New York’s Language Ark

Below is an article from the New York Times found and suggested by Brad B., a pre-eminent language expert and a Dialect regular.



Listening to (and Saving) the World’s Languages

by Sam Roberts – published April 28, 2010

Valnea Smilovic, 59, left, with her mother, 92, in Queens.
They still speak Vlashki, a language spoken by the Istrians.
photo by James Estrin

The chances of overhearing a conversation in Vlashki, a variant of Istro-Romanian, are greater in Queens than in the remote mountain villages in Croatia that immigrants now living in New York left years ago.

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Dialect Empire Announces New Acquisitions

After months of behind-the-scenes arm twisting and agonizing negotiation, a series of decisive moves made on the part of The Dialect has brought nearly a dozen new acquisitions under their sole proprietorship.  Nervous insiders describe the transferred materials as “a frightening  arsenal of linguistic technology.”  While official statements from the now-infamous online language website blog dismiss these moves as ‘utilitarian’ and ‘inconsequential’, there is reason to believe that unilateral domination of the language world remains the covert objective.

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Word of the Week: Umoja


Swahili (or Kiswahili) functioned in the 1960s & 1970s as a symbol of  ‘Pan-Africanism’ and was employed by Ron Karenga*  in the creation of the Kwanzaa holiday rituals.

In addition, Swahili now functions in US pop culture as a catch-all African language.  The words below reflect both of these tendencies. 

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Word of the Week: Work Jumbie

Here’s a few Trinidadian/Tobagan words that seem fun.  I cannot vouch for their autheticity however.  I also can’t speak to the etymology of these words but I’ll at least note that, given Trinidad’s mixed linguistic heritage, these words could be from English, French or French Patois, Spanish, a South Asian or African origin, or possibly Arabic,  Chinese, or an indigenous language (unknown to me). 

Belly Full – A very heavy cake made up of left-over cakes and was sold for four cents.  Also GRATATAN, CHES’ PROVOKER.

Gimmie-Gimmie – A ‘disease’ that strikes greedy persons who always want you to give them everything you have. 

Obzokee or Obzokie  – Clumsey.  Bull in a China shop.  Ungainly. Awkward in appearance. Anything bent or twisted out of shape. 

Vup – In cricket to swing the bat as hard as possible. A wild vup – to do the same but with the eyes closed, and hoping to hit the ball with some luck.

Wine – to rotate the waist and hips in a suggestive manner.  Winer gyul – Winer girl.  Any female who takes the art of wining to extreme ends, especially at Carnival time. 

Work Jumbie – A ‘work-a-holic.’


Taken from Cote ce Cote la: Trinidad & Tobago Dictionary by John Mendes circa 1986

Grand Prize Winner for 2009…

The Dialect’s first annual Word Fun winners have been selected!

The Dialect’s “Word Fun” game winners have been accruing points on the “Score Board” throughout 2009 and The Dialect is pleased to announce the Grand Prize Winner and First Loser for 2009!

[drum roll in background]

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The Dialect on Sabatical until January 2010

Asleep at the Wheel by Aaron Jacobs.

The Dialect has been very busy amassing an impressive collection of language dictionaries, instruction books, computer programs, CDs, and miniature comic books. While intently focussed on assembling this arsenal, The Dialect will be on sabatical until January 2010. Until then, dream on these cool new Dialect aquisitions:

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Danza Negra

Danza Negra

The following poem is a rhythmic song that’s going to be a really fun piece.  First, we are going to learn how to sing the song or poem using a certain cadence.  Second, we will read the poem in that manner.  Following this, you can read my translation.  In translating the poem, I employed my beginner level Spanish skills as well as a heavy dose of artistic license. We will discuss my word choices and interpretation and your preferences in the commentary.  Lastly, there’s a word about what I know of the origins of the poem and my perspective on the subject.

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B. Traven on ‘Yorikkian English’

With so many different nationalities aboard, it would have been impossible to sail the Yorikke unless a language had been found that was understood by the whole crew.  From that Syrian, who of all living people I have ever met knew the Yorikke longest and best, I had learned that the universal language used on the Yorikke had been usually the language most widely known at the time on the seven seas.  When the Yorikke was still a virgin maiden the language spoken by her crew was Babylonian; later it changed to Persian, then to Phœnician.  Then came a time when the Yorikkian language was a mixture of Phœnician, Egyptian, Nubian, Latin, and Gaul.  After the Roman Empire was destroyed by the Jews, through the means of a renegade puffed-up religious movement, with Bolshevik ideas in it, the language on the Yorikke was a mixture of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabian, and Hebrew.  This lasted until the Spanish Armada was knocked out.  Then French influence became more dominant in the lingo of the Yorikke.  At Abukir the Yorikke was on the side of the French, and old man Nelson took her as a prize.  He sold her to a cotton-dealer and shipping agent in Liverpool, who in turn sold her to English pirates who worked the Spanish Main, then already in its declining glory.  Anyway, from that time on until today the lingo on the Yorikke was English.  At least that was the name the language was given, to distinguish it from any other language known under the moon.

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“A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey”

“A land flowing with milk and honey” (The Holy Bible, Exodus 3.8)

Madhuparka is a sweet honey and curd drink used in Hindu Vivaham marriage ceremonies.  Madhu, it seems, means honey or nectar in Sanskrit and the word has an intriguing past that language experts believe is a clue to the origins of so many of the world’s languages.

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