Archives for March 2016

Curse Words as Dialect Maps II.

Last year we discussed Curse Words as Dialect Maps; now Stan Carey at Strong Language has a much wider selection in his post Sweary maps 2: Swear harder. He says he “went searching for swears and euphemisms” and found “some intriguing – and visually very appealing – patterns of rude word use in contemporary discourse”; there are maps for af (as fuck), asf (as fuck), badass, bullshit, cock, crappy, dammit, damnit, damned, dang, dick, dickhead, douchebag, effing, fart, freakin, freaking, frick, frickin, friggin, fuck, fucked, fucker, fuckers, fuckery, fuckin, fucking, fw (fuck with), goddamn, gtfo (get the fuck out), heck, idgaf (I don’t give a fuck), lmfao (laughing my fucking ass off), mf (motherfucker/-ing), mofo, motherfucking, nigga, omfg (oh my fucking god), piss, pissed, pissy, prick, scum, shit, shits, shitty, shittiest, shitting, slutty, stfu (shut the fuck up), sucks, swear, tf (the fuck), twat, turd, wtf (what the fuck), and wth (what the hell). Enjoy! (Via the Log.)

Encyclopedia of Literary Translation Into English.

I just discovered by accident something I’m very glad to know exists, the Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English. At $356.92, it’s not going to be showing up on my bookshelves, but Google Books and Amazon’s Look Inside the Book will allow me to use it to some extent, and of course in cases of desperation there’s always the library. Here’s a sample, the discussion of Aksyonov’s Звёздный билет/A Starry Ticket (see this LH post):

[Alec] Brown’s translation (1962) of Aksenov’s second novel, under the title A Starry Ticket, is notable for its often incongruous rendering of colloquial speech and slang expressions. Brown translates most of the slang with English and American slang equivalents taken from a variety of epochs and regions, which often results in an unnerving tension between the characters’ speech and Soviet realia. An old woman in chapter 1 erupts in archaic English: “It fair makes me blood run cold.” Brown often translates neutral Russian expressions with clumsy colloquialisms: drinking becomes “gurgling down”; tired of becomes “fed up to the gills with”; a grade of C becomes a “just-scraped-through”. Even more curious in this translation are Brown’s unwarranted additions to the text. When the narrator sits by the window to shave, Brown adds, in parentheses, “to get the light”. Inaccuracies abound, including mistakes in rendering tense in English, and Brown takes great liberties in translating the chapter headings. [Andrew] MacAndrew’s translation (1963) of Zvezdnyi bilet appeared a year after Brown’s under the title A Ticket to the Stars. This translation is readable and avoids the gross inaccuracies and ill-chosen turns of phrase typical of Brown’s translation. MacAndrew tends consistently to choose slang equivalents from standard American slang, avoiding expressions that too vividly conjure images of the culture of the target text.

Isn’t that useful? Now I know where to send people who want to know which is the best translation of some foreign work.

Da Qin.

Over at, OP Tipping quotes Silk Road Seattle’s page “The Kingdom of Da Qin 大秦 (the Roman Empire)“:

Da Qin 大秦 [Ta Ch’in] = Rome or Roman territory, depending on the context. The use of such a name (literally, ‘Great Qin’ = Great China) for a foreign state probably reflects the common process of mythologizing distant and unfamiliar cultures. Pulleyblank (1999), p. 77 notes that it “…is clearly not a transcription of a foreign word” and that the “…earliest datable occurrence seems to be with reference to Gān Ying’s mission of 97 C.E.”

and asks, “Why would China call Rome ‘the Great China’?” I thought that was an excellent question, and since Hatters did such a good job with Dashi (what the Chinese called the Arabs in the 8th century), I thought I’d bring it here. Anybody know anything?


I’ve finished Elena Veltman’s short novel Виктор [Viktor], which surprised me by being a huge advance on “Oksana” (which I wrote about here). It’s one of those works that makes me glad I embarked on my project of reading as much early Russian literature as I could, and frustrated at the unjust workings of literary history and canon formation. It appeared in the January and February 1853 issues of Moskvityanin and as a book in the same year, but the book appears to be an extreme rarity, and it has not been digitized by Google, which means anyone who wants to read the novel has to depend on the Google Books scan of Moskvityanin (here‘s the start)—which, alas, is missing several pages.

