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Post Kfir, Ben-Gurion, and Lion Cubs
Created by John Eipper on 03/25/17 4:15 AM

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Kfir, Ben-Gurion, and Lion Cubs (Edward Jajko, USA, 03/25/17 4:15 am)

The Israelis who told Michael Sullivan (March 24th) that the name of their fighter aircraft was "kafir," (i.e. kaafir) meaning "unbeliever" or "disbeliever" in Arabic, were of course wrong. The name of the fighter plane is well-known, and is "Kfir," meaning "lion cub."

Hebrew has a couple of words for "lion":  "aryeh" and "sheva'" come to mind. Similarly, there are various words for lion cub: "k'fir," "gur," "gur aryeh," "guryon."

David Ben-Gurion was "son of lion cub" only because, like other early Zionists, he Hebraicized his original Yiddish family name Grün to something that sounded more, dare I say, kosher. Many a student of Hebrew stumbles over the name of the lover of the Biblical David, Bathsheba, translating it as "daughter of seven." But it is "daughter of lion."

Whether the Israelis who misled our Marines were joking or ignorant is unknowable. Years ago when I worked at Yale, I had an assistant, a native Israeli with a Yale degree, fluent in Hebrew, of course, who had served in IDF Intelligence and was equally fluent in Arabic. But over the years I also met Israelis who spoke only Hebrew and professed ignorance of Arabic. So, Allahu a'lam.

JE comments:  I never knew that Ben-Gurion was born with the far more Yiddish surname Grün.  His hometown, Plonsk, is 45 miles NW of Warsaw.  It's an Adrian-size city of 25,000.  I've never visited.

"Dave Green" doesn't have the same gravitas.  Ben-Gurion was a giant in achievement, but not in stature:  he stood just five feet (1.52 m) tall.

Thank you, Ed!  I knew you'd know this one.

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  • Kafir, Kfir, Kfur in Arabic (Edward Jajko, USA 03/27/17 4:25 AM)
    Further to my message about Kafir, Kfir, etc.: "Infidel" in Arabic is "kaafir," fem. "kaafirah," pl. "kuffaar." "Nonbelief" is "kufr." The word "kafr," however, means "village."

    Hebrew "kfir" ("k'fir") is "lion cub." But Hebrew "kfar" is "village" (as in Capernaum, K'far Nahum, Nahum's Village). The Hebrew /kfr/ root is also the source of the operative word in "Yom Kippur," Day of Atonement.

    Fun and games with Semitics.

    JE comments:  Shem would be proud of you, Ed!  Now that I have your ear, here's a huge question that probably warrants an entire volume:  why did Hebrew and Arabic evolve without written vowels?  I know there are diacritics to suggest vowel sounds, but it's not the same thing.

    Thnk y vr mch, Dwrd!

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    • Hw Bt Rmvng Vwls? (John Heelan, -UK 03/31/17 3:26 AM)
      When JE wrote "Thnk y vr mch, Dwrd" to our colleague Edward Jajko (March 27th), it reminded me of the time when in the 1970s we were looking for ways to make searches of massive databases containing census information more efficient. We came across a system called "Soundex" (From Canada initially; I think but there have been many variants subsequently developed) that eliminated all the vowels from surnames, thus truncating the file storage needed and speeding up searches, especially for names like "Mazonowicz" that became "Mznwcz."

      On the other hand, John might have been attempting the Welsh language as in Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.

      Jhn PPr comments:  When was the last time you visited the website

      http://llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.co.uk ?

      The Soundex system sounds like a formula for disaster (and litigation).  Imagine a hospital using it, and performing Mr Brody's bypass on Mr Brady, who had checked in for ingrown toenails.  (Come to think of it, I have a friend in Pennsylvania named John Pepper.  According to Soundex, we're almost the same guy.)


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      • Welsh, Nahuatl, and the Bird of 400 Voices; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/01/17 6:10 AM)

        Gary Moore writes:

        Re John Heelan's post of March 31 and Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch:

        Might any of the linguists out there know whether the "ll" in Welsh
        is pronounced like the mysterious Nahuatl "ll" from ancient Mexico,
        or like the Nahuatl "tl" click?

        The Aztecs used "four hundred" to mean "a whole lot,"
        as when they called Mexico's mockingbird, quite similar
        to Scout's and Harper Lee's in "Maycomb"/Monroeville, Alabama,
        the cenzontl, or "bird of four hundred" voices. In Spanish
        an "e" was added--cenzontle--as in the coyotl/coyote switch.

