What are you currently reading? (part 2)

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-01-20, 21:32

Linguaphile wrote:Esikloomalised is probably the word used for primates (more or less "the primary/first type of animals"). Modern Estonian also has the synonym primaadid, but the word esikloomalised comes from older Finnic roots. Liik is probably the word used in the book for species (it does mean species, but also means "kind," "sort," "type," etc.) And for "science," the modern word is teadus, which comes from the verb teadma ("to know") and has an older, now lesser-used meaning of "knowledge, information." So it would not be anachronistic at all, but to translate it into English as "knowledge" when the word truly does mean "science" in modern Estonian would seem rather odd.
I think when reading a book like this you just have to accept that these concepts did exist that long ago, at least in a slightly modified form (i.e., the concept of "Estonians" meant the people who speak the Estonian language, not people who carry an Estonian passport and live within today's national borders), even if the specific words used in the translation wouldn't have been known to English-speakers of that time. The concepts certainly existed, just not precisely the same as how we understand them today.

I don't see why the fact that these words come from older Finnic roots would necessarily have anything to do with whether they existed at the time the story is set since neologisms exist. The etymology of science even in English is also similar to what you said for Estonian.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Linguaphile » 2018-01-20, 23:07

vijayjohn wrote:
Linguaphile wrote:Esikloomalised is probably the word used for primates (more or less "the primary/first type of animals"). Modern Estonian also has the synonym primaadid, but the word esikloomalised comes from older Finnic roots. Liik is probably the word used in the book for species (it does mean species, but also means "kind," "sort," "type," etc.) And for "science," the modern word is teadus, which comes from the verb teadma ("to know") and has an older, now lesser-used meaning of "knowledge, information." So it would not be anachronistic at all, but to translate it into English as "knowledge" when the word truly does mean "science" in modern Estonian would seem rather odd.
I think when reading a book like this you just have to accept that these concepts did exist that long ago, at least in a slightly modified form (i.e., the concept of "Estonians" meant the people who speak the Estonian language, not people who carry an Estonian passport and live within today's national borders), even if the specific words used in the translation wouldn't have been known to English-speakers of that time. The concepts certainly existed, just not precisely the same as how we understand them today.

I don't see why the fact that these words come from older Finnic roots would necessarily have anything to do with whether they existed at the time the story is set since neologisms exist. The etymology of science even in English is also similar to what you said for Estonian.

No, my point about the Finnic roots of esikloomalised wasn't so much that it was Finnic (liik is actually from a Germanic root if you want to discuss etymologies) but rather that it was composed of multiple words whose concepts would have been familiar. Estonian regularly makes compound words for concepts and always has. But as I mentioned, I haven't read the book yet - so I'm not sure in what context they are talking about primates in the first place. If they were talking about tropical monkeys, then yeah, that's anachronistic for northern Europe. But if they were describing people this way, I really don't see why not. But like I've mentioned, I haven't read this particular book. It's on my reading list but it will be a while before I get to it. Maybe it will seem very anachronistic to me as well when I do. (But in particular the fact that they refer to "Estonians" is definitely not anachronistic unless they are also singing national anthems and waving national flags and such.)
Also, it may be a stylistic difference between 'historical fiction' (although that label is a bit of stretch here) in Estonian versus English. Many historical novels in English tend to romanticize pre-industrial periods and so we're used to circumlocutions that emphasize the differences between their worldview and ours and give a sense of "innocence" of earlier times. And Kivirähk does this sometimes too (in one, for example, the maarahvas are eating the German landlords' sweet-smelling soap because they think it's candy; in another, they use the German word for "fork" because they've never seen one before and it doesn't yet have a name in Estonian, which is historically accurate, because the Estonian word did later end up being a German loan). But historical novels in Estonian also tend to be allegories of contemporary society that put more emphasize on the commonalities of the human experience rather than on those differences. And yes, that does lead to some anachronisms.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby linguoboy » 2018-01-20, 23:09

Linguaphile wrote:I think when reading a book like this you just have to accept that these concepts did exist that long ago, at least in a slightly modified form (i.e., the concept of "Estonians" meant the people who speak the Estonian language, not people who carry an Estonian passport and live within today's national borders), even if the specific words used in the translation wouldn't have been known to English-speakers of that time. The concepts certainly existed, just not precisely the same as how we understand them today.

