A Boy Named Humiliation.

Joseph Norwood cherry-picks the “wonderfully strange” names created by early Puritans; I presume many of us have heard of Praise-God Barebone, but he’s just the tip of the iceberg:

A wide variety of Hebrew names came into common usage beginning in 1560, when the first readily accessible English Bible was published. But by the late 16th century many Puritan communities in Southern Britain saw common names as too worldly, and opted instead to name children after virtues or with religious slogans as a way of setting the community apart from non-Puritan neighbors. Often, Puritan parents chose names that served to remind the child about sin and pain.

Many Puritan names started to die out after 1662, when the newly restored monarch, Charles II, introduced new laws that cracked down on nonconformist religions and consolidated the power of the Anglican Church. Despite this, some of the names have remained in common use in Anglophone countries.

I’ve collected some of the best, worst, and strangest names the English Puritans came up with. Most of these are courtesy of the 1888 book by Charles Bardsley, Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (seen here on the Public Domain Review’s website), which includes Parish records with details about some of the people who had these names.

Dancell-Dallphebo-Mark-Anthony-Gallery-Cesar! Continent Walker! Humiliation Hynde! (“Humiliation Hynde had two sons in the 1620s; he called them both Humiliation Hynde.”) NoMerit Vynall! Sorry-for-sin Coupard! Kill-sin Pimple!! There’s plenty more where those came from; go visit the link.

Patagonian Afrikaans.

QuartzAfrica reports on a surprising linguistic survival:

The Patagonian desert in southern Argentina is a harsh environment. Little seems to thrive on its seemingly endless red plains and parched land. Yet in this unlikely place there is a unique bilingual community. It’s made up of the Afrikaans and Spanish-speaking descendants of the about 650 South African Boers, who came to Patagonia in the first decade of the twentieth century. […]

The first Boer generations in Patagonia eked out an isolated living. But a cultural shift began in the 1950s as the settlers increased contact with nearby communities in Sarmiento and Comodoro Rivadavia. Today, older members of the community—those over 60—still speak Afrikaans, though their dominant language is Spanish. As the younger generations, which only speak Spanish, become fully integrated into Argentine society, the bilingual community is quickly disappearing.

To many, Patagonian Afrikaans is a relic of the past. Against the odds, however, a renaissance has begun.

As part of this, our project at the University of Michigan, entitled “From Africa to Patagonia: Voices of Displacement”, is conducting innovative research on the Patagonian Boers and their two languages. The value of studying this extraordinary community is hard to overstate.

The Patagonian Afrikaans dialect, spoken nowhere else, preserves elements of Afrikaans from before 1925, when the South African government recognized it as an official language. It thus provides a unique window onto the history of Afrikaans from a period before its dialectal varieties were reduced through standardization. […]

The community is, in a way, like a time capsule, reflecting pronunciation and syntax from an earlier era. For example, the Afrikaans word for nine—“nege”—is pronounced niəxə in modern South Africa, but with a hard “g,” as niəgə, in Patagonia.

Much more information, and images (including some scrumptious-looking desserts), at the link. Thanks, jack!

The Saganaki of Madness.

Nick Nicholas has posted about Karamanlidika orthography, an absolutely fascinating account of ways in which Turkish words were written in Greek script with greater or lesser degrees of phonetic accuracy. He explains why that was difficult and gives striking examples of how hard the writing system of Greek can be anyway (Greek-speakers pronounce Δάντης ‘Dante’ as /ðandis/ or /ðadis/, and λούμπεν ‘Lumpenproletariat’ as /luben/; compare the uncertainty of Russians about when to pronounce е as ё /yo/). I might not have posted it here, because I just posted yesterday about the return of Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος, and I really shouldn’t turn LH into an affiliate of that fine site. But when I read this passage, about writing [ʃ] with a sigma surmounted by three dots in a triangular pattern (clearly modeled on the Arabic system), I couldn’t resist sharing it:

I’ve asked Peter [Mackridge], and he’s sent me a sample from the satirical comedy Το σαγανάκι της τρέλας. (Not “The frying pan of madness”, let alone “The saganaki of madness”: contemporary Greek σαγανάκι “small frying pan”, and any dish prepared in a small frying pan, like fried cheese, is a diminutive of σαγάνι < Turkish sahan “copper dish”. The Turkish word here is the unrelated sağanak: “The storm of madness”.) The comedy is attributed to Rigas Feraios, and was published in Lia Brad Chisacof. 2001. Ρήγας. Ανέκδοτα κείμενα, Athens. the text is published alongside the manuscript, and he has sent me two instances of the novel diacritic in question […]

Talk about your linguistic coincidences! As a lover of the cheesy wonder that is saganaki, I will never think of that play as anything but The Saganaki of Madness. And have I mentioned how happy I am that Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος is back? I look forward to many more tidbits about Greek linguistic history, and I urge you to add it to your RSS feed or bookmark it or whatever people do these days.

