Dog Departure

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Kwala is no more. Kwala, the dog Mark taught to sing, the dog who ate exams, died this morning, aged fifteen. In addition to Mark's musical collaboration with her, Kwala has a claim to Language Log mention for another reason: in her young and vigorous days, she accompanied me to my Intro to Language class when the topic was animal language (or animal "language"). I ordered, ROLL OVER! And she rolled over. I ordered, BOWL SNOVER! And she rolled over. I ordered, SNIG BLIVVER! And she rolled over. Finally a clever student pointed out that the intonation was the same on all three utterances, and she could've been going by that (since she obviously wasn't responding to the actual words in the utterance). He may well have been right; or maybe it was just that she refused to learn any other tricks. She was smart: she was the only dog I've ever had, for instance, who would consistently backtrack around a pole when she was on the leash and we found ourselves on opposite sides of the pole; but she always considered it beneath her dignity to do tricks, no matter how many treats she got for doing them.

Now that she's gone, we'll probably have to retire Rich's Kwala Lexicon, which enshrined her independent (read: disobedient) spirit. But here it is:

KWALITY: any bad trait or characteristic.

KWALIFY: to bite another dog. As in: Rich: "I hope your walk in the park was an unkwalified success." — Sally: "Not really; she acted as if she wanted to kwalify just about every dog in the damned park."

DISKWALIFY: to remove the dog hair from. As in: "I had to diskwalify the guest-room bed again."

INEKWALITY: the condition of having to sleep on a dog bed. As in: "Kwala snapped at me when I insisted on her inekwality."


  1. Bill Poser said,

    March 19, 2010 @ 8:56 pm

    My condolences to her family. I will miss her. She was the only dog I have ever known who had a deer for a friend.

  2. Larry Sheldon said,

    March 19, 2010 @ 11:56 pm

    Sad news. Sou nds like somebody I would like to have known.

    I wonder of there is significance in the facts that there were two words, and the "commit" was always …

    We have a dog (200 lbs of black Labrador) who likes to get in the way.

    I tell her "Move" and she moves. She does not for my wife. There are other examples.

  3. Mark Liberman said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 12:34 am

    Here are some pictures from the summer of 2000, when I spent a few weeks with Kwala in Montana.

    A lexicographical note: you can see from the pictures that Kwala was an instance of the class of yellow dogs, which a now-extinct American voting bloc used to regularly elect to public office.

  4. Daniel Nolan said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 3:26 am

    Kwala was a lovely dog. I'm sorry for your loss.

  5. McLemore said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 10:40 am

    Oh no! I'm so sorry to hear this. I'm still mourning Muxi, and now Kwala….

  6. Sili said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 11:40 am

    So it goes.

  7. James C. said,

    March 20, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

    I never got to meet her, but she sounds like exactly the kind of dog I’d like to have in my family. My condolences.

  8. Trey Jones said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 12:09 am

    Sorry to hear about Kwala. On a semi-linguistic note, I know that our cats learned their names as intonation patterns. We could whistle the patterns, and they would respond as if we'd called them by name. One, Dubbia, was a Manx who acted like a puppy and would come running (she died 9 years ago, alas). The other, Loquita, comes just far enough to establish line-of-sight to figure out if anything interesting is on offer (she's now 17 and still non-committal when called). The behavioral meanings of the intonation patterns have become lexified in our family, and when we're out and about (at a store, for example) and we lose line-of-sight, we'll whistle to each other. "Dubbia" means "come to me." "Loquita" means "come at least far enough so I can see you." I guess "Kwala" might come to mean "misbehave" or maybe "bite a nearby dog" — less useful but more interesting. Again, my condolences.

  9. Peter said,

    March 21, 2010 @ 7:11 am

    Condolences. They leave a hole in your heart when they go, don't they.

  10. Kevin said,

    March 31, 2010 @ 12:41 am

    My first office employment as a graduate student was to sit in Sally's office and entertain Kwala (actually, she entertained me). Later, she protected my newborn daughter. What she was protecting her from I'm not sure, but I've got the photos to prove it. Still later she (and Rich) helped me climb a mountain and I had the tremendous honor of carrying her down a mildly steep bit of scree. If she hadn't been so frightened and needed to suffer (enthusiastically) the indignity of my assistance I'd most likely not have found the courage myself and I'd be up there still, lonely and hirsute, roughing it on the edge of the Bob.

    What a wonderful dog!

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