Our American Poets.

Allan Metcalf describes part of the furnishing of a house he lived in as a graduate student in English in the early ’60s:

In a hallway that I walked through several times a day hung a wood-framed glass-fronted collection of photographs of six distinguished-looking people. And though they were mainly looking at each other — three on the left looking toward three on the right, and vice versa — every now and then one of them seemed to glance at me, telling me to take notice.

After all, I was studying literature — one of about 500 graduate students in English — and those portraits were captioned “Our American Poets.” These, I realized, were our great poets, the ones we would have been expected to study if we had been there around the year 1900, with the 19th century just gone by.

From left to right, these six were:

• Whittier, John Greenleaf, 1807-92. Author of Snow-Bound.
• Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-82. Author of “Days” and “Concord Hymn.”
• Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-82. Author of The Song of Hiawatha.
• Lowell, James Russell, 1819-91. Author of The Biglow Papers.
• Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 1809-94. Author of “The Chambered Nautilus.”
• Bryant, William Cullen, 1794-1878. Author of “Thanatopsis.”

Strangely, though, most of them were not the American poets of the 19th century we were most likely to study in 1963.

(You can see the framed photos at the link.) As it happens, I had a strikingly old-fashioned elementary school education in the ’50s and early ’60s, and we read all those poets (and I’m pretty sure I read the named poems), but they are certainly not the ones people think of today, and it’s sobering to be confronted with such shifting patterns of taste. As he says in his conclusion, “I couldn’t decide whether to feel superior to the narrow tastes of that century, or to feel less certain about the durability of my own tastes in the centuries that followed.”

More Demonyms.

Commenter cliff anderson left a comment on this LH post linking to his own post My Favorite Demonyms, and I liked it so much I’m featuring it here. “Utah – Utahn” is pretty well known, but what about these?

St Kitts & Nevis – Kittitian / Nevesian
Botswana – Motswana
Burundi – Umurundi
Lesotho – Mosotho
Kiribati – i-Kiribati
Vanuatu – Ni-Vanuatu
Tampa – Tampanian
Macao – Macanese

And there’s many more at the link. Oh how I love demonyms!

Wilson on Homeric Wordplay.

Emily Wilson, whose translation of the Odyssey I posted about here, has a Twitter thread beginning:

Here’s another major issues for all translators, not just of ancient Greek: what to do about wordplay, including puns. Take these lines from the Odyssey: ἀλλ᾽ ἑλέτω σε καὶ ὕπνος: ἀνίη καὶ τὸ φυλάσσειν πάννυχον ἐγρήσσοντα, κακῶν δ᾽ ὑποδύσεαι ἤδη. (20. 52-53)

The penultimate word in the two lines I quoted echoes the sound of our hero’s name: hypODYSSEAI. Athena is identifying O. as the guy who will “slip out from under” things — he “Odysseus-es” out. So I went to see what different translators do with the pun.

She quotes the Fagles, Fitzgerald, and Lattimore versions, following each with the laconic “No pun,” and provides her own attempt:

Now go to sleep. To stay on guard awake
all night is tiring. Quite soon you will
distance yourself, Odysseus, from trouble.

I made an effort to do something about the word-play. Wish I could have done more/ better, but I did try very hard.

She adds:

There are several puns on O’s name (even beyond metis/outis). At 5.340, I use small-o “odyssey”:
[why does Poseidon]
“create an odyssey of pain for you”.
But I couldn’t do that more than once. For that line, too, Lattimore & Fagles & Fitzgerald have no pun.

Interesting stuff (and of course there are responses from other Twitter users); thanks, Steven!

Joint Speech.

Joint Speech is a site providing “Resources for the study of joint speech,” notably a new book:

Cummins, Fred (2018) The Ground From Which We Speak: Joint speech and the collective subject is a book exploring the topic of joint speech published online here. The book is available in two formats. Large is suited to reading on tablets and laptops. Small is suited to reading on smartphone screens. The electronic version of this book may be downloaded and shared freely.