Herderian and Schleicherian Bias in Linguistics.

Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος is back! Nick has already posted several times, so before he races too far ahead, I want to quote from his post from a few days ago, Phanariot: an apology for Schleicherian bias. It describes a problem that has long afflicted linguistics, and frankly confesses that he has had to struggle with it himself:

Modern Greek historical linguistics has had some blind spots it’s needed to get past. That you need to understand Kartvelian languages to work out Pontic, for example. Or that Greek borrowed words from other languages even when it isn’t obvious where they did. Or that there is a lot more Puristic in Modern Standard Greek than the ostensive victors of the diglossia wars would like to think.

And a more pervasive bias than that, one I’ve shared, is a Herderian and Schleicherian view of language change, as tied up with the expression of ethnicity, and as paralleling the evolution of lifeforms. There are sophisticated takes on those views which are still current: historical linguistics continues to have a lot to learn from evolutionary biology, and much of sociolinguistics is about the nexus between language and identity.

There are also unsophisticated takes on those views. Not just Herder’s Blood and Soil nationalist romanticism, or Schleicher’s original notion that there are primitive languages for primitive peoples (or even his subtle variation, that there are overcomplicated languages for primitive peoples). Those have been rejected in polite company; but there are lingering romantic notions in thinking about language change that have outlived them. For example, that rural and oral language is the only true object of study of the historical linguist, and that urban and written language is subject to contaminating, artificial influences, and of secondary interest, if of any interest at all. It’s a naturalistic bias, and it’s a puristic bias. You can see how easily it can turn to cultural purism, with the untutored village folk seen as the only true teachers of the language, and with the learnèd influence on the language derogated, if not disavowed; something that gets in the way of forming an accurate picture of how Standard Modern Greek works to this day. […]

[Read more…]

Russia’s Big Fedora.

I’m reading Markevich’s 1873 Марина изъ Алаго-Рога (Marina from Aly Rog) and was perplexed by the following passage (young Marina, radicalized by a teacher, is arguing politics with a couple of aristocrats, and has just asked why it was necessary to “save Russia”):

— Вы хотѣли бы… чтобы Россіи не было?…
— Нѣтъ, не то, чтобъ ея совсѣмъ не было, объясняла она пресерьезно,– а для чего быть ей такой огромной… Ѳедорой такой! примолвила она, смѣясь. А чтобъ были все маленькія общины, а главное съ народнымъ правленіемъ, чтобы граждане сами управляли собой…

“You would rather… that Russia didn’t exist?”

“No, I don’t mean that it shouldn’t exist at all,” she explained very seriously, “but why does it need to be so huge… such a Fedora!” she added, laughing. “But that it should consist entirely of small communes, and the main thing is popular rule, so that the citizens would rule themselves…”

Who or what is this Fedora? It’s obviously not the hat, which wasn’t so called for another decade (see this LH post), and I don’t see how the Byzantine empress would fit here. Did the name have a particular connotation in Russia of the 1870s?

Origin of guagua.

A nice little squib from the Academia Canaria de la Lengua describing how guagua ‘bus’ originated in Cuba, probably from English wagon:

Tal vez habría que empezar diciendo que la palabra guagua se usa en la expresión de guagua y como sustantivo, equivalente en este caso a autobús. La expresión de guagua, ‘de balde’, es más antigua y se registra en América y España en el siglo XIX. El cubano Esteban Pichardo (1836) fue el primero en registrarla, según Corominas. En cambio, este autor en su Diccionario Crítico Etimológico no da fecha para la documentación de guagua ‘autobús’, aunque para él dicho término “es cubano desde luego”, y opina que puede ser adaptación del inglés wagon, ‘carruaje’. Los americanos, según nos informa, denominaban así los carruajes de transporte militar y un automóvil mediano empleado para el transporte gratuito de personas. Visto esto, es probable que, después de la guerra por la independencia de Cuba (1898), la inmediata ocupación americana y la posterior dependencia económica, en la isla antillana estuvieran en uso dicho tipo de vehículos.

