LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 33, No.3 - Fall 1987
Editor of this issue: Vilius L. Dundzila
Copyright © 1987 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
WHAT'S "INSTANT COFFEE" IN LATVIAN?
VALDIS J. ZEPS
University of Wisconsin, Madison
The erosion and death of immigrant languages, as well as the decline and disappearance of numerically minor nationalities, is a commonplace occurrence and does not have to be rehearsed here in detail. The circumstances and the consequences of the decline differ from case to case. Thus, the assimilation of Italian speakers to Spanish in Argentina has nothing to do with the viability of Italian as a language fully sufficient for all cultural, scientific, and practical needs of its speakers. Nor is the loss of these speakers a blow to the homeland - the future of Italian is not in danger. And the death of Pochekwan (an imaginery American Indian language) is doubly inevitable for two interrelated reasons— Pochekwan is now spoken by no more than 500, most over 50 years of age; it is not learned by the young, nor can it offer a full range of expression to the young - there is no way to say "late night show host" in Pochekwan; nor can one place a phone call in Pochekwan and expect the operator to help. No amount of government intervention or self-initiative is likely to defer the death of Pochekwan within a generation.
Emigré Latvian is in a situation that bears some similarity to the circumstances just described, but also some differences from them. No, you cannot expect a US telephone operator to speak to you in Latvian, nor is there a Latvian expression for "late night show host." A number of children of Latvian ancestry speak Latvian poorly, or not at all. Still, Latvian is and can continue to be the vehicle for the social, aesthetic, scientific, and practical needs of the emigré population it serves, and the embattled status of Latvian in the homeland makes it doubly important that the emigrés retain an active command of the language.
The perceptions of what ails emigré Latvian and what to do about it vary widely. One predictable reaction is to return to the language of independent Latvia, brushing off all subsequent developments at home and abroad as irrelevant. This attitude has been particularly devastating in the teaching of Latvian literature in Saturday schools. Forty years of emigré Latvian literature - some of it brilliant - never did make its way into the schoolbooks, and thus rests condemned to future obscurity - a condition created by the writers' compatriots, who bought, read and loved their works, but entrusted the young to the classics instead.
Persons of Latvian ancestry in their teens and twenties often do not perceive themselves as Latvian-Americans or Latvian-Canadians, but think of themselves as Latvians outright. They are typically fluent in Latvian in all situations that call for the use of Latvian - at home, school, camp, church, parties, outings, fraternity meetings, political gatherings, etc. It is commonly conceded that they cannot be expected to conduct a conversation in Latvian about personal computers, American football, TV fare, and retirement benefits (nor can their elders). While the domain of emigré Latvian, especially as learned by the young, is circumscribed, it is a domain worth preserving and expanding. A substantial proportion of Latvian emigré society perceives this and is actively engaged in pursuing just these goals.
My own contention over the last decade or two has been that even this circumscribed use of Latvian—though still fully vigorous and worthwhile—is in danger from unsuspected quarters, namely the failure of colloquial Latvian to keep pace with new developments in technology and consumer goods (hard disc, update, self-basting, chicken nuggets), i.e., it is the non-glamorous, everyday vocabulary that is failing us, and not our lack of ability to talk about God and country.
With that in mind, I have conducted several surveys among younger Latvians, to ascertain their level of acquaintance with ordinary household words that may not be high frequency words, but whose knowledge is essential for active use of Latvian at home. My point is roughly the following: one can go for weeks without ever once mentioning fuses; but when the light goes out one has to be able to say "Go, check the fuses." If this won't be said in Latvian, it will be said in English.
My surveys were haphazardly designed and administered as the occasion arose. Here I report on two of them—one with 50 respondents in 1970 in Toronto, and another with 20 respondents in 1982 in Kalamazoo, mostly in their teens and twenties. In spite of the lack of proper experimental design and controls, I would be surprised if the data elicited turned out to be unrepresentative.
For a while, let allow the data tol speak for themselves. Each questionnaire entry is preceded by a stimulus word in English, and followed by the answers elicited. Glosses (where needed), comments and recommendations for future use are mine.
