or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Happy Ending

Well, I'm back. Not that I ever went away, but I was multiply preoccupied with work and knitting and reading and writing and general life-having.

Last week, I had to frame some movie posters for a customer: they were small, about 9 by 12, and all advertising Akira Kurosawa movies, but in different languages. One of them a co-worker* and I couldn't quite figure out: it was either Hungarian or Polish (languages neither of us speaks, to say the least), but there wasn't enough information on it for us to be completely sure, given our limited knowledge of these languages.

I decided it was Polish because of an interesting thing that I thought I had seen in other Polish names or words: the director's name was rendered Akiry Kurosawy.

So we tossed it around for a few minutes. (The name, not the poster.) Why would the Polish language change someone's name? It wasn't mere transliteration, because Polish uses a Roman alphabet with a few diacritical additions (such as that "l-"with-a-slash-through-it which is pronounced like English "w"). Finally I had a bright idea: perhaps his name ends in "-y" because he's a man?

We both knew that in some languages, the woman's version of a masculine name will end in "-a". This is true in English, certainly: Paula is the women's version of Paul. This is also true in Italian, where the man's name will end in "-o" where the woman's ends in "-a": Paolo/Paula, Lauro/Laura. (In French, the ending, or at least one ending, is "-le": Michel/Michelle, for instance.)

So my theory was that Akira Kurosawa had to be rendered Akiry Kurosawy in Polish, because to do otherwise would suggest that he was in fact a she. I am not absolutely certain that this is the case, but after getting home and doing a little research, I think it is. The Wikipedia page on Polish nomenclature says that "If a masculine surname ends in -i or -y, its feminine equivalent ends in -a", and I have no reason to think that the same is any less true of first names, as well.

The same page also contains the very interesting fact that the surname "Kowalski" means "blacksmith".

Anyway. Wikipedia notes that there is a class of surnames which end in "-a", but that these are derived from verbs. So my original guess still stands: Akira Kurosawa looks like a woman's name in Polish, and so on a movie poster had to be reinvented into Akiry Kurosawy to make it clear that he was a man. If anyone out there is fluent in Polish and can expand on this, or correct me if I'm wrong, that would be swell. Otherwise, it's my best guess.

By the way, even if you don't know a whole lot about Kurosawa's oeuvre, can you guess what "Rudobrody" means from looking at the poster above? I couldn't. I was staring at the word, thinking, "Well, it's clearly not a Japanese word, and it doesn't appear to be a Kurosawa movie that I've ever heard of," and I was so bemused by the whole "Akiry" thing that I forgot to, you know, use my brain. You can't always assume that configurations of letters in another language will have anything to do with your own language (Finnish looks nothing like anything you've ever seen in English, since it's from a completely different language family), but "Rudo-" suggests such the word "ruddy" and therefore "red", "-brody" calls to mind German "Bart" and its English descendent "beard", and the poster is a picture of a guy with a red beard. Me: not too bright sometimes.

*I've mentioned her a dozen or more times before: Finnish, speaks five languages, very cool? I may as well give her a name. I don't think she'd mind. It's Eeva, and that's pronounced "ay-vuh", like one of the usual English pronunciations of "Ava". Or possibly "Eva", if you are a Gabor sister. In Finnish, if I have this right, a doubled vowel lengthens it, so "Eva", if it existed in that language, would be pronounced "ev-uh". "Eva" in English is usually pronounced "ee-vuh", and to get that in Finnish, it would have to be spelled "Iiva".

In some dialects of Newfoundland English--let's say most of them--a vowel sound at the beginning of a word is usually preceded by a heavily aspirated "h-" sound. (Perversely, an "h-" sound at the beginning of the word is dropped: "I'm 'er huncle.") My grandmother, who did not have any particularly strong Newfoundland accent, nevertheless pronounced "onions" as "HUNyuns", as a joke. In fact, a joke that Newfoundlanders tell about their own accents is that "they loses the aitch on the 'ighway and picks it up on the h'overpass".

I tell you this because Eeva--whose name any English speaker would naturally pronounce "ee-vuh", because a doubled vowel is long--goes to a church whose now-retired minister was a Newfoundlander with an industrial-strength accent. He naturally enough pronounced her name in the English manner plus that aspirate at the beginning, turning it into "hee-vuh", which, unfortunately, is the pronunciation of a word in Finnish: "hiiva", which means "yeast".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somehow, her name being reduced to one meaning "yeast" would be something that makes her laugh, once she knows the origins! :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 2:33:00 PM  

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