I'm going to question that conclusion. First of all, even the concept of a nation defined as a community of speakers is anachronistic for the time, since there have always been outcasts in European societies who spoke the vernacular language yet weren't reckoned to the eponymous people. Second, even if it wasn't an anachronistic concept for the time, it's out of place for his imagined community of forest-dwellers, who literally consider the villagers no longer fully human because they've forgotten Snakish. They don't even have a name for the forest where they are. (Literally, the only places mentioned by name in the whole book are Rome and Saaremaa--which makes the latter jarring as well, when it finally appears.)

This is one of my issues with historical fiction in general and, in particular, anything set in mediaeval or pseudo-mediaeval days: Writers seems to spend a lot more time on getting the material culture "right"[*] than they do on other aspects, like ideology. (Contrast this to Tolkien, who, if anything, errs in the other direction, handwaving aspects of material culture--like how Hobbits can have cheap umbrellas without industry--while having his characters take for granted ideas which are anathema to our way of thinking.) These people may dress and act like people from long ago, but they don't talk or think like them. I call this the "Ren Fair effect": these are essentially modern Western folk in mediaeval drag.

That's honestly why I think some of Mees, kes teadis ussisõnu's boosters like to refer to it as "allegory". It's a way of saying "This isn't particularly accurate or verisimilar" and making that sound like a good thing. I'm not expecting him to be an expert in mediaeval thought and culture. But it would be nice if he knew enough about it that a total dilettante like me couldn't find glaring problems everywhere he looked.


[*] This is actually something Kivirähk does rather badly, too. He obviously hasn't thought through the implications of his decisions to give the forest-dwellers the equivalent of stone-age technology. They dress in skins and live in shacks or caves, yet they have pockets in their clothing and chests of drawers in their homes?
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-01-20, 23:21

Linguaphile wrote:No, my point about the Finnic roots of esikloomalised wasn't so much that it was Finnic (liik is actually from a Germanic root if you want to discuss etymologies) but rather that it was composed of multiple words whose concepts would have been familiar. Estonian regularly makes compound words for concepts and always has.

Again, the same is true of English. The age of a compound word in any language is not equal to the age of the parts of said compound word.
But as I mentioned, I haven't read the book yet - so I'm not sure in what context they are talking about primates in the first place. If they were talking about tropical monkeys, then yeah, that's anachronistic for northern Europe. But if they were describing people this way, I really don't see why not.

I don't see how the concept of "primates" makes any sense without the Darwinian revolution, which didn't take place until the 19th century, apparently hundreds of years after the era in which this book is set.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby linguoboy » 2018-01-20, 23:51

vijayjohn wrote:
Linguaphile wrote:No, my point about the Finnic roots of esikloomalised wasn't so much that it was Finnic (liik is actually from a Germanic root if you want to discuss etymologies) but rather that it was composed of multiple words whose concepts would have been familiar. Estonian regularly makes compound words for concepts and always has.

Again, the same is true of English. The age of a compound word in any language is not equal to the age of the parts of said compound word.

Moreover, the existence of a word and the existence of a concept are not remotely the same thing. Gender has been an English word since the Middle Ages, but our understanding of the term has changed vastly since then. The concept of "gender" as defined by contemporary gender theorists would barely be explicable to an Edwardian, much less a Norman.

vijayjohn wrote:I don't see how the concept of "primates" makes any sense without the Darwinian revolution, which didn't take place until the 19th century, apparently hundreds of years after the era in which this book is set.

Actually, Linguaphile's explanation makes sense here. The Primates are people rather than monkeys. They are depicted as being physically more simian, but their mental capacities are the same as the humans around them. At least in translation, their style of speaking is the same as everyone else's and they seem to have no trouble understanding the narrator's lifeways even as they make a conscious choice to reject them.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-01-20, 23:59

linguoboy wrote:
vijayjohn wrote:I don't see how the concept of "primates" makes any sense without the Darwinian revolution, which didn't take place until the 19th century, apparently hundreds of years after the era in which this book is set.

