A Brief Hiatus and a new intro to Vietnamese

Last week I wrote about some spring cleaning we were doing here at Tuttle’s Vermont office as we closed our warehouse and merged that part of our operation with Simon & Schuster. Another big change is that today is my last day here. I’m leaving to take a new job as the Director of Sales and Marketing at the University of Alabama Press.

I’m a native Alabaman. Citizens of the Yellowhammer State mostly prefer the demonym “Alabamian”, but there’s no reason of logic, tradition, or aesthetics to wedge an extra ‘i’ in before the last ‘a’. A native Muskogean word well-fit to the Anglo-Saxon rhythm of English, an Alabaman is what I’ll be next week.

I’m also a graduate of the University of Alabama. I did my BA there, and it was from there that I made my first trip over to Japan, studying at the Kansai University of Foreign Studies in Osaka. Later on, I did my first stint at Tuttle in our Tokyo office. I’ve enjoyed writing this blog and plan to continue, but I’m packing up my house this weekend and need to take the next couple of weeks off from writing. Wish me well, and I’ll look forward to re-starting the conversation soon.


The 3rd edition of Elementary Vietnamese by Harvard’s Binh Nhu Ngo includes a free audio disc.

Before I go, I’d like to raffle of our newly released 3rd edition of Elementary Vietnamese by Harvard’s Dr. Binh Nhu Ngo.

The largest of the Austroasiatic languages, Vietnamese is spoken by about 90 million people worldwide. It is related to Khmer (which rhymes not with “bear” but with “buy”) in neighboring Cambodia. It is not related to Chinese, but, like many languages on China’s cultural periphery, Vietnamese borrowed so many loanwords from China that early European linguists assumed it was.

Vietnamese is one of the few continental Asian languages written in a romanized script. Called Quốc Ngữ, which means “national language”, Vietnamese script uses roman letters to indicate the 12 vowels and 6 tones of the modern language.

Dr. Ngo’s book has been the definitive Vietnamese textbook on the market for some years. What the book lacked was the free audio disc that the volumes in Tuttle’s “Elementary” series usually include. And audio material is tough to do without, especially with tonal languages. Saying a book is “new and improved” is a dull cliche in publishing, but in this case the extremly high quality audio material recorded by the author at Harvard really makes this THE gold standard in Vietnamese language. Click here to email me and write “Vietnamese” in the subject line. I’ll announce a winner soon.


Persian vs. Farsi

I’m still smarting a bit for having been taken to task at NCOLCTL (National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages) for asking a prominent professor of Persian: “How long have you been teaching Farsi?” His response was “Persian, not Farsi” and that the community is “sensitive about the subject”. Indeed!

What’s the difference between Persian and Farsi? Linguistically, nothing. They’re two names for the same thing. Why then would a person use one or the other?

Politics often intrude on language, and I thought that may be the key. Diaspora communities can have complex relationships with governments in their countries of origin. In the US, Cuban-Americans are hostile to Havana, and many Vietnamese-Americans feel the same way about Hanoi. If the same were true of Iranians, I’d expect those who fled the Iranian Revolution of 1979 to prefer “Persian” because the word evokes pre-Revolution Iran.

But that’s not what I’ve noticed. The Iranian I know best hates the revolution and says “Farsi”. Either politics isn’t in the picture or it’s in the picture for some Iranians and not others or it’s only part of the picture for everybody.

Another reason language names change is to reflect in English the name in the language itself. Clumsy anglicizations like Owhyhee, Chippewa, and Oordoo have over time become Hawaiian, Ojibwa, and Urdu. Swahili is inching towards Kiswahili. “Farsi” is the name of the language in Iran, so “authenticity” suggests that. On the other hand, so what? No one advocates français and nihongo over French and Japanese.

A scholar at NCOLCTL made the observation that “‘Persian’ is an English word, and ‘Farsi’ is a Persian word, so English-speakers should say ‘Persian’ when speaking English.” It was an odd experience to be told by a non-native speaker of English that I shouldn’t say “Farsi” because it’s “not English”. I’m in my 40s, and “Farsi” was the only thing I called the language until two weeks ago.

I’m a newcomer to Middle Eastern languages, so if a professor of the language wants me to say “Persian”, I’ll say it. In that conversation at least. There are Iranians who say “Farsi”, and if they say “Farsi” first, I’m going to too. I’ve known speakers of foreign languages who very gently tweaked my knowledge of what to call a language (Tagalog vs. Filipino vs. Pilipino) or how to say a language (Khmer rhymes with “buy” not “bear”). But I’ve never experienced quite so much passion on the subject without (so far at least) an obvious explanation of why.

