Some interesting stuff I’ve run across:
1) The Un-X-able Y-ness of Z-ing (Q): A List with Notes: Sean Cotter reports on a translated title that “like a spot of dye, dropped into the flow of culture and altered the hue of English as it diffused downstream.” I had not realized that Milan Kundera didn’t want to use “the unbearable lightness of being” as the title of the English translation of his Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí; he told Michael Heim, the translator, that “for you Americans the title will be a bit hard-going.” Heim said, “We’re not children. If The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the title, so be it.” And a meme was born.
2 De Vulgari Eloquentia: Not Dante, but a board game based on Dante (Suggested Ages: 14 and up; Playing Time: 120 minutes):
Italy, late Middle Ages. The fabric merchants need to write down their contracts in a language that everyone can understand and the literates are looking for an alternative to the elite of the traditional Latin language. So, the Volgare, the language spoken by the common people, taken from the dialects spoken in the various Italian regions, starts to gain relevance. … The players will have to do their part in the creation of this new language! But who will provide them the proper knowledge to understand the manuscripts in the different dialects? Who will succeed to uncover the secrets of the books inside the Papal Library? Who will embrace the religious life and who will remain a merchant? Some of the players can become a famous banker, someone else can climb the church’s hierarchy to be the next Pope! But in the end, who will be the most appreciated and respected for his status and his culture?
3) The Space between Languages is a talk by Herta Müller, a writer born to a German-speaking family in the Banat region of Romania who “learnt Romanian quite late in life, when I left my small village for the city at the age of fifteen to go to high school.” The discussion of her relationship to that language is interesting (“There is not a single Romanian sentence in any of my books. But Romanian is always with me when I write because it has grown into my way of seeing the world”), but the main reason I’m bringing it here is to correct an irritating error. She writes:
A swallow suddenly appeared in a different light in Romanian, where it is called rindunica, “sitting-in-a-row”. The bird’s name suggests how swallows perch on a wire, close together in a row. I used to see them in my village every summer, before I knew the Romanian word. I was amazed that a swallow could have such a lovely name. I became more and more aware that the Romanian language had words that were more sensuous, more in tune with my perception, than my mother tongue.
No. The Romanian word rândunea or rândunica ‘swallow’ is not from rând ‘file, row,’ it is from hirundinella, a diminutive of Latin hirundo. I hate to burst such a poetic, sensuous balloon, but there it is.
4) The ever-readable Gasan Guseinov has a brief post saying that all those who use the blatantly foreign бабуин for ‘baboon’ instead of the good Russian word павиан (which, as of course Guseinov knows perfectly well, is borrowed from German Pavian, which ultimately goes back to the same source, French babouin, as бабуин) should be made to repeat the palindrome А НИ У БАБУИНА НИ У БАБУИНА (something like ‘and neither at the baboon nor at the baboon’). I note that Wikipedia has separate articles for бабуин and павиан. Can my Russian-speaking readers tell me whether these two words are distinguished in ordinary use, and which of them is commoner?