Archives for July 2007


Well, I had vaguely been planning something special to mark a half-decade of this whatsit’s existence: put up pictures of my hats, maybe, or write a sestina. Instead, as coincidence would have it, tomorrow is moving day, and I won’t even have internet access. (Today, the 30th, we’re closing on the new house in Hadley and returning the modem to Verizon.) So I’m postdating a quick notice of the event, with a warning that I don’t know how long it will be before I get hooked up again. I’ll see you sometime around the first of August; meanwhile, talk amongst yourselves, and join me in hoping we and the cats survive the move.


A correspondent has created a map of the USA and Canada where people can record their regional accent based on pronunciations of various vowel sounds: “You just click on the map where you grew up, select which accent the quiz said you had, and then a dot color-coded to your accent appears on the map. Pretty neat, isn’t it?” To take the quiz, go here or here. And yes, it is pretty neat.


If only they’d had this when I was in school… From Mark Liberman at Language Log:

Tomorrow, Dragomir Radev and eight amazingly smart high-school students will be taking off for St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida), to participate as the American entrants in the 5th International Linguistics Olympiad. There are two teams: the first team is Rachel Elana Zax, Ryan Aleksandrs Musa, Adam Classen Hesterberg, and Jeffrey Christopher Lim; the second team is Rebecca Elise Jacobs, Joshua Stuart Falk, Anna Tchetchetkine, and Michael Zener Riggs Gottlieb.
The students won their spots based on their performance in the 2007 North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (described in this post from last February). Lori Levin and Tom Payne are the co-chairs of NACLO 2007, and Drago Radev is the U.S. team’s coach.

Mark gives a question from last year’s competition. What fun!


I’m reading an interesting articla (single-page printable version) by Ian Parker in the latest New Yorker (“Swingers: Bonobos are celebrated as peace-loving, matriarchal, and sexually liberated. Are they?”), and I’ve just come across an etymological tidbit:

For decades, “pygmy chimpanzee” remained the common term for these apes, even after “bonobo” was first proposed, in a 1954 paper by Eduard Tratz, an Austrian zoologist, and Heinz Heck, the director of the Munich zoo. (They suggested, incorrectly, that “bonobo” was an indigenous word; they may have been led astray by Bolobo, a town on the south bank of the Congo River. In the area where Hohmann works, the species is called edza.)

Now, I’m not willing to take Parker’s word for this (how could he be sure it’s not indigenous?), but it’s certainly plausible, and the dictionary etymologies don’t inspire confidence: “Native name for the animal” (OED), “Of central African origin” (AHD), and the refreshingly honest “origin unknown” (Merriam-Webster). Anybody know anything more about the origins of the word?
(Takayoshi Kano and Toshisada Nishida propose, absurdly, to replace “bonobo” with “bilia” as the English term because “the term bonobo is not understood at all in the only country where P. paniscus is living, the Democratic Republic of Congo… Here, bilia is the common name for this ape,” as if there were only one language in the third largest country in Africa. They add “As a matter of fact, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the single form is elia, and bilia is the plural form. However, we would be able to use bilia as singular and ‘bilias’ as the plural form since the term would be incorporated into English”: they want to use a local word so the locals will be happy, but they want to use it ungrammatically in local terms. At any rate, the proposal is obviously quixotic, but I mention it because it looks to me like their “elia” could be related to the article’s “edza.”)

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Arnold Zwicky in Language Log quotes a striking pair of sentences from a Palo Alto Daily News story:

This was the first officer-involved shooting in San Mateo since Labor Day, when a homeless man wielding a knife was shot. The last such shooting in the city since that incident was almost 24 years ago, Raffaelli said.

As Zwicky says, “In the first sentence we have an ordinary use of temporal since… But in the second sentence the time span is between an anchor time (again, last Labor Day) and an EARLIER time (of the shooting 24 years ago). Time seems to be running backwards; before, not since, is the appropriate P (preposition or subordinator) here.” He analyzes it as a deliberate usage (“The writer seems to have generalized since from referring specifically to elapsed time… to referring to any span between two times”), but it seems to me much more likely that it was an accidental result of botched copyediting and that all parties involved, if shown the sentence as printed, would say in annoyance “How did that slip through?” It just seems too far outside the norm to be anyone’s actual usage.
But I’ve been wrong about such things plenty of times, so I ask the assembled multitudes: does it seem likely to you that someone in the normal course of speaking or writing English could use “since then” to mean “before then”?


I’m still reading Shklovsky’s A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in the period. In its concision, unsentimentality, and effective use of abrupt transitions (and short paragraphs), I could compare it to the war reporting in Hemingway’s In Our Time, but Hemingway, for all his braggadocio, was basically an outside observer of the horrors he witnessed and could go back to a comfortable life in the States when he was done, whereas Shklovsky was thoroughly immersed in it and had nowhere to go. Or rather, he had lots of places to go, but they were all soaked in horror and deprivation. And in the midst of it, he was writing his seminal essays on literature, which he mentions from time to time: “There’s a roaring in your ears, you’re half-dead from the strain and you fall down. But your head keeps thinking by itself about ‘The Connections between Plot Devices and General Stylistic Devices.'”
Anyway, I thought I’d quote a bit from his stay in the (briefly quasi-independent) Ukraine in 1919. The German-imposed hetman Skoropadsky has been chased out and the Ukrainian nationalist Petliura is coming in (Kiev changed hands 16 times during this period):