The second paragraph describes how it showed up later in the Canaries, where it replaced the local term jardinera. Thanks, jack!

The Reich Backlash.

Last year I waxed enthusiastic about David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past and described his take on the history of Indo-European. As I read Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s cover story in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, I realized it was shaping up as a takedown of Reich, featuring a group of archeologists who are resentful of his strongarm tactics and the kind of dominance that makes it hard for dissenters to get published. Having seen the kind of linguistics I support suffer a similar fate at the hands of Chomsky, I was sympathetic, but what exactly were the arguments against him? Alas, they turned out to consist mainly of this two-pronged attack: that his migration theories are bad because the Nazis used migration theories and because they contradict traditions about where the locals come from. These points are equally unscientific. I wrote in that earlier post that I was “pleased that the idiotic reluctance to consider migration theories because the Nazis favored them seems to have faded away”; I stand by the sentiment and am sorry that the celebration of fading was premature. As for the traditions, I quote from the Times story: “The ni-Vanuatu, for example, take for granted their eternal ties to the archipelago; their oral traditions ascribe their origins to some nonhuman feature of the landscape, their first ancestors having emerged from a stone, say, or a coconut tree.” And it ends with what Lewis-Kraus presumably considers a killer quote; the context is a visit to see some cave art:

Archaeologists said they were made by men who ate charcoal, chewed it up and spat it back onto the walls. The oldest dated back 2,600 years and looked at once hauntingly archaic and vividly recent. “They’re not Lapita,” Sanhambath said, gesturing at the drawings, which had been dated by radiocarbon to shortly after the Lapita period ended. “But so what?” Besides, as much faith as he had in what the archaeologists said about pottery or bones, he just couldn’t bring himself to believe them when they said these paintings were made by ancient men.

“These paintings,” he said quietly in the cave dark, “were made by the spirits.”

Why exactly are we supposed to take that sort of thing more seriously than the Early Modern insistence that humanity was 4,000 years old? I simply don’t know what to say when confronted with someone who looks at DNA evidence, weighs it against traditions about people coming from stones and/or trees, and awards the palm to the latter. That’s not to say, of course, that Reich must be correct because he studies DNA, simply that stones and spirits have nothing to do with whether he is or not. I am incompetent to discuss that, since I lack the requisite knowledge, but I have commenters who know a lot about it, and I hope they will weigh in.

Incidentally, Lewis-Kraus says Lapita culture is named for “a place called Lapita in New Caledonia”; the Wikipedia article says “The term ‘Lapita’ was coined by archaeologists after mishearing a word in the local Haveke language, xapeta’a, which means ‘to dig a hole’ or ‘the place where one digs’, during the 1952 excavation in New Caledonia.” That supports my sense from a college course that archaeologists aren’t always as careful about language as they might be.

The Importance of Data.

John Cowan sent me a link to “Methodological Thoughts from the Linguistic Field” by William Davies, whose abstract reads:

Data are the heart and soul of any linguistic research. Regardless of how incisive an analysis might be, or how clever, it can never be any better than the data it is based upon. For the field linguist gathering data, important considerations include the selection of informants, the number of informants selection, and data collection techniques. Different research objectives, be they descriptive, prescriptive or theory-driven, require techniques appropriate to those particular goals and should be evaluated within the context of inquiry. What follows is a consideration of the techniques generally used by field linguists with a general descriptive goal within the framework of generative linguistics.

JC’s comment:

This is a paper about field research into an obscure language, Madurese — by a generativist. Will wonders never cease? I’m particularly impressed that he talks about “acceptability judgments” instead of “grammaticality judgments”, which confirms my view that grammaticality is relative to a specific grammar and cannot be judged by informants; what they can tell you is whether the sentence is acceptable Madurese or not.

Very true!

Translation in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Jonathan Rubin, author of Learning in a Crusader City: Intellectual Activity and Intercultural Exchanges in Frankish Acre, 1191-1291 (2018), summarizes some interesting aspects of his research for Aeon. After quoting Steven Runciman (the society of the Crusader states “consisted almost entirely of soldiers and merchants, [and] was not fitted to create or maintain a high intellectual standard”) and Hans Mayer (“the Franks contributed little or nothing to the advancement of science and learning in the Middle Ages”), he says:

And yet, it now seems that the Kingdom of Jerusalem did, in fact, make its own important cultural contributions. In 1281, a certain John of Antioch gave a beautiful codex to a Hospitaller knight named William of Santo Stefano. At the heart of the precious volume were French translations that John had prepared of two Latin works dating to the days of ancient Rome: Cicero’s De inventione and the anonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium [which we discussed briefly here –LH]. In the production of these translations, John was not only fulfilling the request of an important knight but also making a significant step in the history of the French language: at the time, translations from Latin into French were rare and innovative, and never before had a complete Latin text on rhetoric been translated into French. Furthermore, to these translations John appended one of the earliest vernacular treatises on logic. But the most surprising detail concerning this book is that it was produced thousands of kilometres from the contemporary centres of Western learning, in a port city that then served as the capital of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: Acre.