The book introduces the topic of joint speech through examples that are also documented below. After becoming familiar with the topic, the question is raised: Why is there almost no empirical science of joint speech? Chapters 4 to 7 detail some preliminary scientific work in the phonetics, neuroscience, linguistics and movement sciences, all of which suggests that joint speech is rich territory for empirical investigation. The primary scientific sources are collected here under documentation. The absence of work on the topic suggests instead a difficulty in the contemporary scientific landscape of treating adequately of collective aspirations, collective intentions, and collective subjects. The final two chapters suggest that the emerging vocabulary of enaction may be of use as such topics are pursued.

Feedback to fred.cummins@ucd.ie would be most welcome.

Nine examples described in the book are provided in video form; this is a great idea and I hope it gets traction. (Via MetaFilter.)


Back in mid-November, Nick Nicholas of Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος began a fascinating series of posts about Kaliarda (καλιαρντά):

I’ve namechecked Kaliarda, the gay Greek cant, several times on this blog. There is still a dearth of English-language information on Kaliarda; and since this blog is about making Greek linguistics more googlable in English, I’m going to attempt to remedy that. In this post, I’m going to start by giving what information is to hand on the speakers of Kaliarda; I’ll discuss the cant itself in subsequent posts. […]

Kaliarda is a cant: “the jargon or argot of a group, often employed to exclude or mislead people outside the group.” In particular, it was the cant of street queans and other effeminate gay men in Athens in the early to middle 20th century. In the aftermath of gay liberation and changes in social attitudes, the need for a secrecy language has attenuated, as it has for other gay cants (such as Italian-based Polari of English). There are emblematically gay linguistic mannerisms in popular culture, promulgated by personalities like Ilias Psinakis (and the eccentric variant that TV presenter Malvina Karali had made her own in the 90s); but the consensus is that Kaliarda as a living cant has died out.

I figured I’d wait till the series was finished before posting on it, which I thought might take a week or so; I’ve been watching with awe as it expanded and deepened its coverage, and now, over six weeks later, it seems to be time. In Kaliarda XXX he wrote “I am drawing this sequence to a close with posts on noteworthy classes of Kaliarda words from Petrpoulos’ dictionary,” and Kaliarda XXXIV is called “Miscellanea from Kaliarda,” so I’m guessing it’s done. An amazing piece of work that should be turned into a book, and I congratulate Nick on his accomplishment. (We discussed Polari way back in 2003.)

Hakka Now an Official Language of Taiwan.

Of course I support recognition of minority languages in general, but this Taipei Times report by Cheng Hung-ta and Jake Chung makes my heart especially warm, because I lived in Taiwan forty years ago and got to know something about its linguistic situation personally:

Hakka has been made an official national language after the Legislative Yuan yesterday passed amendments to the Hakka Basic Act (客家基本法).

According to the amendment, townships in which Hakka people make up at least one-third of the population are to be designated key developmental areas for Hakka culture by the Hakka Affairs Council, and Hakka is to be used as one of the main languages for communication.

Such areas should strive to bolster the teaching and speaking of Hakka, as well as the preservation of Hakka culture and related industries, the amendment said.

Townships in which Hakka people comprise half the population should make the language their primary method of communication, with relevant regulations to be determined by the council, the amendment said.

Via the Log, where Victor Mair points out that Hakka joins Taiwanese/Hokkien/Hoklo and Mandarin as an official language, and commenter Guy_H adds that “the number of Hakka speakers in Taiwan is around 6-7% of the population.” We discussed the history of the Hakka and the etymology of the name in 2015.


Jennifer Rankin writes for the Guardian about a language not often discussed:

Luxembourgish, traditionally just spoken at home, can sound like a curiosity. It was not even a national language of Luxembourg until 1984 and is hardly spoken outside the Grand Duchy. Nearly half of Luxembourg’s 576,000 inhabitants are foreigners, many of whom find it easier to speak one of the country’s other official languages, French and German, or even English. “You can live in Luxembourg without knowing a word of Luxembourgish,” says Schmitz. “[But] it is fun, it expands your view and your children cannot talk in a secret language that you do not understand.”