Actually, Linguaphile's explanation makes sense here. The Primates are people rather than monkeys. They are depicted as being physically more simian, but their mental capacities are the same as the humans around them. At least in translation, their style of speaking is the same as everyone else's and they seem to have no trouble understanding the narrator's lifeways even as they make a conscious choice to reject them.

Ah, okay, thanks!

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Linguaphile » 2018-01-21, 2:40

linguoboy wrote:
vijayjohn wrote:
Linguaphile wrote:No, my point about the Finnic roots of esikloomalised wasn't so much that it was Finnic (liik is actually from a Germanic root if you want to discuss etymologies) but rather that it was composed of multiple words whose concepts would have been familiar. Estonian regularly makes compound words for concepts and always has.

Again, the same is true of English. The age of a compound word in any language is not equal to the age of the parts of said compound word.

Moreover, the existence of a word and the existence of a concept are not remotely the same thing.

Except that in Estonian, compound words are often created ad hoc and won't be found in any dictionary, almost the same way other languages might use circumlocution or descriptions. Basically, if a concept exists a compound word can be used to name it; this means that here the existence of a word and the existence of a concept are the same thing, or at least they can be, and the same isn't true in English. This is especially true of Estonian folklore. Ussisõnu (snake-words) itself is one example and other common ones are koerakoonlased (dog-muzzled-ones, which are part-human and part-dog) and pisuhänd (spark-tail, a mythological creature), but there are many others which can't be called "common" because they're only used in a few instances and that's perfectly acceptable, too. (For example, there is a folksong that talks about sõjaleib "war-bread" and vaenukakk "hostility-cake", another that mentions a pajatisvaip "story-telling blanket," but although they are understandable in the context of the songs, these words and their associated concepts aren't found elsewhere). That's why I'd have no problem with the characters having a compound word for the concept of a primate, regardless of whether or not it happens to be the same word that is used today, whereas if they used a single-stem word like primaadid I'd consider it an anachronism. It's also why your mention of words themselves being anachronistic kind of rubbed me the wrong way - as long as they don't come from a different language that the Estonians of the time couldn't have had any contact with, there really is no reason any word could not have existed, as long as they had the concept for it and had the individual word-parts to form it into a compound.
linguoboy wrote:
vijayjohn wrote:I don't see how the concept of "primates" makes any sense without the Darwinian revolution, which didn't take place until the 19th century, apparently hundreds of years after the era in which this book is set.

Actually, Linguaphile's explanation makes sense here. The Primates are people rather than monkeys. They are depicted as being physically more simian, but their mental capacities are the same as the humans around them. At least in translation, their style of speaking is the same as everyone else's and they seem to have no trouble understanding the narrator's lifeways even as they make a conscious choice to reject them.

Yes. And I don't see why the concept of "primate" couldn't have been known before Darwin. Darwin's findings didn't suddenly create new creatures, they just explained why they looked a bit like us. Prior to Darwin people noticed the similarities, too, without understanding the science behind them. (For example, the word orangutan predates Darwin but comes from orang hutan meaning "forest person" in Malay. It doesn't mean they understood evolution, it just means they noticed the resemblance.) I don't think there were any non-human primates in medieval Estonia - but there were no dog-faced people, either, and they did have a word for that. It's folklore, not history.
To be clear, though, I don't disagree that Kivirähk's works tend to have anachronisms, plus I have not read this one yet. I don't even really think that Kivirähk's works should be considered "historical fiction" because they are based more on folklore (beliefs from and beliefs about the past) than on historical fact, which really isn't the same at all.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-01-21, 3:30

I am no biologist, but "primates" means more than simply noticing resemblances between humans and certain other animals that happen to be primates. It involves examining the DNA of various animals and comparing them, and primatology is even an entire scientific field unto itself.
Except that in Estonian, compound words are often created ad hoc and won't be found in any dictionary, almost the same way other languages might use circumlocution or descriptions.

