A couple of videos for those who have always wondered how to make those wonderful click sounds and what they sound like in sentences:
Xhosa Lesson 2. How to say “click” sounds.
Xhosa Tongue Twister Lesson in South Africa.
I tend to ignore Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern American Usage, a beautifully produced and widely used and respected book with whose prejudices and general approach I utterly disagree, but recently I wanted to see what he had to say about something and found myself instead looking at his long list of “Denizen Labels” — what are usually called demonyms. Now, I’m very fond of demonyms myself, though I’ve only devoted one post to them (and there are lots of great examples in that thread); my copies of Daniel Santano y León’s Diccionario de gentilicios y topónimos and A.M. Babkin and E.A. Levashov’s Словарь названий жителей СССР [Dictionary of names of inhabitants of the USSR] are treasured possessions. I therefore dropped what I was doing and pored over the list, quickly concluding that it showed the same combination of random choices, poor decisions, and sloppy thinking that irritates me so much about the rest of the book.
An example of random choices: why does he include Dublin (Dubliner) but not Cork (Corkonian)? It’s certainly not because Cork isn’t the capital; he has lots of fairly insignificant places, like Metz (Messin), Saint-Cloud (Clodoaldien), and Trois-Rivières (Trifluvien) — he even has Dundee (Dundonian), to which Cork (Corkonian) would make a nice companion. Poor decisions: for Budapest he gives “Budapestiek,” which is a capitalized version of the Hungarian plural for budapesti ‘inhabitant of Budapest.’ If you’re too ignorant of a language to distinguish singular from plural, you shouldn’t be trying to provide a demonym from that language. And that brings us to the third issue, sloppy thinking: who are these terms intended for, and what use does he envisage? He seems to have extrapolated from French demonyms, which he clearly loves and which in fact are often used in English, the idea that one should use native terms wherever possible, but he’s inconsistent about this: he gives (besides that stupid Hungarian plural) Istanbullu for Istanbul, but for Helsinki he gives Helsinkian, not helsinkiläinen (or, as he would write it, Helsinkiläinen). No English-speaker is going to use “Istanbullu” unless they live in Turkey and are immersed in Turkish culture; he’s just showing off. The Wikipedia entry linked above, though not complete (they don’t have Helsinki, for example), is more sensible; for Istanbul they give Istanbulite, for example. And again he’s inconsistent: for Dijon he gives Dijonese, not Dijonnais, the French term. For Shanghai he gives Shanghailander, which sounds archaic to me; Wikipedia gives Shanghainese, which is what I would say myself. In short, his list, like his book, is an impressive-looking but antiquated and incoherent piece of work.
Robert Irwin has an interesting TLS review of Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950, by Marwa Elshakry, about the reception of Darwinism in the Arab world (thanks for the link, Paul!). Most of it is not of particular LH interest, but I was struck by this:
For a long time, the reception of Darwinism was bedevilled by the need to find either neologisms or new twists to old words. As Marwa Elshakry points out, there was at first no specific word in Arabic for “species”, distinct from “variety” or “kind”. “Natural selection” might appear in Arabic with the sense “nature’s elect”. When Hasan Husayn published a translation of Haeckel, he found no word for evolution and so he invented one. Tawra means to advance or develop further. Extrapolating from this verbal root, he created altatawwur, to mean “evolution”.
Who cares if there’s a “specific word in Arabic for ‘species’” (an infelicitous phrase, it seems to me)? Russian, for example, gets along without one perfectly well: вид [vid] means ‘species’ and род [rod] means ‘genus,’ and both are ordinary words meaning ‘kind, sort.’ Context, as always, is all. I note that English does not have a “specific word” for family (the rank above genus); we make do with an ordinary word for a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, and nobody seems the worse for it.
Incidentally, Darwinism was popularized quite early in Russia, in an 1864 article by the radical critic Pisarev, Прогресс в мире животных и растений [Progress in the world of animals and plants]. (By “popularized” I mean “introduced into the tiny world of the intelligentsia”; relatively few Russians would have heard of Darwin’s theories for decades, and most of those who did disapproved of them, just as in other countries.)
