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.

Comments

  1. There’s your lad. He also wrote Leben und Sterben in China. 111 Fabeln nach Lius Wörterbuch which starts off with a Chinese-English dictionary as its source.

  2. Aha, thanks! Interesting fellow.

  3. Bathrobe says:

    Der Klang ist die Seele der Sprache, während die Bedeutungen der Wörter ihr Körper sind.

    Hmmm. A significant development on Saussure.

  4. Am I the only one who read that snippet of Adler’s review as something Borgesian, and therefore expected Schuldt not to actually exist?

  5. January First-of-May says:

    Am I the only one who read that snippet of Adler’s review as something Borgesian, and therefore expected Schuldt not to actually exist?

    More reminiscent of Lem than Borges to me (though that doesn’t change the conclusion).

  6. minus273 says:

    While we’re at it, what’s the adjective for Lem? Like, lemming, lemmatic?

  7. Doubts regarding his existence seem hardly compatible with the Wikipedia article.

  8. J.W. Brewer says:

    I find it hard to believe that German wikipedia has exactly zero hoax articles setting forth the biography of someone whose actual historicity is uncertain. Here’s an enjoyable wikibio of an alleged English literary-world marginal figure of the same approximate vintage which totally reads like an elaborately detailed hoax although I’m not ruling out the possibility that the fellow actually exists. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heathcote_Williams

  9. Williams’s IMDB page says that he “got the role of Prospero in Derek Jarman’s adaption of The Tempest (1970) after Terry Thomas had to turn it down due to his ill health.” I think every Shakespeare play should have Terry-Thomas in his prime, playing one of the leading roles.

  10. Terry-Thomas as Lear is an especially enticing prospect.

  11. The German Wikipedia isn’t immune to hoaxes, no. Bielefeld has slipped in.

  12. I think Williams is too visible to be a complete hoax. It’s possible that the person who appears on video is not the author of the books, etc., but is there really any reason to think so?

    I understand that WP.DE hs stronger standards for who can be an editor than WP.EN (which basically has none).

  13. Marja Erwin says:

    … Is it as weird as English, which uses gerunds, both rather like a noun and rather like a verb, sometimes in the middle of exclamations…?

  14. David Marjanović says:

    Am I the only one who read that snippet of Adler’s review as something Borgesian, and therefore expected Schuldt not to actually exist?

    No. 🙂

    (I haven’t read any Lem, though.)

    WP.DE hs stronger standards for who can be an editor

    No, but edits only become visible after someone higher up in the pecking order has approved them. (Hence Bielefeld.)

  15. While we’re at it, what’s the adjective for Lem?

    Lemesque.

    For an Iron Curtain Party group — Lem is probably a composite committee rather than an individual, since he writes in several styles and sometimes reads foreign, to him, languages and sometimes does not — to gain monopoly positions of power from which they can control opinion through criticism and pedagogic essays is a threat to our whole field of science fiction and its free exchange of views and ideas. [Philip K. Dick, Letter to the FBI, 1974]

    They say Dick wrote many such letters and sometimes didn’t even bother to post them. He just placed them in his trash can, since he believed the FBI was surveilling him and would read them anyway. Which was very Dickian, of course.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Less of a dick move, though, than actually posting them…

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Lem is probably a composite committee rather than an individual.”

    We can identify with that.
    We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune: we take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.

  18. Lars (the original one) says:

    Trust the Welsh Illuminati to forgo the boring ffnord and stultifying hierarchialism of your usual world-ruling cabal and choose an organizational ffnord schema that is less than two centuries old!

  19. SFReader says:

    I wonder if one could identify the substance the writer was abusing from the writing written under its influence.

    Not alcohol, not marijuana, doesn’t sound like LSD either, perhaps amphetamine?