I know English is not Estonian, but they are in English, too. How many dictionaries contain "abso-bloody-lutely," "abso-bloody-exactly," or any one of various Twitter hashtags that exist these days?

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Linguaphile » 2018-01-21, 3:50

vijayjohn wrote:I am no biologist, but "primates" means more than simply noticing resemblances between humans and certain other animals that happen to be primates. It involves examining the DNA of various animals and comparing them, and primatology is even an entire scientific field unto itself.

From what I could find online it seems the Estonian word used in the original was inimahvid or inimahvlased which today translates as "hominoid" and is composed of inim "human, person" + ahv "monkey, ape". So it is both "hominoid" and "monkey-person." :D So it's almost like a pun how it's used here, because it's both a modern scientific term and potentially a mythological-sounding or fantastical one. If it were some other creature, like "inimkoer" (dog-person) or "inimkaru" (bear-person) or "inimhunt" (wolf-person) I might still argue that it could be a perfectly acceptable word for the beliefs of the time - werewolf, incidentally, is actually libahunt "pseudo-wolf, false wolf" - but there are no monkeys native to Estonia and ahv is a German loanword. So yeah, unless this story takes place after contact with Germans (and after Germans had contact with Affen themselves), it's an anachronism.

vijayjohn wrote:
Except that in Estonian, compound words are often created ad hoc and won't be found in any dictionary, almost the same way other languages might use circumlocution or descriptions.


I know English is not Estonian, but they are in English, too. How many dictionaries contain "abso-bloody-lutely," "abso-bloody-exactly," or any one of various Twitter hashtags that exist these days?

The difference is that those English words (or hashtags!) sound contrived and we don't really consider them "real words," or when we do, the older generation is rolling their eyes about it. The compounds created in Estonian sound natural and no different from any other word (or so native speakers tell me). I doubt you could find anyone who would tell you that "abso-bloody-lutely" is formed in a linguistically acceptable way for formal speech, for example. In English it's considered a type of slang, but in Estonian it's just the way the language works.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Yserenhart » 2018-01-21, 11:51

vijayjohn wrote:I am no biologist, but "primates" means more than simply noticing resemblances between humans and certain other animals that happen to be primates. It involves examining the DNA of various animals and comparing them, and primatology is even an entire scientific field unto itself.

That comes across like you're suggesting that "primates" weren't a concept/word before the late 1990s/early 2000s.

Primates has existed as a biological classification since at least 1758 (100 years before On the Origin of Species), when Carl Linnaeus published the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae, the book which is still used as the starting point for zoölogical nomenclature. In comparison to today, Linneaus' Primates included bats, but had no other species that isn't still considered a primate included (classifications under Primates of course have changed significantly); nor were any species that are now considered primates included under a different grouping.

I know English is not Estonian, but they are in English, too. How many dictionaries contain "abso-bloody-lutely," "abso-bloody-exactly," or any one of various Twitter hashtags that exist these days?

"abso-bloody-lutely" and "abso-bloody-exactly" are examples of an infix that doesn't change the meaning of concept of a word at all, and internet hashtags are only compound words because of technical limitations, and thus don't really count. It's not the same as an ad-hoc compound to name a new concept.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby linguoboy » 2018-01-21, 16:06

Linguaphile wrote:
Moreover, the existence of a word and the existence of a concept are not remotely the same thing.

Except that in Estonian, compound words are often created ad hoc and won't be found in any dictionary, almost the same way other languages might use circumlocution or descriptions. Basically, if a concept exists a compound word can be used to name it; this means that here the existence of a word and the existence of a concept are the same thing, or at least they can be, and the same isn't true in English.

Sorry, but this is all nonsense.

First of all, there's nothing unique about Estonian compounding. English forms nonce compounds at least as freely as Estonian does. You've essentially proved that with your glosses below; "war bread", "hostility cake", and "story-telling blanket" are all perfectly understandable and unremarkable English coinages. (In fact, they've all already been used, as a quick Google search will demonstrate.)

