Archives for August 2007


In reading up on the history of my new home town, I’ve discovered it used to be called Norwottuck. Or something like that. From the History Of Hadley: Including The Early History Of Hatfield, South Hadley, Amherst And Granby, Massachusetts by Sylvester Judd, revised by Lucius M. Boltwood (1863) (Google Books):

In Eliot’s Indian Bible, the word for “the midst” of any thing, is usually noeu or noau, (sometimes nashaue,) and tuk at the end of a word generally signifies a river or brook. In our English version, the words, “the city that is in the midst of the river,” are found in Joshua 13, verses 9 and 16; and in Eliot, in both verses, “the midst of the river” is rendered by noautuk. This is the Indian name of our valley. The peninsulas and projecting points of land at Hadley, Hockanum, Northampton and Hatfield, were “in the midst of the river.” This Indian word was varied in different dialects, and in the records of the English. Some tribes did not pronounce l and r, and these letters are not in Eliot’s Bible. The Nipmucks pronounced l, and some Indians on Connecticut River, below Massachusetts, had the sound of r. The following variations of the name of this valley, are taken from the records of Connecticut, Massachusetts, the United Colonies and Hampshire towns.
Nawattocke, 1637, Nowottok and Nawottock, 1646, Nauwotak, 1648, Noatucke, 1654, Nanotuck, 1653, Nonotucke, 1653, 1655, 1658, Norwotake, 1657, Norwootuck and Norwuttuck, 1657, Northwottock, 1656, 1661, Norwottock, 1659, 1660, Norwoottucke, 1659, Norwotuck, 1661. John Pynchon has in his accounts Nalwotogg, Nolwotogg and Norwotog, and in his deeds Nolwotogg. The latter spelling was probably according to the pronunciation of the Nipmucks, who lived here. Nonotuck was used when there was no town but Northampton. The Hadley settlers introduced from Hartford, Norwottuck, and that name was more used by the English than the others.

Whew. Any Algonkianists able to disentangle this and suggest how I should pronounce the name? (A local has told me NORR-o-tuck is current usage; this page says “nor-WAH-tuck” but hey, it’s a Wiki, anyone can put anything they want there.)


Today was a beautiful day in the Pioneer Valley, warm and breezy, and my lovely wife and I joined Songdog (hey, he’s got a picture of the new kid up!) and his first son (now three, how time flies!) on a visit to the Hadley Farm Museum. Along with a pleasing odor of old wood (you should be able to get a whiff just looking at the pictures video on their website) and a brochure on the history of West Street and the town common (twenty rods wide and almost a mile long, the longest in Massachusetts, dating back to 1659), I picked up some new vocabulary from the labels: to wit, the words froe (OED: “A wedge-shaped tool used for cleaving and riving staves, shingles, etc. It has a handle in the plane of the blade, set at right angles to the back”) and pung (“A one-horse sleigh or sledge used in New England; also, a toboggan”). The former has an early form frower and a synonym fromward, suggesting that it may originally have meant ‘turned away’, “the reference being to the position of the handle”; the latter is “Shortened from tom-pung, or (?) tow-pung, corruptions of an Indian word akin to Chippeway odãbãn, odãbãnak, Montagnais utãpãn, Abnaki udanbangan ‘instrument for drawing’ or ‘that on which something is drawn’—and “The same word in a northern Algonkin dialect has given the Canadian tarbogin, tarbognay, whence TOBOGGAN”! Who’da thunkit?


I earn my bread as an editor, so this story not only enrages me but makes me ashamed of my profession. Helen DeWitt, one of the finest authors of our day, fought a losing battle for her own style in her own book, even after insisting on a contract that “gave me the last word on spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage and so on.”

It’s not a question of justifying what’s in a text by appealing to precedent; you do what is right for the text.
I say: Look at Frank O’Hara! Look at don marquis! This is America, where there is this idea that playing around with punctuation and usage is part of the vernacular, the AMERICAN way of doing things…

But they wouldn’t listen to her, because they worship the Chicago Manual of Style. Now, I love the Chicago Manual of Style—it’s an extremely useful tool for normalizing text. But—listen up, colleagues—not all text needs to be normalized. Capeesh? Sheesh.


