Saturday, February 21, 2009

Customary measures (1) Lengths

In Tanii, as in all traditional measuring systems, short distance units of length are based on the dimensions of the human body: the finger, hand, arm, span, foot and pace. As metrication proceeds in education, trade, administration and science, they are less and less in use. They should not be forgotten however, as they are unlikely to disappear completely from the language. In other places adoption of the metric system took several centuries, and even in countries where it is largely complete nowadays such as for eg. the USA, many people in their daily lives still use the "foot", the "mile", the "pint", the "ounce" or the "gallon"...

The Tanii basic unit of linear measure is the width of one finger. Interestingly, as pointed out by Dani sulu, this unit has got two distinct names in Tanii, the use of which varies according to what is actually measured:
  • ha is used for measuring heights of small size.
  • Arii hane podoku ?
  • How high has the horn grown ? (in finger widths)
Behe (or byapu) hanye paye chadoku.
The bamboo shoot has grown to about two fingers widths high.

Byago siiran hii hanye paye riibii mi pole chado.
The post of the front verandah rises two finger widths above the railings (?)

  • tiŋ is used for measuring breadths of small size.
Ngo lachi tiŋnge tere ngiika kidi dalyi ho sulu milley boki ninte mah (spelling yet to be checked).
I won't allow even a width of finger from my land for the fencing.

Thus, the smallest series of lengths can be counted this way:
  • hahe/haye, or tiŋnge: the width of a finger.
  • hanye or tiŋnye => 2 fingers: the width of 2 fingers kept together.
  • hahiŋhe or tihiŋhe => 3 fingers: the width of 3 fingers kept together.
  • haphe or tiŋphe (tiŋpye in Hija) => 4 fingers: the width of 4 fingers kept together.
  • The other units are:
  • naŋnge => palm : a hand-breadth, or the five fingers kept together.
  • This unit can be used in combination with finger widths. For example:
  • Yo aso hii naŋnge la tiŋnye do
  • The breadth of that piece of bacon is one hand palm and two fingers.

  • hiŋkhehe => shaftment: the width of the hand and oustretched thumb (roughly equal to 2 palms)
  • ladii goye => hand span (1): distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the forefinger, when the hand is fully extended.

  • laso goye => hand span (2): distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the middle finger of an outstretched hand.

  • ladu tuhe/tuye => cubit, forearm: distance from the elbow (ladu miru/ladu milyin) to the finger tips.
  • ? : distance from the shoulder to the tip of the middle finger.
  • lyeŋnge-khupohe (as spoken in Hari and Bulla) or lyiŋnge-khupohe (as spoken in Hija), or ala lyeŋnge-khupohe/ ala lyiŋnge-khupohe : distance from the shoulder to the fingers of the opposite hand.
  • lyeŋnge (Hari, Bulla) or lyiŋnge (Hija), or ala lyeŋnge/ala lyiŋnge=> fathom: the distance between the fingertips of both hands when the arms are raised horizontally on the sides.
  • dahe/daye => pace: the distance from where one foot is set down to where the other is set down.
  • The word danye (two paces or steps) conveys the more general sense of "at a walkable (yet unspecified) distance":
Lemba hokii danye dalin la school doda do
The school is located within walking distance/
at a walkable distance from the village.

The above information is still uncomplete. So far the name of the unit for measuring one full arm and shoulder is not known. We also do not know whether the length of joints of fingers is used as a unit, as was for eg. the English "nail" (length of the last two joints of the middle finger). Nor do we know the relationship of one unit to the others: how many fingers for a hand span, how many feet in one pace, how many hands for a fathom, etc. If you have some additional information regarding this topic, kindly share it with us.

12 comments:

GT said...

hi pb
nice post.
please verify: the word 'lyiŋhe' as in
...[lyiŋhe (or ala lyiŋhe) => fathom: the distance between the fingertips of both hands when the arms are raised horizontally on the sides.]...
i think it should be 'lyenge' or 'ala-lyenge' instead

PB said...

Hi GT,
If /ge/ sound is clearly heard, then definitely this word must be transcribed the way indicated by you. It seems that in Hija it is pronounced as 'lyinge' instead of 'lyenge'. I have no information regarding other villages.

GT said...

hi pb,
yeah i learnt from one friend from hija it is 'lyinge'(or lyiŋhe as you typed in your post though i wouldn't like to look for letter 'ŋ' everytime i have to type 'ng')...
anyway, 'lyenge' is the hari variant. HD too has enterd same spelling in his dictionary... even as i typed 'lyenge' myself in earlier comment i think the actual spelling should be 'lyennge' or 'lyinnge'(hija variant).
reason: 'lyen' is a verb root which means 'to spread both hand horizontally and sidewise'. so lyen + nge = lyennge.
besides, there is verb root lye means to roll something betwen palms. here lye + nge = lyenge means 'do roll something between palms'. do ponder over these words and their spelling.

PB said...

Hi GT,
Thanks for the information, I will do the correction in the post. I totally agree with you on the importance of keeping verb roots (or root words in general) unchanged from one word to another. This is very essential in a language were only a slight variation of spelling may alter the meaning of words. So here, if the verb root is lyen (or lyeŋ or lyeng) and the numeral -nge in this particular case instead of -he, then as you pointed out we should write lyennge (lyen+nge) with a double "n" for "one lyen", so that this root lyen remains clearly identifiable by readers, and cannot be confused with lye = to roll sth between hand palms.

PB said...

@ GT,
I'm wondering : if 'lyen' as a verb means 'to spread both hand horizontally and sidewise', does 'go' as a verb mean 'to stretch out the hand' ?

GT said...

yeah it is. go vr. means 'to take hand span' (such that fingers and thumb are in same straight line and pointing to opposite direction)

Kanno said...

Good works with diagrams.

PB said...

Thanks Kanno. Nice post on valleys in your blog. Keep visiting.

dani sulu said...

Good work,PB.
However width and height is measured with fingers in two different manner.
Haye, hanye, hahinge, hapye mostly refers to height not the width. Eg.Arii hanney podo kuh? ( What is the height of a horn or how high has the horn grown?), Behey hannye paye chado kuh. Bamboo shoot's height is about two fingers width.
Byago siirang hi hanye paye ribii mi poley chado? ( Byago i.e platform post is two fingers higher than the ribbi i.e olace of sitting.)

For the breadth, the measures of fingers are generally used in the following manner
1.lachi tingey = width of one finger.
2.Lachi tinye = width of two fingers.
3. Lachi tihinghey= width of three fingers.
4. Lachi timpye = width of four finers.

Eg. Yoh aso hi nangey la tinye do. (The breadth of pig skin is width of one palm and two fingers.)
Ngo lachi tingey tere ngika kiddi dalyi ho sulu milley boki nintey mah.(I wont allow even a width of finger form my land for the fencing)
These are two generalised category of finger measurement as I know. But on many occasions of measurement they are inerchanged and loose the distinction. Since this is only as I know, someone may correct me.

PB said...

Hi Sulu,
Many thanks for this valuable information, which I have inserted into the main text. I have only modified your spelling so that it remains consistent throughout the post (only where I could not understand the meaning of words the spelling has been left unchanged). I hope I did not made any mistake.

Millo Tago said...

I think distance from the shoulder to the tip of the middle finger is called 'ala tuye'

PB said...

@to Millo Tago,
Thanks for this information. Isn't 'tuye' alone the span of a measuring stick ?