Et in Artadia ego

I reviewed Christine M. E. Guth's Hokusai book for the Japan Times. Verdict: Hokusai. In the course of writing this review I also realized that Gustav Eckstein's Hokusai: Play in fourteen scenes is basically just a rip-off of Edward Strange's Hokusai: The old man mad with painting.

Completely unrelated, but here's something amusing I noticed in Margaret Mead's Coming of age in Samoa today. As far as I can tell from the context Mead is still talking about "the group of girls with whom I spent many months, the group of girls between ten and twenty years of age who lived in the three little villages on the lee side of the island of Tau."

In their use of language their immaturity was chiefly evidenced by a lack of familiarity with the courtesy language, and by much confusion in the use of the dual and of the inclusive and exclusive pronouns. These present about the same difficulty in their language as the use of a nominative after the verb "to be" in English.

This struck me as a very revealing comparison. I wonder if the similarities went deeper than Mead realized, in that the "confusion" she observed was actually just conflict between actual spoken Samoan versus some idealized form of the language that she had been taught was correct.

More about language in a footnote:

The children of this age already show a very curious example of a phonetic self-consciousness in which they are almost as acute and discriminating as their elders. When the missionaries reduced the language to writing, there was no k in the language, the k positions in other Polynesian dialects being filled in Samoan either with a t or a glottal stop. Soon after the printing of the Bible, and the standardisation of Samoan spelling, greater contact with Tonga introduced the k into the spoken language of Savai'i and Upolu, displacing the t but not replacing the glottal stop. Slowly this intrusive usage spread eastward over Samoa, the missionaries who controlled the schools and the printing press fighting a dogged and losing battle with the less musical k. To-day the t is the sound used in the speech of the educated and in the church, still conventionally retained in all spelling and used in speeches and on occasions demanding formality. The Manu'a children who had never been to the missionary boarding schools, used the k entirely. But they had heard the t in church and at school and were sufficiently conscious of the difference to rebuke me immediately if I slipped into the colloquial k which was their only speech habit, uttering the t sound for perhaps the first time in their lives to illustrate the correct pronunciation from which I, who was ostensibly learning to speak correctly, must not deviate. Such an ability to disassociate the sound used from the sound heard is remarkable in such very young children and indeed remarkable in any person who is not linguistically sophisticated.

I love this. Even in Mead's tropical idyll, there are peevers.

Incidentally here's what Wikipedia currently says about the k vs t thing:

The consonant system of colloquial Samoan ("casual Samoan", or "tautala leaga" as it is known) is slightly different from the literary language ("proper Samoan", or "tautala lelei"), and is referred to as K speech or K style. In colloquial speech, defined as taking place in casual social situations among intimates or in the home among familiars of equivalent social rank, /t/ is sometimes pronounced [k] and /n/ has merged with /ŋ/ as [ŋ]. Additionally, /l/ is pronounced [ɾ] following a back vowel (/a, o, u/) and preceding an /i/. /s/ is less sibilant than in English, and /h/ and /r/ are found only in borrowings, with /s/ and /l/ sometimes being substituted for them.

The source is Galumalemana Afeleti L. Hunkin's Gagana Sāmoa: A Samoan Language Coursebook.

Popularity factor: 3


Nice to see you venturing again into Polynesian languages.

David Marjanović:

"Such an ability to disassociate the sound used from the sound heard is remarkable in such very young children and indeed remarkable in any person who is not linguistically sophisticated."

Is it really?


No, I don't think it is, but I don't blame a non-linguist in the 1930s for thinking so. (I do, however, think she should have known better than to say "a primitive people without a written language present a much less elaborate problem [than a society like e.g. France] and a trained student can master the fundamental structure of a primitive society in a few months."

Joel: My interests are a flat circle. Also, some of Samuel H. Elbert's books fell out at me when I was looking for something else and I got distracted for a few days.

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