Petlyura’s men entered the city. There turned out to be a lot of Ukrainians in the city. I had met them before, working as regimental clerks, etc.
I’m not making fun of the Ukrainians, although, in the bottom of all our hearts, we people of Russian background are hostile to any “dialect.” How we made fun of the Ukrainian language! A hundred times I heard “Samoper poper na mordopisniu,” which means “The automobile drove to the photograph.” We don’t like what isn’t our own. Turgenev’s “Grae, grae, voropae” weren’t inspired by love, either…

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1) Here’s an example of why what I think of as the American use of should, exclusively to mean ‘ought to,’ is preferable to the traditional/U.K. use, in which it is also used in counterfactuals, the equivalent of American would. The first paragraph of Timothy Garton Ash’s NYRB review of several recent Günter Grass books begins:

Granted: he was a member of the Waffen-SS. But suppose that revelation had not overshadowed last year’s publication of Günter Grass’s memoir, like a mushroom cloud. What should we have made of Peeling the Onion? We should, I believe, have said that this is a wonderful book, a return to classic Grass territory and style, after long years of disappointing, wooden, and sometimes insufferably hectoring works from his tireless pen, and a perfect pendant to his great “Danzig trilogy” of novels, starting with The Tin Drum. That is what we should still say, first and last.

I’m reading along, mentally translating “What should we have made” to “What would we have made” and “We should, I believe, have said” to “We would, I believe, have said.” Then I get to the last sentence: “That is what we should still say, first and last.” I think this means “That is what we ought to say [even in present circumstances],” but after that barrage of counterfactual “should” it pulls the reader up short and forces a quick reanalysis. And I’m still not absolutely sure, thanks to that damnable ambiguity.
2) Naked Translations has an interesting post about the word artichoke, which goes back to Arabic al-ḫaršuf. Céline adds a remark about “the French expression avoir un cœur d’artichaut (to have an artichoke heart), which describes someone who falls in love with everything in sight” and adds the question “Am I right in thinking that a similarly colourful English equivalent doesn’t exist?” I think she is.
3) Anatol Stefanowitsch in Bremer Sprachblog has a post about an exhibition in Linz that the artist, Folke Tegetthoff, calls, in English, “Six Tales of Time”; Tegetthoff (an odd-looking name, by the way—I wonder where the stress goes?) explains: “An sich bin ich gegen Anglizismen und gegen die Verhunzung unserer sehr schönen, poetischen Sprache, aber ‚Sechs Geschichten über die Zeit‘ klingt technischer und holpriger” [‘I’m against anglicisms and the butchering of our very beautiful and poetic language, but “Sechs Geschichten über die Zeit” sounds technical and rough’]. Anatol provides a nice chart matching English legend/tale/story/history against German Legende/Sage/Märchen/Erzählung/Geschichte.
And now I must get back to packing…


This wonderful site modestly bills itself simply as “Translations of women’s writing before 1700,” but this paragraph gives a fuller picture:

Below are links that will take you to passages from over 125 women writers. The entries are on women who produced a substantial amount of work before 1700, some or all of which has been translated into modern English. Each entry will tell you about the print sources from which the translated passages are taken; it will also tell you of useful secondary sources and Internet sites, when those are available.

They really do scour both print and the internet; I checked one of my favorite unknown women writers, Olympia Morata, and not only do they have her, their first link is to my post on her! So I heartily endorse this site (which is maintained by Dorothy Disse), and I look forward to discovering many writers previously unknown to me. (Via wood s lot.)


The Welsh Department of Swansea University has put online an edition of the work of the medieval Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym; from here:

Dafydd ap Gwilym composed Welsh-language poetry about love and nature in the mid-fourteenth century, using extremely sophisticated verse forms. He is generally regarded as Wales’s greatest Welsh-language poet, and is a major figure in medieval European literature (as shown by the numerous translations of his poems published both in the UK and the USA). The standard critical edition for the last fifty years is Sir Thomas Parry’s Gwaith Dafydd ap Gwilym published in 1952. This new edition will represent a substantial advance in scholarship in that it will provide superior texts and new interpretations of these highly complex poems. It will also make the poems accessible to a wider audience, both Welsh and English-speaking, by providing paraphrases in modern Welsh and English translations of all the poems.

Here are the poems; pull down the menu at the lower left, choose a poem, and decide which of the options at the bottom of the right half of the window you want (Sources | Stemma | Audio | Edited Text | Welsh Paraphrase | English Translation | Manuscript Texts | Notes | Line Orders | Manuscript Images). It’s really very well done. (Via MetaFilter.)


The estimable John Emerson of Idiocentrism has a post pointing out that the Inuit and the Turks have similar words for kinds of boats, both of which have wound up in English:

The word “kayak” came into the European languages in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, probably brought from Greenland by Dutch or Danish whalers. Some version of this word is now used in most European languages for any boat built on the model of Inuit (Eskimo) skin boats… Through Turkish, in the 1500’s the “caique” finally appeared in Italian as the name of a boat found on the Adriatic, and the name spread from there to the other European languages, finally reaching Sweden in the 1700’s. There the boat names “caique” and “kayak” met – albeit as the names of boats of entirely different kinds.
The fact that the Turks and the Inuit both had boat names pronounced something like “kayak” seems at first to be a pure coincidence of the type that cranks love and linguists dread. However, a good case can be made that the Inuit and the Turkish words were etymologically related, and that the word probably originated in Turkish.

His post makes a case for that relationship, and he has added a recent query:

According to commentor Ruth at GNXP, Turkish qayiq also means “ski”, and is an inflected word derived from the root kay– “slide”. She wonders whether the Inuit qayaq is also an inflected word. If not, it would seem to be a borrowing from Turkish into Inuit, whereas if it’s inflected in both languages, perhaps there was a common Turkish-Inuit ancestor.

Anybody know enough Inuit to be able to answer this?

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