Thursday, April 14, 2011

#12: L is for Languages

I'm fascinated by languages. The different ways concepts are expressed, the information on a culture's focus you can get from their languages, all interesting things. (I'm fascinated by information in general, but this is a particularly interesting subset.)

Some particular favorites:
Hawaiian first-person plural pronouns. English has one ('we') with variants by case ('us', 'our', 'ours'). Hawaiian has four, but they carry distinctly different meanings: 'kaua' is 'you and me', 'maua' is 'someone who is not you, and me'. (Inclusive and exclusive pronouns are distinct.) Likewise, 'kakou' is 'you, me, and at least one other person' - two-person plurals are distinct from three-or-more-person plurals - and 'makou' is 'at least two people who are not you, and me'.

Japanese personal pronouns. TV Tropes lists over 20 versions of 'I', ranging from 'this humble individual' to equivalents of the Royal We, along with 17 versions of 'you'. Fine gradations between them are one of those cultural minefields that it's far, far too easy to step in.

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