Saturday, November 1, 2008


This week, I give you...Tariana!  It's an Arawak language, spoken in Brazil by fewer than 100 people.  This language is uncomfortably close to extinction, though some revitalization efforts are underway.  I think it's a great example of why I for one don't like to see languages going the way of the Dodo-- Tariana has so many interesting things going on grammatically, so many expressive possibilities that, though these ideas can in principle be expressed by any language, the way this language organizes them and codifies them in the grammar leaves open poetic possibilities that just aren't there in other languages.  

Ok, I have to reveal the true depths of my language geekdom, here. First of all, Aikhenvald's 2003 grammar of Tariana is one of the best written grammars I've come across so far. Such clear descriptions! It's really a joy to read, if you're the sort of person who gets joy out of reading descriptive grammars.  

Second, Tariana itself is fascinating.   You like nouns? They have a mixed noun classifier and gender system! Plus tensed nouns! You like verbs? They have recent past, remote past, and evidentials!   And a whole host of aspectual markers. And things like the 'frustrative', an affix that indicates that the action of the verb was, well, frustrated-- failed or bound to fail. A pessimist's suffix if there ever was one.

Still with me?  More relevant to Project Panglossia, Tariana has nine imperative forms.  Do it here, do it now, do it there, do it later, do it for the Gipper, please try and do it, let's do, please do, and my personal favorite, the 'detrimental'-- "fine, go ahead and do it then, if you don't give a darn what I think about it, and just see what happens!".  If only English could adopt new inflectional categories, I'd lobby on behalf of the 'detrimental'.  

So here's the jewelry:  nuna pikalitehna, 'please tell me':

and pihimathara, 'please try and listen' 

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