I say millets, you say mijo, mijo

Dr Don Osborn is a “specialist in rural development with expertise in natural resource management, agriculture, African languages, and localization of information technology.” Very active on Twitter, he had an interesting thread over there a few days ago on the International Year of Millets.

It seems the singular version of the word “millets” is used in the official documentation in some of the official UN languages. It may well be that “mijo” in Spanish, for example, is a generic term covering all the various species involved that doesn’t easily take a plural, but I do hope this doesn’t detract from the focus on diversity.

One Reply to “I say millets, you say mijo, mijo”

  1. Thanks for highlighting my Twitter thread on the naming of the International Year of Millets in UN official languages.

    Part of what I’m suggesting is that the message of the diversity of species that tend to get lumped under one collective noun (millet in English or mijo in Spanish) has a linguistic dimension, because words & termsat lest to some degree shape how we imagine & organize things.

    In English, the singular form “millet” leads to absurdities such as discussed in a short piece I did on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sapir-whorf-our-millet-vocabulary-food-diversity-don-osborn/ . Meanwhile, the plural form “millets” still gets flagged by spell checkers even as it becomes more commonly used. Getting used to the plural form, in this case, is part of language change and that takes time. India, which is a veritable “crossroads” of diverse millets, and which has English as one of its official languages, seems to have taken the lead in making this change.

    I don’t speak Spanish (can read basic texts), but could it be that that language is just not as far along? Could use of the gramatically correct if uncommon plural “mijos” rather than the (collective) singular “mijo” in the name of the Year have the benefit of catching people’s attention and shifting their assumptions?

    The case in French may be a bit more complicated. There are two words – “mil” & its diminutive form “millet” – perhaps roughly corresponding to “major” & “minor” millets in English (the meanings of which may vary and overlap). In any event, it seems the singular “mil” would be a term with very restrained meaning (often just meaning pearl millet in Africa).

    Arabic, Chinese & Russian have other issues, as I touched on in the thread.

    So of all the 5 UN official languages other than English, might Spanish have the easiest time switching to the plural form in the name of the Year?

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