Second, a word can exist without a concept and a concept can exist without a word. They are separate entities with separate histories which don't necessarily overlap. Did no one in the English-speaking world ever experience joy at another's misfortune before we borrowed the word "schadenfreude" from German? Did no one every notice that things fall to the ground when we let go of them before someone decided to call that "gravity"?

And the reverse is also true: I can create words willy-nilly in English and that hardly means there's a "concept" associated with each one. What "concept" does greenface name or cowtalk? Sure, you can come up with one ad-hoc, but that doesn't mean it's the same thing those words suggest to me or anyone else.

Linguaphile wrote:It's also why your mention of words themselves being anachronistic kind of rubbed me the wrong way - as long as they don't come from a different language that the Estonians of the time couldn't have had any contact with, there really is no reason any word could not have existed, as long as they had the concept for it and had the individual word-parts to form it into a compound.

You remember that I was talking about the words being anachronistic in English, because that's the language I'm reading the book in, right? I even said "I imagine these words are less jarring in Estonian[.]"

The fact remains that even if the modern word for "species" or "science" in Estonian is the same as a word which existed at the putative time the novel is set, Estonian peasants (let alone imagined forest primitives) didn't have access to the contemporary concepts which those words refer to. In a world where it was widely thought that insects could spontaneously generate from dung, mud, or rotting meat, the idea of a grouping of organisms defined by their ability to produce fertile offspring is decidedly unparadigmatic. "Science" is not just knowledge any more, it's a particular body of empirical knowledge obtained and verified according to a well-defined methodology which existed in only embryonic form before the Renaissance. And so on.

Linguaphile wrote:To be clear, though, I don't disagree that Kivirähk's works tend to have anachronisms, plus I have not read this one yet. I don't even really think that Kivirähk's works should be considered "historical fiction" because they are based more on folklore (beliefs from and beliefs about the past) than on historical fact, which really isn't the same at all.

I'm not considering it "historical fiction". It's historical fantasy. His central conceit is that there exists a language taught to humanity by snakes which allows them to command animals and I'm perfectly willing to accept that. I'm actually disappointed there wasn't more Estonian folklore in the book. The first chapter led me to expect that he would be incorporating a panoply of traditional folktales into his setting and narrative in interesting ways and he didn't make good on that early promise. I can understand why he's a sensation in Estonian, but I don't see that the rest of the world is missing much by not having access to his works.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-01-21, 17:03

Yserenhart wrote:
vijayjohn wrote:I am no biologist, but "primates" means more than simply noticing resemblances between humans and certain other animals that happen to be primates. It involves examining the DNA of various animals and comparing them, and primatology is even an entire scientific field unto itself.

That comes across like you're suggesting that "primates" weren't a concept/word before the late 1990s/early 2000s.

I mean, isn't that about how old our current understanding of the concept is? In reality, though, I was only trying to say there is more to the concept of "primates" besides happening to notice similarities between a human and an orangutan, between a human and a monkey, or between any two primates in general.
"abso-bloody-lutely" and "abso-bloody-exactly" are examples of an infix that doesn't change the meaning of concept of a word at all

As I'm sure a lot of morphemes in Estonian are, too.
and internet hashtags are only compound words because of technical limitations, and thus don't really count. It's not the same as an ad-hoc compound to name a new concept.

I think this point may be a bit debatable. It may be true of the vast majority of hashtags for all I know, but hashtags are sometimes deliberately created, in contexts where they don't technically need to be, as a new way of expressing a point relatively succinctly.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Linguaphile » 2018-01-21, 20:16

linguoboy wrote:Sorry, but this is all nonsense.
First of all, there's nothing unique about Estonian compounding. English forms nonce compounds at least as freely as Estonian does.

