Transcribing another unknown language

Un autre quiz sur Language Log. On les adore.

Mark Liberman at Language Log has posted a second transcribe-and-guess-the-language quiz. I believe most readers of this blog interested in this sort of question, so you probably know this already. As one of those who got the first one right, I couldn’t resist of course. (More seriously, though, it’s an excellent exercise.)

I have followed my new fondness of wikis and used first my local one, then my new (and still quite empty) online wiki to work progressively on my solution. To be fair, my brother and I conferred a bit on Jabber: he was surprisingly enthusiastic, and provided support and his remarks.

Now, the wiki page (which has a timestamp) won’t be changed (spelling errors and all) until Mark has come out with the solution.

Once the work was as complete as it’s likely to get, I did have a look to find out whether caelestis at sauvage noble might have taken up the challenge, too. It turns out he has — I swear, I didn’t change a letter of my wiki post after looking, and won’t.

Caelestis’ transcription and mine are reasonably similar. He transcribes some sounds as a where I opt for an (open) o, and he might be right. Especially if the language is Somali or a close relative. His morphological analysis is more sophisticated than mine. He rejects Somali, however, on grounds of prosody. I’m not so sure about that. Somali is supposed to have tonal accent (caelestis calls it “pitch accent” for the samples), which is a point in favour. Still, I’m far from convinced myself.

Edit: My certainty level, which has been rising over the day after listening to the Somali recordings on this site (via caelestis) , has just taken another hike. Thanks to my dear brother, who doesn’t have a web presence yet (even though his sister has been nagging). Mark Liberman’s tantalizing “European Event” immediately made me think of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh’s murder — but I failed to see the in reality obvious connection to Somalia: His film Submission about violence against women, which is said to contain a harsh criticism of Islam, was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee and now a liberal (ie conservative) member of parliament in the Netherlands. Letters containing death threats against her were pinned to his body with a knife.

Update: The mystery language was indeed Somali. I have updated the documentation of my efforts on the wiki — conclusions and general remarks added.

2 comment(s) for 'Transcribing another unknown language'

  1. (Comment, 2004-11-08 18:36 )
    #1 — ACW
    1. Nicely done.

    2. Which wiki are you using? Envy.

  2. (Comment, 2004-11-08 19:39 )

    Thanks! That one is DokuWiki, which I hacked to make it support utf-8. The author is nearly done making it utf-8 compliant, though. At home, I have Instki. A joy if you have Ruby installed on the server. For a multilingual wiki, I’d have a look at Oddmuse, which I discovered only very recently.