Now Luxembourg’s government wants to boost the status of the language further with a 40-point action plan that aims to promote it in schools, libraries, government offices and embassies. Luxembourgish will be codified, with an academy, nationwide spelling campaigns and the completion of an online dictionary. Schoolchildren will be able to do poetry slam, creative writing and theatre in the language. […]

“The goal is not to make Luxembourgish the official language, but to allow it to coexist with the other official languages, French and German,” Guy Arendt, Luxembourg’s culture minister, told the Guardian. “I am not one of those who believes our language is on the point of dying or disappearing. Emails, SMS and social networks have made Luxembourgish, in its written form, more used than ever before.”

Luxembourgish is also being heard on the big screen. Jérôme Weber, a film director, says more people want to shoot films in Luxembourgish. “It is quite a big trend right now, to push the Luxembourgish language and culture and I want to be part of it.” His latest film, The Past We Live In, is about an old man’s memories of being conscripted into the Wehrmacht during the second world war. Weber says it was obvious this Luxembourgish story should be told in the national language. Yet the influence of English is hard to break; he writes his scripts in English first.

Sandra Schmit, an author and translator, thinks Luxembourgish is becoming “a real literary language”, like English in the time of Chaucer.

There’s also a list of “Luxembourgish key phrases”: Kënnt Dir mir wann ech gelift soen, wou een déi beschte Gromperekichelcher kritt? “Please can you tell me where is the best place to try gromperekichelcher (potato pancakes)?” Thanks, Trond and Kobi!

What Is to Be Done?

I said here that I was “bracing myself” to read Chernyshevsky’s famous 1863 novel; I knew it was not a good novel, but I couldn’t ignore a book that had such powerful influence (Joseph Frank wrote “No work in modern literature, with the possible exception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, can compete with What Is to Be Done? in its effect on human lives and its power to make history”). So I started it a few days ago.

Oh! what a bad novel! I read a few chapters and realized there was no way I could force myself to read the entire thing; I’d sooner have another go at Tolstoy’s Second Appendix. The language is stilted, the characters wooden, the storytelling childish; Chernyshevsky’s idea of heightened prose is repetition, sometimes varying the order of words (“Здание, громадное, громадное здание” [A building, enormous, an enormous building]; “Здесь царствую я. Я царствую здесь” [Here I rule. I rule here]). Fortunately, salvation was at hand in the series of posts Tom at Wuthering Expectations consecrated to the book a few years ago. This post begins:

“It’s the scene for which, I believe, the entire novel was written to bring into the world, the reason Nikolai Chernyshevsky sat down in his cell at the Peter and Paul Fortress prison and began the book” writes Scott Bailey. It’s Part 3, chapter xxix, “An Extraordinary Man.” You always know something is up when Chernyshevky gives a chapter a title. With minor changes, the chapter could be an independent short story.

The story is the biography of Rakhmetov, revolutionary superhero.

Ah yes, Rakhmetov, the model for all later Russian revolutionaries! OK, I’ll read that chunk. (Incidentally, Scott Bailey’s blog has vanished from the internet, which is a pity.) And I’ll read the famous chapter of Vera’s Fourth Dream, with the Crystal Palace image that so enraged Dostoevsky and inspired Marshall Berman (see this LH post). And I did, skimming the other chapters just enough to get a vague idea of such plot as there is (a ridiculous love triangle, an impossible sewing collective, an absurd fake suicide, etc.).

The Fourth Dream is, frankly, boring stuff, and I skimmed a lot. It’s interchangeable with every other utopia of the period, with a noble denizen of the shining future showing a dazzled visitor from the benighted present how it all works: “See the abundant, productive fields! See the masses going about their light work with pleasure and enjoying their innocent entertainments! There is enough for all, once mankind comes to realize life must be lived on sensible, utilitarian principles!” (That’s a summary, not a quote, but that’s how it sounds.) There’s a direct line of descent from that to the engineer-written scientifiction of the 1920s (“Well, Bob, as you know, the power of the electron was unleashed centuries ago…”), and it’s hard for me to see how anyone over the age of, say, fourteen can take any of it seriously.

