Tolstoy’s 1805.

Having finished Doctor Zhivago (see this post), I have returned to the 19th century, first Leskov’s famous 1865 Леди Макбет Мценского уезда (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District — it gets excessively melodramatic in the middle, but the end is brilliant) and now Tolstoy’s 1805, the first version of War and Peace, published in the Jan.-Feb. 1865 and Feb.-April 1866 issues of Русский вестник (The Russian Messenger; you can read the beginning yourself at p. 48 of the Google Books scan). Had I but world enough and time, I’d go through the whole thing and compare it to the final version, but I’m restricting myself to the first few chapters, and the results are what you’d expect — some passages were cut, others added, and it’s quite interesting to see the changes. One addition is the passage at the very end of ch. 2 in which Anna Pavlovna keeps an anxious watch on Pierre; this means that this early appearance of the word интеллигенция [intelligentsia] can’t be backdated from 1869: “тут собрана вся интеллигенция Петербурга” [the whole intelligentsia of Petersburg was gathered here]. (The earliest occurrences in the Национальный корпус русского языка are from Afanasy Fet‘s 1863 Из деревни [From the village], e.g. “При старом порядке город был единственною целию всякой интеллигенции, а деревня не более как гнусным средством” [Under the old order, the city was the only goal of every intelligentsia, and the village was no more than a vile means].)

But what particularly struck me was this passage from ch. 1; Anna Pavlovna is chaffing Prince Vasily on being a bad father, and he responds:

— Je suis votre вѣрный рабъ, et à vous seule je puis l’аvouer. Мои дѣти — сe sont les entraves de mon eхistence. Это мой крестъ. Я такъ себѣ объясняю. Que voulez vous? — Онъ пoмолчалъ, выражая жестомъ свою пoкорность жестокой судьбѣ. — Да, ежелu бы можно было по проuзволу имѣть и неимѣть ихъ… Я увѣренъ, что въ нашъ вѣкъ будетъ сдѣлано это изобрѣтеніе.

“I am your faithful slave and to you alone I can confess it: my children are the bane of my existence. It is my cross. That is how I explain it to myself. Que voulez vous?” He fell silent, expressing his resignation to cruel fate by a gesture. “Yes, if it were possible arbitrarily to have or not have them… I’m sure that will be invented in our century.”

The last part, from Онъ пoмолчалъ [He fell silent] on, is deleted from the later text, and one can see why. The suggestion makes Anna Pavlovna nervous, and I’m sure it made the God-fearing public of the 1860s equally nervous — I’m actually surprised the censors let it through the first time.

By the way, I am now officially retired as a copyeditor (my Social Security deposits have begun arriving), so I’ll have lots more time to gobble up books!

Al-Jallad and Safaitic.

Elias Muhanna has a wonderful New Yorker piece, “A New History of Arabia, Written in Stone,” that hooks you as follows:

A few years ago, Ahmad Al-Jallad, a professor of Arabic and Semitic linguistics at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, opened his e-mail and was excited to see that he had received several photographs of rocks. The images—sent by Al-Jallad’s mentor, Michael Macdonald, a scholar at Oxford who studies ancient inscriptions—were of artifacts from a recent archeological survey in Jordan. Macdonald pointed Al-Jallad’s attention to one in particular: a small rock covered with runelike marks in a style of writing called boustrophedon, named for lines that wrap back and forth, “like an ox turning in a field.” It was Safaitic, an alphabet that flourished in northern Arabia two millennia ago, and Al-Jallad and Macdonald are among a very small number of people who can read it. Al-Jallad began to transcribe the text, and, within a few minutes, he could see that the rock was an essential piece of a historical puzzle that he had been working on for years.

I’ll quote some more bits, and send you to the link for the whole story:
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Subdisciplines of Linguistics.

You don’t have to be a Dungeons & Dragons player to enjoy the Alignment Chart featured in this Mark Liberman post at the Log! (I know so little about D&D that I didn’t realize it was involved before clicking the Alignment Chart Wikipedia link.) Mark called it “unfair but funny”; as I said in my first comment, “The only unfair part is that it omits historical linguistics (the Best Kind of Linguistics™).”

