I’m always curious about language, both my own and those spoken by people in other cultures. I’m glad that Google Translate has a “detect language” feature, but I also want to develop some skills in that line myself.
James Harbeck would like to help me with that. His article in an issue of The Week back in April proposes to help me identify any language at a glance. That might be a bit of a stretch, but he does provide an impressive list of identifiers, so at least it’s a head start.
He contends that paying attention to some alphabetical “flags” in written text will be the tip-off I need. For example, when you see an A with a cup on top, Ă, ă, you’re likely to be looking at Romanian. Finding a T or an S with a comma beneath, Ț/ț or Ș/ș, makes that all but certain.
If you find G, K, L or N with commas below, it’s got to be Latvian. An R with that little v on top, Ř, ř, is the big signal that you’re looking at Czech, but a U with a bauble, Ů/ů, is another dead giveaway.
He describes Vietnamese as “a language made up of short words, with most of its vowels having one or two accents each, so the cumulative effect is like looking at someone with a lot of piercings,” as in, “Hà Nội là thủ đô của nước Cộng hoà Xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam và cũng là kinh đô của rất nhiều vương triều Việt cổ.”
Since we’ve gotten to Asian languages, I can share my favorite comic by Malachi Ray Rempen, creator of the travel and language comic Itchy Feet.
Depending on your device, this might appear too small to enjoy properly, so here’s a link that may be easier to read.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to decide which of the captions is my favorite, but I can’t narrow it down. Find more of his work here.
[Images: languageoasis.com, itchyfeetcomic.com]