But the Rakhmetov chapters are, from our vantage point a century and a half on, terrifying. Tom quotes Joseph Frank to good effect (from his “N. G. Chernyshevsky: A Russian Utopia,” published in Southern Review in 1967 and reprinted in Through the Russian Prism):

The ideal of the disciplined, dedicated revolutionary, coldly Utilitarian and even cruel to himself and others, but warmed by a love for mankind that he sternly represses for fear of weakening his resolution; the iron-willed leader who sacrifices his private life to the revolution, and who, since he looks on himself only as an instrument, feels free to use others in the same way – in short, the Bolshevik mentality, for which it is impossible to find any source in European Socialism, steps right out of the pages of What Is To Be Done?

Rakhmetov’s “Покорность всегда награждается” [Submissiveness is always rewarded] sums up the “vegetarian” Soviet purges of the 1920s; his “Но вы этою отговоркою только уличили себя в новом преступлении” [But with these excuses you are only proving yourself guilty of a new crime] takes us to the Great Terror of the ’30s; and “— что значит пятьдесят человек!” [what is the significance of fifty people!] is at the root of all the contempt for human life and “bourgeois morality” shown by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, et hoc genus omne. Chernyshevsky, of course, would have been horrified by all such developments; he was the kindliest of men, and only wanted humankind to perfect itself. But we all know about the road signposted with good intentions.

New Year 2018.

Потому что жизнь не ждет.
Не оглянешься и святки.
Только промежуток краткий,
Смотришь, там и новый год.

Because life does not wait.
Turn, and you find Christmas here.
And a moment after that
It’s suddenly New Year.

My favorite stanza from Pasternak’s “Снег идет” (tr. Jon Stallworthy and Peter France, “Snow Is Falling”; a different translation here). A very happy new year to all of you!

Two Pronunciation Puzzles.

1) I happened on a mention of Wanaque, New Jersey, and of course wanted to know how to pronounce it. The Wikipedia article said “(/ˈwɑːnəˌkjuː/ or /wəˈnɒki/)”; I thought “that can’t be right,” but it turns out both are correct. From the references:

19. Hanley, Robert. “Full and Not at All: The Difference Between 2 New Jersey Reservoirs”, The New York Times, March 5, 2002. Accessed March 10, 2011. “The primary reason is that the Wanaque (pronounced WAHN-a-cue or wa-NOCK-ee) is now supplemented by a new reservoir and pumping stations built after the 1980’s drought. Yet despite those projects, trouble is looming again.”
20. Gansberg, Martin. “For Wanaque, Growth Is a Problem”, The New York Times, May 27, 1973. Accessed June 26, 2017. “WANAQUE-The first thing that one discovers on entering this Passaic County community is that the 9,500 residents cannot agree on the pronunciation of the name of their hometown. Longtime residents use the old Indian WA-NAH-KEY when they refer to the borough, while new homeowners call it WA-NAH-CUE.”

2) From “Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson on How They Created ‘Phantom Thread’” in today’s NY Times: “For Alma, Mr. Anderson sought a European unknown and found Ms. Krieps (pronounced krehps), 34, whom he’d seen in the German black comedy ‘The Chambermaid’ (2014).” Once again, I thought “that can’t be right,” but (chastened by my Wanaque experience) I withheld judgment. Just because as far as I know Krieps would be /krips/ (“kreeps”) in both French and German doesn’t mean this particular woman doesn’t pronounce her name /kreps/. But I’m still leaning towards the Times having screwed up (especially since elsewhere in the article, what appears online as “In previous films, including ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ and ‘The Master’” shows up on the printed page as “In previous films, including ‘Punch-Drunk Love’needs this hyphen and ‘The Master’”). Anybody know?