Transcribing an unknown language

Ma réponse à un défi de déviner une langue à partir d’un enregistrement, et de le transcrire en phonétique.

This is a reply to Mark Liberman’s challenge to a) guess the language on a recording and b) transcribe it. I’ve never transcribed anything but English, and this more often into phonemes than phonetically (ie, writing down actual heard sounds, which is much more difficult). Even though I’m not a card-carrying linguist (but seriously thinking about becoming one yet, despite the obvious practical and the less obvious psychological obstacles), I had a go.

Guessing the language turned out much easier than the rest. I may be wrong, of course, but I believe it’s Romansh or something very close to it. I’d have been totally lost had it been anything but a Romance or maybe Germanic language. This, though, is one I sometimes understand Latin in. After ruling out those among the bigger Romance languages I don’t immediately recognize (to wit, Romanian, Occitan and Portuguese), and Esperanto (just to be on the safe side) I browsed Wikipedia until I settled on Romansh. Or maybe Ladin? My opinion is influenced by my certainty to have heard the language before. This Romansch word list shows that Romansh has nouns/words ending in -un, -al and other syllables ending with a consonant, just like on the recording. And then there’s the word [griˈʒun]: its speakers call the language Rumantsch Grischun.

As for the transcription, there were many small decisions to take, and at one point I just stopped trying to be totally consistent (or even deciding in the first place) how open a particular a or e sound was or where it was articulated. Then of course there’s the question of where to make, for lack of a better term, gaps. Between words? But if you don’t know where the word boundaries are, you are lost. Whenever there is a pause? There aren’t enough of them! So I guessed, based on what I understood and guessed, and when I didn’t have anything to base myself on, I put dots between syllables and took the chance of letting words run into each other. Especially since what I take for articles is pronounced without separation from the head nouns, so they run into each other, too. Okay, here is the fruit of my labours:

la ˈʃkɔ:lɐ. ʃatṛ ˈtseintṛ ˈdəla səˈkunda part dil magaˈtsi:n. pi: ˈdjeʃtɐ pi: ɪndividuˈal. ɪn ʃkɔˈlar.sdɐ.ˈgɥi.rə ˈdβesṇ βiˈ ˈkɥi.də of moˈdel da ˈʃkɔ:lɐ. ən modˈel kə ˈkoreˌʃpondə ˈmiljṛ ɐ ˈlu:r habiliˈta:ts. pi ˌkontsilˈjant ɐ pi: tolɛˈrant. il plɐn ˌdinʃtrukˈtsjun dəˌreliˈdʒun pa.las ˈʃkɔ:lɐs el griˈʒun ˈle:vɐʒiˈnal.ɐs dɛˌreliˈdʒuns. da.pi ˈvargɐ i.ˈnon a.ɪl ˈplandɐ ton en ˈdruket. a ˈkɔ:vaɪ ˈvinə ˈ ˌinʃtrukˈtsjun də ˌreliˈdʒun ˈkɥ vein ˈ ju: səˈvɐɪstlud stəˈpla: ˈsventṛ ˈlaura: ˈelɐ ˈbursa.

As for what it talks about, it’s the second part of a (radio?) news magazine, which deals with school issues: (changes in?) didactics to better adapt to the pupils’ abilities, and something about religious education (to be focussed on?) promoting tolerance. I have some ideas about the last sentence (the bit about the laura and the bursa), but all in all don’t get it.

1 comment(s) for 'Transcribing an unknown language'

  1. (Pingback, 2006-02-07 22:08 )

    […] First of all, I was right, and so was caelestis at (or le?) sauvage noble: the mystery language is Romansh. It is interesting to look at the differences between our approaches. Caelestis writes in his comment section: […]