The comment thread on this post quickly mutated into a discussion of the etymology of the word shark; commenter dearieme quoted Michael D. Coe as saying “Tom Jones has recently proved that ‘xoc’ [in Maya] is the origin of the English word ‘shark’,” I asked if anyone had access to Jones’s paper, and the learned and industrious MMcM picked up the ball and ran with it, leaving a series of comments marking his researches and culminating in one so meaty and informative (“I will take a stab at summarizing the case for Mayan xoc as the source of English shark…”) that I can’t leave it in the obscurity of that thread but have to give it its own spotlight here. Everything that follows is his; there are many links that I am not reproducing because you can easily find them in his original comment:

There are sharks all over the world. But the big ones are in the warm places. There are sharks in the Mediterranean and they were known to the Ancients. Pliny describes canīcula or canis marinus. (Latin English) Greek had a word καρχαρίας for some kind of shark, on account of its saw-like teeth. Salt water sharks are even more sensitive to salinity than other fishes and stay away from rivers, where the Europeans of the Middle Ages did most of their fishing. As a result, when the Spanish encountered new giant sharks in the New World, they borrowed the Arawak word tiburon (Spanish tiburón, Portuguese tuburão, Catalan tauró). This word passed to the English for a while. Then, suddenly, in 1569, a broadside appears in London advertising a big dead fish, “Ther is no proper name for it that I knowe but that sertayne men of Captayne Haukinses, doth call it a Sharke. And it is to bee seene in London, at the red Lyon, in Fletestreete.” (EEBO) So, it appears that the new word shark was picked up by John Hawkins’ men on his disastrous last voyage. (OT, but to be clear: Hawkins was a slave trader and one of his backers was the Queen. In addition to parrots and new words, he mostly brought back Spanish gold and silver, gotten by hardly better means.) For a time, both words existed, but as general knowledge of sharks increased, it was shark that won in English.

[Read more…]


Language Documentation & Conservation is “a fully refereed, open-access journal sponsored by the National Foreign Language Resource Center and published exclusively in electronic form by the University of Hawai‘i Press”:

LD&C publishes papers on all topics related to language documentation and conservation, including, but not limited to, the goals of language documentation, data management, fieldwork methods, ethical issues, orthography design, reference grammar design, lexicography, methods of assessing ethnolinguistic vitality, archiving matters, language planning, areal survey reports, short field reports on endangered or underdocumented languages, reports on language maintenance, preservation, and revitalization efforts, plus software, hardware, and book reviews.

Sounds like a very worthy project; you can see a list of articles from their inaugural issue at Far Outliers, where I got the link.


An article by Ros Schwartz (in Dalkey Archive’s Context, reprinted from the Feb-March 2003 issue of The Linguist) discusses the importance of the translator (at one point making a comparison to the performer of a work of music); the whole piece is interesting, but I’d like to single out this example from her own work:

In Orlanda, by Belgian author Jacqueline Harpman, one of the characters suddenly switches from the formal “vous” to the informal “tu.” This is a crucial moment in the narrative. The speaker is a prissy, bourgeois woman of thirty-five. She is addressing a young man with whom she entertains a somewhat ambiguous relationship. For the Francophone reader, this unwitting switch from “vous” to “tu” signals an important shift in the woman’s feelings. The problem for the translator is how to convey this to the English-speaking reader with equal subtlety, when we only have the word “you” for both “tu” and “vous.” The characters are already on first-name terms, so that is not an option. I decided to have the woman put her hand on the man’s arm.

As-tu remarqué que depuis tout à l’heure tu me tutoies? Elle ne s’était pas rendu compte et rougit violemment.

“Haven’t you noticed how you’ve suddenly become quite familiar with me?” She had put her hand on his arm without realising and blushed deep red.

I think this works in terms of cultural equivalence. And that is what translators need to do—find cultural as well as linguistic parallels.

I disagree, at least in terms of this example. To me, inventing a touch on the arm goes too far. What’s next, changing a troika to a snowmobile because Americans aren’t familiar with troikas? Sure, it’s a little awkward to say “Did you notice you used tu with me?” (or “a familiar pronoun”), but I think it’s the translator’s responsibility to translate what the author wrote, not create some sort of “cultural equivalent.” Of course, authors translating their own work frequently rewrite it in the process, but that’s their right. But I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me, and as always, I welcome debate. (Via wood s lot.)