English stimulus: ALUMINUM FOIL. Responses (written): alumînija papîrs (or similar) 'aluminum paper' by 27 respondents; sudrabpapîrs 'silver paper,' spodrpapîrs & spîdîgais papîrs 'shiny paper' and alumînja ietinamais 'aluminum wrap' by one respondent each. Even though staniols 'tinfoil' would seem to be the logical choice for the product, there is no point in fighting established usage. We recommend: alumînija papîrs.
ANTIFREEZE: atsaldçtâjs (2 x) 'de-freezer,' pretsaldçtâjs 'counter-freezer,' ðòabis 'liquor,' pretsala ðíidrums 'anti-frost liquid.' Recommendation: dzeses ðíidrums 'coolant.'
APPRECIATE (HELP): bût pateicîgam par (or similar) 'to be grateful for' (21 x), ïoti patikami, ka... 'how nice of you to ...' Recommendation: bût pateicîgam par, pateikties par 'to thank for.'
APPRECIATE (MUSIC): baudît 'enjoy' (12 x), patikt 'like' (11 x), novertet 'to esteem, value' (4). Recommendation: prast cienit 'to know how to esteem,' prast novçrtçt 'to be a good judge of,' labprât baudît 'to (gladly) enjoy.'
BABY SITTER: bçrnu auklis (or similar) 'child nurse, (b) nanny' (10 x), 6, raudzçtâjs 'fermenter (undoubtedly a mistake for raudzîtâjs 'checker'),' b. sçdçtâjs 'sitter,' b. uzraugs 'monitor' (5 x), b. vâcçjs 'caretaker' (2 x), b. vâktçtajs 'watcher.' Recommendation: bçrnu auklis/aukle, as the initial resistance to this word, established as "(permanent) nursery maid, nanny," is fading.
BALL POINT PEN: spalva 'pen' (10 x), tintes zîmulis 'indelible pencil' (4), rakstâmais (4) & rakstîklis (2) 'writing implement,' lodene 'ball (pen),' (2), kûgelis (2); from German Kugelschreiber 'ball point,' bumbiòzîmulis 'ball pencil,' irbulis 'stylus,' boligrafs '?,' and kûli (2), biro, stilo—brand names. Recommended: lodene or simply spalva.
BATHROBE: rîta mçtelis (or similar) 'morning (over)coat' (18), rîta kleita 'morning dress' (12), rîta svârki 'morning jacket' (4), peldu mçtelis 'beach robe' (7), apmâklis '?,' mâjas kleita 'house dress,' íitelis 'smock, lab coat,' halâts 'dressing gown,' nelietoju 'I don't use one.' ALV has peldmçtelis; I leaned toward rîta mçtelis. At any rate, peldu mçtelis must also be acceptable.
BLEACH: balinâtâjs (and similar) 'whitener' (27), klors 'chlorine' (2). Apparently the problem does not exist. Recommendation: balinâtâjs.
CARBON PAPER: kopçjamais papîrs (or similar) 'copy paper,' koppapîrs (6), karbonà papîrs (5), melnpapîrs 'black paper,' zilais novelkamais papîrs 'blue duplicating paper,' dubultpapîrs 'double paper,' ogïu papîrs 'coal paper.' We recommend (along with the ALV)1 kopçjamais papîrs, but also allow koppapîrs.
CARTRIDGE: patronà (or sim.) 'bullet shell' (8), kasete (3), èaula 'shell' (2), munîcija, pildîtâjs 'filler,' paciòa 'packet.' Here the stimulus word misfired (if you pardon the pun). I was looking for a Latvian counterpart for "stylus cartridge" for record players and "ink cartridge" for a certain kind of pen. Responses kasete, pildîtâjs & paciòa clearly respond to this meaning, but they are too few to evaluate. The military meaning is not at issue.
CEREAL: pârslas (or similar) 'flakes' (10), graudi (2) & graudiòi (3) 'grain, kernels,' graudu barîba 'grain food,' brokastu labîba 'breakfast cereal grain,' putra &putriòa 'porridge,' brokastçdiens 'breakfast food,' krikumi (2), èamiòi, krikði, kraukðíi, kraukðíuïi—all nonce creations, roughly: "crunchies." For lack of better, we recommend pârslas. ALV gives graudaugu barîba 'cereal food,' but I don't think they have breakfast in mind.