An interesting linguistic sidelight: in another comment, I used the common (I thought) abbreviation FTW. In response, ardj said:

I have consulted two dictionaries of abbreviations / acronyms, and, even after rejecting, e.g. Faith Through Worship and Free the Wales, I am none the wiser as to LH’s use of the ‘term’ (or possibly simply ‘quale’) FTW. Should I be reading it backwards ?

I responded: “Goodness, we live in such fragmented speech communities. In this context, FTW = for the win.”

Test Your Slavic Knowledge.

I’m afraid this will only appeal to a smallish minority of LH readers, since you have to know Russian to read the quiz and a fair amount about other Slavic languages to answer it, but it’s such fun if you have those qualifications that I can’t resist posting it. I was congratulated (“Поздравляем, ваш результат: 5 из 7”), but my good result was mostly luck — those questions are hard. But I did learn some interesting stuff (they dig up some really obscure material), and I recommend it to those who can get in the door. (Via Steven Lubman’s Facebook post.)

Against Foreign Language Education.

Obviously, these are not my views, but Bryan Caplan (in a podcast with Robert Wiblin) makes some points that are worth thinking about:

Out of all my ultra moderate reforms that I suggested, the one that I stand behind more strongly than any other is abolishing foreign language requirements in the United States. Because there, we’ve got a bunch of facts, which are: hardly any jobs use foreign languages, it takes a lot of time to get any good. And furthermore, in this book I’m able to go and snap together a bunch of pieces of data to show that virtually zero Americans claim to… even claim to speak a foreign language very well in school.

So I say, look, even if it did have these big payoffs, the system is just a waste of time, and people spend years doing it for nothing. And even here, I just run against a brick wall and people say, well in that case we should just improve the teaching of the foreign language.

Well, how about you do that and then get back to me, but continuing to fund the thing that we have, this is garbage!

And again, Washington state from what I understand, now allows kids to use a computer language in place of foreign language. Like, why not do that? Then it’s like, “No, no we need to do both.” People don’t have an unlimited amount of time, and shouldn’t teenagers be able to have a frigging childhood! Like how much of their childhood do you want to destroy with jumping through these stupid hoops?

Alex Tabarrok, who quotes the exchange, says “As someone who was educated in Canada I can attest to the waste of much foreign language instruction” and adds: “Don’t make the mistake of arguing that knowing a second language has many benefits. The point is that foreign language instruction in schools doesn’t teach a second language.” Sadly, I can’t argue with that as a general point, though there are honorable exceptions (like my grandsons’ Chinese immersion school). So should we just let people pick up languages if and as they need them, and not try to force-feed them in school? (Thanks, Kobi!)

A Poem by T’ao Ch’ien.

I happened on an old post and discovered the main link was dead; fortunately I was able to find a current URL for the site (Brunel University’s e-journal EnterText), and while adding links for the articles I mentioned in my post I decided I liked the translation in J. Gill Holland’s “Teasing out an English Translation from a Classical Chinese Poem: with a translation from T’ao Ch’ien” enough I’d give it its own post:

Wine Poem No. 1

The traffic where I built is terrible
but I don’t hear a thing, not a cart or a horse.

You ask me, “How can that be?”
When the heart is far away, nobody is at home.

I pick never-die ’mums by the hedge to the east
and keep an eye on South Mountain.

At dusk its mountain air makes me promises.
Birds flock in homeward flight.

There was something true in all of this,
but when I started to explain, I’d already lost the words.

The poet’s name is now usually spelled Tao Qian, and in fact he’s usually known as Tao Yuanming (Chinese literary names are complicated), but of course I preserve the spelling of my source.


Allan Holtz posts a comic strip by the great Herriman and says:

July 12 1909 — The Elks are in town for a convention, and the LA newspapers always blow out all the stops in welcome. Herriman contributes a page-long cartoon to commemorate their shenanigans.

Herriman has several times now used the term “appajava”, this time in relation to fiery Mexican food. I assume this is a corruption of a Spanish term, but can’t think of what it would be. Ideas?

