Introducing Mari

Just to confuse you with similar-looking language names, I’ve decided to start posting on Mari right after Māori.

What is Mari, then? It’s an Uralic language spoken by some 600 000 people somewhere around the Urals (duh), that is in deep Russia. You may have heard (if you follow what’s going on in the Uralic-speaking world) that some people are very unhappy about the way Marij El’s gov’t treats its titular language. Anyway, Mari was formerly known as Cheremis, is written in the Cyrillic script, and comes in two variants / sub-languages: so-called Hill and Meadow Mari. The latter is bigger, so we’ll stay with that.

Now, the point is that: a) like many languages of the former Soviet Union, Mari is virtually unknown to the English-speaking world (all I’ve found is these three websites plus this blog); b) I happen to like obscure Uralic languages; c) I also happen to be friends with a person married to a Mari speaker.

Putting all of these together – I’ve already made some pages on Mari in Polish, and I’m going to translate them to English for you. Maybe.

For starters, let’s have some pleasantries. I’ll explain the writing and pronunciation (very straightforward) later, for now a Latin transcription will do:

Поро кече poro keche – good morning
Поро эр poro er – good day
Поро кас poro kas – good evening
Салам salam – Hello

Кузе илет? kuze ilet – How are you? (lit. How do you live?)
Эркын-эркын erkyn-erkyn – I’m fine (lit. slowly-slowly)
Тау tau – Thanks
Кугу тау kugu tau – Thank you very much

Тый марла кутырет? tyj marla kutyret? – Do you speak Mari?
Изиш кутырем izish kutyrem – I speak a little

Чеверын cheveryn – Goodbye

Now, a honest question – have you ever met anyone boasting similarly random language interests? :)

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  • eskandarj  On May 5, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Do you happen to know if the “el” part of Mari El is cognate to the Turkic word “el,” meaning homeland? The Ural-Altaic hypothesis lives on…

    • peterlin  On May 5, 2009 at 6:59 pm

      It’s not a cognate but one of the very many loans that arrived to Mari from neighbouring Turkic langs (that includes lots of Perso-Arabic vocabulary, too).

      See also this on structural borrowings. If you look hard enough you’ll find a reference to my website on that blog.

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