CLASP, CLIP: no usable responses. We recommend *skava in many meanings, such as: skavas dçlîtis 'clip board,' and kravates skava 'tie clasp.' At the same time, there are meanings for which skava will not do, among them "clasp on a piece of jewelry" which is sprâdze, and "paper clip" which may be saspraude (in my speech: spraudîte).
(BUILT IN) CLOSET: skapis 'wardrobe' (13), sienas skapis 'wal closet' (6), iebûvçts skapis 'built in closet' (8), iebûvçts drçbju skapis 'built in clothes closet,' garderobe 'wardrobe (clothes), check-room.'
Recommendation: skapis, for US and Canada; this, however, leaves a free-standing European- (or army-) style wardrobe without a name.
(AUTO) CLUTCH: sajûgs 'clutch!' (16), sajûga pedâlis 'clutch pedal,' gâjiens 'drive,' maðînas grâbstekslis 'machine-grabber.' No problem: sajûgs is obviously alive and well in emigration.
TO COMMUTE: braukt 'drive, ride' (5), braukât 'to drive around' (2), ceïot 'to travel,' komutçò (2), braukt ar auto 'to drive by car' (2), pârceïot 'to travel across,' publiskus satiksmes lîdzekïus lietot 'to use public transportation,' ceïot starp A un B 'to travel between A and B,' braukt katrø dienu uz darbu ar auto 'to drive every day to work,' braukðana 'driving, riding,' braukt uz darbu 'to drive to work,' braukt turp un atpakaï 'to drive back and forth,' izbraukt 'to leave (by vehicle),' braukt ar vilcienu 'to travel by train,' jâbraukâ 'have to drive around,' sarunâties 'to converse (mistake for "to communicate"?).'
There is nothing more useful here. AVL offer of regulâri braukât 'to regularly drive back and forth' is clearly an explanatory translation, and nothing that a Latvian would say. I have no recommendation to make, except a warning that Latvian terms for commuter, and commuter train should fit with the verb.
CONFRONTATION: konfrontâcija (10), sadursme 'clash, encounter,' (5), satikðanâs 'meeting' (3), sadurðanâs '(sudden) conflict' (2), sazinâties 'to communicate,' uzstâsanâs 'making an issue of it,' saskârsme 'contact,' nesaskaòa 'difference of opinion,' izaicinât 'to challenge,' saskarðanâs 'contact.' ALV admits konfrontâcija only as a legal term; we, nevertheless, recommend it for the whole range of the English term.
CONSUMER: patçrçtâjs 'consumer' (15), tçrçtâjs 'waster,' piercçjs 'buyer' (11), pçrcçjs, lietotâjs 'user' (2). No problem exists; patçrçtâjs is the only possible word.
CONTACT LENSES: kontaktà lçcas 'c. lenses' (4), kontakti (3), kontaktà lenzes, lçcas 'lenses' (3), redzes lçcas 'sight lenses,' acu lçcas 'pupils,' acîtes (acîte 'black-jack'), liekâs acis 'false eyes,' stiklà acis 'glass eyes.' Recommended: kontaktà lçcas, colloq. kontakti.
COUNTER (SALES): lete (22), pârdevçju lete 'salespersons' counter' galds 'table,' pârdevu 'of sales,' skaitîtâjs 'counter (enumerator).' Recommendation: lete, as well established and known. I have tried to extend the use of this word to cover "kitchen counter, counter-top," without much success, although I see no reason why virtuves lete should be objectionable.
DEFROSTER: atsaldçtâjs 'de-freezer' (12), (logu) atkausçtâjs (window) 'un-thawer,' (3), kausçtâjs 'thawer,' dzesinâtâjs 'cooler,' atledotâjs 'de-icer,', atsarmotâjs 'defroster (sarma 'hoarfrost'), logu pûtçs 'window blower,' pûðamais 'blower.' In spite of its popularity, I do not like atsaldçtâjs since aizsaldçt to me means 'to freeze shut'; atledotâjs is better, matching aizledot 'to ice over.' My personal preference atsarmotâjs probably has no chance against the majority choice.