The novel is divided into two halves, the first giving background and the second telling the actual story. But here, as in an Alexander Veltman novel, the plot is not paramount, and the title character is not meant to be a particularly interesting or psychologically deep protagonist (a point missed by one of the very few people who seems to have actually read it since the 1850s, the author of the entry in the Dictionary of Russian Women Writers). It starts with its young hero waking up in an unbearably melancholy state, tells the reader that this is one of those fateful moments that can determine the entire future course of a person’s life, and then says that to understand it we must go back a generation or two, to Viktor’s mother, or better yet to her mother, Anna Petrovna Polyanova, and we’re off — Viktor disappears for many pages. It turns out that Anna’s husband, Prokofy Trofimovich, works for a rich woman, Avdotya Medvedeva, on the lawsuit which consumes her entire life and which everyone expects will make their fortune. After many miscarriages which seem to ordain a childless marriage, Anna has a daughter, Nastenka, who is so beautiful and charming that Avdotya takes her under her wing, giving her a proper lady’s education (French, piano, dancing) at a pension. Unfortunately, she is also a miser, and chooses the cheapest available pension (Mme Griselle’s), which means that Nastenka learns such terrible French that Avdotya says she’d better not marry anyone who actually speaks the language. Fortunately, she has just the right candidate: Andrei Lyudvinov, a lawyer who carries on her lawsuit in the higher circles of St. Petersburg. He’s an older man, and balding, but Nastasya has no choice in the matter, and she marries him (I might note that the author herself was forced by her family to marry an older man she didn’t love, for financial reasons); they have a child, Viktor, whom they adore, and they provide him with the best possible gentleman’s education. Unfortunately, just as he’s about to set out to make his way in the world, the lawsuit is decided unfavorably, and everyone is suddenly broke. He’s excited for a moment when an acquaintance shows up and offers to take him on a trip around the world, all expenses paid, but it turns out the fellow means that Viktor (who he assumes is rich) will pay the expenses while he acts as a tour guide. So, after awakening (thus we return to the start of the novel), Viktor sees nothing for it but to retreat to the village the family owns, out in the country. This is where the first part ends.

[Read more…]

Jalada Translation Issue 01.

Jalada is “a pan-African writers’ collective,” and they have produced a fantastic online magazine consisting of translations of a single story by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Gikuyu pronunciation [ᵑɡoɣe wa ðiɔŋɔ]), “The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright,” into English, Amharic, Dholuo, Kikamba, Lwisukha-Lwidakho, French, Arabic, Luganda, Kiswahili, Afrikaans, Hausa, Ikinyarwanda, Meru, Lingala, IsiZulu, Igbo, Ibibio, Somali, Sayyidka, XiTsonga, Nandi, Rukiga, Bamanankan, Shona, Lugbarati, Lubukusu, Kimaragoli, Giriama, Sheng, Naija Languej, Marakwet, and Ewe. As if that weren’t enough, you can hear audio files of readings of the story in the original Kikuyu and in English and Sheng translation. If you’re wondering about Naija Languej, it’s also known as Nigerian Pidgin; this page says a 2009 conference adopted Naijá as the new name for the language, “because what hitherto was referred to as Nigerian Pidgin is no longer a pidgin because it has creolised in some parts of the country; its functions have surpassed the functions of a pidgin; and the term ‘pidgin’ has helped to encourage derogatory connotations about the language.” Both idea and execution are excellent, and I hope they do more of this sort of thing.


Over at the Log, a guest post by Nathan Hopson describes a really clever use of the Japanese language’s traditions of borrowings and abbreviations:

Reading and watching the news in Japanese, I quickly realized that the UN is something of an exception and that the media handle the alphabet soup of international organizations by giving the English acronym along with its Japanese translation the first time, and then simply using the English acronym thereafter. So the World Health Organization becomes WHO (世界保健機関), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is NATO (北大西洋条約機構). In conversation, many of these well-known bodies are simply referred to by their English acronyms; even the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (連合国総司令部) is just called GHQ.

This phenomenon, which is a great example of the flexibility of the Japanese language, has recently been taken to an extreme by the Japanese musician and personality known as DAIGO, who is incidentally also the grandson of former Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru. His unique take on abbreviation is called “DAI語.” The pronunciation of this coinage is the same as his name; the last character means “language.” […]

In the first still, DAIGO is saying, “MM,” which has been helpfully glossed as マジムリ (maji muri). ムリ (or 無 理 in kanji) means something like, “No way!” and the マ ジ is an intensifier meaning “seriously.” In the second picture, he goes one step further: “SNSN” is glossed as shinsen (新 鮮; “fresh”). Below, “DGDG” is read as “Daigo no dai gosan” (DAIGOの 大誤算), or “DAIGO’s big miscalculation.”

There are more examples and background at the link; I’m sure there is no shortage of people decrying this as a mortal threat to the language (or to all that is decent and good), but I think it’s great. Have fun with language, that’s what it’s for! (Well, that and ordering breakfast.)

