Spoken Sanskrit II.

Five years ago I posted about the phenomenon of Sanskrit as a spoken language; now Amara Hasa posts at the Log about a project that involves spoken and communicative Sanskrit:

Our project is a free online library of Sanskrit stories for learners. What makes these stories special is that they follow the current best practices from second language acquisition research.

Specifically, we aim to provide the learner with as much compelling and comprehensible input as we can, since this is a vital and necessary factor in developing communicative proficiency. Here are some specific techniques we apply to keep the input rate high:

– We use a highly restricted (“sheltered”) vocabulary to avoid overwhelming the learner with new lexical items. […]

– We use unrestricted (“unsheltered”) grammar so that all utterances follow normal Sanskrit grammatical patterns, without any attempt to teach a specific rule. […]

– We provide illustrations and word-for-word translations to establish meaning and avoid the pitfalls of some immersion-only approaches. Our simpler stories also have per-sentence translations so that beginners can be confident that they understand what a sentence means.

– We prioritize learner choice and understand that language acquisition is highly dependent on factors like interest and motivation. The more that a learner can choose content that is personally compelling, the more fun they’ll have, and the more they’ll want to read in the future.

Under the constraints above, we simply try to provide the most engaging content that we can. Our content mainly takes the form of stories, which closely aligns us with TPRS methods. But it is also true that many people learn Sanskrit to read a specific text of interest, so we are also working on graded adaptations of major works, such as the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Panchatantra.

The site is Sanskrit for everyone, and it seems like a Good Thing.

Because of an Editing Error.

As a retired copyeditor, I of course enjoyed David Vecsey’s report from the NYT trenches:

It is a feeling that every copy editor knows. You bolt upright out of a deep sleep at 3 a.m., eyes wide open, and you say to yourself, Did I misspell “Kyrgyzstan” last night? And nine times out of 10, you can go back to sleep comfortably knowing … that you did.

Copy editors — those of us who polish articles and write headlines and photo captions — have an almost photographic memory when it comes to the words that pass before our eyes. Unfortunately, the cameras we use are those old-fashioned tripods that use flaming magnesium for a flash and take hours, or even days, for the pictures to develop. But eventually it all comes back in a rush of clarity. You might be pushing your toddler through the park on a glorious sunny day off when suddenly you ask yourself: Did I say Dallas was the capital of Texas last week? Yes. Yes, you did. You idiot.

My latest foray into the Corrections list came last month when I wrote a photo caption identifying Senator Tom Udall of Utah. And by Utah, obviously, I meant New Mexico. Because that’s the state he represents. (Until this week.)

My job, simply speaking, is to get things right. So there is no worse feeling than the realization that you have entered a correctable error into print and that a correction will appear a day or two later to proclaim, “Because of an editing error …” There is no escaping the page of the newspaper that you have marred; it reappears everywhere you look: blowing down the sidewalk, on a subway car, wrapped around the sea bass you’ve just bought at the market. There is no doubt that five years from now, I’ll buy something on eBay and it will come in a box padded with a scrap of The New York Times that says “Tom Udall of Utah.”

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ScienceDaily features The surprising grammar of touch: Language emergence in DeafBlind communities:

A new study demonstrates that grammar is evident and widespread in a system of communication based on reciprocal, tactile interaction, thus reinforcing the notion that if one linguistic channel, such as hearing, or vision, is unavailable, structures will find another way to create formal categories. There are thousands of people across the US and all over the world who are DeafBlind. Very little is known about the diverse ways they use and acquire language, and what effects those processes have on the structure of language itself. This research suggests a way forward in analyzing those articulatory and perceptual patterns — a project that will broaden scientific understanding of what is possible in human language.

This research focuses on language usage that has become conventional across a group of DeafBlind signers in the United States and shows that those who communicate via reciprocal, tactile channels — a practice known as “Protactile,” — make regular use of tactile grammatical structures. The study, “Feeling Phonology: The Conventionalization of Phonology in Protactile Communities in the United States” by Terra Edwards (Saint Louis University) and Diane Brentari (University of Chicago), will be published in the December, 2020 issue of the scholarly journal Language.