Another example is in this cartoon from the previous day: a baseball player thinks “I just feel that I’m about to make a play that’ll make Dillon and Chase look like a couple of raw appajavas.” (No appajavas involved, but I can’t resist mentioning the “No-Hat Club” cited in this post. What a terrible idea!) I think there are no grounds to assume a corruption of a Spanish term just because in one strip it’s applied to Mexican food; it doesn’t sound Spanish, and the baseball strip has no relation to anything south of the border. (A commenter suggests it “might be a humorous corruption of the word ’empanada,'” which seems very unlikely.) It may well just be a word Herriman made up and thought sounded funny enough to use, but I’m putting it out there in case anybody knows anything or has any ideas about it. Thanks, Yoram!

Doctor Zhivago.

I was only six when Doctor Zhivago came out in late 1957, but I vaguely remember it, just as I remember the launch of Sputnik 1 around the same time — they were both huge news stories. Of course I saw the 1965 movie (everybody did), but all I remember of it is the fated love of Yuri and Lara and that damn balalaika theme (after more than half a century it’s still an ineradicable earworm). I’ve been wanting to read the novel for a long time, especially once I got an early (1989) Soviet edition in December 1993 (for two bucks at a Mid-Manhattan Library sale). About a month ago, having reached that point in Bykov’s brilliant biography of Pasternak, I finally started it, and now I’ve read it. And I regret to have to say that I didn’t think it was much good. Below the cut there is a long review with pros, cons, quotes, and probably some mild spoilers. Proceed at your own risk. (If you need a refresher on the plot, the Wikipedia article goes into impressive detail.)
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Twitter Words.

David Robson writes for BBC Future (!) about a new analysis of nearly a billion tweets that makes a nice follow-up to yesterday’s post; this one is based on SCIENCE:

The researcher behind the study, Jack Grieve at the University of Birmingham, UK, analysed more than 980 million Tweets in total – consisting of 8.9 billion words – posted between October 2013 and November 2014, and spanning 3,075 of the 3,108 US counties. […] The result was a list of 54 terms […]

Having compiled this new lexicon, Grieve next used Twitter’s geocoded data to track its origins and spread across the USA. Baeless [‘single’], for instance, appeared to crop up in a few different counties across the south, before building in popularity and then spreading north and west.

In total, Grieve identified five hubs driving linguistic change. In order of importance, they were:

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Viral Words!

Morgan Baila presents The Viral Words You Need To Know:

Have you always been on top of all the new, viral words young people say?

Great. Of course you have. But even the trendiest among us now struggle to understand how words that definitely have real meanings don’t seem to be used properly anymore. It used to be enough to Google “What are the new slang words?” but slang itself is pretty irrelevant these days.

Are you ready to be relevant AF?

I hope you’re ready to be relevant AF, because she’s going to clue you in on all the new, viral words young people say! Needless to say, I am ever eager to be hep to the jive, so I dove right in. The first entry was cray ‘crazy’; as she says, “But you knew this one, right?” Right. Then comes Gucci, which “in slang means good, fine, or okay.” Cray! I did not know that! Squad goals is a statement of approval, Bible is an assertion of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, turnt means “being really excited for some upcoming event” or “having fun because you’re drunk.” Whoopee! And “You can use ‘snatched’ where you’d use ‘on fleek'”: got it. But I confess I lost some lexicographic respect when I got to “A ‘plug’ is a shameless and blatant endorsement for a product, person, or brand by a celebrity” — come on, “plug” in that sense is decades old (anybody with OED access care to check first attestation?). Anyway, it’s all good fun. Bathrobe, who sent it to me, asked “Do you know anyone who talks like this?” The answer is no, no I don’t.

Unrelated but also good fun: Ads of Yesteryear (“Peppy jingles and catchy tag lines- they just don’t make ads like these anymore!”). Let Speedee take you back to a time when McDonald’s burgers were 15 cents and “crispy, tender, delicious FRENCH FRIES” only 12. And check out the classy guy with the Dr. Pepper. (Thanks, Jon!)