What language could this be?

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Shemtov
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What language could this be?

Post by Shemtov » Mon 26 Mar 2018, 23:05

So I took an Uber back from school today. The driver had an accent, so I asked him what his native language was, explaining I'm a linguistics major. He said "Russian" and was "From Dagestan", which surprised me because he was Dark Skinned, but I'm not racist, and I know that there's immagration in the modern world; Pushkin was 1/16th African. But I'm learning Russian, so when I asked him in slight shock [vɨ ruski] he didn't understand. I asked him how to say woman in his Native Language he said [tʌk]. I asked him the Numbers 1-3, and he responded [im imta imtu]. Zompist lists no such language. Was this guy crazy, a liar, or a speaker of an undocumented language he's ashamed of?
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Re: What language could this be?

Post by Creyeditor » Mon 26 Mar 2018, 23:40

Well, I guess he speaks some Russian if he is from Dagestan. That might not be his only language though. Have you checked all the languages spoken in Dagestan? Also for things that are maybe phonetically close to what you were hearing?
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Re: What language could this be?

Post by Shemtov » Tue 27 Mar 2018, 00:03

Creyeditor wrote:
Mon 26 Mar 2018, 23:40
Well, I guess he speaks some Russian if he is from Dagestan. That might not be his only language though. Have you checked all the languages spoken in Dagestan? Also for things that are maybe phonetically close to what you were hearing?
I said I looked on Zompist's list and there was no 1-2-3 sequence that was close in the Caucuses to [im imta imtu]. There are things close to [im] for one in Broad Bantoid, Melanesian, and Papuan languages, but nothing that matches the [imta imtu]. Also, if he's from Dagestand, he speaks Russian, why wouldn't he understand my Russian, when plenty of other Russian speakers understand me fine? Also, his profile says "from Dagestan" and "Knows Russian".
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Re: What language could this be?

Post by Dezinaa » Tue 27 Mar 2018, 06:13

Maybe the "im"s are just pauses in speach, like "um." That would make the first two numbers "ta" and "tu."
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Re: What language could this be?

Post by Creyeditor » Tue 27 Mar 2018, 15:14

So when I first hear a new language I often mishear things very drastically. That's why I was asking.
Edit: Zompist lists: 'ca' as one for Lak and Dargwa, both spoken in Dagestan IIRC. Maybe a related language could have 'ta'?
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Re: What language could this be?

Post by Vlürch » Thu 29 Mar 2018, 21:32

I have no idea, but are you sure he didn't understand what you said? And/or that he understood what you asked him to say? How did he signal not understanding [vɨ ruski]? Did he ask "what does that mean?" or something? If not, couldn't it just be that he wouldn't answer it because he's not an ethnic Russian? I mean, AFAIK русский refers only to ethnic Russians, so for someone who is obviously not an ethnic Russian answering it in any way could easily be taken the wrong way by ethnic Russians, which he may have thought you were...?

If he was really black, one possibility would be that his ancestors were Ottoman-imported slaves and he still spoke some African language; there are some still left in Abkhazia, so I wouldn't be surprised if there also had been some in Dagestan but they fled the war to other countries. In that case, the possibilities are almost endless.

As for the word for "woman", there are so many synonyms in Russian that I'm sure something close to [tʌk] is used by someone to refer to women, especially in some obscure in-group slang; for someone from Dagestan that could be amplified, I imagine, since it's one of the least Russified regions that are officially part of the Russian Federation. Also, I'm fairly certain every language has several words for female human beings, so if it wasn't Russian... well, if it was some slang term for "cute girl" in Archi or something, no one would ever know. It probably wasn't Archi, but you know what I mean.
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Re: What language could this be?

Post by Lambuzhao » Thu 29 Mar 2018, 22:43

When out and about in a taxi, I always listen to what they have on the radio, or try to catch a snippet of their phone convos (what taxi-driver nowadays doesn't talk on the phone while they drive?).

I then try to stirke up a little conversation with them. Like you, I may ask about their accent, who's that a picture of on the dashboard (clearly some important saint/prophet/deity). Among other things, I always ask how to say "Thank You", just to be able to thank them when I leave the taxi, and a few other things.