I still disagree on that point. As this article (written for second-generation Estonian emigres by a women who has lived in both Canada and Estonia) says, a simple way to explain it is that in Estonian "one specific and integrated concept = one word". She also points out that although English does have compound words (she mentions flashlight and snowblower), Estonian takes it quite a bit further, with common words like hapukapsasupp (sourcabbagesoup) and allmaaraudteejaam (undergroundironroadstation = subway station). German does this quite a bit, too, but English really doesn't do so nearly as often as either of those languages do. Finding links for the nonce compounds is harder due to their very nature of being used only once or only a few times, but I can cite a few random ones from books I have here: tembuvennamüks (prank-brother-poke, "a brotherly jab"), juusturattapale (cheese-wheel-face, "a face that is round like a wheel of cheese"), saagikoristusmosaiik (crop-collection-mosaic, "a mosaic depicting a harvest"). Of course you can say all of those things in English perfectly clearly, but in English you don't do it with a compound word.

linguoboy wrote:You've essentially proved that with your glosses below; "war bread", "hostility cake", and "story-telling blanket" are all perfectly understandable and unremarkable English coinages. (In fact, they've all already been used, as a quick Google search will demonstrate.)

But in English these aren't words, they're pairs of words that form descriptive phrases. This goes back to my original statement - Estonian uses compounding the way many other languages (including English) might use circumlocution or descriptions. "Story-telling blanket" might be unremarkable in English, but that's not the same as saying *storytellingblanket is an unremarkable English word.

vijayjohn wrote:
"abso-bloody-lutely" and "abso-bloody-exactly" are examples of an infix that doesn't change the meaning of concept of a word at all

As I'm sure a lot of morphemes in Estonian are, too.

Not sure what you mean here, so... maybe?

vijayjohn wrote:
and internet hashtags are only compound words because of technical limitations, and thus don't really count. It's not the same as an ad-hoc compound to name a new concept.

I think this point may be a bit debatable. It may be true of the vast majority of hashtags, but hashtags are sometimes deliberately created, in contexts where they don't technically need to be, as a new way of expressing a point relatively succinctly.

Yes, but it's a recent innovation (languages do change!) and still limited to hashtags. Even when you see one in a place where it's not necessary, it still has the hashtag symbol before it to indicate that it's this unique type of word. To see #storytellingblanket with its hashtag is unremarkable in today's world, but again, to suddenly see storytellingblanket mid-sentence in a newspaper or novel would still seem out of place and either whimsical or incorrect.

linguoboy wrote:You remember that I was talking about the words being anachronistic in English, because that's the language I'm reading the book in, right? I even said "I imagine these words are less jarring in Estonian[.]"

Sorry if I am too far off topic, then, because I thought you had also asked about how it sounded in languages besides English and I thought that you wanted to know if it's true that they're "less jarring" in Estonian. You had also posted on the Estonian forum that you were interested in the Estonian language so I had (incorrectly, it seems) jumped to the conclusion that you were asking. (And back when you had posted on the Estonian forum that you were reading Mees, kes teadis ussisõnu, I actually did initially think you meant you were reading it in Estonian. But I figured it out.) Our discussion here seems to have gone down a bit of a rabbit hole. I don't usually post on this subforum, so to be honest I had lost sight of the fact that this thread is meant to focus on "what you are currently reading" rather than linguistics.

linguoboy wrote:His central conceit is that there exists a language taught to humanity by snakes which allows them to command animals and I'm perfectly willing to accept that. I'm actually disappointed there wasn't more Estonian folklore in the book. The first chapter led me to expect that he would be incorporating a panoply of traditional folktales into his setting and narrative in interesting ways and he didn't make good on that early promise. I can understand why he's a sensation in Estonian, but I don't see that the rest of the world is missing much by not having access to his works.