An additional text that is particularly useful in order to get a glimpse of the intellectual arena that developed in the Kingdom of Jerusalem is the Notitia de Machometo or ‘Information about Muhammed’. This treatise was composed in 1271, also in Acre, by a Dominican named William of Tripoli. It was dedicated to Teobaldo Visconti, a prominent churchman who arrived at Acre on pilgrimage, and, while in the city, was notified of his election as Pope Gregory X. William writes that his reason for compiling this text was that he understood that Teobaldo was interested in Islam. This led him to produce an impressive survey of Islamic history, custom and theology, which includes numerous Quranic passages in (mostly accurate) Latin translation, as well as considerable information that was very hard to come by at the time in Latin Christendom, for example a precise account of the Muslim prayer. […]

In the Notitia, a set of Western Marian legends was translated from Latin or French into Arabic, and subsequently adopted by the Coptic and Ethiopian churches. At the same time, the fact that the Notitia reveals hardly any evidence for direct contact with Muslims is also crucial in understanding the cultural history of the Kingdom. The Muslims’ encounter with the Latins of the First Crusade might have left such a bitter taste among the former that they possibly tended to refrain from all unnecessary give-and-take with the Franks, even long after the situation stabilised. […]

There are also some general lessons. For one thing, the case of the Kingdom of Jerusalem shows that studying ‘peripheries’ is no less rewarding than studying ‘centres’. Indeed, the social composition of peripheral societies, and the transfer of ideas and people to and from them, make such areas particularly interesting for the study of circulation and the development of ideas. Lacking the dominant intellectual elites which, in some cases, block or slow down certain novel trends, peripheries – with all their limitations – can prove to make significant cultural contributions to their centres. Indeed, it seems that while the natural inclination of scholars interested in intellectual history is to explore the known, central, established centres, we must not forget to also explore the accumulation, development and distribution of ideas and knowledge in more distant and less well-known hubs such as Acre.

I enthusiastically second that last point. Thanks for the link, jack!

Leskov’s Enchanted Wanderer.

I’ve finished another of Leskov‘s most famous works, the novella Очарованный странник (The Enchanted Wanderer), and I’m having confused thoughts about my reactions to his writing that I’ll try to clarify here.

There’s no question that he’s a wonderful writer, and I enjoy his sentences and paragraphs enormously, especially when he’s in his skaz (oral-style narrative) mode. So why do I sometimes get irritated and reluctant to continue? At first I thought maybe he was just not good at telling continuous stories as opposed to strings of anecdotes, as in Смех и горе (Laughter and Grief; see this post), but then I remembered that he had done a fine job of that in Запечатленный ангел (The Sealed Angel; see this post) and in the first part of Некуда (Nekuda, conventionally translated No Way Out; see this post) — the reason I had given up on that was its turn to a tedious plot involving radicals, not a failure of storytelling per se. However, I did recently give up on Соборяне (The Cathedral Folk; see this post) precisely because it began to seem like one damn thing after another, and it was considerably longer than Laughter and Grief. The same is true of The Enchanted Wanderer, but it was shorter, so I was able to finish reading it.

I learn from the relevant Wikipedia article that my complaint is by no means original; in 1895, Mikhailovsky wrote: “In terms of fabula richness it might have been Leskov’s most significant work, but total lack of focus is more than obvious so there is no fabula as such, rather a set of fabulas, strung together, so that any bead could be removed and replaced by another, and any number of other beads could be put onto the same string.” My question is: if he was able to tell a coherent story when he wanted, why did he sometimes settle for the string-of-anecdotes pattern? Maybe that’s what he liked himself, or maybe he was just lazy. In any case, The Enchanted Wanderer has a lot of good stories; just don’t expect any coherence. As with Laughter and Grief, it’s a guy telling some other guys “Here’s how my life has brought me to where I am today.” If you’re looking for shapeliness, you’ll have to look elsewhere.