        So would an Aztec mockingbird pronounce that like the Welsh?
        Does Prince Madoc live?


        JE comments:  The YouTube clip of the cenzontle drove WAISworld's newly appointed Head Cat, Gosia, nearly to madness.  She's asleep again now, thanks to a special feline dose of WAISonex®.

        Madoc is the Welsh prince who allegedly discovered America in the 12th century.  Gary Moore offers a provocative thesis for April Fools' Day:  Madoc taught the Mexicans (there was no Aztec empire yet) to talk, and the cenzontle to sing. 

        Four hundred greetings to all!

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        • Pronouncing Welsh (John Heelan, -UK 04/02/17 5:47 AM)
          For Gary Moore (1 April): "Ll is peculiarly Welsh and difficult to describe. Form your lips and tongue to pronounce the letter L, but then blow air gently around the sides of the tongue instead of saying anything. The nearest you can get to this sound in English is an l with a th in front of it:

          Welsh words: llan (thlan); llyn (thlin); llwyd (thlooid)."

          (http://www.go4awalk.com/fell-facts/welsh-language-pronunciation.php# )

          As Wales is only about 100 miles away from where I am sitting (a hop, step and a jump in US terms), I have often been tempted to learn Welsh so that I can appreciate not only Welsh verse but also the rousing songs choirs of Welsh rugby supporters sing at internationals against the English.

          We have spent many happy family vacations in North Wales, where as a teenager I went to a sea school to learn sailing and mountaineering in the midst of a winter. They speak a different version of Welsh in that area. Thus we learned to call our favourite towns--Dolgellau (Doll-geth-lye), Machynlleth {Mack-hun-thleth), and our rented holiday cottage in a hamlet--Dinas Mawddy--"Deenas M-ow (as in cow)- th-uy-ee."

          I am still tempted to learn Welsh, but it will have to wait until after I have learned Portuguese and Gallego, with Andaluz and Catalan still on the back burners.

          JE comments:  Gary Moore's post also inspired a response from Martin Storey in Perth.  Martin reveals that despite his French birth, he is one-quarter Welsh.

          Remember our April Fools' 2011 post on Polombia, the full political union of Colombia and Poland?  Well, Nahuatl and Welsh speakers may have to follow suit.  Males?  Wexico?  Martin (next) will explain.


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        • Welsh and Nahuatl Pronunciation (Martin Storey, Australia 04/02/17 7:51 AM)

          Gary Moore (1 April) posted a question I can answer in part, since I know how the Welsh "ll" sounds. I may be a Frenchman with an English name and an Australian passport, but I am ethnically a quarter Welsh, since my father is half Welsh on his mother's side. His first name is Llewelyn, and my grandmother's family name was Hugh Jones, which is as Welsh as it gets. My family hails from Clwyd, in northeast Wales.

          According to http://www.native-languages.org/nahuatl_guide.htm:

          tl  ł  ł This sound is a lateral fricative that
          doesn't really exist in English.
          It sounds like the "ll" in the Welsh name "Llewellyn."
          Some English speakers can pronounce
          it well if they try to pronounce the "breathy l" in the
          word clue without the c
          in front of it.


          So that's the answer on the Nahuatl "tl" sound, if that website is to be believed.

          JE comments:  Llovely--or should we say tlovely?  I am reminded of Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, which like the News York and Jersey, far outgrew the place that inspired its name.

          So--who can give us a tutorial on pronouncing Clwyd?

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          • Purepecha-Greek Similarities? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/03/17 3:32 AM)

            Gary Moore writes:

            Thanks to John Heelan and Martin Storey (April 2) for the lessons on pronouncing Welsh--and Nahuatl in Mexico. The tips are very helpful (blow air gently around the tongue, lateral fricative,
            pronounce "clue" without the "c"). And it does more and more seem that Welsh and Nahuatl,
            despite the ocean between them, do share the "breathy L."

            But Prince Madoc (Owain Gwynedd of 1170 AD, eventually said by persuasive scholarship to have been
            an Elizabethan propaganda invention, thus to precede Spanish New World claims) isn't my only target here.

            There are other eerie Native American linguistic threads that beckon to the bold delusionist. What about that "other" Meso-American civilization, just west of the Aztecs, and so fiercely resistant
            to them that when Aztec emissaries came and cried that horrific pale-faces were bringing apocalypse,
            this second people refused to make common cause--so both civilizations were conquered by Cortés et al.
            I'm talking here about the Purépecha, known in English as the Tarascans. Their language
            has a peculiar kink that seems rare in pre-Colombiana.

