Archives for June 2005


Back when I first heard about the new Sappho poem (or, to be more accurate, filled-out version of Lobel-Page’s fragment 58) I said I’d love to see the Greek; now, thanks to serendipity (and I’m very happy to report that Chris is back and blogging up a storm), I can reproduce it here:

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I’ve been awash in nostalgia reading Angelo’s reports on the LSA Institute at Sauvage Noble (1.1, 1.2, 1.3); ah for the days of splashing around in long-dead Anatolian languages and Tocharian transliteration! He reflects on “the basic nature of the divide between, e.g. Indo-Europeanists and ‘historical’ O[ptimality]T[heor]ists”:

Traditional historical linguistics is concerned with getting the description down, establishing the data, i.e. answering the question “what were the changes?”, and post-generative historical linguistics is concerned with accounting for “how and why were the changes?”. The former can be impressionistic regarding “how and why”, and the latter can play fast and loose with the “what”… (It’s striking to see how sparse the traditional classes are vs. the post-generative ones, that there’re more of us attending their classes than the other way around, at least based on my schedule and who I recognize.)

As I said in his comments, a thousand times better to have solid facts with insufficient theory than brilliant theory with undependable facts. (And I regret to say I’m not at all surprised at his parenthetical remark.)

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Thanks to a recommendation by Abdul-Walid of Acerbia (soon, alas, to vanish into the dreamtime of the internet, not even archived [July 2 update: poof, it’s gone!]) I have discovered Dave Bonta’s epic poem Cibola, which he has been serializing on his blog Via Negativa since the start of this year; he’s reached the penultimate of the 120 segments into which he’s divided the poem, so you won’t have a long wait for the conclusion. Being partial to a poem containing history, I visited out of curiosity to see what Dave was doing with the long form; I was hooked as soon as I saw the first epigraph, a snippet from the John William Johnson translation of a version of the Malian national epic of Sundiata (or as Johnson eccentrically renders it, “Son-Jara”):

Though a person find no gold,
Though he find no silver,
Should he find his freedom,
Then noble will he be.
A man of power is hard to find.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Malian epic, so this immediately drew me in, and the further epigraphs by William Blackwater and Wendell Berry further ensnared me, so that I was ready for Dave’s own poetry, which begins:

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Another word that’s new to me: pratique is “Clearance granted to a ship to proceed into port after compliance with health regulations or quarantine.” The OED adds: “Especially used in connexion with the South of Europe”; from googling, this no longer seems to be the case. OED citations start with:
1609 W. BIDDULPH in T. Lavender Trav. (1612) 4 Zante. We staied ten daies in the rode of this city, before we could get Pratticke, that is: leaue to come amongst them, or to vse traffique with them.
and end with:
1897 Daily News 14 Jan. 3/5 The P. and O. steamer Nubia arrived in the Thames from Plymouth yesterday afternoon… Dr. Collingridge gave the ship pratique, and the yellow flag was then hauled down amid loud cheers.
As you can see from the first quote, it used to have an anglicized pronunciation (PRATT-ik), and that’s the first one given by the OED, but apparently everyone now says pra-TEEK. What puzzled me was the word itself, but it seems practice (of which this is a variant) used to have a sense ‘Dealings, negotiation, conference, intercourse’ (1584 R. SCOT Discov. Witchcr. V. viii. 85 There was not any conference or practise betwixt them in this case), and this is a specialization of that use.


The Manx Language Samples Page has two samples of spoken Manx recorded over half a century ago; I was thinking of using the longer one (The Pig and the Parson [.wav file]) as a Language Quiz a la Language Log, but I figured the URL would give too much away. (Via Incoming Signals, which got it from my favorite medievalist, Lisa Spangenberg, in a Making Light thread that contains discussion of the revival of Manx along with much else).


As a huge fan of Lorine Niedecker, I’m happy to report that Carlos has posted three of her poems at Halfway down the Danube; here’s one:

Consider at the outset:
to be thin for thought
or thick cream blossomy
Many things are better
flavored with bacon
Sweet Life, My love:
didn’t you ever try
this delicacy—the marrow
in the bone?
And don’t be afraid
to pour wine over cabbage

Of which Carlos says: “It nicely encapsulates the Wisconsin philosophy of life. (Especially the fourth and fifth lines.)”