This Project Gutenberg eBook for English As We Speak It in Ireland, by P. W. Joyce (London: Longmans, Green & Co., Dublin, M.H. Gill & Son, Ltd, 1910), was recently linked on MetaFilter, and I would be remiss if I did not pass it on to my own readership. It’s chock full of delights, from the Preface (“My own memory is a storehouse both of idiom and vocabulary; for the good reason that from childhood to early manhood I spoke—like those among whom I lived—the rich dialect of Limerick and Cork”) to the chapter on affirming, assenting, and saluting (“The Irish ní’l lá fós é [neel law fo-say: it isn't day yet] is often used for emphasis in asseveration, even when persons are speaking English; but in this case the saying is often turned into English. ‘If the master didn’t give Tim a tongue-dressing, ’tisn’t day yet‘ (which would be said either by day or by night): meaning he gave him a very severe scolding”) to the chapter on swearing, which begins:
The general run of our people do not swear much; and those that do commonly limit themselves to the name of the devil either straight out or in some of its various disguised forms, or to some harmless imitation of a curse. You do indeed come across persons who go higher, but they are rare. Yet while keeping themselves generally within safe bounds, it must be confessed that many of the people have a sort of sneaking admiration—lurking secretly and seldom expressed in words—for a good well-balanced curse, so long as it does not shock by its profanity. I once knew a doctor—not in Dublin—who, it might be said, was a genius in this line. He could, on the spur of the moment, roll out a magnificent curse that might vie with a passage of the Iliad in the mouth of Homer. ‘Oh sir’—as I heard a fellow say—”tis grand to listen to him when he’s in a rage.’ He was known as a skilled physician, and a good fellow in every way, and his splendid swearing crowned his popularity. He had discretion however, and knew when to swear and when not; but ultimately he swore his way into an extensive and lucrative practice, which lasted during his whole life—a long and honourable one.
If you don’t find hours of entertainment in it, ’tisn’t day yet.
Kory Stamper has a great post called “In Defense of Talking Funny” that starts with a friend, or “friend,” interrupting her in “a crowded, chichi restaurant” to say “You’re saying that wrong.”
“‘Towards’. You’re saying it oddly– ‘TOE-wards’. It’s ‘TWARDS’.”
I blinked and dropped a forkful of frisée-glacé-reduction-foofaraw down my shirt. “It is?”
He looked unnerved: the English language is supposed to be my area of expertise. “It’s pronounced ‘TWARDS’. I mean, right? Here, we’ll ask the waiter.”
My stomach hit my shoes. “No, no, I’ll take your word for it.” And we attempted to go back to the conversation we had before I started talking about the videos. I say “attempted”: we did, in fact, have more conversation, though I don’t recall much of what was said. I was just trying to avoid saying the word “towards.”
In the first place, can you imagine having the gall to “correct” a lexicographer on her pronunciation? (I know a lot of people don’t like the word, but it’s a classic example of “mansplaining.”) Anyway, she goes on to say “Dialects are a funny thing: everyone speaks one, but we only notice them when they’ve been dislocated,” and explains:
To get technical, dialects are varieties of a language that have their own set of speakers with their own vocabulary, grammatical rules, and accent, and they can be regional, socioeconomic, ethnic, tonal, and even a combination thereof. American English has eight major dialects–or 24, or hundreds, depending on who you ask and what they define as a “dialect.” Most of us don’t just speak a dialect, but switch between several depending on where, why, and how we are. And this is frustrating for the people who think that language shouldn’t be bound by culture, era, or region: that one kind of English (usually theirs) is good enough for every single English speaker in the world, all the time.
And then she says, “I get het up about dialect not just because I want dialects to flourish, but because, like most of us, I learned at one point that the dialects I spoke were regarded as uneducated or wrong”:
I’ve lived the code-switching life. My parents spoke a combination of Western American English and Inland Northern American English; I went to school in a primarily Mexican and African-American neighborhood, where Chicano and AAVE were the primary dialects. But this is knowledge gained in hindsight: back then, I was a kid, dumb and free and trying to fit in. On the playground, I learned double-dutch and dozens; I’d use the quick, clipped up-talk of my Latin friends, then switch to the swingy, low-voweled cadence of my black friends. I called people “chica” and “homes”; I “-g”-dropped and /z/-swapped and had not a linguistic care in the world.
