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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Division of the day

At least 18 expressions are used in Tanii to distinguish stages of the day and night. As can be seen from the sketch below, these are particularly concentrated at points of transition such as dawn and the darking time of dusk.


  1. 1. paro ronge khonii : first crowing of the rooster before dawn
  2. 2. paro ronye khonii : second crowing of the rooster.
  3. 3. aro jimi jama : dawn (lit. "hazy morning")
  4. 4. aro konchi : early morning
  5. 5. danyi chadu : sunrise
  6. 6. aji indu : time for going to paddy field (8: 30-9:30 am)
  7. 7. alo apin diidu : lunch time
  8. 8. alo liipa : noon
  9. 9. alyin dalyi : afternoon
  10. 10. alyin apin piichan miidu : dinner cooking time (3-4 pm)
  11. 11. aji inii adu : returning from fields (5-6 pm)
  12. 12. danyi adu : sunset
  13. 13. alyin : evening
  14. 14. alyin jimi jama : late evening, dusk (lit. "hazy evening").
  15. 15. alyin kamo (lit. "dark evening")
  16. 16. piilo karlindo : moon is appearing in the sky.
  17. 17. ayo liipa : middle of the night/midnight
  18. 18. ayo-yolyan : late in the night (lit."late night").
The day is broadly divided into four periods: aro (morning), alo (day),alyin (evening), ayo (night), each of them further subdivided into several moments. As one may expect, Tanii language is much less specific about time during the night. It is to be noted that there is no specific word for "afternoon", that period of the day (alyin dalyi) being simply named in reference to the evening. The early stages of dawn are marked by a "first crowing of the rooster" (paro ronge khonii), followed by a second crowing (paro ronye khonii) which seems to mark the real dawn. In olden days both were probably important in directing domestic activities. Early morning (aro konchi) begins with a period of morning twilight between darkness and sunrise, and similarly evening begins with a period of evening twilight, when the sun has set but the darkness is not yet complete. Significantly, these moments are named respectively "hazy morning" (aro jimi jama) and "hazy evening" (alyin jimi jama), in reference to the mist cover which is a common sight of the Apatani Valley (see some pictures here) The "hazy evening" is followed by a "dark evening" (alyin kamo) that also marks the transition from day to night. The moment the sun is at its zenith is the "middle of the day" (alo liipa). Symetrically there is a "middle of the night" (ayo liipa), just as in English with "midday" and "midnight". The stages of the day are further delineated with references to routine tasks such as going to and from paddy fields, preparing of having meals.

PB & TT