Archives for May 2017

Cré na Cille, Translated Twice.

For ages I’ve been saving this American Scholar link, in which Stephanie Bastek compares two versions of the same passage from “Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s modernist masterpiece, Cré na Cille,” Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson’s translation, called Graveyard Clay, and Alan Titley’s, called The Dirty Dust. The first begins “. . . Nóra Filthy-Feet standing for election! Good God above, they’ve lost all respect for themselves in this cemetery if the best they can offer is Nóra of the Fleas from Mangy Field,” the second “. . . Toejam Nora standing for election! Jesus Christ Almighty, they have no respect left for themselves in this cemetery, especially if they can’t put up anyone else only Fleabag Nora from Gort Ribbuck.” I love that sort of comparison, and if you do too, hie thee to the link.

And now Trevor sends me this interview with John Donatich, Director at Yale University Press, about the two versions:

“The book was so difficult to translate in the first place. The stakes were made higher as this would most likely be the first exposure many global readers might have to this purported classic. We had to make sure to get it right. That said, we felt the book could stand two different kinds of interpretations, much like a great musical piece might stand several interpretations: a rigorous, elegant and faithful version and one that took more expressive risks.”

I have two books by Ó Cadhain, but alas, not Cré na Cille; one of these days I’ll have to remedy that. I love modernist masterpieces!

Finnish Language Maintenance.

Joonas Vakkilainen provides some very interesting information about Finnish on Quora:

Written standard Finnish is an artificial construction which is based on a mixture of dialects, not on any specific dialect. There is no prestige language that would be the norm of formal written Finnish. Because of the constructed nature of the written language, there is an organisation that gives the norms for it. The board of Finnish language (suomen kielen lautakunta) consists of specialists of Finnish language, and they ponder the norms of written Finnish and can change them. These norms are followed in formal writing, such as newspapers and scientific writing. This is called language maintenance (kielenhuolto).

The norms of written formal English are called prescriptive grammar because they are man-made rules that are prescribed to be used in official English. Even though written Finnish is more man-made and artificial than written English, its norms are not actually prescriptions. They are called suggestions: the board of Finnish language suggests how official language be used. English-speakers think that their norms are meant to be used both in writing and speech, but in Finland, the prescribed norms are just meant for one register of language. Nobody speaks according to them (except for very formal situations such as TV news or public speeches) and nobody thinks that they even should be spoken. This is why I don’t want to call them prescriptions even though they actually are that; the linguistic culture just is different from the English-speaking world.

Furthermore, the “prescriptive” rules of written Finnish are more akin to spelling in English. Because Finnish is spelled phonemically, words look different when spelled according to different dialects. That’s why there are official forms of words. In English you can’t change the spelling according to your accent but in Finnish you can. The phonemic spelling of Finnish thus enables the use of dialects in writing. In English, it is not easy to write accents because you don’t have means to do it, but in Finnish you can do it easily. When Finns write on social media, text messages or chats, they often use dialectical language. In Finnish the spelling just change the pronunciation of the particular word if you read it aloud but it of course doesn’t affect how people normally speak. This is again why we should not see the standard Finnish as a prescriptive construction similarly as the norms of formal English.

Formal written English is like the language of the upper class and educated people. That’s why English-speakers try to speak according to its rules when they want to appear sophisticated. Formal written Finnish on the contrary is thought to be a tool for an equal society. The Nordic model wants to eliminate social classes. That’s why the language is not wanted to be the language of a certain group of people but a common form that nobody speaks natively, and this kind of form of language requires an organisation that does language maintenance.

Most of that is new to me. Thanks, Bathrobe!

Ess Bouquet.