One day I was telling my mother about the school day when she cut me off. “Can you queet talkin’ like deese, because we don’t talk like deese? Drives me crazy.”
I was flummoxed. “I’m just talking,” I said.
“You sound Mexican,” she said, “and you’re not. If you’re not careful, your friends are going to think that you’re making fun of them.” It was my first introduction to sociolinguistics and the politics of dialect.
And then she goes on to tell how she did the exact same thing to her own daughter, despite her professional knowledge and her best intentions. It’s a wonderful essay and a stirring call for acceptance: “After all, we all sound funny and uneducated to someone out there.” Read the whole thing!
Diarmaid MacCulloch has an extremely interesting LRB review of Forgery and Counter-Forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics, by Bart Ehrman, that makes a nice follow-up to the Bible reading I’ve been doing recently; in fact, he includes a brief plug for a book I recently read (but don’t seem to have posted about), When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, by Timothy Michael Law:
Another fresh perspective is Timothy Michael Law’s When God Spoke Greek, a study of the Septuagint, the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture or Old Testament. Law has much to say that will be news even to many students of church history, if their specialism is in a later period. He points out that the Septuagint became the authoritative Bible which Mediterranean Christians used once they cut their links with Judaism, and often this is traceable in New Testament quotations from Hebrew scripture which seem ‘wrong’ in comparison with the Hebrew. They are wrong because they are earlier: the long accepted Hebrew Bible which Jews and Christians have commonly referred to is actually a redaction of variant earlier texts, as has become apparent from the mass of earlier scriptural fragments known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it postdates most of the New Testament by perhaps half a century. When, in the 16th century, Protestant scholars excitedly returned to the Hebrew Bible, to expose popish error in understanding God’s word, they were unwittingly consulting a text later than the Greek Septuagint which lay behind the Latin Vulgate version of the Old Testament. Law thus brilliantly turns accepted wisdom about the nature of biblical text on its head. This trio – Ehrman, Moss and Law – kicks away the supports of both conservative Protestant and Roman Catholic scholarship, and leaves some old-fashioned liberal biblical scholars looking a little uncomfortable. All three are aware that good history is a solvent for lazy and often harmful promulgations of traditional ecclesiastical authority; they all write with an implicit moral purpose.
But what drove me to post was a reference to “the mysterious sixth-century Miaphysite Syrian Christian who pretended to be Dionysius the Areopagite, an Athenian friend of Paul of Tarsus in the first century.” Miaphysite? That appeared to mean ‘one nature,’ but surely that was monophysitism? Had MacCulloch or Ehrman or somebody decided that since physis was a feminine noun it should have the feminine mia?? Confused, I turned to Wikipedia, where I found a whole article about miaphysitism, “sometimes called henophysitism,” which “holds that in the one person of Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity are united in one or single nature (‘physis’), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration. Historically, Chalcedonian Christians have considered Miaphysitism in general to be amenable to an orthodox interpretation, but they have nevertheless perceived the Miaphysitism of the non-Chalcedonians to be a form of Monophysitism. The Oriental Orthodox Churches themselves reject this characterization.” Now, I like a subtle distinction as well as the next man, but my brain refuses even to attempt to parse the difference between the single-nature miaphysite and the single-nature monophysite. If anyone can provide an explanation in terms suitable for an ignorant observer, I will welcome it; otherwise I’ll just bear in mind that there is such a thing as a miaphysite and go about my way.
This wonderful quiz, originally from Walter Penney in the August 1969 issue of Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics and now presented online by Futility Closet, is as simple as can be: “Below are five groups of English words. Each group appears also in a foreign language. What are the languages?” I got 3 and 5 instantly, 1 and 4 after some thought, and was stumped by 2. I suspect there will be spoilers in the comments [Update: there are definitely spoilers], so if you want to try, you should do so before clicking through to the thread. Thanks, John and Breffni!
Clarification (since some people misunderstood the way it worked): the words are not etymologically connected, they are words that happen to be spelled the same way in English and another language; e.g. (to take a language that isn’t in the quiz), more and my are Russian words (for ‘sea’ and ‘we’ respectively) as well as English ones.