  20. PlasticPaddy says:

    For some reason I could find this only in wiki quote, not e.g., under bourbaki or boas in Wikipedia….
    The fact that N Bourbaki was not a real person and represented a group of mathematicians was known to very few, for example, Ralph Boas, but the world of mathematics had come to believe in his existence. In an article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Boas revealed the truth; he was severely reprimanded in a letter to him “From my ashram in the Himalayas”, beginning with “You miserable worm, how dare you say that I do not exist?” and signed ‘Nicolas Bourbaki’!
    I believe in this letter bourbaki also cast doubt on Boas’s existence.

  21. “I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?”

  22. Stu Clayton says:

    The fact that N Bourbaki was not a real person and represented a group of mathematicians was known to very few, for example, Ralph Boas, but the world of mathematics had come to believe in his existence.

    What an odd claim. The professional mathematicians I knew in Bonn in the early 70s, when I was “studying” topology, knew that Bourbaki was a front. They also knew who wrote the individual articles/volumes.

    Looks like it is known to very few that there was no “world of mathematics” whose members believed Bourbaki was a real person.

  23. PlasticPaddy says:

    Sorry, stu. That was from Wikiquote and looked embroidered. That is why I was surprised I could not find a better source.

  24. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s indeed strange. Here are the German, English and French WiPe articles on Bourbaki.

  25. PlasticPaddy says:

    Where is the source for the Boas anecdote, Stu? I must have read it in a book somewhere but can’t for the life of me recall where.

  26. Stu Clayton says:

    Here it is in the German WiPe article on Boas, under anecdotes (there’s only one). The English article contains more stories.

    The source given is a book by one Amir Aczel on Bourbaki.
    This one

    There seem to be more Aczels running around than I had expected.

  27. It’s a matter of timing. By the publication of Bourbaki’s obituary (after which he nonetheless continued working) in 1968, everyone was in on the joke. Thirty years earlier, things were much more secretive.

  28. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s a very plausible explanation.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    an organizational schema that is less than two centuries old

    Our immediate inspiration for adopting this schema dates from as recently as1975; a mere eyeblink in our Illustrious history.

  30. ktschwarz says:

    An article in the Mathematical Intelligencer on Mathematicians Who Never Were quotes from the internal debate of the American Mathematical Society when Bourbaki requested membership in 1950:

    I think a good case can be made out for granting membership. After all, a good fictitious character lives more intensely and a good deal longer than the humdrum reality. We know much more about Ulysses, who probably never existed, than about Thales who did. There is no question in my mind that N.Bourbaki has made a strong impression on present-day mathematics and his fame will last longer than that of most present members of our Society.

    Too bad, that argument didn’t carry the day, and Bourbaki was refused membership. Ralph Boas’s article in Encyclopedia Britannica was sometime around then, some sources say 1950’s, some say the 1949 Book of the Year. Best source would be Boas’s Lion Hunting and Other Mathematical Pursuits, which has a chapter on Bourbaki.

  31. Lars (the original one) says:

    @David Eddyshaw (if that is your real name), can’t you guys give out with why you really built Stonehenge already? Or was it that other bunch? Those ancient calendar theories are getting on our nerves, of course it was trading with aliens, but which ones?

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    There are no aliens. I would advise you (as a fellow-Earthling) to remember that.

    Calendar. Yes. That’s it. Of course it was.
    Happy Ides of July, as your people say.

  33. Lars (the original one) says:

    I am much calmed by this response from our benevolent (tinc) co-habitants (tana) of the present planet.

  34. I remember the name Aczel from a book on functional equations, perhaps the very obscurest field of elementary mathematics.

  35. Trond Engen says:

    Aczels running around

    Well done!

  36. David Marjanović says:

    I am much calmed by this response from our benevolent (tinc) co-habitants (tana) of the present planet.

    I love breathing oxygen!

  37. Stu Clayton says:

    @Y: functional equations, perhaps the very obscurest field of elementary mathematics

    The clearest !!! Back to Cauchy !

    My mathematical knowledge has many holes in it, like old socks. In one respect that’s ok by me since I don’t have to wear it in public. But it’s not a satisfactory state of affairs. I am often annoyed by the notation-obsessed, unmotivated way a lot of mathematical topics are presented. I used to like that, now it chaps my ass. Of course everybody has to find their own way to think about things.