If any of you are speakers or students of Persian/Farsi, please write in and tell us which you prefer.

If you’re interested in Persian/Farsi (or the nearly identical Dari), Tuttle has an introduction on the subject in the works now. Look for it next year.

Thanks for all the folks who wrote in about the Tuttle memorabilia. The winners were Fred in Michigan and Paul in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan. After I wrote, I was curious to know what the lapel pins would have been called in Japanese. I looked on the cover this morning, and in handwritten letters it said: 社員バッヂ shain baddji, or “employee badges”, where baddji is a direct loan-word from English.

Tuttle Memorabilia

Last weekend I got to visit one of the smaller but most interesting language conferences in North America: NCOLCTL. Pronounced “nickle-tickle”, it’s the National Council on Less-Commonly Taught Languages. The nomenclature isn’t entirely accurately any more. By any measure, languages like Latin, Italian, Portuguese and Russian are less-commonly taught. But European languages, however large or small, meet at ACTFL, the 5,000+ American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. It makes sense because many teaches of one European (often Romance) language, also teach a second.

Chinese and Japanese have moved from NCOLCTL to ACTFL, the Koreans have always met alone, and Arabic has one foot in each conference. Also at NCOLCTL are African languages (mostly Swahili and Yoruba), South Asian (Urdu), Central Asian, and Middle Eastern languages, like Persian, which I was told not to call “Farsi” on account that Farsi is Persian word, not an English one. At NCOLCTL, I shared a table with my friends from Georgetown University Press, whose excellent Pashto book I raffled off a few months ago. I brought back with me a copy of their great Tajiki, which I’m going to write up and give away next week.

Back here in Vermont, we’ve been doing some cleaning. Among the many changes shaking the traditional publishing industry is a consolidation in distribution. Last year, we closed our warehouse and starting working with Simon & Schuster for our warehousing and fulfillment. As we cleaned out the warehouse, we found a few nifty pieces of Tuttle memorabilia that I’d like to find new homes for.


Our coffee mugs feature our traditional torii-gate logo.

First, I’ve got a couple of mint-condition Tuttle coffee mugs. The mugs were never something we sold or gave away, but were rather the official office mug here in Vermont for many years. They say “Tuttle Publishing” on the front. On the reverse (see photo) is our traditional logo. The design dates back to the ’50s and is a Tuttle “T” behind the silhouette of a Japanese torii gate. An austere emblem of Japanese landscapes, torii (sort of pronounced like the word “tory”) is thought to come from 鳥居, which means simply “bird perch”. The torii logo stands on top of a open book. In an older version, the “T” was flanked by a “C” and an “E” as we were for many years the Charles E. Tuttle Company. We still sometimes use the old logo on books with wide spines, but have mostly now shifted to the simpler text-only logo at the top of our new website. I have two of these coffee mugs still in their original boxes. If you’d like to enjoy your morning java in a piece of Tuttle history, enter this week’s raffle to win.


A vintage, 1950s lapel pin from our Tokyo office. Enter the raffle to win a little piece of Tuttle history.

Second is a truly unique piece of Tuttle memorabilia and an artefact of post-War Japanese culture: the company lapel pin. Japan was most open to American culture in the immediate post-War ’50s, when American culture was at its most earnestly conformist. The high aspiration of millions of Japanese men was the rank of サラリーマン (sarariiman or “salary man”), whose badge of honor was an official company lapel pin.

A box of Tuttle, uhm, ephemera arrived from Tokyo a few months ago, and inside it we found a lost box of these Tuttle lapel pins featuring the torii logo. They’re still carefully counted, numbered, and boxed. By the time I worked in Tuttle’s Tokyo office in the early ’90s, lapel pins had gone out of fashion, but these are cool souvenirs of Tuttle’s Japanese roots that I’ve shared with some other Tuttle alums.


Tuttle’s 1977 New Year’s photo taken on January 5, 1977 in the doorway of our Tokyo office near Iidabashi Station. Fifth from the left in the beige coat is Florence Sakade, an editor at Tuttle for more than 40 years and author of “Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories” and “Guide to Reading & Writing Japanese”.

I’ve got two of each of these, and if you’d like to win a cup and a vintage Tuttle sarariiman pin, click here to email me and write “Memorabilia” in the subject line. I’ll announce a winner next week. Thanks to Julie up in Orkney, Scotland who won last week’s copy of Adobo Road Cookbook, Marvin Gapultos’s introduction to Filipino cuisine along with a bamboo cooking set.