Tag Archives: linguistics

That Actually Happened: Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani

What is a princess? You’re probably thinking something along the lines of this:

A pretty woman in a fancy gown lying to a frog about kissing him.

Anne Anderson’s illustration from The Frog Prince.

Fancy gowns and circlets notwithstanding, princesses usually get married off for political purposes to princes, and every major event in their lives is generally determined by other people’s decisions. Queens regnant – those who rule in their own right – are not what you’re thinking about, and not what people mean by princesses. That’s not how it generally works in Europe. We could go on yet another deep introspective pop cultural analysis of what it means that princesses are role models for young children, OR we could unpack that massive string of qualifiers I just dropped, and you probably didn’t notice, because we’re so used to thinking of European history as just plain history. Nevermind that one cannibalistic intrigue riot/coup that the Netherlands had that we already treated, or the fact that rage-throwing people out windows as a political statement was common enough in Prague (then Bohemia, now Czech Republic) that there’s a word for it: defenestration. Or the practice of castrating boys so their voices don’t change during puberty so they can sing soprano for the opera, or church choirs, or … I could go on forever about how weird European history is. No, really. I could. It does a disservice to the richness of history to just let your mind gloss over it like it’s normal. All history is weird and wonderful, and all you have to do is take a closer look. Everything deserves to be weird; everything deserves attention.

Princesses who actually do something: that’s not generally how it works in Europe.

 

Hawai‘i: Structure of Power

Let’s put the ‘ back in Hawai’i, first. What is a ‘ anyway? It’s a glottal stop. The little pause added to make space between d’s in “good dog” – “good’dog.” Watch this video, and listen to some Hawai’ian language, to get a feel for how it all goes together. Back with me? Good. We’re going to be using that glottal stop something fierce. The first time I use a term, it will be in bold, but I’m not going to put all non-English terms in italics, because this would be almost impossible to read.

Welcome to Hawai’i before the takeover by the United States. The Hawai’ian ruling class are the ali’i (not to be confused with the ‘a’ali’i which is a plant – that’s why spelling is important). This class derives its power from their ancestors, reaching back to the gods. High ali’i, or ali’i nui, ruled entire islands in the archipelago, and bestowed land use rights on ali’i below them, who in turn had the right to give land use rights to the people who would work the land. This authority and power ultimately passed on from the gods themselves is called mana. Depending on family ties, ritual correctness (observing kapu – ritual restrictions), political power, and social prestige, different people had more or less mana.

(I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I like history because it’s like looking under the hood of a car, and seeing how it works. Sure, it’s all functioning automobiles, but what’s going on inside could be wildly different. Some civilizations are like four-stroke engines, some the rotary engine, and some are like electric induction motors – common in household appliaces, but also in electric cars. Completely different mechanics might be happening, and that’s exciting and cool!)

Anyway, Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani lived in a time when the Kingdom of Hawai’i was in crisis. Just years from being overthrown by (mostly) fruit magnates and a pro-US navy cabal and handed over to the United States, the court and ruling Kamehameha family were under tremendous pressure to conform to European norms as to what a monarchy looked like, and how royals acted. The Hawai’ian royal house pursued a policy of assimilation – to try to win respect of the great world powers by looking and acting as much like European royalty as possible, in the hope that despite being not as strong militarily, they would still be respected as kings and queens that they were.

World History Spoiler Alert: ultimately, this effort was doomed because of racism, pineapples, and Pearl Harbor. Racism, pineapples, and Pearl Harbor are all connected, because of imperialism as an economic and social structure. What do the great powers want? Sw33t pineapple fr00t. How will they secure it? Navy depot at Pearl Harbor. Justification for overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawai’i to get it and cash in? Racism.

Pineapple field, with pineapples, in O'ahu.

By Nandaro [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Behold! Pineapple, toppler of nations. The Kingdom of Hawai’i wasn’t the first, or the last, government to be taken out on account of the fruit cartel lobby, and their insatiable bloodlust for sw33t l33t fr00t l00t. There’s a reason vicious dictatorships that have the window dressing of democracy with none of the actual government mechanics of it are known as repúblicas bananeras. Why, on this glorious blue Earth, there’s a clothing brand named after this phenomenon, I have no idea.