Bill Poser has a Language Log post on the curious fact that the identical (and delicious) roast-meat product is known in the U.S. as gyro(s) and in Canada as doner or donair (from the Turkish döner). It’s not a matter of respective numbers of immigrants nor of who runs most restaurants (Greeks prevailing in both, in both countries); Bill suggests that it’s “an example of a founder effect, that is, that it is essentially an accident, due to the language used by the first people to introduce and popularize the dish…. In the case of Canada, if doner was used first, if Greek restaurants introduced the dish out of awareness of its popularity in other restaurants, where it was called doner, they may have used doner rather than their own name in order to attract customers already familiar with the dish under its Turkish name.” That may well be the case, but an additional fact that Bill tosses in at the end may be important here: “Incidentally, the Greek term is actually derived from the Turkish. The earlier Greek term is reported to be ντονέρ [doner]. Greek γύρος ‘turning’ is a calque of a Turkish original that was first borrowed into Greek, then replaced after independence.” I’d like to know more about the history of this; if it was indeed replaced after independence (i.e., in the early 19th century), then it’s irrelevant here, but if it remained in common use (like many other Turkish-derived terms) until after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922 it’s possible that the early Greek restaurateurs in Canada called the dish ντονέρ [doner] and naturally used the term in their menus. Like Bill, I’d love to hear from anyone who has more information.

Another point is the pronunciation of “gyro(s)” in English; I, like virtually everyone in NYC (including Greek restaurateurs), say [dʒaiɹow] (JYE-roe), but my brother (who’s spent his adult life in Southern California) uses the Grecizing pronunciation [jiɹow] (YEE-roe) and is horrified that I, a linguist and philhellene, use the “bastardized” form—so horrified that on a visit to New York (while I was still living there) he insisted I use the “correct” form when ordering. I obediently asked for two yeeroes; the counterman looked at me, puzzled, then said “Two jyeroes?” My brother gave up in disgust. It’s an interesting regional split (assuming, as I do, that my brother, as he says, reflects universal SoCal usage), and for this too I would welcome further information.


1) Arnold Zwicky has an interesting Language Log post about “conflicts between faithfulness (Faith: roughly, stick to the original) and well-formedness (WF: roughly, make things fit your system)”: for example, should the p in pH be capitalized if it begins a sentence? My answer: rewrite the sentence so it doesn’t come at the beginning, but I’m an editor. Unfortunately, Zwicky perpetuates the persistent myth that E.E. Cummings preferred his name spelled without periods and capital letters (see here and here for refutation).
2) John Emerson, a frequent and valued commenter, is selling some of his books at very reasonable prices: “China is my specialty, but I have some books in French, some books about the Mongolian language, and a number of beautiful, well-made Heritage Club books, mostly novels and classics, in good to like new condition.” See if there’s something that appeals to you.
3) A story by Jen Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle describes the efforts of 16-year-old Chilean Joubert Yanten to keep his native tongue, Selk’nam, alive; it’s a member of the Chon family that Wikipedia says “went extinct in 2003” (and Ethnologue doesn’t seem to acknowledge at all calls Ona).

But learning a language when there is no one to speak it with is no small task. Yanten used dictionaries and audiocassettes of interviews and shamanic chants, recorded by Jesuit missionaries.
The teen leafs through the photocopied pages of a Selk’nam dictionary he borrowed from the library, which includes special sections on grammar and sentence structure. He explains that Selk’nam differs from Spanish in that the object comes at the beginning of a sentence, followed by the subject and the verb…
Besides Selk’nam and Spanish, he also speaks fluent Mapudungun – the language of Chile’s largest indigenous group – the Mapuche. He considers himself only semi-versed in the native languages of Onikenk, Haush, Kawesqar, and Quechua – not to mention English.
He’s also learning Yagan – a nearly extinct language from Chile’s far south. He’s been learning from its last living speaker, Christina Calderon, for three years, on the phone and by Internet messages. She has sent him recordings of songs and tribal stories. Yanten has also traveled to visit her in remote Tierra del Fuego, most recently on a trip financed by a Chilean television station.

