Rhetorical Speech on Tumblr.

Nathaniel posts at Tumblr about an interesting phenomenon. He quotes copperbooms:

when did tumblr collectively decide not to use punctuation like when did this happen why is this a thing

Then he prismatic-bell says:


This is really exciting, linguistically speaking.

Because it’s not true that Tumblr never uses punctuation. But it is true that lack of punctuation has become, itself, a form of punctuation. On Tumblr the lack of punctuation in multisentence-long posts creates the function of rhetorical speech, or speech that is not intended to have an answer, usually in the form of a question. Consider the following two potential posts. Each individual line should be taken as a post:

ugh is there any particular reason people at work have to take these massive handfuls of sauce packets they know they’re not going to use like god put that back we have to pay for that stuff

Ugh. Is there any particular reason people at work have to take these massive handfuls of sauce packets they know they’re not going to use? Like god, put that back. We have to pay for that stuff.

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Repertory of Conjectures.

Laudator Temporis Acti posted this amusing passage from R.D. Dawe’s Repertory of Conjectures on Aeschylus (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1965):

One reason why so much endeavour is spent on conjectural emendation is because it is surrounded by an aura artificially created by its own practitioners. Those who think that it constitutes the crown and summit of all scholarship have only to glance in the following pages to see what drunken angles that crown can assume.

I enjoyed it but wasn’t planning to post it myself; it made me curious, however, so I tried Google Books and discovered the preview included the entire introduction, which is well worth your time. He starts by quoting Wecklein (at length, in Latin), whose Appendix conjecturas minus probabiles continens is his precursor in listing worthless conjectures for textual emendation, and continues:

I mention the prospective editor. The earth does not of course groan beneath the weight of those who will greet the publication of this book as removing the last obstacle between themselves and a fresh (i.e. Wilamowitz rehashed) edition of Aeschylus. But the text of this author is so very problematic that it is difficult to discuss any aspect of his art for long without being compelled to touch on textual problems; and it is my hope that this book may shorten by weeks or even months the preliminary labours of a wider circle of scholars, those who are dedicated to advancing our understanding of Aeschylus in whatever way most attracts their interest.

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STEP Bible.

Looking up a verse from the Psalms in Church Slavonic (for the curious, it was Psalm 41:6, beginning “Вскую прискорбна еси, душе моя?,” which is 42:5 in Western Protestant numbering, KJV “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”; see this LH post for вскую ‘why’), I was introduced by Google to the STEP Bible. It has an amazing variety of languages, from Abau to Zou; that link takes you to the ESV Genesis, where if you hover over a highlighted word you get the original Hebrew and a summary of occurrences in the Bible. The Church Slavonic Elizabeth Bible (1757) doesn’t have the old letters, abbreviations, and accents of the POMOG site I generally use, but you can copy and paste from it, which is a huge advantage. And I suspect it will come in handy for all sorts of languages. For you to enjoy and explore (to quote John Nowacki, the morning classical-music guy on our local PBS station).

Columbus and Other Multilinguals.

I don’t normally link to podcasts when they don’t have transcripts (and why don’t they? grr!), because I prefer reading and don’t want to be forced to spend most of an hour taking things in aurally, but I’m making an exception for the BBC’s Free Thinking episode What language did Columbus speak? (44 minutes):

Christopher Columbus spoke to lots of people: his family and kin in Genova, merchants in Venice, royalty in Madrid, the crew of his ship, not to mention the people he met on the other side of the Atlantic. Today, we would consider this a case of multilingualism. But is that how Columbus would have seen it? What language did he think he spoke himself? In the same period a pidgin language developed to allow linguistically diverse communities in the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa to carry out trade, diplomacy, and general communication. We look at the latest research on this language, known as lingua franca, and consider what it might tell us about communication amongst the linguistic communities of the same region today. New Generation Thinker John Gallagher is joined by guests Dr Joanna Nolan, Professor Nandini Das, Dr Birgül Yılmaz, and translator David Bellos.

That gives you a good idea of the material covered, and it’s all extraordinarily interesting. Columbus spoke Genoese, Latin, at least some Greek (he used it for coding), Castilian Spanish (at least for writing, perhaps with help), and doubtless lingua franca (he couldn’t have plied his trade without it); did he think of Latin and its Italian and Spanish descendants as separate languages? How common was the possession of such a linguistic mix? (Spoiler: Quite common.) What was the first encounter with Amerindian languages like? There’s a deep dive into lingua franca with Joanna Nolan: it was a pidgin, probably with a Venetian lexical base plus Genoese, Sicilian, Spanish, etc.; its pronunciation seems to have been influenced by Arabic (only three vowels); it became established by the early 17th century, but was first mentioned in 14th-century JavaDjerba, and was originally “a language for giving orders.” (I posted about it back in 2005.) A Belgian diplomat who spent time in a bagnio (OED: “An oriental prison, a place of detention for slaves”) said 22 different languages were spoken there. There was a sort of lingua franca in camps like Auschwitz (Primo Levi is quoted), and there are comparable “linguistic repertoires” in refugee camps in Greece today (refugees are resistant to learning Greek because of bad experiences — they prefer English or German). In some places it’s normal to switch naturally between languages and registers. The program ends with Edward Sapir’s quote about all languages being equal in their ability to express things but not equal in power, and Gallagher won my heart by saying we “need to get over the great romantic nonsense of ethno-linguistic nationalism.” (Incidentally, he says “multi-ling-you-al” and “mono-ling-you-al” with four five syllables, which surprised me; it isn’t a UK thing, because the OED has only /ˌmʌltɪˈlɪŋɡw(ə)l/, /ˌmɒnə(ʊ)ˈlɪŋɡw(ə)l/.) Thanks, Maidhc!