Anyway anyway, concerning political authority and mana, being a princess as an ali’i isn’t just a matter of being a daughter of a king or something. (Being a princess if you’re a member of European royalty generally is a matter of being a daughter of a king. Unless you’re legitimized or something later, which is another thing I want to treat on this blog, because it’s delightfully complicated. And, after all that, you won’t be a princess, technically. Looking at you, Marie Anne de Bourbon.) Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani’s mother was High Chieftess Keoua-wahine, and two other powerful ali’i claimed her as their daughter, which means that she had two well-connected fathers, as well. As such a po’olua ali’i, she was set up for a position of great status and power in the Kingdom. Then, as part of the Kamehameha family’s attempts to remake the government along a European model, the Constitution of 1840 effectively barred her path from the pinnacle of power by making her birth a liability rather than an asset. This in no way stopped her from being Governor of Hawai’i, though. While the rest of the royals tried their hardest to erase their culture and become as European as possible, Princess Ruth Ke’elikolai Wasn’t Having It. At All.

Princess Ke'elikolani Not Having It at a photography session.

Magnificently Not Having It. About role models: make having just 1/10th of this self-assurance and dignity a life goal. Of course, she comes by it naturally, but still.

She built several huge palaces on her lands (which were most of the Big Island, after all) in the latest architectural fashions. Check out her last, and fanciest palace, Keoua Hale, finished right before her death, in 1883.

An incredibly fancy, Late Victorian style tropical palace.

This palace is actually bigger than the official royal palace of the Kamehameha family, too… just sayin’.

BUT, she also had a traditional grass palace built, too, as a statement of her support and patronage of Hawai’ian culture.

A high-roofed grass house, with glazed windows.

The Palace of Not Having It. You can even see one of her other palaces, in the background.

She also supported traditional culture and arts, like the Hawai’ian language, poetry and verse, chanting, lei making, religion, and hula dancing. The art of hula – under pressure from missionaries and having lost wealthy noble patrons to their tactic of assimilation – nearly died out. Let me say that again: 150 years ago, the world almost lost hula dancing. Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani commissioned performances, and supported traditional dance, and effectively saved hula for a revival under King David Kalakaua. No Princess Ke’elikolani, ultimately no Merrie Monarch Festival.

 

Not Generally How it Works in Europe…

While the United States of America was coveting the heck out of Pearl Harbor, and fruit merchants were plotting to overthrow the Hawai’ian government, women (especially married ones) in the United States, and much of the European-derived cultures worldwide were under coverture. This legal status for women meant that they couldn’t bring suit, they couldn’t own property independently of a man, except in some very specific corner cases, and they didn’t even have rights to their own children. In short, women were not legal entities on their own at all, much less Governors of Hawai’i. Oh, and don’t dare think of just not marrying, because women couldn’t inherit property either, and were barred from most jobs – at least most jobs that made actual money. That’s why the stakes are so high for the Bennett girls in Pride and Prejudice – if they don’t marry, they lose everything.

One way to think of it is this: Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani was a (massive) property owner in her own right, and a political force to be reckoned with. She was also married. When did married women in Kentucky gain the right to own and control their property – you know, actually have property? Go on. Guess.

 

 

 

 

 

Yowch. No, really. Kentucky finally passed a Married Women’s Property Act in 1894. Eleven years after Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani – Governor of Hawai’i, wealthy landowner, patron of traditional culture – died. That’s just one way that this long, twisted tale of social power structures, greedy fr00t magnates, hula, and the power of force of personality casts its shadow on your life, right now. Everything is interesting, everything is connected.

English Language: Bizarrely Precise Animal Vocabulary

As hinted at in the Amazing Mules post, due to some historical quirks, the English language has a truly ridiculous amount of incredibly specific words relating to animals. This goes light years beyond preschool “the Cow Goes Moo” stuff that everybody knows. In fact, most of this is so insanely, ludicrously exacting that you’re unlikely to ever use it or even know it, unless you take up a hobby related to the animal in question, in which case it falls under specialized jargon. Why learn it at all then? Because these words can reveal an awful lot about the history and society that produced them, and the people who need this vocabulary today. You’re not going to come up with and agree on an intricate vocabulary relating to, say, inducing a bird of prey to hork up a hairball made of its un-digestible prey remains – called casting, unless it’s really important. Rest assured, what you see here is just the very tip of the English animal terms iceberg.