The article focuses on the basic units used to produce and perceive protactile expressions as well as patterns in how those units are, and are not, combined. Over the past 60 years, there has been a slow, steady paradigm shift in the field of linguistics toward understanding this level of linguistic structure, or “phonology” as the abstract component of a grammar, which organizes basic units without specific reference to communication modality. This article contributes to that shift, calling into question the very definition of phonology. The authors ask: Can the tactile modality sustain phonological structure? The results of the study suggest that it can.

A very interesting development; there are more links, including one to a video discussion of the study done in Protactile, at the MetaFilter post.

Pronouncing Joyce.

As I said here, I’m reading Lena Eltang’s Другие барабаны [Different drums], and part of the multicultural mix I talked about is the epigraphs from all over, like this one (in English):

The Vico road goes round and round
to meet where terms begin.

I was pretty sure it was Joyce, and sure enough it’s at FW 452.21. (It’s a road in Dalkey; you can see a couple of photos here and read a discussion of possible origins of the name here.) But how was it pronounced? I had a vague memory it was /ˈvaɪkou/, but I wanna know for sure… and the internet turned up Pronouncing Joyce, a wonderful site that not only tells you how to say things (“Proper names in Joyce’s writing can be pronounced in Dublin English in ways which are surprising to those unfamiliar with the dialect”) but gives you audio files so you can hear them said. Vico is indeed /ˈvaɪkou/, Aungier (Street) is /ˈe:nʤəɹ/, Capel (Street) is /ˈke:pl/, Chapelizod is /ʧæplˈɪzəd/… Man, I wish I’d had this resource when I was intensively reading Joyce.

For lagniappe, here’s a great word for you: gaspergoufreshwater drum,’ used chiefly in Louisiana. Etymology :

Louisiana French casburgot, casseburgau, from French dialect casse-burgot, a kind of fish, from casser to break + burgau, a kind of shellfish

Tsakonian Today.

Angela Dansby has a BBC Travel post about a famous (among linguists) dialect of Greek:

As you enter the mountainous village of Pera Melana in Greece’s southern Peloponnese peninsula, you’re likely to hear the roar of scooters zooming down narrow roads and the chirps of birds stealing ripe fruit from trees. But if you approach the village’s central cafe, you’ll hear a rather unusual sound. It’s the buzz of conversations among elders in a 3,000-year-old language called Tsakonika. The speakers are the linguistic descendants of ancient Sparta, the iconic Greek city-state, and part of a rich cultural heritage and population called Tsakonian. […]

Today, only about 2,000 of the 10,000 Tsakonians, primarily elders, still speak Tsakonika at all, and the language is limited to 13 towns, villages and hamlets located around Pera Melana. While Greek is the region’s official language, Tsakonika is often spoken at home and casually in public here. Yet, its future remains uncertain. […]

Tsakonika isn’t just important to the identity and culture of Tsakonians, it is the only continuous legacy of the ancient Spartans. It’s also the oldest living language in Greece – predating modern Greek by about 3,100 years – and one of the oldest languages in Europe. […] Tsakonika is based on the Doric language spoken by the ancient Spartans and it is the only remaining dialect from the western Doric branch of Hellenic languages. In contrast, Greek descends from the Ionic and Attic dialects on the eastern branch. While each of these use a similar alphabet, Tsakonika has more phonetic symbols and differs in structure and pronunciation. Unsurprisingly, Tsakonika is closer to ancient than modern Greek, but none of these languages are mutually intelligible.

As you can see from that last chunk, there’s a fair amount of balderdash, as one expects in any popular piece on language (how can anyone say with a straight face that a modern dialect predates modern Greek by about 3,100 years?), but there’s a nice potted history of the region and descriptions of recent attempts to revive the dialect; this is promising:

The best effort to date is a three-volume dictionary published by Kounia’s uncle in 1986. Now several speakers are looking to update and republish it online. The municipalities of South and North Kynouria and the Tsakonian Archives morally support this initiative but lack the funds to do it.

