Tuesday, March 10, 2009

No word for X

A standard (journalistic) trope for exoticising a language is to claim that it has no word for x. According to an article in the Native Times, Doris Jean Lamar McLemore is the last person alive who can fluently speak "the language of the Wichita Indians," a language so complex that
"it takes 60 to 90 minutes to transcribe even a small portion of it.

There are no words for “hello” or “good-bye,” for example. The closest to a “hello” you can give someone is a phrase for “How are you?” – “e : si : raci : ci.”
I can think of another really exotic language with no words for hello: French. The closest to a "hello" you can give someone is to wish them a good day or good health. I can't say I know much about transcribing, but it seems to me that the speed would have to do much more with familiarity than with complexity.

Finally, it's interesting that nowhere in the article is the language actually named. It's simply called the language of the Wichita Indians.

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