Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Cyrillic Umbrella

On Cheung Chau Island, I saw a bunch of umbrellas advertising random things in various languages. Mostly, they were handy for providing shade on tables, and the advertisers probably had no idea their umbrellas were being used for this purpose.

One odd one was this one:

That's Cyrillic lettering, with an English flag.

On closer examination, there were letters that don't belong in Cyrillic, like the second letter which kind of looks like an "F".

Well, I sent this to Tristan Hübsch, a physicist friend of mine who was born in former Yugoslavia, who identified all the words in the second line, and none in the first. The second line, according to Tristan, reads "Tea of Higher Quality from England" in Russian. He couldn't make heads or tails out of ANY of the words in the first line.

The probability, given that someone knows exactly 5 of the 9 words in a string, that they would know precisely the last five and not the first four, is less than 1 percent (it's close to 0.8 percent, actually). It's looking more likely that the first line is not in Russian at all. And also note that the Fs ONLY appear in the first line. Also, the last word in the first line, "Shai", sounds a bit like the first word on the second line "Chai" (meaning, "Tea"). Thus, it seems the first line is simply a translation of the second (or the other way around) in another language.

Now since Tristan speaks Serbo-Croatian and apparently has facility in Russian, I thought it would be unlikely that the first line was in a Slavic language at all.

Tristan also told me he contacted someone he knew who knows Bulgarian, and this person said it was not Bulgarian nor was it Belarussian.

I began to suspect it was a former Soviet republic in Central Asia.

So I contacted Alex Diener, a professor I know at Pepperdine who researches the Kazakh and Mongol peoples in the Central Asian Steppe, and he told me the first line was Kazakh (or Kyrgyz--these languages are very much alike) for "Higher Quality Tea from England". But "England" was misspelled: there is supposed to be a letter that looks like an "H" (but is pronounced like an "n") inserted after the first letter of the first word.

The "F" letter, by the way, is pronounced "gh".

So, there you have it. On an outlying island in Hong Kong, an umbrella advertising an English product, with Russian and Kazakh writing, slightly misspelled, indicating that perhaps it was written by someone who wasn't a native Kazakh speaker.

Globalization, thy name is Hong Kong.


At 8:22 AM, Blogger yichieh said...

wow, very interesting posts! Actually, all of your posts are very interesting. I gotta say, you did some research into this umbrella!


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