Historic Book Odour Wheel.

ScienceDaily reports on a project “to document and archive the aroma associated with old books”; on the one hand, it seems ripe for mockery, but on the other hand, as a confirmed book-sniffer I can’t help but find it intriguing:

A ‘Historic Book Odour Wheel’ which has been developed to document and archive the aroma associated with old books, is being presented in a study in the open access journal Heritage Science. Researchers at UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage created the wheel as part of an experiment in which they asked visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral’s Dean and Chapter library in London to characterize its smell.

The visitors most frequently described the aroma of the library as ‘woody’ (selected by 100% of the visitors who were asked), followed by ‘smoky’ (86%), ‘earthy'(71%) and ‘vanilla’ (41%). The intensity of the smells was assessed as between ‘strong odor’ and ‘very strong odor’. Over 70% of the visitors described the smell as pleasant, 14% as ‘mildly pleasant’ and 14% as ‘neutral’. […]

Cecilia Bembibre, heritage scientist at UCL and corresponding author of the study said: “Our odour wheel provides an example of how scientists and historians could begin to identify, analyze and document smells that have cultural significance, such as the aroma of old books in historic libraries. The role of smells in how we perceive heritage has not been systematically explored until now.”

Further research is, needless to say, needed. The study is “Smell of heritage: A framework for the identification, analysis and archival of historic odours,” by Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlič. Thanks, Paul!


Gerardo Licón’s KCET story on pachucos, young Mexican-Americans in the WWII era, is excellent and taught me a lot about a culture of which I had only foggy and cliché-ridden ideas. What makes it LH material is the following paragraph:

This brings us back to the question regarding why pachucos in Los Angeles seemed to speak more [African American] jive than pachuco caló [slang]. It is because Mexican Americans in Los Angeles were greatly influenced by other groups in the U.S. compared to the Mexicans that were more recent arrivals to Los Angeles, especially from the border area of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Border cities have a greater degree of language mixture (something akin to Spanglish) than cities further inland as well. At that time, El Paso was the primary point of entry for Mexicans into the U.S. The slang name of El Paso was “El Chuco.” Many Mexicans would cross into the U.S. and go to El Chuco, or in Spanish slang, “Pa’l Chuco.” When young Mexican Americans took trains along the Southern Pacific railroad, through Tucson, Arizona, to Los Angeles for wartime employment opportunities, they were referred to as pachucos. They brought their form of border Spanglish to Los Angeles with them. Mexican American zoot suiters native to Los Angeles spoke more jive; migrants from El Paso spoke pachuco caló with more of a Spanish-language and Spanish slang influence. This is also why when reporters asked Mexican citizens, after the Zoot Suit Riots, where pachucos had come from, many said they came from El Paso.

Naturally, I was dubious about this derivation, and sure enough, when I looked it up in AHD I found a different etymology:

[American Spanish, person from El Paso, pachuco, possibly alteration of payuco, yokel, from Spanish payo, peasant, perhaps from Gallego Payo, Pelagius (considered a typical peasant name).]

And googling brought me this webpage by the redoubtable Barry Popik, whose first paragraph reverses Licón’s causation:

El Paso is infrequently called “El Chuco” or “Chuco Town”/”Chucotown.” The term comes from the word “pachuco,” a Mexican Spanish Caló dialect word of disputed origin, dating from the 1930s-1940s.

After that it has as many citations and theories as you could possibly want.

Code-switching as a Teaching Method.

Lameen Souag recently posted at Jabal al-Lughat about an intriguing teaching method:

I haven’t done much language teaching in my life, but as a person who likes learning new languages, I’ve seen a fair range of different teaching methods applied, from only speaking the target language to saying almost everything in English. But the approach used in Simon Bird‘s “#LilMoshom” series of Cree-teaching videos was new to me, and very interesting. Take a moment to watch some of them before reading further [links omitted click through to Lameen’s post for them]

There are a lot of strong points one could comment on – the CGI, the subtitles, and the humour, for instance – but what particularly draws my attention is the way he combines the two languages. To introduce the words he’s teaching, he usually speaks in English – but he doesn’t just gloss, much less lecture (contrast, say, the more conventional approach used in this Ojibwe video series). When speaking in English, he throws in Cree discourse particles and sometimes even content words, gives the sentence a distinctly non-mainstream English intonation pattern which I assume reflects Cree, and even pronounces the English with a Cree accent. In different contexts, the maker of these videos speaks English like any other Canadian academic, so this appears to be a deliberate teaching strategy. The beauty of this is that, before the learner can even formulate a full sentence, they’re already getting a chance to acquire some aspects of language – discourse structure and intonation – that are super-important for actually making yourself understood, yet play a minor role or get left out entirely in many traditional curriculums and textbooks (not to mention grammars!).

