Minim confusion

I found my first real case of minim confusion, which I previously said was theoretically possible in Manchu because medial “a”, pre-consonantal “n”, and one form of “k” are all made up of identical strokes.

By my “first real case”, I mean two words that are attested in dictionaries, having the same written form but different pronunciation, i.e. they are homographs.

First of all, the theory behind it.  Initial “a” looks like .  Initial “e” looks like .  Medial “n” when followed by a consonant looks like , so when you have a word that starts with “en” followed by a consonant, the “en” looks like , the same as initial “a” .

Sima gave me a copy of Gertraude Roth Li’s Manchu: A Textbook for Reading Documents last week, and I’ve been sticking my nose in it whenever I have a minute.  I had just gone through romanizing the first reading selection, and noticed that one of the words could be romanized in two different ways: acu or encu (“c” sounds like English /ch/), which both look like:

Acu is the sound Manchu people make when they sneeze (or when they touch something hot).  Encu means “separate”, “foreign”, or “different”.

Another kind can occur with medial “k”, which looks like.  So “nka” would be the same as “kan”, either at the end of a word, or before a consonant.  Haven’t found one of those yet though.  But it does present the possibility that some words could have an undetermined pronunciation.  In most cases one should be able to verify a word by checking how the Xibe pronounce it, but there is a miniscule chance that there are some words with this pattern that are not in any dictionary because they’re in a document that’s rotting away in some underfunded archive somewhere.  It’s an extremely small chance, but a chance nevertheless.

Another thing reducing the size of the chance to the nano scale is vowel harmony.  A word with “a” in it normally wouldn’t have “e”.  I’ll be surprised if I find another one of these rare gems.

8 thoughts on “Minim confusion”

  1. This comment isn’t actually relevant to the blog post, but I want to get some information out there that might be of interest to readers of this list.

    I have just come into possession of a book titled “Materials of Spoken Manchu” (Altaic Languages Series 01, Seoul National University Press. Copyright 2008 by the Altaic Society of Korea.) Authors: Kim Juwon, Ko Dongho, Chaoke D.O., Han Youfeng, Piao Lianyu, Boldyrev B.V.

    ISBN 978-89-521-0947-7

    The back cover blurb says: “This book offers spoken Manchu data and a brief linguistic description of spoken Manchu used in Sanjiazi village, Fuyu county in China. This book is a report of our fieldwork research that we carried out as part of the research project REAL (Researches on Endangered Altaic Languages) of the Altaic Society of Korea ….”

    The book is in English. The first several sections are a brief grammar of the language. The book then lists 1800 lexical items in Manchu with glosses in Chinese and English, and several hundred short conversational sentences.

    I can provide more details if there is interest.

  2. Well, I can’t see a big interest around, so would one person be enough? What kind of details can you provide? Can you make the whole book available, or just give me/us some informations on the matter I’m/we’re particularly interested in?

  3. I just found another homographic pair: aji means small, and enji means vegetarian.

  4. Could it be possible to provide the IPA for the romanized transcription of Manchu? I own a couple readers for Manchurian with romanization and Chinese translation, however, I think I’m still making pronunciation mistakes as I cannot determine the exact values of some letters.

    1. It is possible, but it’s a little uncertain. Most of the letters have pretty clear values, except for “e”. From what I can tell, we can’t be completely sure how Manchu sounded when it was still a living language.

  5. In Mongolian, the word for “long” is URTU and the word for “Horde” is ORDO, they are homograms, but Mongolians can figure them out by context. This issue does not seem to bother native speakers very much.

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