Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Who's on First

There is an odd linguistic quirk that I noticed when I lived in Yucatan. Lots of words in Spanish end in the letter N. When those words are used at the end of a sentence, Yucatecans close their mouths to close the sentence, making it into an M sound. (Voiced bilabial nasal, for any IPA geeks out there)

Not terribly ununusal, but kinda fun to have identified a regional variation.

So bread - "pan" - becomes "pam" when it ends a sentence. Ham - "jamon" - becomes "jamom." "Yucatan" becomes "Yucatam."

My second season in the field, one of my co-workers pulled me aside. "What is her name?" and tipped her head in the direction of the new member on the project.

"Kim," I replied.

"Her," Soco said, and pointed with her chin.


She pointed. "That girl right there!"

At this point I recognized what was going on, and grinned. This was going to be fun. The question "Who?" is "¿Quien?". When it ends the sentence, it becomes "¿Quiem?".

Which sounds suspiciously like "Kim". When she asked me what her name was, I had responded with “Who?”, and answered every follow up clarification (“The girl with the red hair!  That one right there!!”) with the same answer: “Who?”

I had accidentally fallen into a Abbott and Costello routine.

One of the best days of my life.