Archives for December 2005


Joel of Far Outliers has a good post on how Koreans chose their new names when forced to do so by the Japanese occupation; one possibility was:

Retain all or part of the Chinese character, but use its native Japanese reading
* Kim 金 – Keep ‘gold’ but use its Japanese pronunciation, as in 金國 Kanekuni ‘gold country’, 金澤 Kanezawa ‘gold pond’, 金城 Kaneshiro ‘gold castle’, 金田 ‘gold paddy’
* Ch’oe 崔 – Keep the ‘mountain’ radical on top, as in 山本 Yamamoto ‘mountain base’
* Pak 朴 – Keep the ‘tree’ radical, as in 木戸 Kido ‘wood door’, 正木 Masaki ‘upright tree’
* Yi 李 – Keep the ‘tree’ radical, as in 木元 Kimoto ‘tree base’

There were also names based on geographical origins, homonyms, and symbolic names. He adds that “just three surnames, Kim (= Gim), Lee (= Yi, Ri, Rhee, etc.), and Park (= Pak, Bak, etc.) account for 45% of family surnames in South Korea.”


Suzanne of Abecedaria has an interesting post on the history of the abbreviations ΧΡ and Χ for Χριστος ‘Christ’; her speculations on the history of omitting the final ς make sense to me:

Χριστος has been represented by Χρς, or Χς, and by ΧΡ in art and other representation. I have not found the ΧΡ in manuscripts and would not expect it since the manuscript form always includes the grammatical ending.
A quick glance at some facsimiles of Greek manuscripts shows that the words ιησους, χριστος, θεος, ανθρωπος, πατερ, ματερ, πνευμα and some other words were represented by their initial and final one or two letters which represent the grammatical ending. This could be ς,υ,ν,οι, ι &c.
For this reason, I am assuming that the transition from Χς to Χ happened with the beginning of the use of the vernacular languages in Europe, when the ending was no longer relevant. There would be no reason to retain the last letter and X alone came to represent Christ. There is also no reason to see a sign of disrespect in the transition from Χς to Χ. And so Xmas first appeared in English texts in the 16th century.

I’ve always been amused by people who find Xmas a disrespectful abbreviation; all they’re doing is showing their own ignorance of history.


Portals: a journal in comparative literature is published annually by the Comparative Literature Student Association of San Francisco State University. It contains the usual jargon-laden exercises in academese (“The goal of this paper is to investigate a theory of hybridity that I find implicit in these two novels. I will argue that what is at stake is a critique of epistemologies of identity that are grounded upon dichotomic ways of thinking…”), but Maksim Hanukai’s article on Nabokov and Robbe-Grillet is perfectly comprehensible (and made me think I should give R-G a try, since Nabokov respected him so highly); furthermore, translations of poetry include the original text, as here from the Italian of Italo Testa and Roberto Bartoli, here from the Serbocroatian of Amir Brka, and here from the Chinese of Qiu Jin (a feminist who was executed by the Manchu government as a revolutionary in 1907), the last with extensive annotation. I’ll quote one of the Testa poems, with the translation by Benjamin Morris and Ari Messer of the University of Edinburgh:

gloria e i gelsi
ma le foglie di gelso premono alle finestre
e la tua gola bianca, sul banco, offerta,
Gloria di un giorno, la luce nell’aula
leva dall’ombra l’insidia degli occhi:
noi, saremo presto invasi dalle foglie,
tu, crescerai paziente nell’aperto dei giorni

Gloria and the Mulberries
but the mulberry leaves press against the windows
and your white throat, on the desk, a gift,
Gloria of the morning, the light in the room
lifts from the shadows the snare of your eyes:
we, we will soon be invaded by the leaves,
you, you will grow calm in the flowering of the days.

(Via wood s lot.)


Those are the two loves of Natalie, who tries to combine them in her blog edits. From October, a sterling example of the kind of thing you have to be a lawyer to enjoy:

A sentence like this is comforting because I feel that its absurd complexity relieves me of any obligation to understand it.
And during the period of twenty-one years from my death if the said Lilian Aspinall shall live so long to accumulate the surplus if any of such income at compound interest by investing the same and the resulting income thereof in any of the investments aforesaid by way of addition to the capital of such fund as aforesaid and so as to be subject to the same trusts as are hereby declared concerning the same and during the remainder of the life of the said Lilian Aspinall in case she shall survive the said period of twenty-one years to pay or apply such surplus income (if any) to the person or persons or for the purposes to whom and for which the same would for the time being be payable or applicable if the said Lilian Aspinall were then dead.
In Re Smith, England, 1928

And from last Friday, a hymn to the English language:

The English language is mine, and not mine. The English language is the shifting ground, the complex mess and soup and great wave over and around. The English language exists solely for my pleasure and my pleasure rests in its complexity. My pleasure grounds the English idioms. My pleasure starts with sound. My pleasure is all of a tongue. And words curling up my throat a growling purring hum. The English words work up through my body. And I take pleasure in resolve as well. A sharp snap in the sentence. A tight turn. Small details, small particular lettered sound. Pattern. Rhyme and rhythm and repeated phrases. Parcels.[…]


I just finished “Brokeback Mountain” (cached version; apparently the New Yorker has taken the story offline) and can’t believe I never read Proulx before: she’s a superb writer, and this is a great story. I just thought I’d mention that I learned several new words from my reading: grullo ‘mouse-dun horse’ (pronounced GROO-yo), krummholz ‘stunted forest characteristic of timberline’ (apparently pronounced KROOM-holts, with the “oo” of book, though that sounds impossibly pretentious to my ears; anybody know if people who talk about it in real life say “kroom” or “crumb”?), duff ‘partly decayed organic matter on the forest floor’ (from a dialect form of dough!), and spurge ‘any of a family of widely distributed herbs, shrubs, and trees often with a bitter milky juice’ (via French from Latin expurgare ‘expurgate,’ because of the action of the juice). Oh, and if you didn’t know, Proulx is pronounced PROO.
Thanks for the book, Eric, and I can’t wait to see the movie!


