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?

The Influence of Translators.

Sam Leith interviews the publisher Christopher MacLehose, and has some good bits:

In some cases an author acquires a translator-symbiote, so that it becomes near-impossible to read – or, to translate – Proust except through CK Scott-Moncrieff-shaped spectacles. Thanks to Scott-Moncrieff, for instance, Du côté de chez Swann is, pretty much indelibly, Swann’s Way in English (he nicked the usage from Beowulf) and Sodome et Gomorrhe is Cities of the Plain. […]

I asked Boyd Tonkin, who chaired the last Man Booker International Prize, about this subject and he offered a wry and cheering example of how a translator could be hugely influential but also not very good. Thomas Mann’s first translator, HT Lowe-Porter, got a whole lot wrong – and, Tonkin says, Mann himself knew she wasn’t the whole nine yards: but “she was doing them very fast so they would appear in English soon after being published in German: he wanted them out there”.

I can’t argue with his conclusion: “As the – justly peevish – hashtag has it: #namethetranslator!” Anybody know what the Beowulf reference is about? (Thanks, Trevor!)

A Magical Muddle.

From Diane Purkiss’s TLS review of Brian Copenhaver’s The Book of Magic:

Schemas are confounded by efforts to find a legitimacy for magic. The English word comes ultimately from Greek magike (in which the original Persian word is spliced with tekhne, “art”), while the Persian magos “one of the members of the learned and priestly class” ultimately derives from magush, “to be able, to have power”, from which we may also derive the word “machine”. So my social hierarchy is your magic, and my magic might be your craft – or even your machinery.

I don’t even know where to start. “The English word comes ultimately from Greek magike”: no it doesn’t; by your own account, the Greek word goes back to Persian. (Or do you not know what ultimately means?) “…in which the original Persian word is spliced with tekhne”: Huh? What is “the original Persian word” (you haven’t even mentioned Persian yet)? You mean “the Greek adjective magike modifies tekhne.” And Greek magikē (to give it its proper long vowel) is the feminine of magikos, an adjective formed from magos ‘magus, sorcerer,’ which per AHD is “from Old Persian maguš” (= the reviewer’s “magush”) and per the more cautious M-W is “of Iranian origin; akin to Old Persian maguš sorcerer.” Note that the Old Persian word means ‘sorcerer,’ not ‘to be able, to have power’; this latter comes courtesy of AHD’s “see magh- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots,” where PIE *magh- is given with the meaning “To be able, have power.” #5 in the appended list of derivatives is “Possibly suffixed form *magh-u‑. magic, magus, from Old Persian maguš, member of a priestly caste (< 'mighty one’)." And #4 is "Suffixed lengthened-grade form *māgh-anā‑, “that which enables.” machine, mechanic, mechanism, mechano-; deus ex machina, from Greek (Attic) mēkhanē, (Doric) mākhanā, device,” hence “from which we may also derive the word ‘machine.’” What a mess!

This sort of thing used to enrage me. Now that I’m older and mellower, I realize it’s absurd to expect people with no linguistic background to be able to interpret dictionary etymologies; they just pick up the sparkly bits that appeal to them and make an ornament out of them. So I guess my conclusion is the usual hopeless “Why can’t everybody get a basic grounding in the science of language in school?”

Veltman’s Misfortune.

I’ve finished Alexander Veltman’s last novel, Счастье несчастье [Good luck is bad luck/Fortune is misfortune] (1863), and once again I’m disappointed (see this post) — as a novel, it has virtually no interest. It’s basically an anecdote: Mikhailo Ivanovich, trained as a clerk, wants nothing more than to return to Bessarabia and live with his beloved Lenkutsa in a small house with a garden, but is promoted by a remorseless Fortune to ever-higher positions, acquiring all sorts of things he doesn’t want while remaining unable (because of his weak sense of self and hypertrophied sense of duty) to chuck it all and lead the life he longs for. It’s not a bad anecdote, and would have made a nice jeu d’esprit like Tynyanov’s “Подпоручик Киже” [Second Lieutenant Kizhe], but stretching it out to fill a 700-page novel is ridiculous; it’s full of repetitious activities by characters no one cares about, even the author. The one good character is the drunken but faithful ex-soldier Larin, and in the course of researching that unusual surname, known to me only from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, I discovered this passage from Nabokov’s commentary on Onegin:

The name Larin exists. Sometime in the 1840’s, in Moscow, the writer Aleksandr Veltman (Weldmann [sic]; 1800-60 [sic; should be 1870]) ran into an old acquaintance of his, Ilya Larin. He was “a character,” a crackpot and a bum who had roamed all over Russia and, a quarter of a century before, in Kishinev, had amused Pushkin with his antics and drinking parties — incidentally presenting the poet with a name for his squire (perhaps a subliminal link may be distinguished here connecting Larin, Pushkin’s court fool, and the Yorick of the next lines). In the course of the conversation, Larin asked Veltman, “Do you remember Pushkin? He was a good soul. Where is he, do you know?” “Long dead,” answered Veltman. “Really? Poor fellow. And what about Vladimir Petrovich” (whoever that was), “what is he doing?”

