Letter: Language can be tangled puzzle (Feb. 8, 2023)


Thanks to Roberta McKern for her always-interesting stories from our museum.

I had wondered for decades why “Lyma” Ohio, but “Leema” Peru. I found out, when I went to Peru in the 1990s. 

The Spanish conquistadores asked the locals what they called the nearby river.

“Rimac,” they responded.

Well, Spaniards use a rolled ‘r’ and didn’t catch the “r” that we Americans now use. So the Spaniards heard “Lima” because they also missed the glottal stop indicated by the ‘c’ at the end. A glottal stop is silent, by shutting off the throat for an instant, like “pack.”

Also, Spanish vowels are different than English. Thus the “ee” sound of Rimac or Lima is written with an “i.” But English rules provide a long vowel because there is only one “m” in Lima. It takes two consonants to change a long vowel into a short one. 

(If anyone is really interested in understanding the rules, call The New Era for my number.)

Some Chinese or Niuginians (Papua New Guinea) have the same problem in confusing “l” and “r.” In PNG the Fly River is often referred to as the Fry Liver.

Now, why is Cairo, Egypt, pronounced Kyro but in Illinois it’s Kayro?

Why is Willamette spelled in French, when the locals said Wahlahmet?

Languages are fun!

Joan Scofield 

Sweet Home