I’m reading Dostoevsky’s Selo Stepanchikovo i ego obitateli [The Village of Stepanchikovo and Its Inhabitants, also translated The Friend of the Family] and enjoying it a great deal, though it’s an odd mixture of sitcom and existential drama (like The Man Who Came to Dinner, but with a genuinely evil Sheridan Whiteside). One of the minor characters is a foppish serf who wants to change his surname from the odd-sounding Vidoplyasov; after trying out a couple of others, he’s settled on Эссбукетов [Essbuketov], and the much-put-upon head of the household, the narrator’s uncle Egor Rostanev, responds “И не стыдно, и не стыдно тебе, Григорий? фамилия с помадной банки!” [Aren’t you ashamed, Grigorii? a family name taken from a pomade jar!]. It cost me some effort, but I finally discovered the source: Ess Bouquet, described in a post at the perfume blog The Scented Salamander as “one of those perfumes steeped in history and antique exotic tastes that require further investigation and elucidation to fully appreciate”:

First we have to address the meaning of the name, which sounds a bit puzzling to the modern ear: “Ess Bouquet” we learn from Septimus Piesse writing in 1857 is the contraction of the word “essence of bouquet”. The original recipe for the scent by an anonymous London perfumer is recorded as early as 1711. By the time Piesse writes his The Art of Perfumery in the mid-19th century this original date has been forgotten and the much imitated perfume formula is attributed to, not its rightful creators whoever they may be, but rather to its famous developers, Bayley and Co., established 1739. […]

Ess Bouquet was immensely popular, the bestseller of Bayley and Co. who advertised their perfume shop with the name of this fragrance in capital letters in full view.

The perfumery was also well known for its surviving signboard and painting inside the store, some of the last ones in London to bear the representation of a civet cat at the turn of the 20th century – an allusion to the much sought-after perfumery raw material. Perfume shops with civet cat signs were common throughout Europe before such signboards were considered too dangerous to be left hanging over the streets and so they were prohibited. […]

There was not just one Ess. Bouquet fragrance but rather a type, an original recipe which came to undergo many variations while being sold under the same name. It became somewhat of a generic designation like “eau de Cologne” is and so there were “Ess. Bouquet Perfumes” mentioned in the plural.

There’s more information at the link, along with some nice images; the brand has been forgotten to the point that the Michael Glenny translation of Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 renders “И Лондонские духи клик-клик, эсс-букет” (from Chapter 7) as “‘Click-Click’ — the fragrant London perfume — ‘S’ brand,” so I thought it was worth bringing here.

The Last Ubykh.

From Circassian World:

The Last Ubykh

Tevfik Esenç (1904 – October 7, 1992) was a Circassian exile in Turkey and the last known speaker of the Ubykh language.

Esenç was raised by his Ubykh-speaking grandparents for a time in the village of Haci Osman in Turkey, and he served a term as the muhtar (mayor) of that village, before receiving a post in the civil service of Istanbul. There, he was able to do a great deal of work with the French linguist Georges Dumézil to help record his language.

Blessed with an excellent memory, and understanding quickly the goals of Dumézil and the other linguists who came to visit him, he was the primary source of not only the Ubykh language, but also of the mythology, culture and customs of the Ubykh people. He spoke not only Ubykh but Turkish and the Hakuchi dialect of Adyghe, allowing some comparative work to be done between the two languages. He was a purist, and his idiolect of Ubykh is considered by some as the closest thing to a standard “literary” Ubykh language that existed.

There’s a photo and a link to a sound file. Thanks, Trevor!

Bilinguals Experience Time Differently.

Anne Rothwell, Press Officer at Lancaster University, reports on a new study by linguists Panos Athanasopoulos and Emanuel Bylund, who “have discovered that people who speak two languages fluently think about time differently depending on the language context in which they are estimating the duration of events.” The paper is “The Whorfian Time Warp: Representing Duration Through the Language Hourglass,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Apr 27, 2017; unfortunately, it’s beyond a paywall, but the abstract is available here. The crucial bit:

Contrary to the universalist account, we found language-specific interference in a duration reproduction task, where stimulus duration conflicted with its physical growth. When reproducing duration, Swedish speakers were misled by stimulus length, and Spanish speakers were misled by stimulus size/quantity. These patterns conform to preferred expressions of duration magnitude in these languages (Swedish: long/short time; Spanish: much/small time). Critically, Spanish-Swedish bilinguals performing the task in both languages showed different interference depending on language context.

Very interesting, if it holds up; thanks, Ariel!

My Job.

