January 31st. The Union Jack flag is removed from the European Parliament in Brussels. Disappointed Remainers wave goodbye to the European Union, while Brexiteers cheerfully chant words of freedom, sovereignty and independence. I find this political carol somewhat paradoxical, coming from the country that has ruled and administered over 60 territories throughout the course of history. Anyhow, enjoy your newfound freedom – and see you soon, Scotland.
I have been looking into indigenous languages lately, so today I’m bringing you some Nahuatl loan words that you probably use every day. But first things first:
- In Nahuatl, <tl> is pronounced /t͡ɬ/ 1.
- It belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language family 2.
- Nahuatl literally translates as “clear or pleasant sound”.
- Nahuatl used pictographs and ideographs, and later on acquired the Latin script, which was used to record a large amount of poetry, prose, administrative and legal documents.
- Nowadays Nahuan languages are spoken by about 1.5 million people, most of whom live in central Mexico, and the different varieties are not always mutually intelligible.
The Spanish language has tons of words of Nahuan origin, and some of them made it into English through a process of secondary borrowing. Let’s take a look:
Tomato was borrowed from the Spanish tomate in 17th century. It’s a compound of tomohuac (swelling, fatness) and atl (water), used to refer to spherical fruits or berries with many seeds and watery pulps.
Avocado was borrowed from the Spanish aguacate in the 17th century. Popular opinion suggests that ahuacatl means testicle due to the the shape of avocados.
Jalapeno was borrowed from the Spanish jalapeño in the 20th century. This type of pepper is native to the Mexican municipality of Jalapa, named after the Aztec Xalapan. The latter is a compound of xalli (sand), atl (water) and pan (place).
Chili 3, the loan word for spicy peppers, was introduced in the 17th century. By the way, there are a few theories that explain the etymology of the toponym Chile, none of which is related to the spicy condiment.
Xocoatl was introduced into Spanish and French in the 17th century. It’s a compound made of xococ (bitter) and atl (water), and it originally referred to the drink made of water and cacao seeds.
That’s all for now! If you are into linguistic curiosities, check out more illustrated articles here.
Here’s something I’ve been observing for a while: the likelihood of spotting someone drinking tomato juice depends on location and transportation.
The three Wise Men, the Christmas Man, Father Frost and Père Noël are some of the personalities that might be bringing your presents this Christmas. But somewhere in Europe, Santa Claus might be in trouble.
Happy holidays! : )
This week, French gets its turn with an illustrated collection of tongue twisters or virelangues.
Tongue twisters are somewhat humorous phrases that rely on alliteration 4, rapid alternation between similar but distinct phonemes 2, and other phonetic devices that make them fairly difficult to articulate, even for native speakers.
Due to their phonetic complexity, tongue twisters are a fun way to train your ear and pronunciation in foreign languages. They can help you differentiate minimal pairs, train muscle placement and develop clearer speech patterns.
Thanks to my friend François, you can listen to the pronunciation of each virelangue. Just click on the audio track below each illustration. Allons-y!
C’est fini! Do you have a favorite virelangue, or maybe one that is impossible to pronounce? Do you know more tongue twisters? Leave me a comment!