Here’s your obvious LANGUAGE WARNING for the post: due to use as insults, some of these words have become “bad words” in modern English. I can’t censor anything, since the whole point is to learn the vocabulary.

 

Keep an Eye Out! It’s Historical Background!

There are a few processes at work here, as to why English has so many animal vocabulary words. Let’s look at four of them:

  1. Modern English is a constantly changing mishmash of several languages. At the time in which these animals were so important, the Normans were in power in England, and a lot of the courtly animal-terms were adopted from their language. This is especially obvious in the case of meat vs the animal it comes from. This is why it’s a quarter pound ground beef (beuf) burger, and not a quarter pound ground COW FLESH burger. As a contrasting example that proves the rule, this didn’t happen in the related language German, and that’s why in that language, pork is literally SWINE FLESH.
  2. (Highly ritualized) hunting was a foundation of medieval European society, and was a means of enforcing class dynamics. Proper use of the jargon separated the nobles from everyone else, and maintained the shape of society. There are several weird holdovers of this dynamic today, that we notice from the United States of America, where we jumped the tracks before a few key social changes in Britain, proper. There’s probably a whole post on this in the future, but, suffice to say in Britain hunting and hunting opposition is very much tied into class conflict, where here it isn’t so much. Robin Hood was outlawed for killing the King’s deer, but here everybody was eating venison to survive, and even today we just try to make a buck. Look for animals people probably hunted.
  3. Actual jargon. In the same way that we work with computers as a basic matter of keeping our society running, and therefore we have a bunch of highly technical terms for computers, what computers do, and parts of a computer, when everything ran on literal horsepower, there was a whole host of specialized horse terms. Look for animals people needed and lived closely with in their daily lives, or to do their jobs.
  4. The wanna-be brigade. For some of these animals, when they were beginning to be bred selectively in the 18th and 19th Centuries, people who participated in this dawning animal fancy wanted to make their hobby more respectable and legitimate by coming up with specialized vocabulary, to match the historical ones. Look for animals that were part of the selective breeding boom in the last 300 years, like cats.

 

Let’s Learn Some Really Precise Animal Terms in English:

Ankole Watusi cattle lying around in a field.

Ankole Watusi cattle in a field. My personal favorite breed of cattle. They’re a status symbol, a medium of exchange, and basically the cattle equivalent of a purse dog. Cows aren’t always about meat and milk.

The Cow Goes Moo!

The sound they make – low

Cows, as a species – cattle

A group of cattle – herd

Cattle-like – bovine

Baby – calf

Female, before first birth – heifer

Female, after giving birth – cow

Male, castrated – ox, steer

Male, adult and intact – bull

Female, born as part of a set of fraternal twins with a male calf, exposed to enough testosterone in the womb that she acts like a bull – freemartin (see what I mean about ridiculously specific?)

 

 

The Horse Goes Neigh!

The sound they make – neigh, whinny, snort, scream, nicker

Horses, as a species – horses

A group of horses – herd

A family group of feral horses – band

An all-male group of mostly unrelated feral horses – bachelor herd

Horse-like – equine

Baby – foal

Female, before puberty – filly

Female, after puberty – mare

Male, before puberty – colt

Male, castrated – geldling

Male, adult and intact – stallion, horse

Male, adult, and with an un-descended testicle – ridgling

 

The Ass / Donkey Goes Hee-Haw!

The sound they make – bray

Donkeys, as a species – donkeys, asses

Doney-like – asinine

A group of donkeys – herd

Baby – foal

Female, intact – jenny, jennet

Male, castrated – gelding

Male, adult and intact – jack

 

A small flock of sheep on a rainy day.

Sheep are also amazing. Shear them to get wool. The grease from the wool is highly prized lanolin, which is sold in high-end skin creams.

The Sheep Goes Baa!

The sound they make – baa

Sheep, as a species – sheep

Sheep-like – ovine

A group of sheep – herd

Baby – lamb

Female, intact – ewe

Male, castrated – wether (a wether won’t get your ewes preggers, or go aggro on the other sheep, and he’ll follow the herd wherever they go. They used to put bells on them, so that if you heard the belled wether, you’d know where the rest of the sheep were. That’s why the word for an individual that shows the direction that the rest are going, or where they are is BELLWETHER.)

Male, adult and intact – ram

 

The Whale Goes (cetacean vocal range extends from infrasound to ultrasound – good luck with figuring that out).

