Monday, July 09, 2007

"in South African language"

One of the most galling things you can hear pretty often is that, in discussing placenames and such, people talk about what something means "in the Indian language". News flash: There is no such language. It's easy enough to see how people stumble into the lair of this monster: for whites in the general public, there are just 'Indians' for most purposes, whereas the notion that Navajo ≠ Cherokee ≠ Micmac ≠ Hochunk only comes to mind in really specific contexts of some sort. Casino visits, maybe? Jewelry purchases? Subdivision street names?

Now, if you were to read something in the newspaper about what a word means "in South African language", what would you think? I'd be instantly wondering Zulu, Xhosa or Tswana (or, if you don't object to visiting an SIL link, see the full list here). In fact, it was a piece about the local bike maker, Trek (see here for the full piece):
Trek, in South African language, means "long journey," and the company has been on an amazing path since its work began in a barn near Waterloo [Wisconsin, between Madison and Milwaukeee] in 1976.
OK, so the language in question is Afrikaans. The word clearly continues the Dutch word, and it's been in English since 1821, according to Merriam-Webster's.

Was this an effort to toss in a randomly interesting linguistic factoid that went awry?

7 comments:

The Ridger, FCD said...

I find the missing article fascinating, too. "In South African language" - could this mean something like "in South African lingo/usage"? It's Afrikaans andEnglish, as you point out.

Or is it just a typo?

Mr. Verb said...

Funny you mention that ... someone recently asked if that was a regional feature in the Upper Midwest. I certainly hear it up here, but of course it's the sort of thing you have to pay attention for and I have no idea how common it is. But seeing it in the paper is a surprise for sure.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Huh. I knew that in California (for instance) they use more articles than I'm accustomed to (or occasionally use "the" where I think "a" is 'right'), but I didn't know that y'all in the Midwest used fewer. Fascinating.

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, there are surely real regional differences in this realm. Of course it's maddeningly difficult to even think about how to demonstrate them rigorously: You need data from speakers more than intuitions and many of the examples are very slippery in various ways.

thenakedtranslator said...

LOL! Reminds me of when I used to work at the European HQ of a well known computer manufacturer. Every now and then a bunch of American managers would fly in to keep an eye on things, and would insist on referring to the tech support guys on the Nordic desk as "Nordic speakers"... no matter how many times we tried to explain that they were *actually* speakers of Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and/or Danish!!

Mr. Verb said...

Nordic speaking should be a new sport in the winter olympics or something.

Anonymous said...

The olympics thing has already been done. I believe it was the '36 Olympics...never caught on, though.