Another quote from Reading for Entertainment in Contemporary Russia (see this post), this time from Mariia Cherniak’s chapter “Russian Romantic Fiction”; in the course of explaining that unlike other genres, “romantic fiction was an entirely new arrival in post-Soviet Russia,” she points out that prerevolutionary prejudices about women’s writing “were shared by the masters of Soviet culture, who also had a whole set of reasons of their own to object to romance and melodrama”:
It was not quite the case that love had no place in publicly disseminated Soviet culture. In the socialist realist novel, girls met boys as well as tractors. Soviet cinema, especially in the 1970s and early 1980s, served up a few emotionally fulfilling love stories. But the kind of romantic women’s culture that almost invariably accompanied modernity in Western Europe was absent — at least in the public domain. This is not to say that Soviet women did not feel the romantic urge. When Western-style romances finally hit the bookstalls in the early 1990s, they met a huge pent-up demand. In the absence of published romantic fiction, Soviet teenage girls from the late 1950s onwards had made do with home-made love stories. These were a little-known form of Soviet samizdat that circulated very widely in the subculture of young females. The handwritten stories of the 1960s and 1970s ranged from the romantic to the erotic, their endings might be tragic or happy, but they tended to fit a first-love narrative formula. They changed hands frequently and were taken down by their latest readers; at each new copying new details (ranging from the weather to names of characters) might be added. These stories met cathartic and educational needs that were not catered for adequately in Soviet culture. Girls had no other authoritative way to learn how to fall in love and how to behave with the opposite sex.
[The paragraph is footnoted to Sergei Borisov's "Прозаические жанры девичьих альбомов" (Новое литературное обозрение, 1996, № 22. pp. 362-366).]
I continue to be amazed and impressed by the lengths to which people will go for their favored entertainment if driven to it; compare the factory workers who learned Polish so they could read detective novels mentioned in the post linked above.
A Washington Post column by Chris Cillizza shows and discusses a remarkable chart that “details how the 17 most common non-English languages in 1980 have fared over the past 30 years” in the US; Cillizza summarizes it thus:
In 1980, the five most common non-English languages spoken in the United States were (in order): Spanish, Italian, German, French and Polish. Thirty years later, the top five are (in order): Spanish, Chinese, French, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
He points out that “Yiddish, which was the 11th most common non-English language in the U.S. in 1980, has fallen to last over the last two decades” and “Russian … started at 14th in 1980 but has soared to the eighth most common language in 2010,” and has other interesting observations. Thanks, Kobi!
A passage of linguistic interest from Orlando Figes’s The Crimean War: A History, which I’ve just started:
Encouraged by victory against Turkey, Catherine also pursued a policy of collaboration with the Greeks, whose religious interests she claimed Russia had a treaty right and obligation to protect. Catherine sent military agents into Greece, trained Greek officers in her military schools, invited Greek traders and seamen to settle in her new towns on the Black Sea coast, and encouraged Greeks in their belief that Russia would support their movement for national liberation from the Turks. More than any other Russian ruler, Catherine identified with the Greek cause. Under the growing influence of her most senior military commander, statesman and court favourite Prince Grigory Potemkin, Catherine even dreamed of re-creating the old Byzantine Empire on the ruins of the Ottoman. The French philosopher Voltaire, with whom the Empress corresponded, addressed her as ‘votre majesté impériale de l’église grecque’, while Baron Friedrich Grimm, her favourite German correspondent, referred to her as ‘l’Impératrice des Grecs’. Catherine conceived this Hellenic empire as a vast Orthodox imperium protectedby Russia, whose Slavonic tongue had once been the lingua franca of the Byzantine Empire, according (erroneously) to the first great historian of Russia, Vasily Tatishchev. The Empress gave the name of Constantine – after both the first and the final emperor of Byzantium – to her second grandson. To commemorate his birth in 1779, she had minted special silver coins with the image of the great St Sophia church (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople, cruelly converted into a mosque since the Ottoman conquest. Instead of a minaret, the coin showed an Orthodox cross on the cupola of the former Byzantine basilica. To educate her grandson to become the ruler of this resurrected Eastern Empire, the Russian Empress brought nurses from Naxos to teach him Greek, a language which he spoke with great facility as an adult.
I knew Russia supported the Greeks at that period, but I had no idea it went so deep.