Now, that’s an excellent anecdote, and the real Larin is just the same as in Veltman’s novel.

Here are a couple of passages of linguistic interest; the first, on lexical distinctions:

Aleksei Alekseevich [the governor, and Mikhailo’s boss], threw on a greatcoat, which he liked to wear instead of a dressing gown, donned a service cap, and set off on his unexpected descent upon the municipal hospital [bol’nitsa], alias gospital’ [‘military hospital’]. The names might seem to be identical, but careful philological consideration will show them to be completely different. A military gospital’ cannot possibly be called a military bol’nitsa; a municipal bol’nitsa cannot possibly be called a municipal gospital’. A gospital’ can go on campaign, but a bol’nitsa can’t. And herein lies a subtlety of the enrichment of language. The medical facility of the provincial capital never went on campaign, and so we will call it a bol’nitsa.

Между тѣмъ Алексѣй Алексѣевичь, снарядясь, накинулъ на себя шинельку, которую любилъ иногда носить вмѣсто халата, надѣлъ фуражку, и отправился совершать непредвидѣнное нашествіе на городскую больницу, она же и госпиталь. Казалось бы названія тожественны; но при внимательномъ филологическомъ воззрѣніи совершенно различны. Военнаго госпиталя никакъ нельзя назвать военной больницей; городской больницы никакъ нельзя назвать городскимъ госпиталемъ. Госпиталю можно быть походнымъ; но больница въ походъ не ходитъ. И въ этомъ заключается тонкость обогащенія языка. Врачебное зданіе губернскаго города, никогда въ походъ не ходило, и потому мы будемъ называть его больницей.

And the second, on women’s education:

They [Lizochka and her friends] considered themselves in the forefront of the highest provincial circle; they could distinguish the enlightened European languages, except for Greek, from the Asiatic, they knew that the climate of Russia is worse than any other, that church services in Russia are carried on in some unintelligible Slavic language, and that the ne plus ultra of a girl’s education is being able to understand French novels.

Онѣ считали себя въ высшемъ губернскомъ кругу на первомъ планѣ, умѣли отличать просвѣщенные европейскіе языки, кромѣ греческаго, отъ азіатскихъ, знали, что климатъ Россіи хуже всѣхъ, что церковная служба въ Россіи идетъ на непонятномъ славянскомъ языкѣ, и что nес рlus ultrа дѣвственнаго образованія есть пониманіе французскихъ романовъ.

And now, on to Leskov and (bracing myself in advance) Chernyshevsky!

Corpus Avesticum Berolinense.

The Freie Universität Berlin’s Institut für Iranistik has exciting news:

We are happy to announce that we have got today the confirmation that the German Research Foundation (DFG) has decided to fund our new project Corpus Avesticum Berolinense (CAB) for the next 12 years at the Institute of Iranian Studies, Freie Universität Berlin. This gives us the opportunity to undertake the expected new edition of all Zoroastrian rituals attested in the Avestan manuscripts. Two post-docs, some PhD candidates and student assistants will work together for twelve years beginning in 2018 in order to achieve this huge task.

In the last thirty years, a complete renovation of our understanding of the Avestan texts has been produced. Whereas they have usually understood as fragments from a longer long collection of books, today we believe that most of these texts were composed for the function in which they are still used today: their recitation in the different rituals performed in the Zoroastrian community. In fact, most of very numerous manuscripts containing these texts are complete descriptions of the rituals, including not only the Avestan texts, but also ritual instructions in different languages (depending the manuscript place of production).

Any edition of these texts would be expected to reflect their function and transmission; but, for several and very different reasons (the late antique transmission of the texts; the modern scholarly perspective on the Avesta), none of them does. As a result, the liturgical character of the Avestan texts passed on to us is not taken into account by any of the modern Avesta editions. The scholars edited the texts deprived of their ritual and performative contexts, many of them were even arranged in a different order as they are used in the performances and many variants and combinations were not edited at all, since they were considered just secondary ritual re-arrangements.

The new edition bears the consequences of the new insights and tendencies in the Avestan studies since the 1950ies. It will be the first edition which presents all texts belonging to the Avesta in its concrete shape, i.e., as ritual texts and strictly according to the manuscripts. […]

The proposed edition builds on the previous work of the Avestan Digital Archive, led by Alberto Cantera at the University of Salamanca between 2008 and 2016 and since May 2016 at the FU Berlin. Beside the finding of almost 300 hundred manuscripts, its most important achievement has been the discovery of a new branch of the transmission: the Iranian one, whereas all previous editions rely basically on Indian manuscripts. The Iranian manuscripts has brought to light that the Avestan transmission is a dynamic, fluid transmission deeply influenced by the ritual performance. Under these circumstances, the reconstruction of an ahistorical archetype seems no longer reasonable. We intend instead the presentation of the rituals as they were historically performed. The space-temporal we have chosen is the Safavid period in the region of Yazd-Kerman.

It’s wonderful that projects like this are still being funded; I enjoyed studying Avestan over forty years ago, and I envy the students who will be able to work with this material. Thanks, Trevor!