THE BOOKSHELF: MISCELLANY II.

Continuing the attempt to thin the stack of review copies (see this post), I’ll continue with some language-related ones:
1) A User’s Guide to Thought and Meaning, by Ray Jackendoff: The publisher says, “Jackendoff starts out by looking at languages and what the meanings of words and sentences actually do. Finding meanings to be more adaptive and complicated than they’re commonly given credit for, he is led to some basic questions: how do we perceive and act in the world? How do we talk about it? And how can the collection of neurons in the brain give rise to conscious experience? He shows that the organization of language, thought, and perception does not look much like the way we experience things, and that only a small part of what the brain does is conscious.” Sounds quite interesting; Tadeusz Zawidzki likes it a lot, tehom doesn’t.
2) The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, by James W. Pennebaker: The author’s book website says, “In English, there are fewer than 500 function words yet they account for more than half of the words we speak, hear, and read every day. By analyzing their use, we begin to learn how speakers are connecting with their audiences, their friends, their conversational topics, and themselves.” Ben Zimmer has a good, thoughtful review at the Times, which quotes Pennebaker’s “primary rule of word counting”: “Don’t trust your instincts.”
3) The Life of Slang, by Julie Coleman (who has done four monographs on the cant and slang dictionary tradition): This one sounds really tempting, and I wish I had time to dive into it. Robert McCrum has a rave at The Observer (“Rarely, since Eric Partridge, has any scholar evinced such pleasure in the vulgar tongue”), and Mark Wilson has one at The Independent (“Coleman relishes slang in all its chewy, vigorous glory, and gives a sociological insight – that context is key – which elevates it way above a dictionary of rude words”).

Comments

  1. I’ve just seen a metaphor for the first time that I suppose was inevitable, but oof! “German taxpayers would at last discern – as some already suspect – that their elites have led them into a monetary Stalingrad.”

  2. It’s a metaphor to slightly update “meeting one’s Waterloo” and it doesn’t involve railway stations, which is a plus. What about a culinary Stalingrad? A musical Stalingrad?
    Talking of taxpayers, there ought to be a tax on using “The Secret Life of…” in book titles.

  3. Seen on a government brochure:
    “This guide is available in Welsh language on request .”
    Was that written by someone not terribly familiar with English language?

  4. There are probably lots of Welsh-on-request people in Whales nowadays.

  5. J.W. Brewer says:

    There’s a Stalingrad station in the Paris Metro, but perhaps it’s not as prominent to Parisians as Waterloo is to Londoners?

  6. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t know how the names of London tube stations are chosen, but Parisian Metro stations just use the name of the nearest street, plaza or sometimes landmark such as a church or railway station. How prominent the names are to locals depend on the importance of the location to transportation – hubs where several Metro lines meet, close to a landmark, are of course better known by the average Parisian than obscure streets with little to distinguish them. I know I have seen the name Stalingrad on Metro maps, I know it is the name of a street, but I don’t think I have ever been in the area where it is located.

  7. Dearieme:
    I associate that sort of omission of definite article before normally arthrous noun phrases as associated with English bureaucratic bumf. Why, at very University of Aberystwyth, description of M.A. in Welsh Mediaeval Literature[*] says “This course is designed for you to give you a solid grounding in Welsh language and medieval literature, but with sufficient space for you to direct your own study by choosing from a range of fascinating modules, including the Englynion Cycles, Arthurian Literature and Medieval Welsh law”, though “the Welsh language” does appear twice on same page.
    [*] Why not Mediaeval Welsh Literature, pray? — surely being in Welsh is more important than being mediaeval.

  8. Coming from a copy background, that sentence looks to me like someone wrote “This guide is available in Welsh on request” and then their boss said “Oh my god, Cadi, you can’t just call the Welsh language ‘Welsh’, there would be confusion with Welsh culture and the Welsh Basin” and “corrected” it.

  9. JW, as I wrote that, I was thinking “But don’t I remember a Stalingrad station somewhere?” The idea seemed so bizarre that I ruled it out, but on reflection I see it’s a good idea. There isn’t much mention of Stalingrad in the street names of Britain or the US, and I don’t know if the woman or man in those streets knew much about the battle until quite recently. The postwar French were less allergic to positive references to the Soviet Union than we were; in the late 1960s I lived in St. Petersburgh Place, in Victorian-era London.