A group of whales – pod

Baby – calf

Female – cow

Male – bull

 

The Cat Goes Meow!

The sound they make – meow, hiss, caterwaul

Cats, as a species – cats

Cat-like – feline

A group of cats – clowder

Baby – kitten

Female, intact – queen

Male, castrated – gib

Male, adult and intact – tom

 

birds, flowers, and puppies silk scroll.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a human culture that doesn’t have dogs. The style of this Korean silk painting by Yi Am (Joseon Dynasty, first half of the 1500s) just makes them look even softer and cuter. PUPPIES!!

The Dog Goes Bark!

The sound they make – bark, howl, growl

The howling of a pack of hunting hounds on the trail of prey – bay

Dogs, as a species – dogs

Dog-like – canine

A group of dogs – pack

Baby – puppy

Female – bitch

Male – dog

 

The Falcon Goes Skreeee!

(Except they don’t, generally. The famous piercing scream used as a stock sound effect for birds of prey is actually very specific only to the Red Tailed Hawk, which isn’t even a falcon. Birds you’ve heard this used for, like Bald Eagles, actually make very different sounds – in their case, the Bald Eagle goes tseep eep-eeep eep eep … twitter-itter-itter-itter … twitter-itter … tseep eep.)

Falcons, as a group – falcons

Baby – eyas

Female – falcon

Male – tiercel (Male birds of prey are usually noticeably petite compared to the brawnier females, on average about 1/3 smaller. As such, the males are quicker, but the females generally take larger prey, and were the more favored birds to hunt with.)

 

 

The Chicken Goes Cluck!

The sound they make – cluck, cheep, crow

Chickens, as a species – chickens

A group of chickens – flock

Baby – chick, chicken

Female, adult – hen

Male, castrated – capon (Yes, this is a thing. Fun fact about puberty: the signal to stop the growth spurt, develop secondary sex characteristics, and put on muscle in male animals is sent by the testes. Some castrated male animals go through a growth spurt that never slams to a halt like this, since the signal never comes, and get bigger and fatter than they would have, until the rest of their hormonal system just kind of gives up on puberty and settles down. As the biggest, fattest, and most tender of chickenkind, as well as the fact that some surgery is required to make them, capons are pretty expensive. Check the specialty frozen meats in the store to see what I mean.)

Male, adult and intact – rooster, cock

 

ducks as far as the eye can see.

Although they’re not so common here, and therefore quite expensive, ducks are a hugely important livestock and eggs animal in other parts of the world.

The Duck Goes Quack!

The sound they make – quack

Ducks, as a species – ducks

A group of ducks – flock

Baby – duckling

Female – duck

Male – drake

 

The Goose Goes Honk!

The sound they make – honk, cackle

A group of geese – flock

Baby – gosling

Female – goose

Male – gander

 

The Swan Goes (…)

The sound they make – hiss, (there’s a reason they’re called Mute Swans)

A group of swans – flock

Baby – cygnet

Female – pen

Male – cob

 

What Does the Fox Say?

What does the fox say? – yip, yelp

Foxes, as a species – foxes

Fox-like – vulpine

Baby – kit

Female – vixen

Male – tom

 

Vocabulary Words

Why brush up on your vocabulary? Because it’s awesome, that’s why. As an exercise, you can also try to write a story using ALL of the vocab words, no matter how random.

Autogyro – An aircraft that gets its lift from autorotation (what happens when a helicopter loses power to the main rotor) of a large, unpowered rotor, rather than fixed wings. It gets thrust from a propeller in front (or behind). Hilarity ensues.

Blinkered – Blinkers are eyewear for horses that blocks the creature’s incredibly broad peripheral vision (horses can see almost 360 degrees around them, except directly behind their butt, and right in front of their face), making sure the horse can focus only on things in front of them. To be blinkered is to be blind to anything else but what you’re focused on, as if you were wearing metaphorical blinkers. The black cups behind the eye of this horse’s green hood are blinkers.

A horse wearing a green hood with black blinkers behind the eyes.

By nakashi from Chofu, Tokyo, JAPAN (P6053439) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Brazen – Incredibly bold. OR Literally made of brass. Whichever. The famous Benin Plaques (infamously looted from Benin) are made of cast brass. The palace roof beams were capped with these brazen relief panels.