Have you ever encountered such a teaching method? If so, did you find it effective?

I’ve never heard of such a thing, but it seems like it could work, and I’m curious to know my readers’ thoughts.

Creating Ancient Languages for TV.

Gail Hairston, a PR person for the University for Kentucky, writes about a linguist with a great job:

Throughout Andrew Byrd’s successful career in academia, he has pushed to understand ancient languages to a depth no one has before. His goal was to understand how languages spoken thousands of years ago actually sounded. […]

He and his wife Brenna Byrd, also a linguist and assistant professor of German at UK, helped the video game creators Ubisoft bring to life “Far Cry Primal”, which involved warring tribes in 10,000 BCE. Ubisoft wanted realistic conversations among the prehistoric Homo sapiens, so the Byrds partnered their skills. While he created the words and their sounds, she relied on her award-winning skill at teaching foreign languages to teach the game’s actors to speak the languages realistically.

After the video game was manufactured, it wasn’t long before another opportunity was offered to Byrd.

This one came from television’s National Geographic Channel. Producers wanted the UK linguist to help create verbal languages for a new series to be called “Origins: The Journey of Humankind.” Futurist Jason Silva hosts this visually arresting new series that offers a twist on conventional historical documentaries as it explores the big question of how humans “got from there to here,” in the evolution from apes to astronauts. […]

Byrd remembered an early conversation with the producers, “First, they said they were fans of my work in ‘Far Cry Primal,’ then they asked me if I could create languages in different time frames, even different parts of the world.”

“What about 2,000 years ago, Europe?”

“Yes, sure,” Byrd answered.

“4,000 years ago?”


“How about 14,000 years ago in Eurasia and northern Africa?”

“There’s a lot we don’t know about those regions, but yes, I can make an educated guess that will be reasonably close,” Byrd said.

“Southern France, 25,000 years ago? Australia, 50,000 years ago?”

“Those languages would be based on very little actual data, but I can make a good attempt,” he said.

The producers were more than happy with that answer, and now Byrd’s work can be found in virtually every episode of the new series.

Needless to say, I’m more than dubious about these sort-of-reconstructed languages, but hey, it’s only TV, and at least an actual linguist is involved. (I posted about Byrd’s website The *Bʰlog in 2014.) Thanks, Trevor!

A Proper Education.

Having reached the year 1859 in my long march through Russian literature, I’m reading Turgenev’s Дворянское гнездо [A Nobleman’s Nest, also tr. Liza and Home of the Gentry], which has been called his “most characteristic, least controversial and most popular” novel. So far I’m finding it a bit of a slog, since it’s consisting mostly of long introductions to the family histories of each character, but I trust Turgenev and am willing to wait and see where it goes. At any rate, I thought I’d post this passage, which is of obvious LH relevance:

Despite all his adroitness, he found himself almost constantly on the verge of destitution, and left to his only son a small and unsettled fortune. On the other hand, he had, in his own way, taken pains with his education: Vladimir Nikolaich spoke French splendidly, English well, and German badly. That’s as it should be: for respectable people, it is shameful to speak German, but to make use of a German word in certain circumstances, for the most part humorous, is permissible; c’est même très chic, as Petersburg Parisians put it.

Несмотря на всю свою ловкость, он находился почти постоянно на самом рубеже нищеты и оставил своему единственному сыну состояние небольшое и расстроенное. Зато он, по-своему, позаботился об его воспитании: Владимир Николаич говорил по-французски прекрасно, по-английски хорошо, по-немецки дурно. Так оно и следует: порядочным людям стыдно говорить хорошо по-немецки; но пускать в ход германское словцо в некоторых, большею частью забавных, случаях — можно, c’est même très chic, как выражаются петербургские парижане.


Translating Agatha Christie into Icelandic.

Ragnar Jónasson “explains how rendering the great English thriller writer into his own language taught him how to write fiction himself”:

I was 17 when I started working on my first Icelandic translation of an Agatha Christie novel. I had been reading her books for years and had already translated a few of her short stories for Icelandic magazines, but I was astonished when her publishers offered me the opportunity to translate a whole novel. I was even more delighted when they agreed to let me start with Endless Night (little did they know that my suggestion was because it contained far fewer pages than any other Christie novel I had come across).

