Pikinni (bikini)
Posted: 14 May 2007 10:27 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Did you know that the scanty, two-piece swimsuit is named for a nuclear weapons test?

On 1 July 1946, the United States conducted the first post-war test of an atomic weapon at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Bikini was the site for numerous nuclear weapons tests through 1958. Four days after this first test, fashion designer Jacques Heim exhibited a two-piece swimsuit which he dubbed the bikini in an attempt to ride the publicity wave created by the well-publicized detonation.

From Dave’s Big List.

According to this site, Bikini Atoll’s name in Marshallese is Pikinni.  Some interesting stuff here.

Can anyone here shed any more light on the Marshallese name Pikinni?

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Posted: 14 May 2007 11:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I think you’ve answered your own question, Eliza.  From Piloklok:

Then I found a place name Pikinni [pikinniy], which evidently is composed of pik “surface” and ni “coconut”. It’s listed in the place-name section of Abo et al, but it’s not clear there whether the word applies specifically to the Bikini atoll.

and

At Thu Apr 27, 11:41:00 AM 2006, Likatu_Mina said…

Hi...My mother is Marshallese and when I asked her where the word came from...she said that everyone in the Marshall’s says that American’s used the word Bikini for a bathing suit because one of the translations is...skinny as a coconut tree, and so that’s why it was used for that type of bathing suit. Because women that are skinny are usually seen with them on.

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Posted: 15 May 2007 05:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The piloklok post is extremely informative, and when I blogged it I got some very useful comments about the phonology of Marshallese (among other things).

As for the Likatu_Mina comment, I’m afraid that’s pure folk etymology of no value in the discussion of the word.

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Posted: 18 May 2007 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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pik “surface” and ni “coconut”.


Yes, I saw that, but wondered if anyone could confirm it.  Thanks for the link, lh.
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Posted: 28 June 2007 01:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Wow, a post I can contribute to with some degree of confidence!

Pik and Ni are glossed as ‘plane surface’ and ‘coconut’ in The Marshallese-English Dictionary-- and according to Abo, Bender, Cappele & DeBrum, Pik,Ni is the origin of the place name Pikinni. I guess the real mystery, however, is why the Marshallese opted to single that particular islet out for that specific feature, when nearly all the other islets in the whole of the group share almost identical features: namely, a flat surface where coconuts are growing.

There is another gloss for Pik, and that is to fly, as in the flight of birds, or flapping. Given the tendency to name places for an apparently arbitrary, isolated event, this seems like it could also be a possibility—perhaps in a storm or what have you; that’s pure speculation on on my part, however.

As for stress, I would offer that PIK(ih)NI was probably the original pronunciation—for a couple reasons.

1. I’m willing to bet that the second ‘i’ in Pikinni/bikini is actually just an excrescent vowel. Bender writes in Spoken Marshallese (Pg 60)

As you may have noted already, consonant clusters go against the grain of Marshallese phonetic habits. This is not a matter of genetics or physical ability, but of (language) custom. It stems from the patterns present in the Malayo-Polynesian parent language. The only clusters permitted without the insertion of a short, excrescent vowel are of identical consonants or closely related ones.

For instance, the Marshallese word for ‘doctor’ is taktõ (dahkduh)—borrowed from English. It is pronounced, however, as DAHK(ih)Duh. A non-loan word, jerbal follows the same pattern. It is pronounced JEHR(ih)bahl.

So you’re probably looking at the name actually being Pikni, with the excrescent vowel inserted between the two parts to help it conform to custom. Other place names also follow this pattern: Lorilejmaan (lor/un “sleeping place"+ lejmaan “legendary woman"), Eañdetdet (ean “shell” + det “redup. of sunny northside"), and Lonamonke (nam “secondary lagoon” + ke “porpoises”, to name a few. All of which also feature excrescent vowels in between their consonant clusters: between the j and the m, in Lorilejmaan; the n and the d, and also the t and the d in Eañdetdet; and between the n and the k in Lamononke.

2. The ‘N’ in Ni, is a heavier ‘n’—the doubling in the current spelling (Pikinni) is probably to reflect that (although they have recently switched to using a cedilla beneath the heavy consonants to indicate this). So while the stress would be placed on Pik, the weight of the ‘n’ would give that syllable a stress of its own.

Its worth mentioning, though, that the current pronunciation of Pikinni seems like it has changed to match the one common to English speakers (biKIni). I offer that with the caveat that I have only been in contact with Marshallese who have relocated to the U.S. (although most very, very recently)—so it may just be that group, while native Marshallese are “keepin it real.”

-----

Also, for languagehat, I had to do a doubletake when I saw that the blog that prompted your query was called Piloklok, because in Marshallese, loklok is a “vulgar term,” technically meaning to wash one’s (female) genitals, but in current usage essentially means ‘to fuck;’ and Pi is the Marshallese transliteration for English word Bee. So I was scratching my head there for a minute. But apparently Kennedy just made it up, so chalk it up to crazy coincidence.

(Edited to add examples of other islet place names)

[ Edited: 28 June 2007 02:35 AM by JDayne ]
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Posted: 28 June 2007 01:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Very interesting. I can’t wait to see the responses.

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Posted: 28 June 2007 04:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Interesting that the first part of the word was, inevitably, misinterpreted, deliberately or in error, as “bi-” meaning “two”, thus opening the way for the monokini

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Posted: 28 June 2007 08:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Jory: Thanks very much for that informative comment--I’ve updated my post accordingly.

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