Category Archives: language of the week

Language of the week: Volscian

It’s not often that the Language of the Week(TM) discusses a language where the entire extant corpus fits in a blog post, but Volscian is a good example. What we know of Volscian is the following 4 lines:

deue declune statom. sepis atahus, pis uelestrom
façia esaristrom se bim asif, uesclis uinu arpatitu
sepis toticu couehriu sepu, ferom pihom estu.
ec se cosuties ma ca tafanies medix sistiatiens.

A picture of the tablet (the Tabula Veliterna) is available here, from the Naple National Archaeological Museum.

Volscian is a Sabellic language – that is, it’sItalic (related to Latin) but within that subgroup of Indo-European it’s more closely related to Oscan and Umbrian than to Latin. It shares a number of sounds with Oscan and/or Umbrian which Latin does not undergo, for example. Pis in the inscription is Latin quis ‘what’ – sepis = siquis ‘anyone’. Wikipedia makes some suggestions about their origins.

This site has a translation of the text. Looking at it from the Latin point of view, it seems a fairly accurate translation. One thing that stands out is the first word: deue. Latin [famously] doesn’t have a vocative singular for the word for god, whereas this is variously taken as a masculine singular vocative agreeing with Declune (the god Declunus) or a presumably nom/voc feminine singular related to Decluna. innaresting.

This language is particularly appropriate given the comments at Sandra Chung’s LSA plenary on us [i.e. the profession] perhaps needing to walk away from the languages with small corpora and concentrating on the large understudied languages. More on that in another post. Suffice it to say that even with four lines there’s plenty of interesting stuff to be said, and while we’d hope for more, 4 lines is much better than no lines.


Language of the Week: Ulithian

The Language of the Week has been on hold for some time now, sorry about that.

This week’s language is Ulithian. It is spoken by abot 3,000 people on Ulithi atoll and is one of the 6 official languages of the Federated States of Micronesia. View Map Here are some resources:

  • The wiki page, which is more stubby than is often the case for Austronesian languages.
  •  Ulithian translation services. One wonders about their claim to be able to provide translators between Ulithian and every other language.
  • A Ulithian dictionary. [pdf]
  • Pacific Resources for Education and Learning: children’s stories in Ulithian. Some great pictures here – these’d be good for fieldwork.
  • Some Ulithian plant names.
  • Xavier Fethal’s site has links to Micronesian and Ulithian music

Language of the week: Tsafiki

This week’s language was going to be Tsafiki, a Barbacoan language with a fantastic documentation project run by Connie Dickinson. However … the main page for the site is a link that goes here. The ISP was taken over and the link no longer works, and I haven’t been able to find out if there’s a new page. The Rosetta Project is down, too. That leaves

  • A sketch here on
  • The wikipedia entry for Barbacoan languages.
  • A language policy article for Ecuador.

There are more articles which include information about Barbacoan languages, including Tsafiki (which is also called Colorado), but I use this as an excellent example of why archiving is not the same as putting your materials on the web.*

*As far as I know, the Tsafiki project is well archived off-line. However, it’s an excellent example of how a single event (like an ISP being taken over by another company) can cause access loss, and why web publishing isn’t equivalent to archiving.

Language of the Week: Saami

The speakers of this week’s minority language really have a web presence. There is a great deal of information about Saami on the web, as well as pages in Saami.

I’m cheating a bit with calling the language of the week Saami,  since there are at least 11 main varieties and many are not mutually intelligible with one another. Remind me of this when I have Romance as a language of the week…

Saami is spoken across a wide area of Northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia by about 20,000 people. From the historical linguist’s point of view, Saami and Finnic are extremely fantastically cool because of the stratification of loan words they exhibit. There are loans from Indo-European languages ging back thousands of years in various branches — it’s possible to tell because of the sound changes exhibited. There’s sufficiently much sound change in both Indo-European and Finnic/Saamic that with the assumption of regularity of sound change it’s possible to deduce not only when the word entered the language, but also from which branch of Indo-european it came from. There’s more information in Pekka Sammalahti’s Saami languages: an introduction. (1998, Davvi Girji OS, Kárášjohka.)


Several languages of the week (including Rotokas) have been from the area which was recently affected by a powerful earthquake and tsunami. I haven’t been able to find out what the damage is in areas apart from the Solomon Islands. Peter Austin has a post at ELAC which includes a report from one of his students, who is doing fieldwork in the area.

Language of the Week: Rotokas

We’re back to Bougainville for this week’s language. Rotokas is a Papuan language spoken by about 4300 people.

Rotokas has a very small phoneme inventory: one of the smallest in the world in fact. However, this fact seems to have morphed into “the world’s smallest alphabet” in online sources. this is because there seems to be a contrast in vowel length and a number of diphthongs. Stuart Robinson discusses dialectal variation and the absence of nasals here. There is a set of organised phonology data from SIL here, although just on the basis of this data there would seem to be a phonemic distinction between [s] and [t] (e.g. [s] is said to be the realisation of /t/ before [i], with [t] occurring elsewhere, but there is osa in the data too, which would seem to imply that the distinction is a bit more complex. The language name is also an exception it would appear.

Language of the Week: Qemant

Now that I have submitted my field methods book and am no longer spending every spare minute cutting words from it, I’ll be trying to get back to weekly language features. (Unfortunately, all that cutting has caused my tendinitis flare up. Assume that weird stuff in blog postings is likely to be the result of speech recognition (“reccos” I think they should be called).)

This week’s language is Qemant (or Qimant, Kemant, or Kemantney). I’m using the version of the name with Q simply because that is where we are up to in the language of the week. The most recent grammar I could find calls both the language and the people Kemantney, and says that that is their term for themselves.

The naming terminology for this group is quite complex and contradictory according to the sources that I have found. It is made more complex by the fact that the group is in the process of shifting languages and reinforcing ethnic identity with the majority rather than treating themselves as a distinct minority. There are also more or less pejorative names and names with overlapping groups too.

Kemantney is a Cushitic language. It is a member of the Agew subgroup, and it seems that these languages are all quite closely related to one another. Therefore this language is sometimes called Agew. It is spoken in the Gonder area in Ethiopia (West of Gonder), in approximately 8 villages in the region. Other linguistic terms include Qara and Kayla, which are closely related dialects. I’m not exactly sure how these terms fit with Kemantney/Qimant/etc: the sources consulted seem to be contradictory, and the novels of sources they would want students to be relying on anyway.

The ethnic group who speak this language are known by the terms Falasha or Beta Israel. the first is an Amharic word, the second is Aramaic or Hebrew meaning “house of Israel”. The Kemantney a distinguished from the neighbours not only linguistically but also by religion, at least historically. Many of the Beta Israel now live in Israel, while most of those who remained in Ethiopia have converted to Christianity and consider themselves Amhara. this is one of the reasons the terms are so complex: for example the writer of the relevant Wikipedia articles seems to distinguish between Qwara, or Beta Israel, and Qemant, who are closely related linguistically, but Christian.

There is a sociolinguistic survey at of the relevant region written by Zelealem Leyew, who also wrote a very interesting book on language shift in the area. the book is called The Kemantney language: sociolinguistic and grammatical study of language replacement (Rudiger Koppe Verlag, 2003; reviewed with a book notice in Language here). There’s an article about the author here. apart from this, there seems to be little available (although see further Jouni Maho’s list of Cushitic sources here).