This was posted on Facebook, and I thought I might as well put it here, since I often complain about bad proofreading/editing in books and since non-editors tend not to know these distinctions:

Different communities of editors use different terms for similar concepts. I’m in Canada — and Canadian editors tend to use the terminology in Editors Canada’s Professional Editorial Standards, which spell out what is included in each type of editing:

1. Structural Editing (also called substantive editing, developmental editing, and content editing): reworking the content of a document to get rid of repetitions and gaps, put the ideas into a logical progression, make sure the narrative flows smoothly, and so on. It’s the big-picture stuff.
2. Stylistic editing tries to make the document a better read. For example, a stylistic editor reworks educational materials so that the reading level match the students’ reading ability, or edits humor to make it funnier.
3. Copy editing fixes problems with spelling, grammar and consistency of language use. (Line editing is a vague term that can mean many things, but usually means stylistic editing and copy editing combined.)
4. Proofreading is checking the formatted document. The proofreader carefully reviews the work of the formatter and also checks the editing that has been done on the document. Proofreading is not editing — it is checking the work of editors.

Greg Ioannou, Freelance editor since 1977. Honorary life member of Editors’ Ass’n of Canada

I started out as a proofreader in the early ’80s and was eventually promoted to copyeditor (though I resisted the promotion for a bit, because I wasn’t sure I wanted the added responsibility — I’m fundamentally lazy and unambitious); as a freelancer, I guess I would call what I do line editing according to the above classification, except that I would never say that because nobody would know what it meant, so I always say “copyediting.” I take care of all the basic copyediting stuff (spelling, grammar, following the appropriate style manual), but I also point out problems in logic, errors in fact, misquotes, and the like. And if you noticed the inconsistency above (Greg writes “copy editing,” I write “copyediting”), yep, that’s one of those things (like the serial comma, or “Oxford comma”) that can go either way; I like it closed up. Also, if you noticed that — and if you don’t care greatly about money — you may have a future in editing!

Words for Porridge in Bantuphone Africa.

Birgit Ricquier’s “The History of Porridge in Bantuphone Africa, with Words as Main Ingredients” (from Afriques 5 [2014], “Manger et boire en Afrique avant le XXe siècle”) is the kind of word-centric historical investigation I love; I’ll quote a few bits to whet your appetite. From the introduction:

Porridge as a mash is mostly prepared in West and Central Africa. The Éotilé of Ivory Coast, for instance, have a mash of boiled plantains and cassava called akoende. The most widespread name for this dish in West Africa is fufu, found in, for example, the Ghanaian language Ewe and in Liberian Grebo. An example from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a mash made of boiled pieces of sweet cassava and ripe banana, named litúmá in Lokele and mokóké in Songola.

Porridge is not an exclusively ‘African’ dish. Different types of porridge are found all over the world, even where bread is on the menu. McCann mentions the Venetian polenta, Serbian mamalinga, and Alabaman hominy grits, the latter being of Native American origin. And even some Asian types of porridge are reminiscent of this kind of preparation—for example, Himalayan tsampa, made with flour of toasted barley mixed with butter tea to form a sort of dough, and the dense paste called pa ba in Ladakh, made with flour of toasted barley and legumes.

Written documents reveal that porridge has a long-standing tradition in Europe. The ancient Greeks, for instance, prepared mâza and kóllix, ‘mashes’ of barley and wheatmeal; and the Romans prepared porridge both from barley and emmer (a type of wheat, Triticum dicoccum), the first named polenta, the second puls. What about the porridge of sub-Saharan Africa? Is it also several millennia old?

This paper will tell the history of porridge as prepared by Bantu speech communities. The focus on Bantuphone Africa is a consequence of the method of this study, namely historical-comparative linguistics. Few, if any, written documents are available predating the arrival of Europeans in Central and Southern Africa. Moreover, archaeology and archaeobotany mostly provide information on the history of tools and ingredients. As will be demonstrated, to study the history of preparations, historical-comparative linguistics—more specifically the Words-and-Things approach—is a welcome tool.

