Archives for June 2003


If you’ve ever had a yen to hear the Vedas chanted, there are eighteen hours of it available at, not to mention Sanskrit texts of the Vedas with commentary by Sayanacharya. I’m taking this on faith because I can’t actually access the site at the moment, but here‘s a story about it, and it’s recommended by Nancy at under the fire star, so my faith is strong.

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That’s my condition this week; I have no idea where it came from, and it turns out we don’t know where the word comes from either (OED: “Relationship to other Teutonic roots is uncertain, and no outside cognates have been traced”). At any rate, I have not the mental energy to come up with a clever and enlightening entry, so here’s one of my favorite short Charles Reznikoff poems (and I must immediately qualify this by saying that most Reznikoff poems are quite long):
Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.
Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.
(From Inscriptions 1944 -1956.)


Diglossia is a situation in which one form of a language (the H variety) is used for formal purposes (writing, speeches, &c.) and another (L) is used for conversation (and is rarely if ever written down); a typical example is Arabic in those countries where a dialect of it is the vernacular. The classic article is by Charles Ferguson (1959), but much work has been done since, and Nancy Gandhi has turned up a useful summary by Harold F. Schiffman. A couple of points:

Difference between Diglossia and Standard-with-dialects. In diglossia, no-one speaks the H-variety as a mother tongue, only the L-variety. In the Standard-with-dialects situation, some speakers speak H as a mother tongue, while others speak L-varieties as a mother tongue and acquire H as a second system.
What engenders diglossia and under what conditions.
(a) Existence of an ancient or prestigious literature, composed in the H-variety, which the linguistic culture wishes to preserve as such.
(b) Literacy is usually a condition, but is usually restricted to a small elite. When conditions require universal literacy in H, pedagogical problems ensue.
(c) Diglossias do not spring up overnight; they take time to develop
These three factors, perhaps linked with religion, make diglossia extremely stable in Arabic and other linguistic cultures such as South Asia.

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In the nature
of flesh, these clown gods
are words, blown
in the winters, thou
windows, lacking
      In the nature,
of ideas, in the nature of
words, these
clown gods are
winter. Are blown
thru our windows.
           The flesh
& bone
of the season. Each
dead thing
across the pavement. Each
dead word
in a winter wind. Are
in the nature
of flesh. These
liars, clown
–Amiri Baraka (from Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note)

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According to this article by Jonathan Duffy at BBC News Online, Google is taking vigorous legal action to keep people from listing “google” as a lower-case vocabulary item; their fear is, of course, that their trademark will go the way of escalator, pogo, gunk, heroin, and tabloid.

Paul McFedries, who runs the lexicography site Word Spy, received a stiffly worded letter from the firm after he added “google” to his online lexicon.
The company asked him to delete the definition or revise it to take account of the “trade mark status of Google”. He opted for the latter.
Google’s problem is one of the paradoxes of having a runaway successful brand. The bigger it gets, the more it becomes part of everyday English language and less a brand in its own right.
Just as we talk about “hoovering” instead of vacuuming, people have started to say “google” to mean search. The word has become an eponym.

At the end of the article comes this interesting twist:

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Anyone interested in Russian poetry will want to bookmark the site From the Ends to the Beginning: A Bilingual Anthology of Russian Poetry.

The aim of this innovative project is to provide an intelligently chosen, well-translated, and comprehensive anthology of Russian poetry from its beginnings in the 18th century to the contemporary scene. The anthology breaks new ground the in study and appreciation of Russian poetry by including multimedia elements that would have been impossible in any other format:
• Facing texts of Russian originals and English translations of 200 poems that broadly represent more than 225 years of Russian poetry.
• 38 detailed resource pages on the various poets containing extensive biographical information, bibliographies, and links. For many of these poets, is the only English-language source of information on the Internet.
• 75+ previously unavailable archival recordings of poetry performed by Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, Pasternak, Esenin, Bunin, and others. When recordings by the poets themselves are not available, the site contains performances by leading Russian actors or musical renditions of the works.
• 400+ illustrations of authors, monuments, and manuscript versions of many poems.
• A search engine that enables free-text and Boolean searches of the collection.

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An older edition of the BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English is available online; as the introduction says:

The BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English gives essential grammatical and lexical recurrent word combinations, often called collocations; when necessary, it provides definitions, paraphrases, and Usage Notes….
Much of the material provided in this Dictionary has never before been published. This material is of vital importance to those learners of English who are native speakers of other languages. Heretofore, they have had no source that would consistently indicate, for example, which verbs are used with which nouns; they could not find in any existing dictionary such collocations as call an alert, lay down a barrage, hatch a conspiracy, impose an embargo, roll a hoop, draw up a list, administer an oath, enter (make) a plea, crack a smile, punch a time clock, inflict a wound, etc. This Dictionary provides such collocations; in order to enable the user of the Dictionary to find them quickly and easily, they are given in the entries for the nouns.

(Via Avva.)


Via the always interesting Uncle Jazzbeau’s Gallimaufry, an entry about the dialect of Liguria, “that tight, cramped little province — whence my father’s family came — jammed up between the sea and the mountains, stretched out between France and Pisa.” The dialect is called zeneize (=”genovese“); apparently the term ligure ‘Ligurian’ is used largely in connection with antiquity, and there is not even a corresponding word in the dialect. At any rate, he links to two websites exclusively written in the dialect and has an Addendum about the name Baciccia, which is extremely common in the region and has turned up in American Spanish thanks to the many Genoese immigrants (in Argentina bachicha is both an insulting term for Italians and a slang word meaning ‘simpleton’). A tip of the hat to Jim, who makes Uncle Jazzbeau dance.

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The June 9 entry at Panchayat, The Imam and I: An Argument in the Qasbah, presents as sharp a picture of the divide in today’s world and the way it affects the way people talk with each other as I’ve read in a long time. The entry’s author, Conrad Barwa, quotes a difficult conversation Amitav Ghosh had with an angry imam; I urge you to read the whole thing, but here’s the conclusion:

I was crushed as I walked away; it seemed to me that the Imam and I had participated in our own final defeat, in the dissolution of centuries of dialogue that had linked us; we had demonstrated the irreversible triumph of the language that has usurped all the others in which people once discussed their differences. We had acknowledged that it was no longer possible to speak as any one of the thousands of travellers who had crossed the Indian Ocean in the Middle Ages might have done; of things that were good, or right or willed by God; it would have been merely absurd for either of us to use those words, for they belonged to a dismantled rung on the ascending ladder of Development. To make ourselves understood, we had both resorted, I, a student of the social and ‘humane’ sciences, and he an old fashioned village Imam, to the very terms that world leaders and statesmen use at great global conferences, the universal, irresistible metaphysic of modern meaning; he said to me in effect: ‘You ought not to do what you do, because otherwise you will not have guns and tanks and bombs.’ It was the only language we had been able to discover in common. I felt myself a conspirator in the betrayal of the history that had led me to Egypt, a witness to the extermination of a world of accommodations that I had believed to be still alive and in some measure still retrievable.

(Link via Path of the Paddle.)
Update: It turns out the conversation is an excerpt from Ghosh‘s book In an Antique Land, which I’ve been meaning to read for years but haven’t gotten to yet; thanks to Conrad Barwa and Ikram Saeed for their e-mails, and I have edited my intro above accordingly.


This excellent site presents the Great Isaiah Scroll of the Qumran community, showing a photographic plate of each column of the scroll with a line-by-line translation and a detailed analysis of physical characteristics and textual variants.

My comments on each page about the scroll are meant to help you to get to know about the scroll and the technical differences between it and the received text. It is not meant to be a commentary on the book of Isaiah. If you can read Hebrew it will enhance your study of the scroll greatly, but it is not necessary to read Hebrew to gain some insight into what the Scroll is like and to understand its importance…. The critical comments are meant for beginning and intermediate students. Advanced students will also find things of interest on these pages, but this is not to be considered a “scholar’s” work.

A good place to start is the introductory page, which describes the physical condition of the scroll and the editorial markings and (for those who know some Hebrew) the peculiarities of the language.

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