Archive for the ‘language’ Category

Watch out for kuku, dassies (or hyrax or rock rabbit), and small buck (deer)

Watch out for kuku, dassies (or hyrax or rock rabbit), and small buck (deer)

A rural shop where the braai meat might be bought

A rural shop where the braai meat might be bought

Just about every country has their own ‘way of speaking’, their own special words, even when the most popularly spoken language is a common one (like English). South Africa is definitely one of those countries. We were in this wonderful country recently and thought it would be fun to give you a few ideas about these phrases and  how to speak English ‘South African Style’. These are some of the words/phrases that we find people in the US often get confused over.

Things you’ll probably hear (often) in South Africa:

Just now (in SA)—Sometime soon; Shortly.

Now now—Sooner than “just now”.

Howzit—Friendly greeting as in, “How is it going?

Play play—Pretend.

A leg of lamb for the braai

A leg of lamb for the braai—thanks Vera G

Boot—Trunk of your car.

Bonnet—Hood of your car

Robot—Traffic lights.


Braai —Barbecue.
 Having a braai is a favorite SA pastime

Hold thumbs—Cross your fingers that something will happen.

Make a plan—Somehow, we’ll make it work.

Lekker—Very nice.




And some road signs:

Rumble strips

Traffic calming zone

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Nomade dominates the plaza

Nomade dominates the plaza

The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, has a collection of remarkable, eye-catching sculptures (see here for 2 heads I covered earlier: https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/more-heads-mischievous-and-child-like-in-des-moines/ )

But another, huge, symbolic sculpture dominates the plaza, I think. I was especially drawn to it, as I am very interested in language and communication.

Called Nomade (2007), it’s painted stainless steel created by Jaume Plensa (Spanish, born 1956).

Jaume Plensa uses letters as the basic component in a lot of his art, as he explores communication issues between individuals and cultures. This work depicts an anonymous torso, with a “skin” composed of letters from the Latin alphabet. Plensa has always been interested in ideas presented as written text, as well as in the human body and how it perceives the world around it, and here he has combined the two. back

Look closely and you will see the individual letters

Look closely and you will see the individual letters











He has described individual letters or symbols as having little or no meaning on their own, but blossoming into words, thoughts and language when combined with other letters or symbols. His shapes in letters offer a metaphor for human culture, in which a person alone has limited potential, but when formed into groups or societies, becomes stronger. Nomade engages the viewer on many levels, from our recognition of the letters that form the shape, to our own physical and emotional interaction with the work as we look at it from a distance or from within it. It’s also not certain whether the figure is holding another smaller figure or not.

Very clever!

Is that another, smaller figure, or not?

Is that another, smaller figure, or not?

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We see the strange writing on the wall at the back of the cathedral

We see the strange writing on the wall at the back of the cathedral

Zagreb's imposing main cathedral

Zagreb’s imposing main cathedral

Zagreb’s Cathedral, Croatia

In Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saintly Kings Stephen and Ladislav (wow, that’s quite a mouthful!), is usually just called “the Cathedral” or Katedrala.

Many Croatians are Catholic and this is the country’s main church. It’s a very large imposing Neo-Gothic building, what we see today built a little more than 100 years ago. But, it has a long history, as the first church went up here in 1094 when a diocese was established in Kaptol, one of the two towns that originally made up what is now Zagreb (the other is Gradec, up on the hill). Invading Tartars destroyed the original cathedral in the mid-13th century. The citizens rebuilt it, but an earthquake destroyed it in 1880.

The three main features inside the church are: the main altar with a lovely silver relief

Beautiful cathedral interior and ornate silver altar

Beautiful cathedral interior and ornate silver altar

of the Holy Family; the grave of Josip Jelacic, a Croatian statesman; and the modern tombstone of Alojzije Stepinac. Stepinac, the Archbishop of Zagreb in World War 11, supported the Ustase (puppet Nazi government in Croatia then), believing it would help gain independence from Serbia. For some Croatians he is a hero and inspiration, but for others he is a villain because of this.

However, for me, there is another feature in the cathedral that is even more interesting. As you face the exit to the church, on the left side is an arched wall between pillars. Most of the wall panel is inscribed with a very different script, some kind of writing that I have never seen before, very bold and very obvious in this setting. We photographed it and then I determined to learn more.

We step a little closer to this new (for us) alphabet...

We step a little closer to this new (for us) alphabet…

Apparently it is the Glagolitic alphabet (glagoljca). The popular story is that Cyril and Methodius, Byzantine missionaries in the 9th century, invented it as a way to translate the Bible and church doctrine into Slavic languages. They worked mainly in Moravia (in the eastern Czech Republic today) but it was here in Croatia that it caught on and was used in some places until the 19th century. The name Glagolitic also exists in Macedonian, Serbian, Belarusian, Czech, Slovak, and Ukrainian.

Other ideas are that Glagolitic was created in the 4th century by St. Jerome, and is then called Hieronymian, but this seems to be less substantiated. Later, it was adapted in Bulgaria and became part of the Cyrillic alphabet, which Russia and Serbia still use. When Croatia gained independence in 1991 there was some idea of making Glagolitic the official alphabet, but this didn’t happen. Nowadays, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovena use and speak basically the same language: the biggest difference is the writing, as Croatians and Bozniaks use our Roman alphabet, while the Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet.

Linguists are having fun trying to figure out the history, development and use of this

…and then zoom in. I wonder what this says?

…and then zoom in. I wonder what this says?

strange script, how many letters it had and how the characters were modified and changed.

This web site gives a chart of the alphabet if you are interested,


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English sprouts here, not Brussel sprouts!

English sprouts here, not Brussel sprouts!

Croydon Market, London, UK

Wandering around this lively market the other day, I found a number of vegetables that go by another name here, compared to what people call them in our part of the USA and/or Asian countries we’ve visited.  It got me thinking about other vegetables that have multiple names depending on where you are: for example, eggplant/aubergine/brinjal.

Any other examples you can think of?

"Mooli" in Croydon, known as "Daikon" in USA and Japan

“Mooli” in Croydon, known as “Daikon” in USA and Japan

"Kanella" in Croydon, known as "Bitter Melon" (English name) in China

“Kanella” in Croydon, known as “Bitter Melon” (English name) in China

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