    So anyway I read the German WiPe on functional equations, and within 5 minutes I had finally understood basic structural ideas behind the gamma function, Fourier analysis and the Riemann zeta and xi functions. I never knew even what that capital gamma was, nobody ever told me and I didn’t need to know it. It’s merely an extension of the factorial, from the positive integers to the positive reals. D’oh

  38. Lars (the original one) says:

    Yes, but if your elementary mathematics include the Riemann χ, I’m going to question your definition of elementary. Functional equations are a very clear way to talk about Γ and ζ and χ, but I can’t think of anything I’d call elementary where functional equations would add clarity. (I’m pretty sure I got through 3 years of university math courses without needing them, or Γ and ζ and χ for that matter, but that may be due to the electives I picked).

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Γ distributions actually show up in Bayesian phylogenetics. But that doesn’t mean I know how they work.

  40. Stu Clayton says:

    It wasn’t *my* definition of elementary, but that of Y.

  41. What I meant by “elementary” is that you can explain what a functional equation is to a tenth-grader (or whenever they teach what a function is). What I meant by “obscure” is that the field is generally not mentioned, let alone taught, in college courses, or even in popular surveys of mathematics. Some functional equations are trivial and “not interesting”. Some are otherwise.

  42. Yeah, I was a math major for a while and I wasn’t familiar with functional equations.

  43. Stu Clayton says:

    The English WiPe article on functional equations is a dreck, I now find. No wonder the subject has a poor reputation in Anglophonia, if that is a typical presentation. Check out the German article. It is a little jewel of brevity and substance.

  44. Lars (the original one) says:

    I did find it strange that they give a very complicated set of equations for Γ near the start, the simpler (almost intuitive) one I learned is hidden on the separate page for “Bohr-Mollerup theorem”. But English WP and mathematics seems to be a fraught subject. (I’m not saying anything).

  45. Stu Clayton says:

    Heh.

  46. John Cowan says:

    I’m reminded of Feynman saying that to mathematicians trivial (of theorems) means ‘has a proof’.

  47. The deceptively simple Cauchy functional equation, f(x+y) = f(x) +f(y), has as one set of solutions the straightforward f(x) = cx for any constant c. It can also lead you into the dark shadows of unmeasurable sets, nowhere continuous functions and such.
    (I swear this is the last time I show my math geek colors around here.)

  48. No, no, I love it when people show their math geek colors! It makes me all nostalgic, even when I don’t understand what they’re talking about.

  49. Lars (the original one) says:

    nowhere continuous — because if the function is continuous around even one single point, it has to be linear. That the easy part, construction of the non-linear solutions is deep arcana.

  50. Nowhere continuous functions are not, on their own, particularly ugly or complicated. (Consider the function whose value is 1 at all irrational arguments and 0 at all rational ones; it is continuous nowhere, but still sufficiently well behaved to be Lebesgue integrable.) Much trickier is, for example, a function that is continuous everywhere but differentiable nowhere. It is a study of those that will lead you into nonmeasureable sets, Hamel bases, etc.

  51. January First-of-May says:

    Much trickier is, for example, a function that is continuous everywhere but differentiable nowhere.

    Still not that hard – could just be a fractal of some kind. My favorite example is the blancmange function, which is very much still on the “explain to a tenth grader” level.

    …Well, if the tenth grader understands how a convergent series works; I’m not sure if they teach that in math classes those days (and if yes, in which grade). But it’s still not particularly complicated math, and the graph (or, at least, its approximation) looks pretty.

    On the other hand, Hamel bases do feature prominently in the rather cheating-looking classical proof of the indecomposability of cube and tetrahedron.

  52. Stu Clayton says:

    Much trickier is, for example, a function that is continuous everywhere but differentiable nowhere

    Not tricky since 1872, when Weierstrass demonstrated the first such.