Best of all, there’s an audio clip where you can hear a conversation in Tsakonian. Thanks, Trevor!

Haggard Hawks Tweets.

I never thought I’d be posting a link to tweets, since I use Twitter only to provide LH posts for those who like to get them that way, but here we are: Haggard Hawks Top 30 Tweets 2020. I referred to HaggardHawks (“Words, language, & etymology”; it’s the creation of Paul Anthony Jones) a few years ago but have never checked his Twitter feed (see disclaimer above). Now a MetaFilter post sent me to his year-end roundup, which is full of good stuff, including the German word Erklärungsnot (“refers to a moment in which you have been caught in a situation requiring justification, but cannot properly account for your actions. It literally means ‘explanation emergency’”) and respair (“the little-known opposite of ‘despair’: a word for a renewed or reinvigorated hope, or a recovery from anguish or hopelessness”; yes, it’s in the OED as a hapax from 1525: Andrew of Wyntoun Oryg. Cron. Scotl. “Respair hade in gude hope agane”). I thought surely “To DISAPPOINT literally means ‘to remove from office’” must be fake etymology, but no, the OED says “< Middle French desappointer, desappoincter, desapointer (French désappointer) to remove (a person) from an appointed office, to depose (a ruler).” Enjoy!

Year-end Readings and Greetings.

For those of you who are interested in the progress of my Russian reading (surely there are at least two of you), I thought I’d provide a brief account of recent activity. After Rasputin’s Живи и помни (Live and Remember; see this post), I read Sinyavsky/Tertz’s Прогулки с Пушкиным [Strolls with Pushkin], which portrays Pushkin as a quintessential outsider and as not taking anything very seriously except poetry; it was very controversial in exile community because they, like all Russians, took Pushkin very very seriously, but it’s a lot of fun and shows real insight. Then I read Georgi Vladimov’s Верный Руслан [Faithful Ruslan], in which Ruslan, deprived of his position as a guard dog when a Gulag camp is closed, finds new purpose in guarding a released prisoner in a nearby town and waiting for the camp to reopen; it’s brilliant and harrowing and deserves its fame and popularity. Then I read Trifonov’s Другая жизнь [Another Life], one of his complex morality tales of late-Soviet Moscow life which I’m still digesting. At that point I thought I’d retreat to Chekhov and finish his major stories; I read В овраге [In the Ravine] (very, very grim), Архиерей [The Bishop] (Bishop Pyotr remembers the past fondly but is tired of his wretched flock and wishes he could go abroad again), and Невеста [The Fiancée, also tr. Betrothed] (Nadya is supposed to marry the rich Andrei, but her dying friend Sasha urges her to “turn her life upside down” and she runs off to Petersburg to live freely), and while I was impressed by them all and glad I’d read them, I was also glad to shake the dust of the 19th century off my feet. I read Bunin’s 1914 Братья [Brothers] (set in Ceylon: a Colombo rickshaw driver despairs, and the Englishman he’s been driving around flees the island on a Russian ship) just to get back to Bunin, then returned to more recent times with Andrei Bitov’s series of autobiographical stories known (in one collection at least) as Улетающий Монахов [Monakhov flying away]. They’re in Bitov’s annoying pseudo-Salinger vein, with a young male protagonist ignoring his duties and his loving and concerned mother to moon after an older woman who keeps him dangling, but I enjoy his style anyway; the second story, Сад [The garden], happens to be set at the end of the year and have sections titled “December 29,” “December 30,” “December 31,” and “January 1,” so I’m reading them on the titular days.

For those interested in recent Russian literature, I present 100 главных русских книг XXI века [100 important Russian books of the 21st century]; needless to say, it’s as fallible as all such lists (it’s got outright errors, like saying Alexander Kabakov’s Всё поправимо came out in 2008 rather than 2004 and calling Senchin’s 2009 novel “Ёлтышевы” rather than Елтышевы, and strange omissions — nothing, for instance, by Lena Eltang, Leonid Girshovich, or Oleg Zaionchkovsky, all of whom are excellent writers who will be read after some of the politico-sociological analyses and printed-up Facebook posts listed are forgotten), but hey, half the fun of such lists is arguing with them, and I learned about some interesting books.

