an accidental bilingual moment

September 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ordering at a great restaurant the other day, the waitperson ran through the specials from her clipboard. The fish of the day she announced was hake

which she pronounced [ha:ke:] as if the word was in te reo Māori. In fact the fish name hake is resolutely European with recorded references back to the 14th century according to the OED. But I thought it was a lovely moment and it got me wondering what triggered her pronunciation. Of course there is the fish hoki an extremely important one in New Zealand waters (and your filet-o-fish). Not many of us would be familiar with its anglophone names, blue grenadier or NZ whiptail nice descriptive name there! or … curiously blue hake!.
In fact the two fish are distant cousins. Both belong to the merlucciidae family which includes the cod-ish fishes, though, they are in different sub-branches, or genera if you want to be fancy.
So there maybe a fishy connection, but I think there are more things about hoki/hake that conspired against our waitress than that. The wordshape is suggestive of Polynesian phoneme inventories and syllable structure.

The genre of menus itself might have had an influence on her processing of the word. The lexicon of restaurant-worthy food or cuisine is of course multingual – (cuisine, for example!) – she had already used Italian sourced terms polenta, and French, paté and if I remember there was something Spanish-ish too.
I would be interested to know what other forms in English might trigger an accidental Māori reading and vice versa!

ed’s note: oddly this is not the first entry about fishnames!


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