Language Puzzles

The Language Lover's Puzzle Book

Recently I was sent a copy of a new book by Alex Bellos – The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book: Lexical complexities and cracking conundrums from across the globe, and agreed to write a review of it.

According to the blurb:

Crossing continents and borders, bestselling puzzle author Alex Bellos has gathered more than one hundred of the world’s best conundrums that test your deduction, intuition and street smarts.

The first chapter focuses on computer-related puzzles, including a regex-based crossword, soundex codes and a bad translation puzzle. To find out what these things are, you could buy the book. I had to read the explanations several times to understand them.

Other chapters contain puzzles based various languages, writing systems and counting systems from around the world. Some give you some examples words or phrases in a particular language, and then challenge you to work out how to write other words or phrases, or to identify aspects of the grammar of that language. There are also number-based puzzles using a variety of number systems.

Ancient, modern and constructed languages and writing systems are included, such as Welsh, Irish, Esperanto, Toki Pona, Javanese, Inuktitut, Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Phoenician, Khipu, Ogham, Linear B, Old Norse, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Georgian, Greek and Cherokee.

Some of the puzzles look relatively easy to me as they involve languages and writing systems I’m familiar with. Others look quite difficult. Fortunately there are answers and explanations for all the puzzles at the back of the book. In fact the answer section takes up almost a third of the whole book.

I think I’ll have fun trying to solve them, and anybody reading this with an interesting in languages and writing might do as well.

You can also find a language quiz every Sunday on this blog, of course, and occasional writing-based puzzles on my Instgram.

Standard Writing for Inuit

According to an article I came across today, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami / ᐃᓄᐃᑦ ᑕᐱᕇᑦ ᑲᓇᑕᒥ (ITK), an organization the protects and advances the rights and interests of Inuit people in Canada, have agreed on a standard way of writing the Inuit languages of Canada.

There are currently nine different ways to write these languages, using either the Roman alphabet (qaliujaaqpait) or the Inkutitut syllabary (ᖃᓂᐅᔮᖅᐸᐃᑦ / qaniujaaqpait).

On 10th September 2019 the ITK decided to adopt a standardised way of writing all the Inuit languages and dialects of Canada using the Roman alphabet known as the Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait writing system. It includes ways to write the sounds found in all these languages, even though some are only used in a few of the languages. More information.

Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait writing system

I’m not entirely sure how all the consonants are pronunced – the illustrations of the orthography don’t include pronuciation.

The intention with the new orthography is to provide an alternative, auxiliary writing system that can be used as well as, or instead of, the existing systems. The new writing system will make it easier to produce learning resources and other written material. It is also hoped that more speakers of Inuit languages will write in them, rather than using English.

Eskimo-Aleut languages on Omniglot
Aleut, Alutiiq, Greenlandic, Inuktitut, Iñupiaq, Yup’ik (Central Alaskan), Yupik (Central Siberian)

Winter climber

Zimolez (Lonicera periclymenum - Common honeysuckle - Zimolez ovíjivý)

The word zimolez, which is honeysuckle in Czech, came up the other day during a conversation with a Czech friend. It comes from zima (winter) and lézt (to climb, crawl, creep), so could be translated as “winter climber”.

Other interesting words that came up include plšík (doormouse), smršť (tornado) brblat (to grizzle, beef, grouch, mutter) and žbrblat (to mutter to oneself). The root smršť also appears in words related to shrinking and contracting, such as smrštit (to shrink), smrštěný (contracted, shrunk) and smršťovací fólie (shrink wrap).

What delicious consonant clusters!

The English name honeysuckle comes from the Old English hunigsuge (honey-suck). An alternative name is Eglantine, which comes from the Old French aiglent (dog rose), from the Vulgar Latin aquilentus (rich in prickles), from the Latin aculeus (spine, prickle), a diminutive of acus (needle)

Names for honeysuckle in other languages include:

  • German: Geißblatt (goat leaf)
  • French: Chèvrefeuille (goat leaf)
  • Irish: Féithleann (vein ale ?)
  • Italian: Caprifoglio (goat leaf)
  • Latin: Lonicera
  • Spanish: Madreselva (mother jungle)
  • Welsh: Gwyddfid (wild hedge ?) or Llaeth y gaseg (mare’s milk)

Word of the day – iqqanaijaaqajjaagunniiqtutit

Today’s word appears in an article on CBC Canada News which discusses a new policy that will require all senior government officials in Nunavut to speak Inuktitut by 2008. The language requirement will eventually be extended to other staff as well. The word iqqanaijaaqajjaagunniiqtutit roughly translates as ‘you won’t have any work anymore’ – the fate that apparently awaits those who fail to learn the language.

Nunavut is a huge, sparsely populated territory in the far north of Canada where the majority of the inhabitants are Inuit. The majority of the population – some 85% – speak Inuktitut as their first language and some speak no other language. In this light, the policy makes a lot of sense. In Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, Mark Abley mentions that many of the officials in Nunavut spoke only English when he visited the territory, and that much of the administration of the region was undertaking in English. This new policy should help to raise the status of Inuktitut.