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A Story with a Moral

I came across this very short little story a couple days ago, while re-reading some of Grimm's fairy tales on Project Gutenberg. It's usually titled The Old Man and his Grandson, and it's hardly a fairy tale, so that's probably why I don't remember it from the (abridged) collections I read as a child. Anyway, I was so struck by it that I went and read it in the original German.

Of course, not a lot of my readers are familiar with German (and to be fair, I'm pretty bad at it too), so I figured I'd offer up a translation as well.

Part of the reason I tried it was just to see if there were any words or phrases or nuances or shades of meaning in the original that were left out in the translation. Although my vocabulary has dropped to near zero by now, the grammar is still familiar enough that I was able to piece it together with the help of a dictionary. Of course, it helped that I'd read the one translation already, too! Mine is barely different, simply because it's such a short and simple piece of prose. So without further ado:

Der alte Großvater und der Enkel

Es war einmal ein steinalter Mann, dem waren die Augen trüb geworden, die Ohren taub, und die Knie zitterten ihm. Wenn er nun bei Tische saß und den Löffel kaum halten konnte, schüttete er Suppe auf das Tischtuch, und es floß ihm auch etwas wieder aus dem Mund...

Click through the link to see the rest of the original, and even if that doesn't interest you, be sure to read the translation in green.

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A World of Variety: A Devil's Bargain

I'm starting to get back into my language series, doing some more (time-consuming) online research to find traces of linguistic diversity. And I feel the need to vent for a minute.

One of the most helpful resources has been the Ethnologue. It's perhaps the most complete assessment of the world-language situation available anywhere. Another useful resource has been Global Recordings. But if you take even a minimal amount of time on either site, you'll find some disturbing similarities.

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A World of Variety: Oneida (Iroquoian)


Extent of the Iroquoian language family

Oneida is a member of the once important and extensive Iroquoian language family, originally concentrated in the Northeast U.S. and southeast Canada around the St. Lawrence River. It's related to Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca, of the famous Five Nations Confederacy, and is only spoken by a couple hundred people, mostly on the modern reservations in New York, lower Ontario, and eastern Wisconsin.

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Anishinaabe - Part IV. A Bad Deal


Placard at Sandy Lake.

Along Highway 169 on the west side of Big Sandy Lake in north central Minnesota, there's a small road leading off to a rest area - administered, oddly, by the Army Corps of Engineers because of the dam at the edge of the lake protecting a short channel to the Mississippi River. A few years ago I put my kayak in the channel just below the dam and paddled fifteen miles into the Mississippi and down to the town of Palisade - a trip I will post about at some point.

But the rest area itself, beyond the small visitor center and omnipresent pavement, held a surprise - a moderately sized, conical grassy hill surmounted by a circular monument erected by several local Ojibwe bands, together with a bilingual display describing its significance.

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Anishinaabe - Part III. Seasons

The book that the last story was quoted from is organized into four sections: Ziigwang, Niibing, Dagwaaging, [dash] Biboong. (Click to listen ). This just serves to highlight the importance of the seasonal rhythm to traditional Anishinaabe culture.

On the west side of Misi-zaaga'igan (Mille Lacs Lake) is the small reservation for the Mille Lacs of Ojibwe. Probably the most well known feature is the casino. It's a modern day revenge that never fails to amuse me, but more constructively, it also provides an extremely valuable source of income for an area that traditionally has been on the bottom of the economic ladder in modern America.

On the other side of busy Highway 169 and a little ways down is the Mille Lacs Indian museum, jointly run by the Mille Lacs Band and the Minnesota Historical Society. In fact, the storyteller from the previous installment, Maude Kegg, worked there for many years. The highlight of the museum is a guided tour-only circular room about twenty-five feet in diameter. It is entirely enclosed and divided into four quarters (minus room for the entrance), representing the four seasons. Arranged continuously around the outside of the room is a beautifully kept up, life-size diorama showing typical scenes for each season.

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Anishinaabe - Part II

Posted Wed, April 8, 2009 - 9:43 PM
nativeamerica, language, minnesota

Mikinaakoons. (source)

Following up on my earlier post about Anishinaabe language, history and culture.

With the rise of writing, near 100% literacy in many countries, efficient distribution networks for various forms of writing, and especially, the Internet, the oral tradition that has contributed to human culture for arguably hundreds of thousands of years now seems like it could fade away as a quaint vestige of the past. (And yes... I feel the irony of talking about it this way.)

But still, that's not how people work - even the biggest iPhone and Crackberry fanboyz still like to get together and just talk. Stories about the trivial, the sublime, and everything in between flow over cups of coffee, mugs of beer, or crackling campfires every single day all over the world. And what child isn't happy to hear a bedtime story?

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Anishinaabe - Part I

Posted Mon, April 6, 2009 - 7:45 PM
nativeamerica, language, minnesota

I mentioned earlier how Anishinaabemowin is the presettlement language of my native state of Minnesota (more so in the north and east). I'm interested in more than just the language, though - the history and culture is also fascinating, and recorded in pretty good detail due to the span of time between the first European settlement and the start of cultural extermination - at least a full generation. This is the first post in a series looking more closely at the Anishinaabe, but in bite-sized pieces. Whole books can (and have!) been written on the subject, and I strongly encourage you to follow links and seek out some of the references if you want to learn more.

Here's a first taste.

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A World of Variety: Ktunaxa

Posted Wed, March 25, 2009 - 9:18 PM
language, nativeamerica

Ktunaxa, better known as Kootenai, is currently spoken by less than a dozen people in the world. Its original range was the far northwestern corner of Montana and the panhandle of Idaho, extending north into interior British Columbia. It is not known to be related to any other languages in the region or anywhere else in the world. Like many languages in west central North America, it's heavy on consonants and consonant clusters.

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A World of Variety: Iñupiaq (Eskimo-Aleut)

Posted Tue, March 17, 2009 - 6:32 PM
language, nativeamerica

Extent of the Eskimo-Aleut language family

Iñupiaq (pr: In-yoo-pee-ock) is a language spoken in the far north of Alaska and the Yukon. It is one of the widely distributed Eskimo-Aleut languages, and lies near the western end of a dialect continuum that sweeps from Alaska east to Greenland.

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A World of Variety: Southwestern Ojibwe (Algonquian)

Posted Fri, March 6, 2009 - 8:26 PM
language, nativeamerica

Extent of the Algonquian language family

Southwestern Ojibwe, or "Anishinaabemowin", is a relatively vibrant language originally spoken in my home state of Minnesota, primarily in the north and east and extending both directions, into Ontario, Manitoba, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It's a member of the widely spread Algonquian (Algic) language family which has representatives all the way out to the East Coast. The very first language encountered by the occupants of the Mayflower was undoubtedly an Algonquian language.

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