            Unlike both Spanish and Nahuatl,
            the Purépecha/Tarascans accented not the next-to last syllable, but the next-to-next-to-last,
            leaving their part of Mexico dotted with such towns as Querétaro, Pátzcuaro, Acámbaro,
            Zitácuaro--and the group-name itself is pronounced Purépecha (PurEpecha).

            Thus the euphoric question: Doesn't this pattern sound a little...Greek?
            After all, Odysseus was getting busy long before Madoc (intent propagandists being sure
            he must have founded Albion, too). Or could there be a similarity in Carthaginian?

            Can anyone out there enlighten me on the Greek--or separate Carthaginian--pattern of accenting syllables,
            and any linguistic footprints left in intermediate places, say, like Syracuse--or NeApolis?

            (Sadly, this scarcely leaves room for the Gaelic whiff in Muskogee of the American Southeast.)

            JE comments:  There's a Neapolis in Ohio, too, about 45 minutes from here.

            Regarding the syllabic stress of multi-syllable words, there are only so many options:  first syllable (Hungarian), last syllable (French), all syllables the same (Japanese), or (worst of all) any old syllable (English and Russian).  Polish, Spanish, and Latin prefer the penultimate syllable, as does Quechua, which the 17th-century historian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega was keen to point out in his attempt to characterize the Peruvians as the Romans of the New World.

            Gary Moore might be on to something.  The antepenultimate stress may be the least common pattern of all.  As a matter of fact, I think I first learned the word "antepenultimate" when I spent a semester in Purépecha land (Morelia, Michoacán).  My favorite antepenult of all:  San Juan Parangaricutirimícuaro.

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            • Syllabic Stress in Greek (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 04/04/17 5:19 AM)
              In Greek only the last three syllables can be stressed. And since Greek favoured the construction of compound nouns, we have many words with more that three syllables.

              The name Eisenhower pronounced in Greek is stressed on the "a" sound of "ow."

              JE comments: That would be penultimate stress. I never realized that Eisenhower in English is stressed on the fourth-the-the-last syllable, or what is called "sobresdrújula" in Spanish.  Does anyone know if English has a word for that?

              Harry:  I always pronounce your surname as an antepenult:  PapasoTIriou.  Am I correct?

              Next up:  Scylla and Charybdis.

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            • Purepecha/Tarascan; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/04/17 5:53 AM)

              Gary Moore writes:

              John E gave a great run-down on syllabic stress--and I had no idea I was
              dealing with a Purepechist. And John's antepenultimate-town (San Juan Parangaricutirimícuaro) example beats mine--
              and almost beats the Welsh.

              It occurred to me that one argument against
              Greek ante-penultimance in Purépecha is the suffix "place of."
              I don't know if all those "ámbaros" mean "place of," but they wouldn't
              seem to fit very well with Greeks using "polis" or "city" (NeApolis-Napoli-Naples).
              And mind you, I'm not plumping for any of this. I mean, I don't see the angels,
              I just puzzle at 'em.

              JE comments:  You flatter me, Gary, but I'm a pretty lame Purepechist.  I always heard (or assumed) that the -cuaro suffix means "place of," as in Pátzcuaro, Zinapécuaro, Zitácuaro, and my ten-syllable, volcanic favorite, cited above.  We have an adjunct professor at the College, Carlos Villegas, who is of Purépecha ancestry.  I'll ask him.  (It's surprising how little information on the language you can find on the 'Net.  Wikipedia does teach us that Purépecha is a language isolate--i.e., it is not related to any other known language.)

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          • Clwyd Prnunctn (John Heelan, -UK 04/03/17 4:34 AM)
            John E asked, "who can give us a tutorial on pronouncing Clwyd?"

            Try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXsm3QTxm0k

            JE comments:  It's refreshingly easy:  Cloo-id (or Clue-id).  In the video I hear a devoicing of the final d, Slavic-style:  "Cloo-it."

            One more curiosity about all things Welsh:  why did the Welsh version of "Johnson," Jones, surpass its Anglicized cousin as the more common surname?  Perhaps WAISdom's favorite Jones, Nigel, can answer.  I ask this as a John, son of another John.  Call me Ivan Ivanovich.

            (April 1st is over.  I promise I'll stop publishing posts with no vowels in the title.)

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