The folks over at Language Log have had a number of posts about the difficulty of fitting negations into sentences so that they make sense (see Why are negations so easy to fail to miss? and the list at the bottom of this post), and I’ve just run across a splendid specimen. In today’s Berkshire Eagle, there’s a column by Leonard Quart called “Brooklyn Changing” that compares today’s Brooklyn to the sedater borough described lovingly by James Agee in a 1939 essay; about two thirds of the way through, a section on the neighborhood known as Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) concludes:

But the painter who said to me that he liked the fact that Dumbo is relatively undeveloped also knows that it will soon go the way of SoHo.

Dumbo will ultimately become so dominated by boutiques and condos that young painters like himself will no longer be unable to afford to live there.

The italics are in the original, giving a nice highlight to the negation that breaks the sentence’s back. (It’s possible, of course, that Quant is deliberately playing with the cliche and intended the sentence to read as it does, but in that case I have no idea what he’s trying to say.)

As lagniappe, here‘s a most enjoyable poem by Gerard Nolst Trenité foregrounding the absurdities of English orthography (sent me by John Emerson of Idiocentrism):

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear

There’s another, more attractively laid out, version of the poem here, along with an introduction giving the history of the poem and its Dutch author, who wrote it as an appendix to a 1920 book on learning to pronunce English correctly and kept adding to it over the years. I strongly disagree, however, with the footnote insisting that the word does in line 193 (“Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger“) is the plural of doe; if that were the case, it would duplicate the vowel sound of the preceding word goes and add nothing to the line. It has to be the third singular present of the verb do, providing yet another variant (the central vowel ʌ).


Michael Manske’s The Glory of Carniola has a remarkable post called “The Diabolicalness of Dialects” about the diversity of Slovenian dialects in general and a northwestern dialect called Resian in particular. Val Resia is a mountainous region in northeastern Italy near the Slovenian border, and the isolation of its inhabitants has produced a dialect that is apparently incomprehensible to most speakers of the standard language (though, judging from the comments on Michael’s post, not to Slovenes from the western part of the country). Michael links to an audio clip and says “If you’re a fool, like me, who is learning the language, it’s enough to make you want to slit your wrists and let eternal sleep take you to a better place. I mean, imagine learning an insanely difficult language and then going 50 kilometers away and discovering it doesn’t work anymore.” He also links to a great map of Slovenian dialects (with a legend that, fortunately, expands when you click on it). If you’re interested in the dialect, there’s a website devoted to it, with texts, a dictionary, and other goodies.
Incidentally, Michael’s a New Yorker who moved to Slovenia after marrying a Slovenian gal, and his blog FAQ has a hilarious riff on the language:

6. Speaking of which: How is your Slovene?
Catastrophic. Learning Slovene is a long, hard road into Hell. And it’s made worse by the fact that Slovenes rarely appreciate how difficult it is. They’ll tell you things like: “Yeah, it’s hard, huh? Pronouncing the ž and č and everything. That’s tough.”
No, no, my friend, saying “ch” is the least of my problems. I’ll tell you what’s tough: six cases, endless gender declensions, formal and informal divisions, the dual grammatical form—all of it spoken in 32 dialects that are further divided into 76 sub-groups. That’s my definition of tough.

He gives an example, citing ten different ways to say ‘Did you eat anything?’ depending on gender and number of addressees.

[Read more…]


A Metrolingua post links to some useful online German dictionaries (as well as some English stuff and advent calendars).


Chamorro is a Malayo-Polynesian language of Guam and the Northern Marianas; for a language spoken by fewer than 100,000 people, it’s got an impressive web presence. There’s, with forums, a library of texts related to Chamorro history, recipes, and of course a language section, which has the following charming disclaimer:

About the spelling—well, we’re at a loss about this one! Hopefully some day the Chamorus of Guam and the Chamorros of the Northern Marianas will agree on a single standard for spelling Chamorru words and we can all breathe a big sigh of relief. Until then, we’ll just take the middle road and use whatever spelling we feel like at the particuliar moment of writing—this way, no matter what school of spelling you subscribe to, you’ll at least find some words spelled correctly and everyone should be at least partially happy! Oh yeah, about the pronunciation—you may recognize it as the “Pre-War Tamuning” dialect, or you may not. As Herman says, “I could say it just fine until I started thinking about it!” has a Chamorro language site with “short and easy lessons on the Chamorro language.” And the Chamorro Bible site has scanned copies of bilingual Bibles, along with audio files read by a woman with a clear, pleasant voice—try the start of the gospel of John (you can choose mp3 or RealAudio, for streaming or download).

[Read more…]


A very interesting post at The Lesser of Two Weevils, discussing a discrepancy I’d noticed myself but never looked into:

This passage caught my eye last night. We heard it twice; the first reading from Isaiah 40:3,

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

…and again in the Gospel of Mark 1:3 (both passages NRSV),

the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,”

There is a clear difference in meaning here. Was the voice crying in the wilderness? Or was the way prepared in the wilderness?

The blogger, Talmida, gives the Hebrew with a word-for-word translation and quotes a bunch of versions with different readings; commenters add the Vulgate (vox clamantis in deserto parate viam Domini) and Septuagint (φωνη βοωντος εν τη ερημω ετοιμασατε την οδον κυριου), both ambiguous.
Update. See now the discussion of the Hebrew at Sauvage Noble.