I feel like I'm picking up Inuktitut grammar more quickly than I picked up French or German grammar (specifically, the areas where they diverge significantly from English; when they work just like English there's not much for me to learn). I think the reason is that with French and German, I see grammar as an obstacle I need to get past so that I can use the languages, but with Inuktitut, poring over the grammar is the end goal itself.
With that in mind, this might be the year that I just let myself study a bunch of languages with cool grammar and phonology and get it out of my system. I think this will improve my ability to study grammar in general, which will help me when I return to more mainstream languages like Biblical Hebrew, Hungarian, and Icelandic.
I just saw the movie Reel Injun
, a documentary by Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond (not that Neil Diamond) about the portrayal of Native Americans in film. Diamond goes on a road trip into and through the US and does a lot of interviews along the way. One of the films they covered is the film ᐊᑕᓈᕐᔪᐊᑦ (Atanaarjuat
, or in English, The Fast Runner).
It was filmed in ᐃᒡᓗᓕᒃ (Igloolik), one of the biggest villages where the North Baffin dialect is spoken. I'm looking forward to watching it later in my studies!
Mohawk is particularly tempting. Navajo and Inuktitut are actually a bit odd for polysynthetic languages. Rather than noun-incorporating, Inuktitut has derivational suffixes that verbs nouns and nouns verbs. Navajo is also not really your typical polysynthetic language; as far as I can tell, its grammar is more like Georgian than Mohawk or Nahuatl, which are more typical polysynthetic languages. Most of Navajo's grammar is accomplished using crazy-ass ridiculously complex verbs.
Mohawk famously uses very advanced noun incorporation. It also has good resources and media including a long-running children's puppet show. It was featured in the films Last of the Mohicans
and the video game Assassin's Creed III
. Mohawk has a really cool phonology; the phonemic inventory is quite small and famously does not have a single labial sound (so there is no /p/, /b/, /f/, /v/, /w/, or anything like that). There is a pitch accent and phonemic vowel length; long vowels are represented by a colon as in "shé꞉kon" (meaning "hello") which looks really cool.
All in all, my list of "cool" languages that I'm thinking of studying this year is:
- Diné Bizaad (Navajo) (worked on previously, will resume)
- ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ (Inuktitut) (currently studying)
- isiXhosa (currently studying)
- Maybe !Xóõ (famous for having the largest phonemic inventory of any known natural language)
I would define a "cool" language as something where I'm more interested in the language's features than in its media.isiXhosa
isiXhosa pronunciation is one of the toughest challenges I've ever faced in pronouncing a language. I really wish there was an FSI course with a ton of drills for it. I just bought the Ubuntu Bridge Confident isiXhosa audio course, which is actually even more expensive than Pimsleur per hour; Ubuntu Bridge is around 10 USD/hour (based on the current exchange rate with the ZAR), but a typical Pimsleur course is about 7.33 USD/hour based on buying a single 15-hour unit. But, since it can be done in the car and is interactive (meaning, it leaves spaces for you to respond), I think it is necessary if I ever want to achieve accurate and comfortable pronunciation of isiXhosa.
Pro-tip: if you are going to buy something from the other side of the world, let your bank know first so they don't send you a bunch of panicked fraud alert messages.
Unfortunately, Ubuntu Bridge does not have extensive phonology drills like I was hoping it might. I think what I will need to do is go over the phonology introductions of Confident isiXhosa
, Teach Yourself Xhosa
, and the isiXhosa for Beginners
Udemy course over and over and over and over again until I am sick of it. I think it is important for me to not rely on Anki for this but instead simply drill the audio until I have all of the vocabulary memorized. If I rely on text rather than imitating the spoken words, I will probably not pronounce the words with the correct tone pattern, and I don't want to instill bad habits. The exception is, the Teach Yourself audio isn't very clear on exactly which variation on each click is used, so I think I will need to memorize the spelling of the click words that are used before I can go over the audio in the car.
Many people say that isiXhosa has only three clicks, the "c" click", the "q" click, and the "x" click. In fact, these letters represent the three different places of articulation, respectively:
- alveolar (or postalveolar or palatal, I've heard it described all three ways)
But this almost
as bad as saying that English only has seven or so consonants because there are only that many places of articulation (for example, this would lump /n/, /t/, /d/, /s/, and /z/ together as the nonlateral alveolar consonant). In fact, each isiXhosa click has six possible manners
- tenuis (c, q, x)
- aspirated (ch, qh, xh)
- slack voice (gc, gq, gx)
- nasal (nc, nq, nx)
- slack voice nasal (ngc, ngq, ngx)
- glottalized nasal (nkc, nkq, nkx)
So in fact, there are 18 clicks.
Of my three main audio resources, I think that the Udemy course breaks down the different clicks the best. Ron Endley demonstrates three or four manners
of articulation for each of the three places
of articulation. I think Teach Yourself
demonstraten more total clicks than Endley does, but they go over them so fast that it's a bit hard to follow.ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ
As it turns out, at least half of Inuktitut the Hard Way
is missing from the file that Mick Mallon put on his course website. He references a chapter 18, but the file cuts off in the middle of chapter 10. But I started in on his Structure of Inuktitut
files and they're really terrific, with audio when you click on Inuktitut words and best of all, interactive drills and quizzes where you type in responses in Latin script. They teach you the words in both the North and South Baffin dialects; so far, they are all identical except for South Baffin's tendency to geminate (double) pairs of consonants, so "iglu" becomes "illu", "Inuktitut" becomes "Inuttitut", "umiarmit" (from the boat) becomes "umiamit", etc.
One interesting feature is that when two consonants come together, they must both be either voiceless, voiced, or nasal. A /q/ or /ʁ/ becomes the uvular nasal /ɴ/ before a nasal consonant, but is still written as an 'r'. So the word ᐅᒥᐊᖅ (umiaq, meaning "boat"), plus the case ending ᒥᑦ (meaning "from"), does not become ᐅᒥᐊᖅᒥᑦ (umiaqmit) but rather ᐅᒥᐊᕐᒥᑦ (umiarmit), and the ᕐ (r) actually represents the uvular nasal /ɴ/ in this case, not its usual sound which is the uvular fricative /ʁ/ (like the French or German "r" sound).
Between the INUK101 module itself, the available half of Inuktitut the Hard Way
, and the Structure of Inuktitut
applications, I think I should have a decent crash course overview. After that, I'm thinking of going through Tusaalanga, then Spalding's Learning to Speak Inuktitut
, and then finally the rest of Mick Mallon's books, in that order. But I'll see how it goes.