This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Nuts and Bolts: happy talk.

English is a glorious language, but I can't deny it has a dull attitude to plurals.

Basically, English uses them for all numbers except one.

Oh yes, it does: twenty seven baboon-infested hotels; minus eleven nostrils; 0.5 screwdrivers...


In the South Pacific, however, and in particular on Vanuatu, and even more particularly in the two villages where the language usually called Mele-Fila* is spoken, things are much more interesting. Mele-Fila has a really neat device called a greater plural, which people can use when they're faced with a surprisingly large number of something.

This, obviously, isn't a particular number. It might be used of twenty bees if they're on your kitchen table, a hundred if they're in your garden, and a thousand if they're swarming all over the path that leads to the nearest public convenience.

You know, I think I may be suffering from grammar-envy, here. I mean, what can we English speakers do if we see a thousand swarming bees?

Basically, we're reduced to going pale, pointing a nerveless finger, and saying guk.

Word To Use Today: Vanuatu. The Republic of Vanuatu, also known as the Ripablik blong Vanuatu came into being in 1978-80. Vanua means land or home in several Austronesian languages, and tu means stand.

*Mele-Fila isn't strictly speaking one language, but two similar ones. Of course this makes the chances for survival of these beautiful languages even more hair-raisingly fragile.

The total number of speakers is about 4,000.

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