DEODORANT: atsmacinis (2), atsmakotâjs 'de-smeller,' atsmarþotâjs 'de-fragrancer,' smarþa 'fragrance,' padusu smarþaj 'armpit fragrance,' padusu smçrs 'armpit cream.' ALV has dezodorants. The latter is reminiscent of dezinformâcija. All preceding are dismal failures. I recommend the positive approach and a neologism *svaidze, from the adj, svaigs 'fresh.' This would allow for a telpa,s svaidze 'room freshener,' and padusu svaidze 'underarm freshener.' It would even make a good feminine first name: Ms. Svaidze Bergmane.
DEPARTMENT STORE: veikals 'store' (15), lielais veikals 'big store' (5), departmentu veikals (8), paðapkalpoðanâs veikals 'self-service store,' lielais preèu nams 'big merchandise house,' bode 'general store,' universâlveikals (4). ALV: universâlveikals. In spite of the available alternatives, I suggest that it is still worth while to hang on to universâlveikals. I am tempted by a shorter univeikâls, but that may sound too much like "unicycle" and "unisex."
DIAPER LINER: autiòu ieklâjs 'diaper inlay, (2), autiòu laineris (2), autiòu mala 'diaper border,' autiòu ievalks 'diaper insert,' (2), autiòu odere 'diaper lining' (2), autiòu pârvalks 'diaper cover,' autiòu aizsargs 'diaper guard,' autiòu pârsedzis 'diaper covering.' Recommendation neologism *ievalks. Ievalks can serve also as íiveres ievalks 'helmet liner' and in many other capacities.
DISCOUNT STORE: diskontà veikals (8), atlaides veikals (5), þîdu veikals 'Jew store,' lçtais veikals 'cheap store,' nolaides veikals 'letdown store,' izpârdoðanas veikals 'sale store,' veikals ar pazeminâtâm cenâm 'store with lowered prices,' bode 'general store.' I have no quarrel with the front-runners: diskontà veikals & atlaides veikals.
ESCALATOR: slîdoðâs trepes 'sliding stairs' (7), s. kâpnes 'id.' (4), braucamâs t. 'riding stairs,' elektriskâs t. kustoðâs t. 'moving s.' (2), ðïûcoðâs t. 'crawling s.,' trepes (2), skrejkâpnes 'running s.,' eskalators, lifts, pacçlçjs 'lifter,' elevators, uzmudinâtors 'encourager.' ALV has eskalators. Recommended: slîdoðâs kâpnes, conceivably eskalators; skrejkâpnes sounds better, but has no popular base.
EXPRESSWAY: lielceïð 'highway' (13), âtrais ceïð 'fast road (speedway)' (3), âtrceïð (7), ðoseja 'paved (blacktop) highway' (8), diþceïð 'grand highway,' autoceïð 'autoway.' ALV has âtrgaitas automagistrâle 'highspeed autothroughway,' probably a technical designation, unusable in conversation. I am not sure that standardization is called for. All attested forms probably work in context.
(MOVIE) FAN: pielûdzçjs 'admirer' (5), jûsmotâjs 'enthusiast' (3), apmeklçtâjs 'patron,' cienîtâjs 'appreciator,' filmu zvaigzne 'movie star,' patrons, entûziasts, mîlotâjs 'fancier,' kino zvaigþòu dievinâtâjs 'movie star worshiper,' apsçstais 'obsessed person,' klausîtâjs 'member of audience,' filmu proþekotora atdzesinâtâjs 'projector cooler,' vçsinâtâjs 'cooler.' Clearly fan is not a simple concept, and the translations reflect this—are you a patron or an enthusiast? do you appreciate stars or worship them? I have no recommendation.