Meanwhile, my wife and I have finished Daniel Deronda (and watched the excellent BBC series based on it) and are reading Tessa Hadley’s Accidents in the Home (not as good as her later novels but still enjoyable reading); I am also (because I’m always reading half a dozen books at once) reading Lena Eltang’s Другие барабаны [Different drums (which refers to the Russian version of the famous Emerson quote about marching to the beat of a different drummer)], which is a lot of fun and just the kind of multicultural mix I enjoy: the protagonist has the Greek name Kostas Kairis but is from the ex-Soviet Union (he has youthful memories of Vilnius and Tartu) and is living in Lisbon, and there are all sorts of references to world culture. In fact, I’ll take the occasion to see if anyone can help me with a reference: at one point the narrator says “Гоpe душило меня, прочел я у Байрона несколько лет спустя, хотя страсть меня еще не терзала” [Grief suffocated me, I read in Byron some years later, though passion did not yet torment me], and I have had no luck finding Byron’s original English.

And with that, I wish you all the very best of new years (it’s got to be better than 2020, surely…)!

The Diversity of Irish.

Stan Carey, of Sentence first, has a piece in the Irish Times, ‘Wasn’t it herself told me?’: Which bit of Ireland would that phrase be from? (abridged from the text published in The Stinging Fly, winter 2020-21), that’s an excellent roundup of the distinctive features of Irish English:

In Eilís Dillon’s novel The Bitter Glass, set in west Co Galway during the Irish Civil War, there is a line of dialogue that is quietly extraordinary in showing some of the turns the English language has taken in Ireland: “Wasn’t it herself told me ye were coming today . . .”

Few Irish people would bat an eyelid at this – or pause to deconstruct it, such is the story’s momentum. And it borders on cryptic for readers uninitiated in Irish English dialect; certainly its nuances and cadences are likely to be lost en route. So humour me while I marvel at some of its features.

1. Herself as an unbound reflexive pronoun […] 2. Clefting for topicalisation […] 3. Ye as second person plural […] 4. Subject contact clause. The relative pronoun (who or that) that we expect before told me is dropped, strengthening the colloquial effect. […]

Any local dialect on the island will have properties that mark it as Irish English, though their frequency and proportion will vary from one place or speaker to the next.

So it is with Galway. Its dialects are close to those spoken anywhere west of the Shannon, where Irish lingered longer and had more effect on the English that largely, and violently, supplanted it. But the county’s size and topographical range mean there are considerable differences in local speech as we travel from the towns and farmlands of the east – virtually the midlands – through the city and westward to Connemara and the islands, where in many households Irish prevails. […]

Irish is the source, for example, of the after-perfect, which uses after to form the perfect tense, usually in reporting something recent and of high informational value – hence its other name, the hot news perfect. Since Irish lacks a verb for have, a literal translation of the perfect tense (“I have eaten”) was not possible, so we transposed Irish phrases like tar éis and i ndiaidh to form “I’m after eating”. […]

What we did with habitual aspect is equally striking. The distinction between tá mé, “I am”, and bíonn mé, “I (habitually) am”, was so integral to native expression that our ancestors remoulded English multiple times to retain it, perhaps helped by convergence with Scots and English dialects. There is do be (“The people do be full of stories of all the cures she did” – Lady Gregory), do by itself (“I’m not so old as you do hear them say” – JM Synge), and the northern be’s (“But sure plenty dogs be’s that way” – Robert Bernen). Quintessentially Irish structures, but you’ll also hear them in Newfoundland, an imprint of emigration.

There’s much more at the link. Thanks, Trevor!


