Beauty and Brains.
Dramatizing the Internet.
Beauty and Brains.
Dramatizing the Internet.
A few hours north of San Francisco is the town of Boonville, nestled in the quaint Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. Like Silicon Valley, this place is known for its innovations in communication – but in a completely different way.
Boonville has its own homegrown language called Boontling and only a handful of people still speak it. Among them is Wes Smoot, 81, the unofficial king of Boonville.
Smoot and his cohorts meet at the Redwood Drive-In on the central drag practically every day at 4 p.m. Smoot says it’s one of the last places that feels like the town he grew up in. Outside, Smoot says, wine and tourism have turned the friendly, close-knit community into a place full of strangers.
For Smoot, Boontling is a connection to the past. It’s said to have emerged in the late 1800s and every word has a meaning related to a person or event in Boonville. For example, to work hard is ottin’, after a man named Otto who was the hardest worker in town.
But more often than not, Boontling is used to describe salacious words unfit for print. Former Chico State University professor Charles C. Adams published a dictionary of them in his book “Boontling: An American Lingo.”Today, Boonville residents refer to Adams’ publication as “the big book.”
The little book is a pamphlet Smoot prints and distributes around town with a more child-friendly glossary. It has the definitions and origins of words like zeese (coffee) and blue-tail (rattlesnake).
“In order to speak the language and understand the people you gotta know something about the history of the valley,” Smoot says.
That history has cycled from an isolated farming town, to a logging boomtown, to a winemaker’s paradise. But when Smoot returned after several years away from Boonville as a young man serving in the Korean War, and then traveling around the state for Caltrans, he already felt like his childhood home had changed.
Boontling has been documenting those changes word-by-word. Though there’s no recorded history of where the language itself came from.
Smoot’s favorite version of Boontling’s origin is about a young San Francisco woman who became pregnant out of wedlock and was sent up north by her high society parents to have the baby.
“There’s a number of stories, it’s very interesting,” says Robert Nimmons, a volunteer for the Anderson Valley Historical Society. “We’ve heard several stories that the adults developed it so they could talk but the kids didn’t know what they were saying.”
Regardless, there are just a few fluent Boontling speakers left. And even though Smoot and his pals are sure Boonville’s homegrown language will eventually die off, they’re still contributing to the lexicon.
“Another fella and I came up with a new word now, when the salmon go up the stream and spawn,” Smoot says. “Well when you get our age we’re downstreamers, we’re getting to go back down stream. We’re downstreamers now.”
Prof. Simon Horobin examines how the English language has changed over time, addressing such vexed questions as whether Jane Austen could spell, the fate of the apostrophe and whether people who ‘literally’ explode with anger are corrupting the language.
What do beat, bean, and leek all have in common with each other? Find out on this week’s episode A Taste of The Past where Linda goes into the history of food and culinary etymology with Ina Lipkowitz teacher of English literature and Biblical Studies at MIT and author of Words to Eat By. Discover the semantic shift in the word meat, the influence of the ancient Romans on plant breeds, and how much religious symbolism is based off food. Listen and become aware about how much food words have an impact on us. This episode is sponsored by The Hearst Ranch.
David Crystal is a world-renowned linguist. He’s the author of over 100 books, and an advocate of what he calls “Internet Linguistics" — an approach to understanding how we use language online. Nora Young interviewed David for Spark 220. This Q&A is a lightly edited version of that interview.
In the introduction to their eye-opening new book, Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, co-authors Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche make the case that translation “affects every aspect of your life—and we’re not just talking about the obvious things, like world politics and global business. Translation affects you personally, too. The books you read. The movies you watch. The food you eat. Your favorite sports team. The opinions you hold dear. The religion you practice. Even your looks and, yes, your love life. Right this very minute, translation is saving lives, perhaps even yours.”
A bad translation may even be responsible for the longstanding anti-Semitic notion that Jews have horns. Listen as Bob Garfield and I talk with Kelly, a certified Spanish interpreter and former Fulbright scholar in sociolinguistics.
Forget Klingon, Na’vi and Dothraki—languages created for the screen. These are languages paid for by producers, created by linguists.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit is getting the three-part Hollywood treatment. The return of the Elvish languages to the big screen is a reminder of just how inventive fiction writers have been over the years in dreaming up new tongues. Think of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, with its thuggish Russian-inflected slang called Nadsat (a girl is a devochka, a friend a droog).
This urge to create new words starts at a young age. Children often make up words before they have a proper command of their native tongues.
“We enjoy exercising the way we produce sounds,” says Indiana University’s Michael Adams, editor of From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages.
A conversation with University of Sussex linguist Lynne Murphy. An American in Britain, Murphy maintains the Separated by a Common Language blog, where she goes by the moniker Lynneguist.
For the Ariekei, who live on a distant planet in China Miéville’s latest novel Embassytown, speech is thought: “Without language for things that didn’t exist, they could hardly think them.”
In Miéville’s Ariekei language, there is no room for metaphor, no space between the thing – or the idea – and the word. As a result, the Ariekei have no concept of lying. Language is truth, rather than merely standing in for it. Quite the opposite of any human language.
The Treaty of Rome in 1957, which was the founding event of what is now the European Union, was supposed to be the beginning of the end of nationalism in Europe. But over a half-century later, walking through any of the EU buildings in Brussels, it feels like nationalism never went away.
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