Bunting – Another one with multiple meanings, none of which are remotely related! The act of hitting a bunt in baseball, where you intentionally hit the ball very short into the infield. OR Cloth streamer-like decorations for a parade or party. OR Certain species of small songbird. OR That “friendly headbutt” thing cats do.

Dewlap – Dangly skin under the neck. Anoles are lizards famous for their large dewlaps. This bull at a fair has a magnificent dewlap:

zebu bull at a mexican fair. With bouncy castle in the background. he's got a saddle on.

By A01333649 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ire – rage, wrath. Very much angryness. Flip all the tables.

Orthodox – literally “correct practice” – the conventional, accepted way to do things.

Rancid – Fat that has gone bad from exposure to oxygen has gone rancid. Rancid bacon smells gross. Don’t cook with it.

Scurvy – A disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C in the diet. That’s why you eat your fruits and veggies! Especially common with sailors, before people figured this out completely, because they’d be away for months at a time, and fruit and veggies wouldn’t keep, but ship’s biscuits (hardtack) and salted meat would.

Serial – Something that occurs more than once on different occasions. The reason Charles Dickens’ books are so long is that they were published serially, in chapters.

 

Everything in a Sentence:

An orthodox investigation – focused on mechanical causes and pilot error – would never have turned up the real cause of fatalities after the autogyro crash in the remote Canadian wilderness. Blinkered as they were by a focus on more common causes, the team did not accept the brazen insistence of the medical examiner that, although they had survived the crash relatively unharmed, the crew had died of scurvy, after the emergency beacon had failed to activate and all they were left to eat was a tin of rancid cashews.

The head of the investigation team looked out on the forest once the site was accessible in the Spring. Buntings flitted in the splintered trees. His jowly dewlap shook with ire – how many of these serial tragedies must occur before the emergency beacons were improved to survive crash forces, or flight crews required to carry lemonade concentrate? The accident report would be scathing, and take the industry to task for their negligence of health and safety.

Dragons and Constructed Languages

The Dragon's Cave by Georg Janny, 1917

The Dragon’s Cave by Georg Janny, 1917

The earliest written work in any kind of the English language is Beowulf, which has a horrible, treasure-hoarding dragon in it. Because he was a philologist (expert and critic of written languages and language histories), and arguably the foremost scholar on Beowulf, J. R. R. Tolkien knew all about the dragon, and wrote a bunch of stories for his kids, which eventually mutated into a novel, The Hobbit. Beowulf‘s dragon is a creature of mindless animalistic greed and savagery, but Smaug, the dragon and central antagonist of The Hobbit, can talk. Imagine him voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. But if Bilbo Baggins can understand Smaug, and there isn’t any magic involved here, they share a common language, Fire-Drake and Hobbit. One of the reasons for J. R. R. Tolkien’s works’ staying power is that the world created for them is fully realized enough to bear up under questions like this. So, what language do Bilbo and Smaug share?

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth books, including The Hobbit, and all of the books in The Lord of the Rings, English is used as a stand-in for Westron, a hypothetical fictional language commonly spoken on Middle Earth. As a philologist, though, Tolkien created several full-fledged languages, and even language families and language histories (!!), to inhabit his fantasy universe. Elvish languages, such as Sindarin, are a language family, and have their own fictional history. In a very real way, The Lord of the Rings isn’t a fictional work with made-up languages in it, but rather Middle Earth’s fictional languages happen to be wrapped up in a pretty neat story.

The connection between dragons and artistic languages doesn’t stop there, however. You probably know at least three words in Dovahzul. Click and drag between the brackets to reveal. [ FUS RO DAH! ]

The main plot-line of the 2011 video game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim revolves around dragons. Taking a step further still from Smaug’s command of Westron, not only do these dragons talk, but their language has the power to change reality. In this game, words spoken by someone who truly understands them become focused into a Thuum, or Shout, with different effects depending on the meaning of the words, from breathing fire, to knocking enemies backwards, to turning invisible, or revealing the presence of the undead. The acquisition of words in this language is pivotal to the gameplay in Skyrim. The developers of the game created Dovahzul as a complete artistic language to serve this purpose, and all of the dragons in the game speak the language as well. Over time, the language was expanded and fleshed out by the fanbase, and now Dovahzul is a full-fledged artistic language.

Brush up on your vocabulary and grammar here!