Archives for April 2003


In a comment to an earlier entry, Beth asked for an explanation of the image “black sun” in Mandelshtam. I replied that it was an apocalyptic image (see Isaiah, Mark, and Revelations) but had more specific and complex meanings for Mandelshtam. So let’s look into how he uses it.

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The Rosetta Project provides a large number of Swadesh lists online, allowing you to “create a custom word list chart.” Via the suddenly reanimated Linguistiblogs, which also links to this delightful Proto-Indo-European crossword puzzle.


Diane Ravitch‘s new book, The Language Police, describes the disaster that has overtaken education with the triumph of know-nothing pressure groups on both left and right. Some results, from the summary in today’s New York Times review:

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Jonathon Delacour has an entry today featuring an extended quote (with a still) from one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema, the cafe scene from Godard’s 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle. If the idea of a ruminative philosophical meditation spoken over a close-up of a cup of coffee with cream being stirred into it strikes you as too silly for words, don’t bother, but if you find it intriguing, follow the link and read it—and then go rent the movie. You won’t regret it.
A couple of excerpts involving language:

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Avva directed me to this site, which reproduces the 1922 Petrograd Berlin [thanks, Anatoly!] edition of Osip Mandelshtam‘s Tristia; scroll down past a couple of introductions for jpg files of each page with transliterations and (shaky) literal translations of each poem, as well as notes on both text and content. It’s a wonderful resource…

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“Language” is, that we may understand one another. Is that so? The brilliant George Harriman, courtesy of the tireless y2karl (via MetaFilter).

Update. A link that works as of March 2014 (thanks, Anton!).


For some time, prodded by the unending debates I get into about English usage, I have contemplated writing a long entry in which I would set out the arguments on either side and steer a reasonable course between the extremes, giving such convincing examples that readers would understand at last, and hopefully even stop whining about “hopefully” (and “disinterested” and “hoi polloi” and all the rest of the shibboleths). Thinking about this tired me out, and I would read a good book instead. Now, as so often happens, procrastination has paid off, and I no longer have to do the oft-postponed task.
This is because I’ve finally gotten a copy of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (online for free, but I always prefer physical books, and this one is beautifully produced), and discovered the brilliant essay on usage by Geoffrey Nunberg. Nunberg, whom I have recommended before, is a linguist who understands the prescriptivist arguments and even accepts some of them (at times I had to swallow hard while reading, but I never rebelled); his ideas are sensible, probably more so than mine would have been, and should convince all but the most closed-minded. The first three paragraphs should give an idea of what he’s up to:

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This remarkable flash presentation not only teaches you how to bow correctly, it takes you through the entire complicated ritual of visiting a Japanese company, being introduced, presenting business cards, &c., accompanied by appropriate spoken dialog (with subtitles) and sidebars containing all sorts of relevant information (for instance, you should never write with red ink, since it was used for death sentences in ancient China and is considered highly inauspicious). Via plep.

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The Discouraging Word today explores the brief history (three recorded occurrences) and hard-to-pin-down meaning of a word that must have been in fleeting vogue in the fourth decade of the nineteenth century. You might also want to scroll down (none of your newfangled permalinks for TDW!) to the April 21 entry “Wonky pillars, and why the OED no longer considers us polite” for an exegesis of the more current, if not exactly familiar (to Yanks), word “wonky.”


Mamoun Sakkal has an excellent short history of Arabic writing and calligraphy. (Via Eclogues.)
Addendum. Directly below the Arabic link at Eclogues is one to The New and complete manual of Maori conversation : containing phrases and dialogues on a variety of useful and interesting topics : together with a few general rules of grammar : and a comprehensive vocabulary (Wellington, N.Z.: Lyon and Blair, Printers, Lambton Quay, MDCCCLXXXV, Rights Reserved). Sample exchanges:

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