    From there:

    # It might be expected that a continuous function must have a derivative, or that the set of points where it is not differentiable should be “small” in some sense. According to Weierstrass in his paper, earlier mathematicians including Gauss had often assumed that this was true. #

    Not only that, but also (not suprisingly when you think about it) such functions are “more typical” than the “well-behaved” ones:

    # the set of nowhere-differentiable real-valued functions on [0, 1] is comeager in the vector space C([0, 1]; R) of all continuous real-valued functions on [0, 1] with the topology of uniform convergence.[10][11] #

    You go looking for Good Behavior with a lantern, you find very little of it. That’s one takeaway from Diogenes: you’re wasting your time looking by that means.

  53. Stu Clayton says:

    Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should belong to the meager subset of the possible.

  54. @January First-of-May: You don’t really need the full vector space structure of the reals over the rationals to construct the Dehn invariant and thus solve Hilbert’s Third Problem. In particular, you don’t need to know that the dimension of the reals over the rationals in uncountable (which is the point of the Hamel basis). Actually, I don’t know how Dehn formulated the invariant in his original paper (which really ought to be open access, but isn’t, probably because nobody cares, as it’s in German), except that he did not use the modern formulation. In fact, Dehn and Hamel were both students of Hilbert in 1901, so they almost surely knew about each other’s work—although not necessarily how their two constructions were related.

  55. Stu Clayton says:

    Dehn formulated the invariant in his original paper (which really ought to be open access, but isn’t, probably because nobody cares, as it’s in German)

    Thus making a virtue out of a deficiency. It’s a common failing. I myself am pretty good at it.

    Springer published Max Dehn: Papers on Group Theory and Topology. It does not contain the habilitation paper solving H3. The German WiPe on him IT says it was “wenig durchsichtig und kompliziert und wurde von Weniamin Kagan und Hugo Hadwiger vereinfacht und vervollständigt.” That seems a more likely explanation for its not being open access.

    The German WiPe also mentions that he flubbed up in the published proofs of various theorems. The errors were finally corrected years later. Shit happens.

    Read all about it: Dehntistry (boring, then filling).

  56. Stu Clayton says:
  57. That seems a more likely explanation for its not being open access.

    You’re not seriously suggesting that open access is determined on a case by case basis, with each book and article carefully weighed for its originality, brilliance, and timeless nature, are you?

  58. Stu Clayton says:

    I said “more likely”, not likely. It’s a more likely explanation than “because nobody cares, as it’s in German”. I have no idea who such nobodies might be, but there are plenty of other nobodies who have no objection to German.

    And I was talking only about Dehn’s habilitation paper, not every paper that can be rustled up in the co-copyright subspace of spacetime.

  59. Fair enough!

  60. January First-of-May says:

    You’re not seriously suggesting that open access is determined on a case by case basis, with each book and article carefully weighed for its originality, brilliance, and timeless nature, are you?

    I thought he was suggesting that the completed edition postdated 1923 (i.e. was still under copyright), and that with today’s limited algorithms this in turn transmitted non-open-accessibility to the original edition.
    (Google tells me that Hugo Hadwiger was born in 1908, which means that this is probably true.)

    Presuming a distinction on quality or originality is indeed hardly likely; it probably went by journal.
    I guess another option is that a particular major library didn’t happen to have that exact journal (and/or that exact issue) when putting things into open access.

  61. Stu Clayton says:

    I’ve been shot down so many times for careless generalization, it shouldn’t surprise you that I have learned techniques to dodge bullets. It merely involves being a little more cautious in my formulations. In this case, the word “only” saved me – along with my ability to wiggle out of tight spaces only one word wide.

  62. Stu Clayton says:

    @January foM: making the contents of an old book or paper available online still involves money. If this one paper by Dehn is so hard to understand, it’s surely possible that the deciders decided to save money by not scanning it ? I bet his laundry lists are not online either.