I would never have guessed that 15 years later I would be writing myself, and have 14 translated Christie novels to my name. Through college, law school, and even when I had started full-time work as a lawyer, I never stopped translating her. Each new title was another chance to immerse myself in her writing and to learn from her as much as I could. And translating her gave me the confidence to write a novel of my own. Christie was not just an inspiration for my writing, but a support.

I’m posting it mainly for this paragraph:

One memorable challenge came when I was translating Lord Edgware Dies, which took me 10 years because of one almost impossible hurdle: a particular two-word clue, which to me felt inextricably bound to the English language. The words used in English sounded different in Icelandic, dissolving the clue entirely. In the end I resorted to simply referring to the English words as well, after trying dozens of alternative methods (for those interested in knowing the clue, read chapter 29).

It’s almost enough to make me pick up Christie again. (I read through my brother’s collection of her novels half a century or so ago.) Thanks, Eric!

(Sorry about the outage yesterday; it was something to do with MySQL not running after an update by the service that hosts LH. All hail Songdog, who managed to fix it!)

Great Mennonite Schisms.

I’ve always been a fan of schisms and heresies (see this post and those linked in its first sentence), so of course I was pleased to find “In Praise of Older Schisms,” by slklassen, the Drunken Mennonite; I knew I had to bring it here when I got to the last one:

10. The Famous Bonnet Controversy of Stirling Ave.

Mennonite women in Ontario wore hats until the mid-nineteenth century. Like everyone else. Then they switched to bonnets. Like everyone else. Then, in the early twentieth century, they started to switch back to hats again. Like everyone else. Which, apparently, was wrongheaded of them. In 1924, the hat-wearers and their supporters at Berlin Mennonite Church (now First Mennonite), having had enough persecution from the bonnet faction, marched up the hill to form Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church. I attended this Church through my growing up years. And never wore a bonnet once.

Hat heresies are the best heresies!

Keeping Hand Talk Alive.

Cecily Hilleary of VOA News writes about a remarkable recent find and the history it represents:

In early September 1930, the Blackfeet Nation of Montana hosted a historic Indian Sign Language Grand Council, gathering leaders of a dozen North American Nations and language groups.

The three-day council held was organized by Hugh L. Scott, a 77-year-old U.S. Army General who had spent a good portion of his career in the American West, where he observed and learned what users called Hand Talk, and what is today more broadly known as Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL). With $5,000 in federal funding, Scott filmed the proceedings and hoped to produce a film dictionary of more than 1,300 signs. He died before he could finish the project.

Scott’s films disappeared into the National Archives. Recently rediscovered, they are an important resource for those looking to revitalize PISL.

Among them is Ron Garritson, who identifies himself as being of Cree, Cherokee and European heritage. He was raised in Billings, Montana, near the Crow Nation.

“I learned how to speak Crow to a degree, and I was really interested in the sign language,” he said. “I saw it being used by the Elders, and I thought it was a beautiful form of communication. And so I started asking questions.”

Garritson studied Scott’s films, along with works by other ethnographers and now has a vocabulary of about 1,700 signs. He conducts workshops and classes across Montana, in an effort to preserve and spread sign language and native history.

Prior to contact with Europeans, North American Native peoples were not a unified culture, but hundreds of different cultures and tribes, each with its own political organization, belief system and language. When speakers of one language met those of another, whether in trade, councils or conflict, they communicated in the lingua franca of Hand Talk.

Scholars dispute exactly when, in their 30,000-year history in North America, tribes developed sign language. It was observed among Florida tribes by 16th Century Spanish colonizers. […]

While each tribe had its own dialect, tribes were able to communicate easily. Though universal in North America, Hand Talk was more prominent among the nomadic Plains Nations.

“There were fewer linguistic groups east of the Mississippi River,” said Garritson. “They were mostly woodland tribes, living in permanent villages and were familiar with each other’s languages. They still used sign language to an extent, but not like it was used out here.” […]

By the late 1800s, tens of thousands of Native Americans still used Hand Talk. That changed when the federal government instituted a policy designed to “civilize” tribal people.

There’s more history at the link, along with an eight-minute clip from the film, a useful map, and photos. Thanks, Trevor!

The History of the Limerick.