(ROTARY) FAN: vçdinâtâjs 'ventilator,' gaisa vçdinâtâjs 'air v.,' ventilators (3), vçsinâtâjs 'cooler' (5), atvçsinâtâjs, propellers, propellers, kas pûð vçsu gaisu 'propeller that blows cool air,' vçdeklis 'fan (hand held)' (4), pûtçjs 'blower' (4), gaisa ðíaidîtâjs 'air splasher.' Again, this is not a well thought through question, and the answers reflect it. Only pûtçjs is appropriate for hair dryers and fans that circulate air inside of a car; an exhaust fan installed in a wall or ceiling is clearly a ventilators. I would opt for vçdinâtâjs for a ceiling fan, a window fan, and a portable oscillating fan. For the latter, the Anglicism fçns is also widespread.
FREEZER: saldçtâjs 'freezer' (23), saldçtava (3), saldçjuma dala 'ice cream compartment' (2), frîzeris, ledusskapis 'refrigerator' (5). The obvious choice is saldçtâjs. ALV has dzesinâtâjs 'cooler,' which can't refer to the same appliance.
FRUSTRATED: frustrçts (6), izmisis 'despaired' (2), apjucis 'confused' (2), sçdçt uz naþa 'to sit on a knife,' nokrenkçjis 'worried sick,' pikts 'irate,' sagribçjies 'full of desire,' pievilðanâs 'disappointment,' aggrivats. Recommendation: frustrçts.
FUSE: koríis 'cork, stopper, fuse' (18), aizsargs 'protector' (5), droðinâtâjs 'safety' (2), elektriskais nodroðinâtâjs, kontakts 'contact' (3), dzirkste 'spark,' deglis '(detonating) fuse,' saliedçt 'to weld.' Even though aizsargs and droðinâtâjs: are well established as alternatives to koríis, the latter seems to be a survivor. I vote for koríis.
GARBAGE CAN: atkritumu kanna 'garbage can' (9), atkritumu tvertne 'g. container' (8), a. bundþa 'g. can (tin)' (4), a. kaste 'g. box' (5), a. muca 'trash barrel' (3), a. kurvis 'trashbasket,' a. kârba '(small) trash box,' a. spainis 'garbage bucket,' a. trauks 'garbage vessel,' a. grozs 'trash basket,' mçslu kaste 'trash box' (3), m. bundþa, m. kanna, miskaste (from Germ. Mist 'trash') (3), mizkast bunja, uz garbidþu. We recommend the vague but non-controversial atkritumu tvertne; at the same time, we suspect that atkritumu kanna will be making contact gains in the US and Canada. There are vociferous objectors to kanna, since the latter word is current in rather different senses in Latvian: alus kanna 'beer mug,' tçjkanna 'teakettle,' lejkanna 'wateringcan,' and piena kanna 'milk can.'
GASOLINE: bencîns (28), benzîns (15), spçkviela 'fuel?,' gaze (3), gazolîns, petrol. Recommendation: benzîns, to match the standard in Latvia; there is little point, however, to oppose the majority pronunciation.
GAS STATION: bencîna/benzîna stacija (26), benecîna pildîtava 'gas filling (station)' (3), b. pirktuve 'gas buying (place),' gâzes stacija (8), gazolînà stacija, spçkvielu stacija 'fuel(?) station,' garâþâ, tankðtelle (from German), ðtelle. Recommendation: benzîna/bencîna stacija, with gâzes stacija as a tolerable option. It should be noted, however, that in Latvia a degvielas iepildes stacija 'fuel filling station' is a major distribution center; an operation of the size of a US filling station would more nearly be called a punkts 'point.'
TO HIGHJACK: nolaupît 'to rob' (6), laupît (2), pârkomandçt uz 'to command a change of course to,' pâròemt 'to take over,' vadîbas pâròemðana ar varu 'forcible takeover of control,' aizvest 'to take away,' Kuba Si, gaisa pirâtisms 'air piracy,' nozagt 'to steal,' zagðana 'theft' personø zagðana 'theft of persons.' In the press, piratçrija and gaisa piratçrija are well established, but no verb is handy. Pârkomandçt has possibilities.
HUMIDIFIER: (gaisa) mitrinâtâjs 'air moistener' (17), mitrumà radîtâjs 'moisture creator,' smidzinâtâjs 'fogger.' Obviously no contest—it's mitrinâtâjs.
