Unheard of! VI: Sacred and secular song in Jewish languages

For the sixth installment of Unheard of!, the Endangered Language Alliance presents sacred and secular song in Jewish languages.

Modern and traditional Ladino music by singer/songwriter Sarah Aroeste. Tracing her Sephardic ancestry from the United States to Salonika and ultimately to Spain, Aroeste is a leading figure in the revitalization of Judeo-Iberian music. She sings in Ladino, a Jewish-Romance language closely related to Spanish.

Hailing from Brooklyn with roots in Aleppo, Syria, Cantor Yohai Cohen will perform a selection from the Syrian Jewish community’s traditional repertoire in Hebrew and Arabic, accompanied by Zafir Tawil on the oud.

The show will take place on May 4, 2014 between 3:30 – 5:30 PM

@ Bowery Poetry
308 Bowery (between Houston and Bleecker), 10012
New York City



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tu’uk aa mäjtsk aa: a few words in Mixe

Over the summer, René González Pizarro visited the ELA office in Manhattan. He’s originally from Jokypäjkm (Ascunción Cacalotepec) in the Mixe Region of Oaxaca and currently works at CEDELIO (Centro de Estudios y Desarollo de las Lenguas Indígenas de Oaxaca). During that initial visit ELA recorded a few videos of him speaking about his work, about language endangerment, and about his language, ëyuk, or Mixe.

Well, René was visiting New York again and he stopped by ELA on Wednesday. We had a chance to finish the transcription and translation of one of those videos. Here’s the video (make sure to turn on the closed captioning):

What the English translation doesn’t capture, however, are the poetic qualities of René’s speech. Take the second line, for example: ja’ tu’uk aa mäjtsk aa nkajpxa’any nyaka’any translated as ‘I’m going to share a few words.’ This sentence demonstrates nicely two features that typify eloquent Mixe. (Both of these features are also characteristic of skillful speech across Mesoamerica.)

The first feature is something called difrasismo, exemplified by the phrase tu’uk aa mäjtsk aa, which literally means ‘one mouth, two mouths,’ and which we’ve translated as “a few words.” A difrasismo is a pair of words (typically nouns), which are idiomatically used to express a single idea.

The second feature, (poetic) parallelism, is closely related to difrasismo, and consists of a pair of consecutive words, phrases or clauses that share the same grammatical structure and whose combination has a certain rhetorical effect. In this sentence, parallelism is exemplified by the paired verbs nkajpxa’any, nyaka’any, ‘I’ll speak it, I’ll give it,” translated as “I’ll share.”

So in the second line, there’s already a difrasismo being used in a parallel construction!

Because Mixe is a polysynthetic language, there’s a lot of room for parallelism and difrasismos to be used in complex ways through incorporation and similar phenomena, and René’s introduction is full of such word play. (Not to mention the Mëj Manzana, ‘Big Apple!’)

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