Monday, December 05, 2011

Adventures in the alphabet

(Roman temple in Évora, Portugal)
A guide to Roman excavations in Lisbon pointed out the 'ood supports that underlie many of the city's buildings. A hotel keeper in Porto told me 'i-fi was available in the room, and she wasn't talking about stereo.

Then it occurred to me what an odd sound the consonantal W is. It's so common in English, but what other languages have it? Arabic, maybe, though a guide on my trip to Tunisia was sparked to tell a story about the habits of his countrymen by an 'ooman he saw crossing the street in front of our tour bus.
***
If the letter W is a closed book to speakers of Portuguese, X may puzzle visitors to Portugal. It's pronounced sh in Portuguese, so the bar Maria Caxuxa in Lisbon is pronounced, delightfully, "Maria Ca-SHOO-sha."

Got that? X=sh. With that in mind, what do you think puxe means?

Wrong. It means pull.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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14 Comments:

Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

:) Ah, the troubles world travellers face!

December 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It opens one's eyes. Who'd have thought W would pose problems? Japanese speakers have trouble with L's, English speakers are hopeless with Khoisan clicks, and an American unfamiliar with Portuguese would be flummoxed by an invitation to Maria Caxuxa.

I wonder if any sounds, whether vowel or consonant, appear in all languages. My guess would be the m-sound. I have read that an undeveloped human vocal apparatus can form the sound easily, one reason the word for "mother" has the m-sound in completely unrelated languages. Babies have an easy time with it.

These difficulties do present marvelous opportunities foe wordplay, though. I had to smile when my enthusiastic hotelierre told me about my 'i-fi.

December 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think Yankees fans might know this already.

December 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Funny you should mention this. I've seen a few Texeira streets.

December 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'll bet most of them are dead ends and then there are one or two that are really really long.

December 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You neglect the possibility that they're crooked or steep or contain staircases.

I don't think any of the Texeira streets are long, 18th- or 19th-century boulevards. One or two might not be streets but rather largos or even praças, though.

I once received a firm lesson from a Brazilian friend on the correct pronunciation of -eir in Portuguese. The vowel part is pronounced like a long a. So, most Yankees say Te-SHARE-uh, but the slick-fielding, hard-hitting first sacker's relatives in the old country say Te-SHAY-ruh. But the Bronx faithful have managed the X, and that's what matters.

December 06, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

The "ei" is phonetically pronounced. Most languages pronounce it that way, even Japanese. English is not a phonetic language, hence the problems. Horrible things they do to Latin, for example. I wonder when that started. In the M.A., Latin was lingua franca and was most likely pronounced correctly by the English.

December 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have read that Cicero's name would have been pronounced Kick-a-row -- hard for me to get used to.

I suppose part of the reasons for English's puzzling spelling is that it has been so promiscuous in its borrowing from other languages.

December 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, Portugal has the right side of the Yankees' infield covered. The Aqueduto da Água de Prata (Aqueduct of Silver Water) in Evora ends in the Rua do Cano.

December 06, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Girardi calls him Tex. So much for the solidarity of romance languages.

December 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That is a cool nickname for someone named Texeira, redolent of delightfully American informality. MarkTwain would have approved.

December 06, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'd like to do that Mark Twain trick of sending a telegram to everyone in the Yankees management team and coaching staff which says "All is discovered. Flee at once." I'll bet like Mark Twain's buddies they all flee.

December 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Billy Martin did that years ago when he said, "One's convicted; the other's a born liar."

Steinbrenner kicked him out of town, brought him back, kicked him out of town, brought him back, kicked him out ...

December 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A new wrinkle: A public address announcer at Lisbon Airport pronounced the name Te-SHY-AY-ruh, but with the SHY and the AY spoken simultaneously. I don't know how to transcribe a sound like that.

December 09, 2011  

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