Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs!

Observe that fine sentence in the title of this post. Notice anything in particular? Yes -- it's a pangram. It contains all twenty-six letters in the standard English alphabet.

Not all languages are as profligate with letters. As is well-known, the Hawaiian language gets by using only 12 letters of the Roman alphabet: a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p, w, sometimes augmented by the symbol ʻ, to denote a glottal stop.

There is not, to my knowledge, any particular shortage of letters in the alphabets of the different Scandinavian languages. Nonetheless, they sometimes appear to demonstrate a distinct element of parsimony, as far as letters are concerned. Particularly where sheep are involved, if the following examples are anything to go by:

Take this Swedish sentence, for instance:

Far, Får får får? Nej, inte får får får, får får lamm.
Father, do sheep have sheep? No, sheep don't have sheep, sheep have lambs.

But the Swedes have nothing on Icelandic speakers as far as not wasting letters is concerned. Anyone might be forgiven for thinking that the following "sentence" was the result of some unfortunate keyboard malfunction, or possible feline intervention.

Ái á Á, á á í á.

But, no! It appears that this actually means something (again, some kind of intrafamilial conversation about sheep). My sources inform me that it conveys the following vital information:

Grandfather from "Á" farm has a sheep in a river.

It hardly seems credible. But this is not an April 1st posting.

It would be remiss of me to finish this post without linking to the infamous Onion "vowel drop" article:

The odd thing is, despite The Onion's claim at the bottom of the link above, I found it impossible to find the original article on their site. Their search engine is for the birds, if it can't even find what is probably their single best-known (and best) article of all time.

Given the state of the Icelandic economy, it seems that they might profit from some kind of deal with one of the Balkan countries.

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