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Current Language Mission – Nahuatl

Fall at the Bruce FarmGreetings, faithful readers! I have returned to my native continent, and I decided just now to take the time to write up a real live blog post. You see, those photos and short posts from Europe did not freely flow from the fount of creativity, but were the result of assigned writing for one of my classes. This did not detract from their quality entirely; some were quite good in my own estimation, but others were a little forced, and would have gone unwritten were they not assigned. For these latter I apologize, but I hope to improve my habits so that I can have time to write down the things that I am truly inspired by.

At this moment I am currently sitting on a bench next to the driveway at our north-central Texas home. When I left Belgium it was cold and damp, but the fall leaves were lovely. When I arrived home, Autumn was still in the process of putting on her garb, and I am glad to report that she is now fully arrayed in her customary splendour. The leaves are turning all sorts of colours, the prickly pears are laden with bright red tunas, and the evening sunsets top it all off in a great show that mankind can never replicate. Meanwhile, I am preparing for my next travel destination: eastern San Luis Potosรญ, Mexico–which will prove quite a change from northern Europe. Read More

Back to the Roots, Part Two

While I was down in Mexico this past week, I had lots of fun improving my knowledge of the local dialect of Nahuatl–the language of the ancient Aztecs, in case you didn’t know. And I was discussing the topic of greetings with a friend of mine down there, who informed me that when one person meets another (providing they both speak Nahuatl) they say Kejyaui! or sometimes just Yaui! for short. Both of these words come from a longer phrase that was used in the olden days which means “How is it going?”

As a pursuer of greetings, I naturally asked if these words would be the equivalent of the Spanish word Hola!, which I noted was practically a meaningless greeting.

“A greeting?” he said. “Hola isn’t a greeting, unless you say ยฟCรณmo estรกs? or ยกBuenos dรญas! or some similar phrase along with it. Do you really think hola is a greeting?”

“I certainly thought so,” I replied. I let the matter rest, supposing it to be some cultural difference. It wasn’t until a day or two later that I realized why he had maintained that hola was not a greeting.

The key lay within the simple word “greeting.” In Spanish this word is saludo, but until now I had never considered where this word originated. Obviously it comes from salud, “health,” which in turn came from the Latin word salus. Something cannot be a greeting, a saludo, unless you inquire about the other person’s health (“How are you doing today?”, etc.). Upon researching the English word greeting, I found that it comes from our Germanic heritage, and has always meant what it does now–saying “hail,” “hello,” or whatever other greeting is in style, whether health is involved or not.

So, next time something odd like that pops up in my interlingual discussions, I will go back to the roots! You never know what treasures you’ll find…

O lingua fortunata!

Of late I’ve been researching the extant corpus of writings in Etruscan, an ancient language which was spoken in Etruria (modern-day Tuscany), Italy. Etruscan is dead now (its speakers were dissolved into Roman culture long ago), but through the writings these people left behind we do know enough about their language to see that it was definitely not Indo-European, i.e. it was not related to Latin or English or most any other European language. A little is known about its phonology and grammar, but most knowledge of it is lost forever, and although many Etruscan books were written during Classical Antiquity, only one has survived.

This evening I read an online article about Doris McLemore, the last fluent speaker of the Wichita language up in Oklahoma. It really is sad to think how this Native American tongue will be lost when she passes away, but when one looks at history, it is clear that one language supplanting another is nothing new. The ancient Celts of the Iberian peninsula were Romanized years ago, and even before that it is likely that the original Indo-Europeans conquered many people in Europe who had lived there before them. Thus we can see that, although it is certainly lamentable, there will always be languages that are replaced by other, more fortunate tongues.

However, to end on a good note, I should like to remind you that North America is not losing all of its linguistic richness. In my two visits to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, I found the Nahuatl and Huastec languages thriving alongside Spanish, spoken by young and old alike. So, it really is possible to retain your linguistic heritage if you have a mind to.