Ever since I visited the Philippines for the first time, since 2009, I have been fascinated by the multitude of languages on the multitude of islands in this nation. I have made an effort to study the local language, Visayan. I’ve been using this book with some success:
The locals of the Savedra team have been awesome in teaching me the language as well. Captain Nato explained to me the different ways of naming cephalopods:
small squid = lumigagon
medium squid = nokos
large squid = barawan
cuttlefish = kubotan
small octopus = tamala
medium octopus = tabogok
large octopus = kugita
Wow! So, where the English language has 3 words (octopus, squid, cuttlefish), Visayan has 7. “Octopus” is a loan word from Latin, meaning “eight armed”, so one could argue that only squid and cuttlefish are original Anglo-Saxon words. By that count, German really only has one word for cephalopods, “Tintenfish” (“ink fish”), and that is a compound word, not a unique word for that animal. We also use the Latin-loaned octopus, and the fellow Latin-loaned “Kalamar” for cuttlefish. We can reasonably speculate that the ancient Germans simply didn’t encounter as many cephalopods as the ancient Visayans did, and hence had a lesser need for different words for these animals.
So, if a culture encounters a certain thing more often, it will have more words for the different types of that thing. Sounds somewhat obvious, doesn’t it? This connection between the world people are facing and their language is called the “Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis”, after two early 20th century linguists. It has been discredited by absurd claims a la “The Eskimos have 10000 words for snow”: They don’t. But languages from snowy cultures, like Eskimo and the one I am from (Austria) indeed have more words for snow than languages which originated in the tropics, just not 1000 times more words.
When you visit us, it is probably because of our superbly biodiverse reefs & great diving – that’s also the primary reason why I moved to the Philippines. But when you are here, don’t miss the chance to mingle with the locals and learn about their language and culture!