INSECTICIDE: kukaiòu inde 'bug poison' (7), kukaiòu "stuffs," k. iznîcinâtâjs 'bug destoyer,' k. ðprice 'bug spray,' k. nâveklis 'bug killer,' insekticîds, muðu inde 'fly poison,' insektu pulvçris 'insect powder,' kniðïu p. 'gnat powder,' pretkniðïu ðprice 'anti-gnat spray,' odu gaiòâtâjs 'mosquito chaser,' odu atbaidîtâjs 'm. repellant,' pret odiem 'against mosquitos,' miglotâjs 'fogger.' We recommend insekticîds for a precise translation, but kukaiòu inde should do just as well. Miglotâjs is a fine name for a fogger; for spray, however, we prefer the existing smidzinâtâjs 'sprayer, atomizer.'
INSTANT COFFEE: kafija (4), âtrâ kaftja 'fast coffee' (9), aðâ kafija 'quick c.' (2), fiksâ k. 'id.' instantk., pûderk, 'powder c.' (2), pulveºa kafija/pulveºkafija 'powder c.' (9), tâ sliktâ kafija 'lousy coffee,' kafijas pulveris 'coffee powder.' In Latvia: ðíîstoðâ kafija 'dissolving coffee.' There is something wrong with every single one of these designations. Kafija clearly won't do—we haven't come to that point yet. Âtra kafija is at the slow end of the progression: âtrâ k. 'fast,' aðâ 'quick,' friskâ 'jiffy,' and pçkðnâ 'sudden,' and there are products (oatmeal) that come in three "speeds"—regular, quick, and instant. Fikss has been dropped from standard Latvian, and could be prompted only if there was strong popular support (which there isn't). And pçkðòð 'sudden' is not only instant, but also unexpected. The difficulty with pûderis and pulveris is that they focus on the substance of the preparation. If we allow powder coffee, then we have to allow flake potatoes, but we should be able to have a word for "instant" to fit all products of the type. And ðíîstoðâ k. won't do on two counts—one already mentioned—we cannot have dissolving potatoes. The other difficulty is that ðíîst means not only to dissolve but also to splatter (like in "Here's mud in your eye!" For lack of better, let us stick with âtrâ kafija, since it at least can be paralleled by âtrie kartupeïi 'fast (i.e. instant) potatoes.2
We promised you instant coffee and you got fast coffee instead. That's life. Has anything else been learned? Yes. First and foremost, Latvian—like other languages—has enormous adaptive and recuperative powers (like liver). The sheer mass of efforts to rise to the challenge of lexical problems is impressive in its own right. Many of these efforts have been successful, even in the absence of school instruction or media publicity. The successes include acceptable loans (frustrate), translations (freezer, humidifier), blends (aluminum foil), adaptations of old words to new uses (babysitter). Some words were clearly transmitted within the family (bleach, fuses). Others survive without clear transmission lines (clutch, consumer, counter). Neologisms have fared least well, most probably for lack of dissemination. Where English words correspond to many concepts, a one-to-one equivalence between English and Latvian has typically not been achieved (appreciate, fan). A constant difficulty resides in the fact that Latvian does not form verbs from nouns with the sort of facility as English, hence while we can meet the challenge of "hijacking" "to hijack" is another matter.
I am notoriously poor at graceful exists. Let me close by noting that if one wants to advocate solutions to the problems, it is nice to know what the problems are.
1 J. Raðkeviès, M. Sosâre & Ï. Timenèika.
vârdnîca. Rîga, 1976.
2 The rest of the questionnaire, recommendations only: interaction—mijiedirbe, jet (plane)—lidmasîna (if necessary: dþets or strûklu lidmasîna), key punch-perforators (obsolescent), mop—*slopata, morgage— hipotçka, network—tîkls, pantyhose—zeíes, paperback— broðçta grâmata, to park—novietot, parkot/noparkot, parking ramp—rampa, plastic wrap—*plastpapîrs, play pen—sçtiòa, plywood—finieris, saplâksnis, porch-veranda, portable—pârnesams, power tools—spçka rîki, to promote—veicinât, safety belt—droðîbas josta, screen (movie)—ekrâns, skreen (window)—siets, soft drink— limonâde, vieglais dzçriens, toast—grauzdçta maize, waterproof—ûdensdroðs.