course most of the words have been alter to be “Swedish”.
    Belgium has a few language issues among their people. The three languages spoken there are Dutch, French, and German. Most of them believe that everyone should only speak Dutch because it is the “law of the land”. That is reasonable, however the people should be allowed to speak other languages as well. Belgium has different communities with people speaking different languages.
    Before I thought onomatopoeia was a universal language. Such as meow, woof, and oink, mostly animal sounds. In this blog, Tamil Onomatopoeia was introduced. It has sounds of a purse being snatched and spit hitting the wall. The tone of the onomatopoeia sounded like it had an accent of a different language.

    • ivan veskov

      I thought the blog was very interesting because it revealed a number of things about language to me. First that a lot of languages in the world are gender based languages like german or spanish. I take german as a language and i know that everything is gender based but i never really noticed it from this perspective. Some strong verbs in german like bridge are masculine because they are strong and big like men. Another thing in this blog i found interesting is the language of Tamil: their onomatopoeia is integrated into terms for certain things in their language and they use them more than other languages around the world. i think that languages have the power to bring people together, like onomatopoeia. But in other instances it might separate people, for example certain countries around the world have more than one national language and the people are a little separated within the nation because of this.

  2. Kristina Clingaman

    This is really fascinating! I always knew that certain words were used for females and others for males, but this really makes the words stand out. I did not know that people were trying to change the language to be neutral. Also I have a middle name that is considered male and female. I think it is really cool that people are now starting to accept names to be any gender.
    I only knew that Spanish was a gender based language because I was in Spanish class for three years. It kinda makes sense though. There has been a double standard for many years and it only makes sense that certain terms and items are related to a certain gender.

  3. Pingback: From Cicero to Lynne Truss with Robert Lane Greene | the world in words

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