Nabokov and “butterfly” in Basque

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Don Reba
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Nabokov and “butterfly” in Basque

Postby Don Reba » 2015-01-15, 18:13

I am reading Vladimir Nabokov's autobiography. There he recalls from his childhood in France a vivid memory of learning to say butterfly in Basque: miserikoletea. I became incredulous and checked the dictionary, which translates it as tximeleta. What is that Nabokov's miserikoletea, then? Does it come from a dialect? Is it similar to some other word in Basque?

It seems to be mentioned in this document, specifically pertaining to Nabokov, but I can't translate what it says: http://www.euskaltzaindia.eus/dok/plaza ... arrera.pdf

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Re: Nabokov and “butterfly” in Basque

Postby arabarra » 2015-01-18, 12:19

The word "butterfly" is specially prone to produce many different forms in Basque... I'd use the form "tximeleta" or "pinpilinpauxa" as standard words, but it's practically a commonplace how native Basque speakers bragg about the different, many names the butterfly receives in their hometown... marisorgin, inguma, poxpolina, tximirrika, txitxipapa, eulifarfala, atxitamatatxi, papilluna... what have you

So, I didn't know that particular "miserikoletea" word (and I doubt that many speakers do!), but it is entirely possible that somewhere, sometime it was the name for a butterfly. Cannot confirm nor deny, but... funnily "miserikotea", does indeed sounds very much as a word that some local form of Basque could use for "butterfly", doesn't it?

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Re: Nabokov and “butterfly” in Basque

Postby Don Reba » 2015-01-19, 13:51

Very interesting how butterflies have this special place in the language. This clears things up. Thanks!

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Re: Nabokov and “butterfly” in Basque

Postby arabarra » 2015-01-21, 9:13

... what I don't understand is why you became incredulous in the first place... does "miserikoletea" not sound butterfly-y enough to you, or you don't trust Nabokov as a rule? :)

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Re: Nabokov and “butterfly” in Basque

Postby linguoboy » 2015-01-21, 17:24

I can't even tell you how much nonsense I've seen from respected writers about languages they don't speak. Not Nabokov specifically, but my default setting is to be sceptical and miserikoletea has a somewhat suspicious look to it.

Incidentally, Basque is by no means unique in having such a diversity of terms for butterflies. The Standard German word is Schmetterling, but dialectal variants include Beckenmilch/Weckenmilch, Bipolder, Butterhan, Butterfliege, Butterlecker/Botterlicker, Butterschütz, Buttervogel/Botterfögel, Falter, Fifalter, Milchdieb, Milchsaufer, Molkenkäfer, Molkenstehler, Summervogel, Wimmel, etc.
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

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Re: Nabokov and “butterfly” in Basque

Postby arabarra » 2015-01-21, 20:01

Incidentally, Basque is by no means unique in having such a diversity of terms for butterflies.


.... we still claim the award for the best ratio of butterfly synonyms by speaker :)

But actually I wonder if all those names, both in Basque or German or any other language were meant to name a generic "butterfly" or were originally particular names for particular butterflies. This could explain (along with the dialectal thing) the variety of names.

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Re: Nabokov and “butterfly” in Basque

Postby linguoboy » 2015-01-21, 20:07

arabarra wrote:But actually I wonder if all those names, both in Basque or German or any other language were meant to name a generic "butterfly" or were originally particular names for particular butterflies. This could explain (along with the dialectal thing) the variety of names.
Some of the German synonyms may have originally been more specific, but each is (or was) the primary term in the area where it was recorded. For instance, Sommervogel (or, in dialect form, Summervögeli) is the usual word for butterflies of all sorts in Breisgau, not just a particular species.
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Re: Nabokov and “butterfly” in Basque

Postby Don Reba » 2015-01-22, 21:19

arabarra wrote:... what I don't understand is why you became incredulous in the first place... does "miserikoletea" not sound butterfly-y enough to you, or you don't trust Nabokov as a rule?

I often do fact checks when they are easy. And, right, it did not sound butterfly-y enough. :)

Basically, butterfly, Schmetterling, and бабочка each have three sillables; mariposa has four. At seven syllables, Miserikoletea is awfully long.


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