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I just discovered that a squirrel’s nest is called a dray (4,160 Google hits) or drey (826). (Oddly, there are a lot more images under the “drey” spelling.) The OED has the word (“Origin unknown”), but neither the AHD nor Merriam-Webster does (though of course they have the ‘cart or wagon’ word). I just wanted to share the information.


An essay by J. M. Tyree on “Henry Thoreau, William Gaddis, and the Buried History of an Epigraph” (found via the invaluable wood s lot) reminded me of the clever (annoyingly clever, if you will) title of Gaddis’s last novel, Agapē Agape, in which

the first word is the Hellenistic Greek term for the early Christian love-communion. The participants were to greet one another, according to St. Paul, with “an holy kiss.” Originally, this was an open-mouthed mutual breathing, in which one “inspired” the Holy Spirit from the lips of another believer… But in the fallen state that Gaddis links to modern life, one is often merely “agape” when one opens one’s mouth, whether in sexual kissing, talking, or, as Tabbi suggests, the slack-jawed response to mass-entertainment culture and mechanized art… So little, after all—a mere Greek accent—separates the false cognates agape and agape.

Now, I don’t know what the last sentence means (accent as in “accent mark”?—but there is none in English—or as in “Southern accent”?—but presumably nobody but a few first-generation Greek-Americans says the English word with a Greek accent), but that’s not what interests me. [I should have checked the actual title of the book, which has a macron over the first e to represent Greek ēta. This is still not a “Greek accent” but at least I know what he means.] What I want to know is how you pronounce the first agapē, the word for “Christian love” (or however you want to define it). I’ve always put the stress on the second syllable, ə-GAH-pay, and this is the first pronunciation given in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary; I assume the stress derives from the accented syllable in the Greek (which was a stress, not pitch, accent by New Testament times). The second pronunciation given has the stress on the first syllable: AH-gə-pay. The only pronunciation given in the OED also stresses the first syllable (which derives from the tradition of pronouncing Greek words as if they were Latin, with the stress on the antepenult if the penult is short), but it is anglicized to AG-ə-pee (first syllable rhyming with bag). So, assuming you ever use the word in speech, how do you say it (please mention which country you’re from)? And (a separate question) which do you think fits better in the title: ə-GAH-pay ə-GAYP, AH-gə-pay ə-GAYP, or AG-ə-pee ə-GAYP? (I don’t suppose anybody knows how Gaddis pronounced the word, but if you do, please share.)


Thanks to a Transblawg post linking to this article, we now have confirmation of what I always thought concerning the famous Kennedy speech:

Linguist Jürgen Eichhoff, writing in the academic journal Monatshefte, confirms there was no flub on Kennedy’s part. “‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ is not only correct,” he says, “but the one and only correct way of expressing in German what the President intended to say.”
An actual resident of Berlin would say, in proper German, “Ich bin Berliner.” But that wouldn’t have been the correct thing for Kennedy to say. The indefinite article “ein” is added to a statement like this, Eichhoff explains, to express a metaphorical identification between subject and predicate. In fact, “ein” is required in a sentence such as this unless the speaker wants to be taken literally.

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John Stonham, a Canadian-born linguist based at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, has just published the first dictionary of the group of languages known in English as Nootka (the tribe apparently chose the name Nuuchahnulth, which means ‘along the mountains,’ for themselves in 1981). The press release says:

Publication of the 537-page dictionary, which will be used to support the teaching of Native Americans the language of their ancestors, will give hope to those who have expressed concern about the death of many of the world’s minority languages, largely caused by economic globalisation and increased social mobility.
Today, only two to three hundred people can speak Nuuchahnulth, and most of these are aged over 60 years. There are also few written records, and experts predict it could die out in one generation if action is not taken to preserve it.
Nuuchahnulth has three basic vowels, there are 40 consonants and it has a very complex sound structure when spoken.
Dr Stonham incorporated 20-years experience of researching and writing about Nuuchahnulth into his dictionary, as well as the fieldwork materials of the linguist and anthropologist, Edward Sapir, which spans 1910-1924.
His team of researchers used a computer programme to analyse Sapir’s extraordinarily detailed notes, and the resulting database consists of approximately 150,000 words of the language…

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