Friday, September 24, 2010

Polyglottal Stop

Something for National Punctuation Day.

Language can be a funny thing, and the more languages you know, or with which you have acquaintance, the more fun you can have. For instance, my son used to call the highway near our house in Germany the "Stautobahn," combining the German words for traffic jam (Stau) and superhighway (Autobahn). Recently, my daughter brought back the following tale from French class.

A translation had the class in stitches. However, the sentence itself was not funny by itself.

Elle frappe, ma cousine, sur le vieux piano.

The student translator, however, forgot some very important punctuation, and the fact that French word order can seem a little backwards to speakers of English. The student's translation read:

She bangs my cousin on the old piano.


While waiting for our youngest to finish dancing this evening, C and I stopped off at the local Waffle House for coffee.  The place was packed with a post football Friday crowd, and understaffed. So, we had time to take in a bit of the ambience. On the table was a bottle of the house salsa. I was initially amused because I didn't really think of a place that specializes in waffles and hashbrowns as being a place that would have its own salsa. The salsa bottle's lable read:

Señora Jackie's Casa de Waffle Salsa. 

I read the lable aloud, pronouncing the word Casa to C's satifaction, but she didn't like my pronunciation of Waffle, saying a word like that would come out like Vah-flay if pronounced with Spanish sounds. 
"Well, how would you spell it in Spanish, if you wanted to pronounce it closer to its English equivalent?" I asked.

C replied with this spelling:  GUAFEL. The W sound exists in Spanish, but it is rendered GU, as in Guadalupe. Spanish words, she added, rarely if ever have a double F, and if a vowel is to be pronounced between the F and the L, you better put one there.  

The word as she spelled it didn't call to my mind a toasty waffle, but looked like it belonged in cough syrup. It was sort of reminiscent of  George Bernard Shaw's demonstration of the absurdity of English spelling. He spelled "fish" GHOTI. GH from the word "tough,"  O from the word "women," and TI from the host of TION words such as "convention."

"Well how about the first part of the label? If you pronounce that correctly, shouldn't that be Señora Hacky?" 
"No, No, No," she said, "that should be Yacky, although you might want to spell it with a Y and a QU (Yaqui).

I stuck by my guns. "But a J is pronounced like an English H. Shouldn't it be Hacky?" Although, to be honest, I really don't want to eat anything from a Mrs. Hacky. It just doesn't sound appetizing.

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