Chuck Smith at The Esperanto Language Blog presents 3rd gen native Esperanto speaker: Nicole!; it begins:

Some people don’t believe that native Esperanto speakers exist. Would you then believe that I’ve found a third generation native Esperanto speaker?! Nicole Klünder’s great-grandfather learned Esperanto, taught it natively to his kids, who taught it natively to his kids, who taught it natively to Nicole… awesome! It seems that it’s now becoming a tradition in this blog to interview another native Esperanto speaker every year. Last year, I interviewed an Esperanto DJ: DJ Leo Sakaguchi. The year before was second generation native speaker Rolf Fantom. Anyway, without further ado, let’s see what Nicole has to say! (She answered my questions in Esperanto, so you will find my translation in italics under his answers.)

How did you come to be a third generation native Esperanto speaker?

Mi naskiĝis tielmaniere. Miaj gepatroj instruis ĝin denaske al mi, kaj mia patro estis ankaŭ denaska. Parte certe ankaŭ estis kialo ke miaj gepatroj renkontiĝis per Esperanto, ekzemple mia patrino estis Polino.

I was born that way. My parents taught me it growing up, and my father was also a native speaker. This was certainly also partly since my parents met through Esperanto, for example my mother was Polish.

How did your great-grandfather first learn Esperanto and why? When was that?

Laŭ mia scio, li lernis la lingvon en 1908 por pli bone scii kaj klarigi kial ĝi malbonas. Evidentiĝis, ke ĝi fakte plaĉegis al li.

As far as I know, he learned the language in 1908 to better know and explain why it’s bad. Later, he realized that he actually really liked it.

For those who don’t care about Esperanto or find that piece a bit lightweight, I’ll add a link that has nothing, strictly speaking, to do with LH but which I find extremely interesting, A hydromorphic reevaluation of the forgotten river civilizations of Central Asia, by Willem H. J. Toonen, Mark G. Macklin, Giles Dawkes, Julie A. Durcan, Max Leman, Yevgeniy Nikolayev, and Alexandr Yegorov (PNAS, December 14, 2020):

Our paper challenges the long-held view that the fall of Central Asia’s river civilizations was determined by warfare and the destruction of irrigation infrastructure during the Mongol invasion. An integration of radiometric dating of long-term river dynamics in the region with irrigation canal abandonment shows that periods of cultural decline correlate with drier conditions during multicentennial length periods when the North Atlantic Oscillation had mostly positive index values. There is no evidence that large-scale destruction of irrigation systems occurred during the Arab or Mongol invasion specifically. A more nuanced interpretation identifies chronic environmental challenges to floodwater farming over the last two millennia, punctuated by multicentennial-length periods with favorable hydromorphic and hydroclimatological conditions that enabled irrigation agriculturists to flourish.

I’ve been yammering to people about the destruction of irrigation infrastructure for decades now; I guess I should mail out retractions…

Reginald Foster, RIP.

Stu Clayton sent me Margalit Fox’s NY Times obituary of a remarkable Latinist; it begins:

Reginald Foster, a former plumber’s apprentice from Wisconsin who, in four decades as an official Latinist of the Vatican, dreamed in Latin, cursed in Latin, banked in Latin and ultimately tweeted in Latin, died on Christmas Day at a nursing home in Milwaukee. He was LXXXI. His death was confirmed by the Vatican. He had tested positive for the coronavirus two weeks ago, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

A Roman Catholic priest who was considered the foremost Latinist in Rome and, quite possibly, the world, Father Foster was attached to the Office of Latin Letters of the Vatican Secretariat of State from 1969 until his retirement in 2009. By virtue of his longevity and his almost preternatural facility with the language, he was by the end of his tenure the de facto head of that office, which comprises a team of half a dozen translators.

If, having read this far, you are expecting a monastic ascetic, you will be blissfully disappointed. Father Foster was indeed a monk — a member of the Discalced Carmelite order — but he was a monk who looked like a stevedore, dressed like a janitor, swore like a sailor (usually in Latin) and spoke Latin with the riverine fluency of a Roman orator.

He served four popes — Paul VI, John Paul I and II, and Benedict XVI — composing original documents in Latin, which remains the Vatican’s official language, and translating their speeches and other writings into Latin from a series of papal languages. (He was also fluent in Italian, German and Greek.)

As you can see, the obit itself is pleasingly written; a couple more samples:
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