    Other work by Dehn has been translated and published by Springer, as I mentioned. Every algebraic topologist will know about Dehn surgery already, so it’s not as if Dehn needed a badly written, but important paper for his PR.

  63. I thought he was suggesting that the completed edition postdated 1923 (i.e. was still under copyright), and that with today’s limited algorithms this in turn transmitted non-open-accessibility to the original edition.

    That makes a lot of sense. I shot from the hip, as usual!

  64. January First-of-May says:

    The German WiPe also mentions that he flubbed up in the published proofs of various theorems. The errors were finally corrected years later. Shit happens.

    Perhaps the most infamous case of this is the Dehn lemma, which was actually proved by Christos Demetrios Papakyriakopoulos, but is still known as the Dehn lemma – presumably so that the students dealing with it don’t also have to remember how to spell “Papakyriakopoulos”.

    There happens to be a funny limerick about this, but I don’t recall the exact text offhand. I think it came up on LH before.

  65. Lars (the original one) says:

    The perfidious lemma of Dehn
    Was every topologist’s bane
    ‘Til Christos D. Pap-
    akyriakop-
    oulos proved it without any strain

    Ascribed to John Milnor

  66. Stu Clayton says:

    The Dehn lemma is cool in that it enables you to compute trivial knots in S3.

    Gosh, Milnor is still with us !

  67. John Cowan says:

    postdated 1923

    1924 now! The public domain reopened (in the U.S.) on January 1, 2019, provided Congress does not pass a retroactive copyright act again. We now need a new mnemonic to replace “Before ’23 it’s free”; have at.

    Polish notation (its variant reverse Polish notation is much better known) is apparently so named because of Western aversion to the name Łukasiewicz. Though why Hungarian notation should be so named, I don’t know: the name Simonyi isn’t that hard to spell, say, or remember. (I myself can never remember how to spell Piotr Gąsiorowski’s name, though saying it isn’t so hard: four consecutive /ɔ/ vowels, modulo nasality, and sometimes-silent w. How about putting a link to Language Evolution on the right-hand site, Hat?)

  68. If he starts posting again, I’ll be glad to. Last updated 23 February 2016.

  69. Max Dehn’s pathetic grave. I saw a similar image of it years ago. I hope it’s been spruced up a bit by now.

  70. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s terrible.

    So is this suppression of the name of a Certain Person:

    # Dehn began his career, at the turn of the century, in the mist of a grand project at the foundation of rational thought. Dehn’s advisor was leading a program to find the basic axioms on which all mathematics could be based. By the end of Dehn’s career, it would be shown that this program was bound for failure from the very beginning. #

    It even reads as if this Person worked for Dehn as an advisor.

    “Bound for failure” is as stupid as they get. Due to this Person’s selection of major problems, we learned a lot about them sooner rather than later. It’s fairly easy to know what you don’t know. It’s hard to find out that you can’t know it, but a great relief – because you know why.

  71. Stu Clayton says:

    # Dehn taught Mathematics, Philosophy, Greek, and Italian. In Mathematics his courses included History of Mathematics and Projective Geometry. #

  72. Stu Clayton says:

    Well, the author later reveals the identity of that Certain Person. This might all have been a deliberate suspense-making gambit, but I doubt it. Rather, just a writer doing the best he can.

  73. Lars (the original one) says:

    If he starts posting again — I still check the front page every time I see a link in Piotr’s posts. Sad! But I want the conclusion to the reduplication story.

  74. David Marjanović says:

    The vowels are still jumbled!

  75. John Cowan says:

    If he starts posting again, I’ll be glad to.

    Well, put him under “Language Resources” instead of “LInguablogs”, then; it certainly is that. Indeed, I cited (on another blog) his article (“in the form of seven blog postings”) on the etymology of four a few days ago, and I had quite a problem finding the blog, being quite unable to remember the blog’s name or to spell the author’s name.

  76. Lars (the original one) says:

    the author’s name — I think of him as Piotr. No use for Googling, I know. (And that nasal a has a habit of not being on my keyboard).

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