And from the conclusion:

But not everything could be revealed. The comparative method suffers from several drawbacks. First of all, the available lexical evidence could not indicate if and from whom the technique of stirring porridge was borrowed. Most of the vocabulary referring to new techniques, tools, and products were inherited Bantu words that underwent a semantic shift. Only one word, namely *NP14-gàdɩ̀, could be identified as a loan, and it appeared to be more recent than the change in cooking techniques. A second problem is semantic vagueness. No research could be done on nouns for ‘grinding stones’ since these objects are most often simply referred to as ‘stones’ or ‘stones for grinding’. The same is true for ‘stirring stick’ and ‘pestle’ in several West Bantu languages, both being called ‘stick’. However, the research also benefited from highly specialized vocabulary such as the verbs for ‘stirring flour in boiling water’ and the different ‘pounding’ verbs. Finally, more research is necessary on the historical background. Since many of the extra-linguistic referents discussed in this paper are not found in the archaeological record, the results of the linguistic analysis can be integrated into a historical framework based only on linguistic methods, namely the Bantu Expansion. Many aspects of the Bantu Expansion are still under discussion. Changes in the sub-classification of the Bantu languages and/or its historical interpretation may alter the presented historical narrative substantially.

Deeply satisfying stuff, and I thank infini for posting it at MetaFilter.

Denys Johnson-Davies, RIP.

The name Denys Johnson-Davies sounded vaguely familiar to me, and it turned out he’s translated a number of Arabic novels I own or have read; he died a couple of days ago, and Arabic Literature (in English) has a nice post on eleven books he wrote or translated. The first is his 2006 Memories of a Life in Translation: A Life Between the Lines of Arabic Literature, and I like the first paragraph:

“An unlikely set of circumstances set me on the path to studying Arabic,” the memoir opens. He spent his childhood in Cairo, Wadi Halfa in Sudan, and finally in Uganda and Kenya, traveling back to England on a doctor’s orders at the age of twelve. He didn’t thrive there, and when his father asked him at fourteen what he wanted to do, his answer was unequivocal: “I would like to study Arabic.”

Few of us are so clear about our life goals at fourteen! And this is impressive:

Johnson-Davies also introduced Arab women writers to an English reading public long before they were in fashion. His first volume includes stories by Latifa El-Zayyat and Laila Baalbaki; subsequent collections showcase Alifa Rifaat, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Salwa Bakr as well as unestablished writers like Buthayna Al-Nasseri and Alia Mamdouh (from Iraq), Salma Matar Seif (from the United Arab Emirates), Hana Attiya and Amina Zaydan (both from Egypt). Alifa Rifaat’s Distant View of a Minaret and a volume of Salwa Bakr’s stories, The Wiles of Men and Other Stories, are among his best-known works in this context.

Thanks for the link, Trevor!

An Obscure Linguistic Item.

Jeremy Adler reviews (TLS, Oct. 16, 2015) a book by “the writer Schuldt, who never uses his first name” that is obvious LH material:

The reappearance, after more than thirty years, of one of his finest short works, In Togo, dunkel (In Togo, Dark), at long last coming out from a leading publisher, thus provides cause for celebration. The book could perhaps best be described as ethno-fantasy. In style, the title text, for example, veers disconcertingly between a short story, a philological investigation and an anthropological field study. Throughout its several twists and turns, In Togo, dunkel teeters on the edge between factual report and fancy, tricking the reader into believing that its clever concoction is just plain true. An African tribe, so the story goes, uses an obscure linguistic item, both rather like a noun and rather like a verb, mostly at the end of a sentence, and especially after exclamations. The trick lies in the detective work required to explain the etymology of this most puzzling artefact. If this seems unpromising material, Schuldt develops it with wit, artistry and consistent intensity, making this little exercise in style a tour de force of inventiveness.

Though Adler calls him “one of the youngest and most interesting figures in that remarkable group of experimentalists who came to play such a prominent role in the German literature of the last third of the twentieth century,” the internet seems to know nothing about him beyond this book; if anyone knows anything else, feel free to pass it on.

The Ancient Bookshelf.

I’ve discovered another interesting blog, The Ancient Bookshelf, whose motto (with which I cannot disagree) is “Old stuff is exciting!” It’s run by James Hamrick, and lately he seems to be concentrating on Ge’ez (classical Ethiopic), a language that’s always intrigued me but that I’ll probably never do anything about. He has a brief introduction to it here, and here he lists the few colleges that currently offer courses in it: Munich, Toronto, and Washington. Here‘s a Star article by Megan Dolski about the Toronto course that not only shows John 1:1 in Ge’ez but lets you listen to a reading of it, which is the first exposure I’ve had to it as a spoken language; thanks, Jeffry!