Good for him. (Thanks for the link, Eve!)


Sorry about the hiatus; it’s both unexpected and unwelcome, but it so happens that right after the move, our new grandson decided to make his appearance a week early (which is great, mother and child are fine, but it meant we spent a lot of time babysitting the first grandson, which is also great, but it kept me away from my computer), and right after that, my 91-year-old mother-in-law had chest pains and had to go to the hospital, which is not so great—even though they couldn’t find anything wrong with her, it was a difficult experience—and last night she had chest pains again and was taken to a different hospital, and we were called at 4 AM, and… well, I’ll spare you the details (insert rant about state of U.S. health care here), but my wife and I haven’t had much sleep for the last week, and both we and the blog have suffered for it.
I’m taking a moment before we head back down to the hospital to let you know what’s going on (I thank you in advance for your good wishes) and to pass on a link (courtesy of the indefatigable gourmet etymologist MMcM) that gave me a much-needed chuckle, Dnghu:

The Dnghu (‘Language’) Association is an international, non-profit organization located in Europe, whose main mission is to promote the Indo-European language and culture. Its primary concerns today are developing the Modern Indo-European Grammatical System, to bring the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language to its full potential, and teaching it as a second language for all European Union citizens. Our long-term objectives are the adoption of Modern Indo-European by the European Union as its main official language, as well as the use of Indo-European as the main international auxiliary language, to overcome present-day communication barriers, derived from the cultural implications that arise from the use of English as lingua franca
The Dnghu Association is financed by a private Spanish education company, Biblos, and its work is supported by Extremadura University professors. The regional Government of Extremadura and other public economic agents have also supported the Dnghu projects’ present and future implementation.
The Dnghu Association will provide organizational, legal, and financial support for a broad range of projects based on the Indo-European language…

I don’t really know what to say about this touchingly absurd project, except that if I’d known back when I was struggling with my dissertation on the Indo-European verbal system that if I finished it and got the Ph.D. I might one day be in a position to get funding from the regional Government of Extremadura, well, things might have gone very differently!
I’ll write more when I can; till then, as Bob and Ray used to say, hang by your thumbs.


My friends Barbara and Holt have an excellent blog, What Holt and Barbara Had for Dinner, that should appeal to anyone interested in food and/or cooking; their latest post is about gazpacho, both the many ways of making it and the etymology. With regard to the latter they say:

The etymology is wonderful. American Heritage says “Spanish, probably of Mozarabic origin; akin to Spanish caspicias, remainders, worthless things.” But caspicias isn’t attested until 1899.
The Real Academia Española’s Diccionario de la lengua española (22d ed.) has finally tracked it down. We begin with Ancient Greek γάζα (gaza) ‘treasure’; but wait, we can go even further back! Pomponius Mela (and who can doubt him) tells that it’s a Persian word, and sure enough there is a Persian ganj, Sanskrit gañja meaning ‘treasure’ (now before you get excited this is not to be confused with Sanskrit gañjâ meaning ‘hemp’; Hindi gânjh(â)). So we have the Greek word γαζοφυλάκιον (gaza-phulakion) ‘treasure-guarder’, ‘treasure house’. This is borrowed into Mozarabic as *gazpáčo and hence gazpacho, a little treasure house of edibles. Cool, huh, Indo-Iranian through Greek through Arabic to Spanish to our table.
If Language Hat can get me an etymology for gañja (and the other ganja, too), I’d appreciate it. Our cheap-ass university doesn’t have a copy of Mayrhofer’s Kurzgefasstes (!) etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindischen. We’re all waiting for the musical.

Needless to say, the first thing I did was go to the OED, where I was confronted with the extremely helpful etymology “[Sp.]” I’m afraid I don’t have Mayrhofer (which lists for $995), nor do I have any useful ideas about the etymology except to suggest that the Real Academia is reaching (I’m sorry, but gazofilákion ‘repository of treasure’ > gazpacho ‘cold soup’ is quite a leap, and it doesn’t seem obvious to me that the Greek word would give Mozarabic *gazpáčo, which of course is a hypothetical form anyway. So I thought I’d appeal to the varied LH readership, in particular to those interested in culinary etymology (MMcM, I’m looking at you!): any thoughts on the subject?