Monday, March 03, 2008

I'll never complain about my own name again...

Mi Hermana the Linguist studied Samoan in New Zealand, long before Nuestra Otra Hermana even met her future spouse. Yesterday, La Otra Hermana showed me a video of little Tanielu being taken to their predominantly Samoan church, and I noticed that the older ladies who are more fluent in Samoan were pronouncing his name in a zillion different ways. La OH convinced me I was crazy. So I called Mi Hermana the Linguistics Grad Student en Michigan to separate the voices in my head from the voices on the video.

Apparently a lot depends the gender, age, or regional dialect of the speaker. When European and American missionaries arrived in the Islands, they changed and standardized the sounds that were more familiar to western European languages, and the Samoan language had to acquire new sounds (as well as a written language) to adjust to colonization. There's no hard G, for instance -- so the neffy's middle name, which is the Samoan for Genesis, starts with a K.
  • The T is apparently both "Tz/Ts" and the "T" from English -- Mi Hermana believes the "Tz" sound is gendered, and females use it, whereas males won't. (Nuestra OH keeps changing the pronunciation of her own child's name on us, from a T to a Tz/Ts, but I noticed the old ladies in the video, some with limited English, all used Tz/Ts.)

  • The N can be either "N" or "NG" (as in "long"). La OH's third bridesmaid's name ends with NI but is pronounced as if there's a G in there. I picked up on that a while ago...

  • T and K can be interchangeable. I'm glad this was finally explained to me, since a high school acquaintance of mine, who attended La OH's church, has a T in his name. But everyone at their church pronounced it as a K. I assumed it was a nickname, but apparently not.
Just a few of the issues that arise when imposing one language's alphabet on the vowel and consonant sounds of another...

Apparently there is little academic literature on any of this. Polynesia isn't part of the canon, after all.

But they told me I could call him TK.

No comments: