Archives for January 2004


The website Литература (Literatura) is devoted to “the best literature resources of the Russian internet: electronic libraries, book reviews, literary competitions, and much else.” They host the magazine Словесность (Slovesnost’), publish interviews, and—the feature I use most—have an amazing collection of poems by everyone from Margarita Aliger to Aleksandr Yashchin. I suppose most of my Russian-reading audience already knows about it, but there must be some who don’t, and it’s certainly worth highlighting on general principles. (I was inspired to do so by a post on Dave’s Blogo Slovo, reminding me of what a wonderful resource it is.)


One of the drawbacks of knowing Russian is constantly hearing Russian names butchered by English speakers. It doesn’t bother me so much to hear KROOSH-chef for Khrushchev; let’s face it, khroo-SHCHOF is hard for English speakers to say. But when the correct form is as easy as the wrong one, I get annoyed. The artist Rodchenko isn’t road-CHENko but ROAD-chenko. The director Kozintsev is KOH-zintsef. And the recently deceased mathematician Olga Ladyzhenskaya (more math details here) is lah-DEE-zhenskaya, not (as I just heard a radio announcer say) ladee-ZHEN-skaya.
Addendum. A native Russian speaker informs me in a comment that the family names Kozintsev and Ladyzhenski have has an alternate pronunciations with penultimate stress (koZINtsef, ladyZHENski), so I withdraw a large portion of my indignation; those particular people used the pronunciations I indicate, but if a native Russian speaker wouldn’t automatically know how to pronounce the names, I can’t really expect American announcers to (although it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that whoever’s in charge of telling them how to say things might be able to use the same references I do to find out).
Further addendum. I happened to open my collection of Bella Akhmadulina at a poem called Цветений очерёдность (Tsvetenii ocheryodnost’) ‘Sequence of flowering’ and found a mention of ладыжинский овраг (ladyzhinskii ovrag), the Ladyzhino ravine. This confirmed the stress and indicated that the family name is geographical in origin. [I learn from Tatyana that the name is not in fact geographical, but comes from lodyzhka ‘ankle.’] And how do I know the name of the village is Ladyzhino rather than Ladyzhin or Ladyzhinka (both in southwestern Ukraine)? Because she’s written a more recent poem, Окаём и луна (Okayom i luna) ‘Nogoodnik and moon,’ in a sequence of new poems published in Znamya 1999, No. 7, wherein she revisits the name (I quote the third, fifth, and half the eighth stanzas of a long poem):

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All right, this isn’t exactly Nobel Prize material here, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for this brand of dumb humor: Beautiful Stuff has posted a Ridiculously Large List of Silly Names, with links to still more silly names at the bottom of the page. (I search in vain, however, for Claude Balls, author of The Tiger’s Revenge.)


An attempted reconstruction of Merlin’s Charm of Making, from John Boorman’s film Excalibur. There’s even a vocabulary, and the question is raised whether a Latin loanword would be appropriate at this early date. I love this stuff. (Via Incoming Signals.)


I’ve been asked to comment on the talking-parrot stories that have been bruited about Blogovia of late, and I’ve been putting it off because even I get tired of being a party-pooper all the time. Fortunately, Geoff Pullum has done it for me over at Language Log; I’ll quote the heart of it and send you off to read the whole thing (if you’re up for some pull-no-punches debunking):

I’m just appalled at the kind of ridiculous, credulous garbage that sails out into the media universe the moment anyone claims they have located a communicative animal. People seem to completely lose their critical faculties when a bird with a brain the size of a macadamia nut creaks out a few imitated syllables, or (we’ve seen this before, with Koko) a gorilla waves its hairy hand vaguely in the air in a way that its trainer thinks resembles the very sign she was expecting. What is going on? Are we so desperate for communication with other intelligences that we will throw away our own the moment some dumb creature gives us an imitative squawk or a hand sign?

A horse is a horse…
Nota bene. I am very much enjoying the vigorous discussion in the comment thread. I do feel I should emphasize one thing: this post is not about animal communication or intelligence in general; Languagehat is agnostic about such matters. It is purely about the alleged ability of certain animals to learn and use the grammar of human languages. I realize that some species have their own complex systems of conveying meaning. I do not believe they can conjugate verbs.

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An Economist story starts with one of my favorite Monty Python scenes and the new Mel Gibson movie and proceeds (via a potted history of international Latin use) to Nuntii Latini, Latino Moderne, the Lexicon recentis latinitatis (‘jazz’ is iazensis musica to the Vatican), and “an American Carmelite priest, Reginald Foster, Latin’s loudest advocate in the modern world.” Fun and informative! (Sent to me by Jonathon Delacour, who promises he’ll update the heart of things any day now.)

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The comment thread to “Peaches in Cluj” is chock-full of fascinating historical and ethnographical detail, and I commend it to anyone with an interest in the minority populations of Eastern Europe. One comment in particular, by the learned and much-traveled zaelic, had a paragraph so interesting to me I’m posting it here as its own entry. I knew about the Armenians of Eastern Europe, but had never heard of Armeno-Kipchak, a term so obscure it gets only 29 Google hits. I’ve added links for the curious:

The Armenians entered in the late 1600 via the Ukraine and Volynia. There were already communities of them around the Black Sea but the Jelali Revolts in eastern Turkey around 1610 caused a flood of Anatolian Armenians to flee to the Ukraine, and thence to Moldavia (there are still some in Iasi and Suceava). Since Transylvania was a more peaceful choice in the 17th century, many moved there – a particularly corrupt Archbishop sold loyalty to the Austrians by accepting the authority of Rome but maintaining the rituals of the Armenian Church as specific Armenian Uniates. Armenian was basically only a liturgical language. The original Armenian emigrants spoke Armeno-Kipchak – basically Turkish vernacular but written in Armenian script – and today Armenian is only used in some church hymns, and I don’t know if Father Fogojan is still in charge of things up in Gheorgheni but I think he is the only priest fluent in the language (he lived mosty of his life on the Armenian Church island in the Venice Lagoon.)

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I generally have no interest in the cute coinages people keep coming up with, usually by blending two other words to achieve some strained and unnecessary meaning: beducation or whatever. Every once in a while, though, somebody invents a word that meets a hitherto unrealized need; such a word was Walpole’s “serendipity” (first written down in a letter of January 28, 1754, exactly 250 years ago today!), and such a word (or prospective word) is “igry,” invented by John Chaneski, Peter Gordon, Kevin West, and Francis Heaney some time back with the meaning ‘painfully embarrassed for or uncomfortable about someone else’s incredibly poor social behavior, or descriptive of such poor social behavior.’ Heaney gives this example:

Like, say you’re at a restaurant, and one of the people at your table summons the waiter by snapping their fingers. Watching this makes you die a little inside. You feel igry. (Or you might think, “What an igry thing to do.”)

In the Mark Liberman post at Language Log that introduced me to the word, Heaney expands as follows:

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Today’s NY Times has a funny article by Diana Jean Schemo about the problems people encounter offering misspelled items on eBay. It starts with a woman who had no luck trying to sell “chandaleer” earrings and continues:

Such is the eBay underworld of misspellers, where the clueless — and sometimes just careless — sell labtop computers, throwing knifes, Art Deko vases, camras, comferters and saphires.
They do get bidders, but rarely very many. Often the buyers are those who troll for spelling slip-ups, buying items on the cheap and selling them all over again on eBay, but with the right spelling and for the right price. John H. Green, a jeweler in Central Florida, is one of them.
Mr. Green once bought a box of gers for $2. They were gears for pocket watches, which he cleaned up and put back on the auction block with the right spelling. They sold for $200. “I’ve bought and sold stuff on eBay and Yahoo that I bought for next to nothing” because of poor spelling or vague descriptions, he said.
David Scroggins, who lives in Milwaukee, also searches for misspellings. His company provides entertainment for weddings and corporate events, and microphone systems for shows at Wisconsin’s casinos. He has bought Hubbell electrical cords for a 10th of their usual cost by searching for Hubell and Hubbel. And he now operates his entire business by laptop computers, having bought three Compaqs for a pittance simply by asking for Compacts instead.

There is a pointed illustration of the perils of using Google as your spellchecker:

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This week’s New Yorker reprints the following correction from the International Herald Tribune:

Because of a translation error, an article in some editions Thursday misquoted Monica Frassoni, a member of the European Parliament, as comparing Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, to Attila the Hun. Frassoni, who represents a Belgian constituency but who spoke in Italian, said Berlusconi had arrived “alla guida dell’unione.” This was translated as “at the tiller of the union” which was misheard as “Attila.”