Ouch. Well, I'm thinking the book may have more basis in folklore and history than you realize, though. The part about people knowing the language of snakes is absolutely a common theme in folklore; usually it involves people who can whisper, hiss, and whistle to snakes and the snakes will come when called, cure snakebites when instructed to, and avoid populated areas if commanded to leave. The language gives its speakers command over snakes and in some cases other aspects of the natural world. The folktales usually include mention of the fact that most people no longer know this language and that once the language is lost it won't be possible to control snakes anymore. And, in several books of folktales that I have, the tale even has the exact same title: Mees, kes teadis ussisõnu (or in one case, Jutt mehest, kes teadis ussisõnu). Anyway, the theme of some people choosing to live in the forest or in the country while others living in a village also goes back a long ways in history and folklore. In Estonian history usually people from elsewhere lived in cities (Germans, Swedes, Danes, depending on the time period and location) and their languages were spoken there; in the countryside and forests Estonians spoke their own language and lived a more traditional lifestyle without the conveniences that the "foreigners" had brought with them. Based on your description, I suspect that Kivirähk is alluding to this in the book. Depending on the timeline (and I'm still unsure of the time period of this book), they probably lived either in barn-dwellings with large stone ovens (rehetare) or in chimneyless huts (suitsutare). You also mentioned living in caves, and that too may be allegory, because throughout history Estonians have sometimes fled into the forest to escape oppression from outsiders, and lived in hidden dwellings there. Even as recently as the 1940's and the years after, there were Estonian soldiers (metsavennad: "forest brothers") who lived in caves and tunnels in the forest to hide after the Soviet occupation, sometimes for years or decades. So the idea of living in a forest cave is probably a lot more recent than you are imaging, or at least its existence in the novel doesn't in and of itself identify a particular time period. It may be that there is no specific time period envisioned for this book (does it ever name a timeline?) but rather a mesh of folklore and history from various periods. There is very little you've mentioned from the book that couldn't be connected to either folklore or historic themes. And combining elements like that is very common in Estonian literature; even the Estonian "national epic", Kalevipoeg, was a combination of authentic centuries-old folk poetry, and fantasy created by its author/compiler in the mid-1800's.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-01-21, 20:48

Define "word," though.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Aurinĭa » 2018-01-21, 21:10

Linguaphile wrote:I don't usually post on this subforum, so to be honest I had lost sight of the fact that this thread is meant to focus on "what you are currently reading" rather than linguistics.

This is UniLang. Sooner or later, all threads turn into linguistics talk.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Linguaphile » 2018-01-21, 21:45

vijayjohn wrote:Define "word," though.

For me, Oxford's definition describes my thinking pretty well: A single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed. If you use the definition of "the smallest meaningful unit that can stand alone" you might exclude compounds, and I know that some people do, but, my argument is that those parts have a different meaning on their own so the compound is still a different word (it's still a single unit that can't be made smaller without changing the meaning). Flashlight is a word with a different meaning from the parts flash and light, for example, and juusturattapale does not mean exactly the same as juust, ratas, or pale. (In fact, if you separated them into distinct words to say juusturatta pale, although in spoken language it would sound nearly or exactly the same, it actually would have a different meaning because the genitive case would be possessive instead of word-forming: "the cheese-wheel's face" instead of "a face like a cheese-wheel". And juustu rattapale would be "the cheese's wheel-face"....and juustu ratta pale would have to be "the cheese's wheel's face", which is descending down the rabbit hole even further into total nonsense....)

Aurinĭa wrote:
Linguaphile wrote:I don't usually post on this subforum, so to be honest I had lost sight of the fact that this thread is meant to focus on "what you are currently reading" rather than linguistics.

This is UniLang. Sooner or later, all threads turn into linguistics talk.

Thanks. I wasn't sure if we were totally annoying everyone else here by focusing on the language more than the book.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Aurinĭa » 2018-01-21, 21:48

Linguaphile wrote:
Aurinĭa wrote:
Linguaphile wrote:I don't usually post on this subforum, so to be honest I had lost sight of the fact that this thread is meant to focus on "what you are currently reading" rather than linguistics.

This is UniLang. Sooner or later, all threads turn into linguistics talk.

Thanks. I wasn't sure if we were totally annoying everyone else here by focusing on the language more than the book.

Again, it's UniLang. I found it interesting to read.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-01-21, 21:57

Linguaphile wrote:
vijayjohn wrote:Define "word," though.

For me, Oxford's definition describes my thinking pretty well: A single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed. If you use the definition of "the smallest meaningful unit that can stand alone" you might exclude compounds, and I know that some people do, but, my argument is that those parts have a different meaning on their own so the compound is still a different word (it's still a single unit that can't be made smaller without changing the meaning). Flashlight is a word with a different meaning from the parts flash and light, for example, and juusturattapale does not mean exactly the same as juust, ratas, or pale.

