How do you Say “Butterfly” in Malayalam?

Photo by James Zainaldin

We have a history of sharing butterfly photos here, primarily from Kerala (ചിതശലഭം, by the way, is Malayalam script for “citaśalabhaṁ,” or butterfly) and Costa Rica (“mariposa” being the Spanish name for the insects) but also in miscellaneous nature posts by our contributors. We also have a bit of a connection to the Smithsonian Institution, and are always happy to hear about friendly, creative polyglots, in this case from the New York Times:

Amid Butterflies, a Bit of a Lingua Franca at the Natural History Museum

 20, 2015

On a recent Sunday, Holly Tooker stood by the transparent wall inside the Butterfly Conservatory, at the American Museum of Natural History. It was, as always, 81 degrees with 78 percent humidity, and it had been a busy morning. Nearby, a giant Danainae butterfly perched on a

flowering Ixora plant; its black-veined transparent wings suggested a piece of Victorian jewelry. Ms. Tooker wore her auburn hair in an asymmetric pixie cut, and a button on the lanyard of her museum ID tag read: “ICH SPRECHE DEUTSCH.”

She took a long drink from a water bottle and, in the voice of an especially confident substitute teacher, sang out: “I can say ‘butterfly’ in 139 languages! Anyone want to challenge me or teach me a new one?”

Standing nearby, a man in a straw fedora and a periwinkle T-shirt wondered if she knew the word in Basque.

Ms. Tooker asked him if he wanted it in “Euskara Batua,” standardized Basque, or in a regional dialect, spoken by about 710,000 people near the coast of the Bay of Biscay.

“Batua,” the man, Maurice Algarra, said.

“Tximeleta,” Ms. Tooker replied.

Photo by Seth Inman

 “That’s right!” said Mr. Algarra, 50, whose grandparents illegally spoke Basque to him when he was growing up in Franco’s Spain.

Ms. Tooker is 67, a former ad copywriter, a “Jeopardy” finalist and, for the last 13 seasons, a conservatory guide. Almost immediately after setting foot in the 1,200-square-foot vivarium in 2002 she sought to become a volunteer guide, and soon after made another discovery.

“I realized we get visitors from around the world,” Ms. Tooker said. “I speak German. Pretty badly. I speak Spanish. Wretchedly. But I love languages anyway and I began to ask foreign visitors their words for ‘butterfly.’ ” She wrote each down, memorized it and drilled its pronunciation using language tapes and YouTube clips. Each morning before her shift, Ms. Tooker reviews a master list that will soon hit 150 words, perhaps before the exhibit closes for the season on Monday.

You can read the rest of the original article here.

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