Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Ari, the Linguist on My Sausage List

Columbus, Ohio, September 2007

People who hear about the various languages I've studied always ask "Why didn't you become a linguist?"

Because linguistics is not about world languages.  It's about phonetics, phonology, morphology, and syntax, how ui changes to eu in some dialects of Farsi, but only before glottal consonants.

But that doesn't stop people from trying to fix me up with translators and polyglots of various ilks.

The latest, when I was in Dayton, was Ari, a professor of linguistics at Ohio State, about an hour away.

"He's got four of the five traits you find attractive," my friend enthused.  "He's a gym rat, religious, a swarthy Mediterranean, and gifted where it counts!"

So we exchanged a few emails and photographs.  Ari was muscular, in his mid-30s, dark-skinned, with curly black hair.  He said he was born in Israel, and moved to the U.S. when he was five years old.  He was a lapsed Orthodox Jew.  And a linguist!

Sounds perfect.

One Saturday afternoon, I drove into Columbus and met Ari at, of all places, an upscale hot dog place -- Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace.

"So Hebrew must be your first language," I began.  "It's fascinating that an extinct language was revived..."

"I don't remember much Hebrew," Ari said.  "I did my dissertation on Tlingit, a Na-Dene language of British Columbia and Alaska.  It has fifteen pronomials, which vary depending on the locative.  For instance, if you're going out to sea, it's dak-dei for a n-dei locative, but daki-naa for an n-naa locative."

"Many of the Native American tribes had third genders..." I began, hopefully.

"No, Tlingit doesn't have gender categories.  But it does have telic punctuals..."

"It's very important for your telics to be punctual."

He stared.  "Um...I just finished a paper on Jingulu, an Australian aboriginal language with six cases."

"I'm interested in Australian aboriginals, too" I said.  "They have a culture dating back thousands of years...."

But Ari wasn't interested in culture.  "Jingulu has four genders: masculine, feminine, neutral, and vegetable, but everything rounded is masculine, like kiyinarra, which means vagina."

This was probably the first time that I ever heard the term vagina on a date.  It didn't increase my amorous expectations.

"The Basque word for man is gizon, which is similar to the phrase big penis in ancient Sumerian," I tried.

He frowned.  "You're not trying to suggest a Basque-Sumerian link, are you?"

", I was just...."

"The interesting thing about Basque is its compound benefactive case.  Have you ever heard of a compound benefactive before?"

And it went on like that, through dinner, through browsing upscale clothing at Torso, through "a beer" at the Exile, and back to Ari's apartment.

"Not a problem," I thought.  "Being gifted beneath the belt can more than make up for a few hours of boredom."

He was.  My friend who set us up hadn't exaggerated.


He wasn't.  He spent every moment of our time together with his mouth open.  Talking!  Directing, exhorting, commenting, murmuring.

I tried a variety of ways to shut him up, but to no avail.  He kept talking.

I'm going to resist the temptation to make a dirty joke about linguists using their mouths.

We dated a few more times -- he was nicely muscular, and very gifted beneath the belt (#6 on my Sausage List).  But I could never get Ari to shut up

See also: Getting the Chinese Food Delivery Boy into my Bed; 8 Harvard Yard Hookups


  1. The only languages in North America with gender categories (in the sense of nouns having gender) I'm aware of are Algonquin ones, and there, it's animate and inanimate. Lakota, a Siouan language, does have different particles for male and female speakers; Ari would feel right at home. (Then again, I'd probably bore him to death with talk of reviving a language.)

  2. By the way, Tlingit is another one of those "sounds American" languages. Uvular stops, lateral fricatives and affricates, ejectives...all that's missing is palatal consonants other than nasals and approximates to go for the full North American language bingo.

  3. The Russian Orthodox Church is largely responsible for the preservation of the Tlingit language, and the first written preservation of the language was done in the Cyrillic alphabet.



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