On Reviewing Translations.

Susan Bernofsky, Jonathan Cohen, and Edith Grossman produced these thoughts for reviewers of literary translations, which are cogent enough I thought I’d pass them along:

• Always include the translator’s name in your initial mention of the book and in any bibliographic sidebar.

• If the translation stands out because of its elegance, panache, or daring word choices, by all means say so. If it drags and stumbles, this too is worthy of note, particularly if your conclusions are backed up by examples.

• If the translator has included a note describing his or her approach to the translation, it is useful to summarize the principles mentioned in the statement and to indicate whether the translator’s aims have been achieved.

• When previous translations of a work exist, compare parallel passages so you can indicate the contributions made by the new one.

• If the work of the original author is celebrated for particular literary qualities, it is valuable for the reader to know whether they appear in the translation.

• Most interesting of all for you to consider is this: does the translated work contribute to the literary life of the English language, to our speech, art, and sensibility? In other words, regardless of whether the work is poetry or prose, does the translation expand the boundaries of literary practice in English, introducing new narrative techniques, poetic forms, or modes of telling a story?

Here are two examples of reviews we think are particularly successful at integrating a discussion of the translation into an evaluation of the book under review: Michael Dirda’s review of The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, translated from the German by Breon Mitchell (here); and James Woods’ review of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (here).

I share their impatience with reviews that include only “a passing comment like ‘ably translated,'” and I hope their suggestions are listened to. Thanks, Trevor!


I’ve just come across a very interesting edge case in the perennial issue “What is an English word?” I almost hate to post about it, because by doing so I’m ruining the pristine Google results, which at present consist of three hits: Politics in the Rural Society, by P. M. Jones (“Pockets of preciputary practice existed in the North, notably in Picardy and Flanders”); A History of the Family, Vol. 2: The Impact of Modernity, ed. Andre Burguiere, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Martine Segalen, and Francois Zonabend (“It is also clear that the preciputary system which dominated in southern France was related to the stem family”); and “From mother to daughter: The transmission of fertility” by Agnès Fine, Véronique Moulinié, and Jean-Claude Sangoï (“However, in the Haut-Comminges, when inheritance is preciputary, it lends no systematic advantage to the eldest son”). From those quotes it sounds like an ordinary word, perhaps a little specialized (I’m pretty sure no one reading this will know what it means) but a member in good standing of the English word-hoard. And yet it is not in any English dictionary, not even in the remote reaches of the OED (an advanced search turns up no results), and three Google hits is essentially zero as far as frequency of use is concerned.

What does it mean, you ask? Well, it’s an anglicized form of French préciputaire (an adjective based on the noun préciput, from Latin praecipuum), so let’s turn to The Council of Europe French-English Legal Dictionary; on p. 89 we find “donation préciputaire – money, chattels or land which the surviving spouse is entitled to take from the community property before partition,” and on p. 226part préciputaire – gift to an heir out of an estate in addition to his share.” Apparently there is no other single-word English equivalent, using the French adjective would be awkward, and using a long periphrasis every time you want to deal with the concept would be even more so. So even though by all normal measures there is no English word “preciputary,” I am leaving it in the text I’m editing, and encouraging others to use it so its foothold will be less precarious (or précaire, as they say in France).

Slavica Texts Free for Download.

I got this welcome news in the Slavica Newsletter:

In honor of Slavica’s 50th anniversary (1966-2016), we present the first in a series of reprints of notable titles published by Slavica but now long out of print. We are restoring these titles to print and making them available free of charge in .pdf format on our website, Enjoy these books, tell your friends, and feel free to share them with colleagues and students.

Here, we offer Charles E. Gribble’s definitive Medieval Slavic Texts, Volume 1, a collection of medieval texts reprinted for students of Slavic philology and representing a wide range of genres, language variants, and orthographic systems. Our sincere thanks to Gribble, co-founder and long-time owner of Slavica, for granting permission for this reprint.

Medieval Slavic Texts, Volume 1, Charles E. Gribble, ed. 320 p., 1973 (978-0-89357-010-0).

What a great thing to do! I’ve already downloaded the book, and I add my thanks to Gribble and to Slavica.


Polyglossia” is an sf story by Tamara Vardomskaya, a Canadian writer currently pursuing a PhD in theoretical linguistics at the University of Chicago. It’s one of the most remarkable linguistics-oriented stories I’ve read, featuring a linguist who studies the endangered languages of her region and a young speaker of a dying language, navigating the capital city’s tense ethno-linguistic situation; it gets into nice detail about historical relationships between languages and is a lot of fun to read (if you enjoy sf, of course). Thanks, Vasha!