I always enjoy limericks and have posted about them before (e.g., here); now, courtesy of Mark Liberman at the Log, I bring you Stephen Goranson’s suggestion as to the origin of the name:

Might the English verse form have gotten its Irish name in America? Maybe, maybe not, but consider the entry on Limerick in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang (Jonathan Lighter, editor). “Come to Limerick”–only in American slang–used to mean, more or less, to settle, to come to terms. Members of the American Dialect Society discussion list added to the three examples given in the Dictionary. They range in date from 1859 to about the end of the century. The first uses mostly relate to the looming and then raging U.S. Civil War; they later referred to more diverse put-up-or-shut-up situations. (More details to come in the comments, if interested.) There were many “Limericks” published then in America. I suggest the reference was to the end of the earlier Irish Civil War that was partly concluded with the Treaty of Limerick.

The OED quotes J. H. Murray–not to be confused with J. A. H. Murray, the OED editor (proof available on request)–in 1898 writing in Notes & Queries that Limericks were offered at convivial parties with the “come [up] to Limerick” chorus sung as a challenge for a new verse: in effect, offer another new one or surrender.

Admittedly, the above does not prove an American origin of the name. But here’s another hint that the name did not refer to poets literally and literarily from Limerick, having left, as the Treaty allowed, in the Jacobite “Flight of the Wild Geese” to France. In 1881 the Church of England Bishop of Limerick, who was also a poet (and relative of author Robert Graves), received an honorary degree from Oxford. This is recounted by his son, also named Charles Graves, in “The Cult of the Limerick,” Cornhill Magazine, Feb 1918, 158-66 (here 158):

“…he [the Bishop, in June, 1881] was greeted in the Sheldonian by cries of “Won’t you come up, come up, Won’t you come up to Limerick town?”–which we believe to be the correct form of the refrain. But the reason for the connection of the City of the Violated Treaty with this particular form of pasquinade remains, as Stevenson said of the young penny-whistler, ‘occult from observation.'”

(I have added the italics.) There is, of course, good stuff in the comments.

Johann Kaspar Zeuss and Grammatica Celtica.

Charles Dillon, editor of the Foclóir Stairiúil Gaeilge [Historical Dictionary of Irish], writes (for the Royal Irish Academy’s library blog) about Johann Kaspar Zeuss (1806-1856), whose magnum opus Grammatica Celtica (1853) “established incontrovertibly through the study of Old Irish sources the relationship of the Celtic languages to the Indo-European family”:

This was the age of ‘Celtomania’, a phenomenon which for want of learned, scientific and empirical research into their origins, had ascribed various fanciful and unproven ancestry to the Celtic languages, often relating them to mysterious peoples and exotic tongues. Only tentatively, by the time of Zeuss, had serious scholars suggested that Celtic was related to the Indo-European family, and it is notable that the great philologists Jacob Ludwig Grimm (he, with his brother Wilhelm, of fairytale fame) and Franz Bopp did not include Celtic in their great comparative surveys of German, Sanskrit, Zend (Avestan), Greek, Latin, Lithuanian and Gothic, which traced the ancestry of the premier European languages eastwards to the heart of India. […]

It was to this gap in the knowledge of the situation of Celtic that Zeuss addressed himself, setting about his task through his study of Old Irish sources. What is perhaps most remarkable by today’s standards is that he never visited Ireland, and it is questionable whether indeed he ever met an Irish speaker. His approach to the problem led him ad fontes; he travelled to libraries across Europe wherein were housed the earliest examples of written Irish. These were in the form of glosses, such as those found in Würzburg, Karlsruhe, Milan and Turin (mostly from the 8th century, but some in the so-called prima manus, from the 7th), in which commentaries in Irish on, for example, the epistles of Paul are found between lines and in text margins. Zeuss transcribed and interpreted these and other such examples and from his analysis he was able to lay out in Grammatica Celtica, for the first time, the grammar of the language. In his return to the earliest extant forms of the language, Zeuss was a pioneer; earlier in the eighteenth century the glosses had been identified as Irish but mistakes had been made in their interpretation. Zeuss brought to their study his modern training that enabled him to tackle the scientific study of any language. His reliance on the glosses is almost absolute, and he barely refers to any extant scholarship in Celtic, obviously preferring to build all his conclusions solely on the foundation of the sources.

Studying Old Irish made me happier than almost anything else I did in grad school, and the very words “Würzburg glosses” send me back forty years and more to the period when I was carrying around my beat-up copy of Thurneysen’s Grammar of Old Irish (1970 reprint of the 1946 translation); I now learn that Thurneysen’s work would have been impossible without his predecessor Zeuss, and I join Dillon in honoring him. Thanks, Trevor!