The same is true of "war bread," "hostility cake," and "story-telling blanket" even in English. It's just that in English, we happen to not formally consider any of these to be words.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby linguoboy » 2018-01-21, 22:41

Linguaphile wrote:She also points out that although English does have compound words (she mentions flashlight and snowblower), Estonian takes it quite a bit further, with common words like hapukapsasupp (sourcabbagesoup) and allmaaraudteejaam (undergroundironroadstation = subway station). German does this quite a bit, too, but English really doesn't do so nearly as often as either of those languages do. Finding links for the nonce compounds is harder due to their very nature of being used only once or only a few times, but I can cite a few random ones from books I have here: tembuvennamüks (prank-brother-poke, "a brotherly jab"), juusturattapale (cheese-wheel-face, "a face that is round like a wheel of cheese"), saagikoristusmosaiik (crop-collection-mosaic, "a mosaic depicting a harvest"). Of course you can say all of those things in English perfectly clearly, but in English you don't do it with a compound word.

Are you seriously not recognising the fact that not all grammatically compound words in English are written as single orthographic words? I expect that kind of error from the average Joe; I don't expect it from someone with any sort of background in linguistics.

Linguaphile wrote:
linguoboy wrote:You've essentially proved that with your glosses below; "war bread", "hostility cake", and "story-telling blanket" are all perfectly understandable and unremarkable English coinages. (In fact, they've all already been used, as a quick Google search will demonstrate.)

But in English these aren't words, they're pairs of words that form descriptive phrases. This goes back to my original statement - Estonian uses compounding the way many other languages (including English) might use circumlocution or descriptions. "Story-telling blanket" might be unremarkable in English, but that's not the same as saying *storytellingblanket is an unremarkable English word.

I really don't understand the distinction you're drawing here unless you actually are making this all about orthographical conventions. "Pairs of words that form descriptive phrases" is not a well-formed definition of a grammatical phenomenon.

Did you actually Google those examples to see how they are used?

Linguaphile wrote:
linguoboy wrote:His central conceit is that there exists a language taught to humanity by snakes which allows them to command animals and I'm perfectly willing to accept that. I'm actually disappointed there wasn't more Estonian folklore in the book. The first chapter led me to expect that he would be incorporating a panoply of traditional folktales into his setting and narrative in interesting ways and he didn't make good on that early promise. I can understand why he's a sensation in Estonian, but I don't see that the rest of the world is missing much by not having access to his works.

Ouch. Well, I'm thinking the book may have more basis in folklore and history than you realize, though. The part about people knowing the language of snakes is absolutely a common theme in folklore; usually it involves people who can whisper, hiss, and whistle to snakes and the snakes will come when called, cure snakebites when instructed to, and avoid populated areas if commanded to leave. The language gives its speakers command over snakes and in some cases other aspects of the natural world. The folktales usually include mention of the fact that most people no longer know this language and that once the language is lost it won't be possible to control snakes anymore.

Do you know that this has the effect of making him seem even less creative? I figured he'd taken the idea from folklore and elabourated some of the details himself. Instead it looks like every single interesting detail is lifted wholesale from Estonian folktales.

In any case, if you do get around to reading it, I'll be very interested to hear what your reaction is.
"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: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby linguoboy » 2018-01-21, 22:51

vijayjohn wrote:The same is true of "war bread," "hostility cake," and "story-telling blanket" even in English. It's just that in English, we happen to not formally consider any of these to be words.

Who's "we"? I absolutely consider those to be single words. You could even make a semantic distinction between a "story-telling blanket", which is blanket that tells stories, and a "storytelling blanket", which is a blanket associated with the occasion of storytelling (such as a blanket young children sit on while someone tells them stories).

"Flash powder" is not powder which is flash any more than a "flashlight" is a light which is flash. For some arbitrary reason, the linguistic authorities of our day have determined to separate the elements orthographically in one case but not the other. But writing "flashpowder" and "flash light" would not change the grammatical structure of these two noun-noun compounds in the least.
"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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