Be prepared to ask a few more things to elicit more utterances.

in NYC, Shemtov, there'll be plenty of other chances with yet more folks.

Happy Field Research!
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Re: What language could this be?

Post by Shemtov » Fri 30 Mar 2018, 13:57

Vlürch wrote:
Thu 29 Mar 2018, 21:32
I have no idea, but are you sure he didn't understand what you said? And/or that he understood what you asked him to say? How did he signal not understanding [vɨ ruski]? Did he ask "what does that mean?" or something? If not, couldn't it just be that he wouldn't answer it because he's not an ethnic Russian? I mean, AFAIK русский refers only to ethnic Russians, so for someone who is obviously not an ethnic Russian answering it in any way could easily be taken the wrong way by ethnic Russians, which he may have thought you were...?
He said he didn't understand. This was followed up by the question [vɨ panimajeʂ paruski]. Yes, I know I mixed up [vɨ] and [tɨ], but I did use [vɨ], and the [tɨ] conjugation is also 2P, so there should have been no misundestanding.
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Re: What language could this be?

Post by Xonen » Fri 30 Mar 2018, 14:00

Creyeditor wrote:
Tue 27 Mar 2018, 15:14
So when I first hear a new language I often mishear things very drastically.
Yep, that's something one has to watch out for. If you want reliable phonetic accuracy for your transcriptions, you should really use recordings and listen to them several times (or, preferably, get a spectrogram). Hearing something just once, there's always the risk that you mishear or your brain tries to map sounds onto phonemes from your native language. I just noticed this recently when I heard people talking on the subway in a language that sounded kind of like Spanish, maybe, except that they seemed to have a vowel that very much sounded like Finnish /ø/ - until I realized it was Spanish and I don't know what I was hearing. Of course, different people are probably different in this respect, but it's hard to know if this is happening until you catch yourself doing it.

There's also the possibility that the other guy was thrown off by the sudden switch of language. Especially if he's still at the stage where listening comprehension in English requires straining a bit, unexpectedly hearing a sequence of syllables that he doesn't recognize as English might just be filed under "English I didn't understand".


Vlürch wrote:
Thu 29 Mar 2018, 21:32
I have no idea, but are you sure he didn't understand what you said? And/or that he understood what you asked him to say? How did he signal not understanding [vɨ ruski]? Did he ask "what does that mean?" or something? If not, couldn't it just be that he wouldn't answer it because he's not an ethnic Russian? I mean, AFAIK русский refers only to ethnic Russians, so for someone who is obviously not an ethnic Russian answering it in any way could easily be taken the wrong way by ethnic Russians
Perhaps more importantly, getting asked that question might be taken the wrong way. Be that as it may, I could imagine at least being confused by it; it's kind of like asking a black person who says he's from Alabama if he's English. You can't really expect much more of an answer than "huh?" to that.


Lambuzhao wrote:
Thu 29 Mar 2018, 22:43
When out and about in a taxi, I always listen to what they have on the radio, or try to catch a snippet of their phone convos (what taxi-driver nowadays doesn't talk on the phone while they drive?).

I then try to stirke up a little conversation with them. Like you, I may ask about their accent, who's that a picture of on the dashboard (clearly some important saint/prophet/deity). Among other things, I always ask how to say "Thank You", just to be able to thank them when I leave the taxi, and a few other things.

Be prepared to ask a few more things to elicit more utterances.

in NYC, Shemtov, there'll be plenty of other chances with yet more folks.

Happy Field Research!
Hmm. At least here in Finland, I'd advise being really careful with that. IME, many immigrants do not appreciate extensive curiosity about their origins at all. They want to be thought of as Finns and equal members of society, and someone constantly pointing out how foreign they look and sound does not go over well. For some reason, it doesn't even tend to help if you point out that you're a foreigner scientist and they're just the loveliest guinea pig you've gotten to poke with a stick all week. But perhaps Americans, being a nation primarily composed of (close descendants of) fairly recent immigrants, have a different culture surrounding this.

In any case, a field scientist should always take into account the possibility that your test subject doesn't appreciate the investigation and is actually just screwing with you.
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