  10. There’s no Stalingrad station or street in Moscow either (thanks to Khruschev’s toponymic de-Stalinization). There’s a street and a metro station called Volgogradsky Prospect and that’s as close as it gets.
    But there’s of course Sevastopol’sky Prospect, although a little less central than Paris’ same-name boulevard, crossed by Balaklavsky Prospect.

  11. Do you mean that Khruschev actually changed one or more Stalingrad-street or -station names? If so it’s remarkable, considering that Khruschev was himself a key figure at the battle.

  12. Do you mean that Khruschev actually changed one or more Stalingrad-street or -station names? If so it’s remarkable, considering that Khruschev was himself a key figure at the battle.
    He changed the name of the city from Stalingrad to Volgograd as part of his cautious de-Stalinization campaign (upsetting a lot of people, because “Stalingrad” was such a huge part of the national mythology). But he was not a key figure at the battle, he just made sure he was presented that way once he took power. His biographer Taubman says “Khrushchev’s role was to mediate between the generals in Stalingrad and supreme headquarters in Moscow… he shuttled from front to front, checking on troop readiness and morale, personally interrogating German prisoners, recruiting some of them for propaganda, and preventing others (or so he insisted) from being executed or otherwise abused by their Soviet captors… In contrast with Kiev and Kharkov, Khrushchev’s role at Stalingrad was unambiguously positive. Yet he was touchy about how his contributions compared with others’…”
    So, positive, yes. Important, yes. But if he was “a key figure,” there were thousands of key figures involved in the battle.

  13. Exactly, all the names with “Stalin” were changed in 1956-1962, including all city, town, kolkhoz, and street names. (And there were quite a few, not just Stalingrad but Stalino, Stalinsk, Staliniri, Stalinabad, Stalinakan and so on.) Stalin’s body was removed from the Mausoleum in 1962 and all statues of him were torn down except one, at his birthplace in Gori (for fear of locals rebelling). When I was growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s, Soviet authorities pretended the tyrant never existed. (Although he did pop up in two or three Brezhnev-era movies about WW2). Pre-1953 movies were edited to excise his name, even from the songs (Артиллеристы comes to mind at once).
    Now one can guess why The Bering Strait was (so they say) the longest entry in the 1949-58 Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

  14. Thanks, Language. I knew a little bit from Antony Beevor’s book on the battle. Looking it up now Beevor says:
    1) that as chief commissar of the front Khruschev was responsible for evacuating industrial machinery before the battle, which seems quite important in the circs – though he also says that Stalin forbade evacuating machinery when Paulus reached the Volga, in case it was taken as a sign that the city was to be surrendered.
    2) Khruschev reported the battle directly to Stalin while it was taking place, receiving messages like “Report some sense of what is happening in Stalingrad. Is it true Stalingrad has been captured by the Germans? Give a straight and truthful answer. I await your immediate reply”.
    On the other hand Khruschev is associated throughout the book with General Yeremenko (e.g. “For Yeremenko and Khruschev, the main decision at the moment of crisis [August 1942] was to choose a successor to the commander of the 62nd Army, who clearly didn’t believe Stalingrad could be held.”).
    So I’m not saying the battle revolved around his decisions, but if Khruschev’d fucked up maybe things would have ended differently, and that’s pretty key.
    Perhaps the most important thing for our generation about Khruschev having been at Stalingrad is that during the Cuban crisis in 1962 someone was quite aware of the consequences of pursuing a world war.

  15. “during the Cuban crisis in 1962 someone was quite aware of the consequences of pursuing a world war”: and someone else was probably aware of having been the only US naval officer to get his patrol boat sunk by ramming.

  16. “When I was growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s”
    i remember finding books with some words in them inked black so that it was impossible to read those words, seemed like people’s names, in the library of our uncle, a geography prof at the uni, i remember some brown volumes, must be Lenin’s sobranie sochinenii or some such
    so when i asked why those words are black he wouldn’t say much about anything maybe thought i was too little to understand, just some very vague things about stalinism, even then, in the late 70ies! so when the perestroika began and there were programs on tv about real soviet history that was like so much shock of course

Speak Your Mind

*