November 28, 2004

Quiz #3 Answer

Stefano Taschini, who sent in the material for our Language ID Quiz #3, has kindly provided a step-by-step account of how he would have gone about finding out the answer, if he hadn't already known it. I've copied his note below.

Let me first tell you that, although I obviously know what our "mystery" language is, I can neither speak it nor understand it, and therefore I set myself the exercise to try and determine the features that could lead to its identification. Here is how I proceeded.

Comparing the three clips allows us to understand a few structural details. In clip #1 and #2 there is a short introduction (almost the same) that ends with "kiirdiler". In clip #2 this is followed by few syllables that are present also at the end of clip #1. These syllables form a a russian name, the singer's name, Pavel Semjonov, i.e., Павел Семёнов (usually spelled without diacritics as Павел Семенов). It ought to have helped to realize that the singer is the same in both clips. The presence of russian names (there is one more later on) in an obviously non-russian context suggests a language present in a territory of the former Soviet Union, probably written in cyrillic.

The structure of the two clips is the following:

Clip #1: [intro #1] [something #1] [toloroočču] [Pavel Semjonov]
Clip #2: [intro #2] [Pavel Semjonov]

In clip #3, the speaker introduces a duet. The structure of the announcement is:

Clip #3: [something #2] [tolorooččular] [something in -ova] [uonna rustamxon]

The comparison between clip #1 and clip #3 leads to the hypotheses that [something #1] and [something #2] are the song titles, and that [tolorooččular] is the plural of [toloroočču] (possibly a verb meaning "to sing" or a noun meaning "perfomer"). Clip #3 ends with the names of the two singers in the duet. One is again a russian name ending in -ova (the female singer), followed by a mysterious [uonna rustamxon].

The speaker clearly pauses between [uonna] and [rustamxon] and I think it's a fair assumption that they correspond to two separate words. My hypothesis is that [uonna] is the conjuction and [rustamxon] is the apparently non-russian name of the male singer. If not a nom de plum, it should be split in first and last names. The general rhythm of the language clips seems to show a preference for oxytone words. If that is the case, the singer's name would be Rustam Xon, i.e., Рустам Хон.

Summing up these ideas, we have that

1. Two of the singers have russian names. One of them is Pavel Semjonov (Павел
2. The language is written using the cyrillic alphabet.
3. The third singer has a non-russian name, Rustam Xon (Рустам Хон).
4. The suffix -lar (лар) is used to form plurals (maybe only for either verbs or nouns, we don't know that).
5. The word uonna (уонна) is the conjunction "and".

At this point, Google is enough to confirm these conjectures. Besides showing us indirectly what our mystery language is, it also tells us the name of the female singer, Люба Готовцева (Ljuba Gotovceva, using the UN romanization [1]), and the title of the songs in the first and third clips, Миэхэ эн мэлдьитин (Miexe en meld'itin, using ad hoc romanization) and Дьоро киэһэ (D'oro kiehe). We note the presence of an additional character, not part of the russian cyrillic: һ, for the voiceless glottal fricative (which makes the UN romanization for Russian awkward to use). This won't be the only one additional character, as the clips present at least three more additional sounds: a voiced velar fricative, a german-like "ü" and a lax "i" (at the end of the refrain in the first clip). These sounds are represented by ҕ (which I often found spelled with the digit 5 on the web), ү (not to be confused with the standard cyrillic у), and ы.

Finally, I contacted a native speaker, Katerina Potapova [2] who kindly transcribed and translated the clips.

Clip #1: Ааспыт икки тыһыынча биир сыл түмүгүнэн “Сыл бастыҥ ырыата” номинацияҕа киирдилэр:“Миэхэ
эн мэлдьитин”. Толорооччу: Павел Семёнов — Билэбин эн миэхэ мэлдьи чугаскын...
Aaspıt ikki tıhıınča biir sıl tümügünen “Sıl bastıŋ ırıata” nominacijaɣa kiirdiler: “Miexe en meld'itin”. Toloroočču: Pavel Semjonov — Bilebin en miexe meld'i čugaskın...

On the results of last year, the nominations for “The hit of the year”: “You, always for me.” Performer: Pavel Semjonov — I know, you are always close to me...

Clip #2:
Ааспыт икки тыһыынча биир сыл түмүгүнэн “Сыл бастыҥ ырыаһыта” номинацияҕа киирдилэр: Павел Семёнов — Сэгэттэйим оҕото сэмэй нарын Өрүүнэ ...

Aaspıt ikki tıhıınča biir sıl tümügünen “Sıl bastıŋ ırıahıta” nominacijaɣa kiirdiler: Pavel Semjonov — Segettejim oɣoto semej narın Örüüne...

On the results of last year, the nominations for “The best performer of the year”: Pavel Semjonov — My darling-baby, charming gentle Irina...

Clip #3:
“Дьоро киэһэ.” Толорооччулар: Люба Готовцева уонна Рустам Хон — Эн биһикки...

“D'oro kiehe”. Tolorooččular: Ljuba
Gotovceva uonna Rustam Xon.” — En bihikki...

“Happy evening.” Performers: Ljuba Gotovceva and Rustam Xon.” — You and me...

In case it's not clear by now, the language is Yakut [3], spoken in the Republic of Yakutia in the Russian Federation. The clips were downloaded from the website for the 2002 edition of the "Etigen Xomus" music awards [4].



Posted by Mark Liberman at November 28, 2004 08:49 AM