The Snail’s Monologue.

From Christian Morgenstern’s Galgenlieder:

Gespräch einer Hausschnecke mit sich selbst

Soll i aus meim Hause raus?
Soll i aus meim Hause nit raus?
Einen Schritt raus?
Lieber nit raus?
Hausenitraus –
Rauserauserauserause …

(Die Schnecke verfängt sich in ihren eigenen Gedanken oder vielmehr diese gehen mit ihr dermaßen durch, daß sie die weitere Entscheidung der Frage verschieben muß.)

At the link you can hear it read in a very lively fashion. Max Knight’s translation:
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Où est le «que» ?

Frédéric Gouaillard and Thomas Poupeau write in Le Parisien (Sept. 4; paywalled) about the phenomenon of omitting que ‘that’ in certain contexts in spoken French; the teaser says:

“I admit I don’t know”, “I have a feeling it’s going to be hot”… but where has the “that” gone in spoken language? More and more often, the subordinating conjunction que is disappearing in oral use. Young people are fond of these shortened expressions, but it is actually an old phenomenon that affects everyone.

«J’avoue je sais pas», «J’ai l’impression il va faire chaud»… mais où est passé le «que» dans le langage parlé ? De plus en plus souvent, la conjonction de subordination «que» disparaît à l’oral. Les jeunes sont friands de ces expressions raccourcies, mais c’est en réalité un phénomène ancien qui touche l’ensemble de la population.

I’ll quote the first few paragraphs below (in French; I’m feeling lazy, and GT and DeepL should do a good job with it) and summarize the rest:
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Pink Trombone.

IMAGINARY, a non-profit organization for open and interactive mathematics, presents a nifty project:

Pink trombone is a model of the human vocal tract that synthesizes human voice from scratch, controllable with your fingers.

Your voice is the oldest and most likely the most complex musical instrument. By interacting with this model, you can discover how the human voice works.

The voice system consists of two components: sound production and sound articulation. The sound is produced with the vocal cords and the vocal folds, were we can control its pitch and loudness. The articulation is what makes our voice sound like a recognizable speech sound (vowels, consonants…). This happens in the vocal tract, a tube where the sound wave travels and bounces back and forth. Using the tongue, lips and nose, we can change the profile of the tube, affecting how the sound bounces on its interior. The final wave that comes out of the lips is the sound we hear. This program is based on a simplified model of the voice tract and a discrete solution to the wave equation (discrete d’Alembert solution).

Enjoy! (Thanks go to that fine poet and provider of links, Trevor Joyce.)

Collaborating with Aeschylus.

I had heard of Terence Rattigan’s play The Browning Version but couldn’t have told you anything about it; apparently it’s about Andrew Crocker-Harris, a notoriously strict classics teacher at an English boys’ school. Laudator Temporis Acti quotes a passage that will bring back bad memories for anyone who has had to construe the classics:

He picks up a text of the Agamemnon and TAPLOW does the same.

Line thirteen hundred and ninety-nine. Begin.

TAPLOW. Chorus. We — are surprised at —

ANDREW. (Automatically.) We marvel at.

TAPLOW. We marvel at — thy tongue — how bold thou art — that you —

ANDREW. Thou. (ANDREW’S interruptions are automatic. His thoughts are evidently far distant.)

TAPLOW. Thou — can —

ANDREW. Canst —

TAPLOW. Canst — boastfully speak —

ANDREW. Utter such a boastful speech —

TAPLOW. Utter such a boastful speech — over — (In a sudden rush of inspiration.) — the bloody corpse of the husband you have slain —

ANDREW looks down at his text for the first time. TAPLOW looks apprehensive.

ANDREW. Taplow — I presume you are using a different text from mine —

TAPLOW. No, sir.

ANDREW. That is strange for the line as I have it reads: ἥτις τοιόνδ’ ἐπ’ ἀνδρὶ κομπάζεις λόγον. However diligently I search I can discover no ‘bloody’ — no ‘corpse’ — no ‘you have slain’. Simply ‘husband’ —

TAPLOW. Yes, sir. That’s right.

ANDREW. Then why do you invent words that simply are not there?

TAPLOW. I thought they sounded better, sir. More exciting. After all she did kill her husband, sir. (With relish.) She’s just been revealed with his dead body and Cassandra’s weltering in gore —

ANDREW. I am delighted at this evidence, Taplow, of your interest in the rather more lurid aspects of dramaturgy, but I feel I must remind you that you are supposed to be construing Greek, not collaborating with Aeschylus.

TAPLOW. (Greatly daring.) Yes, but still, sir, translator’s licence, sir — I didn’t get anything wrong — and after all it is a play and not just a bit of Greek construe.

ANDREW. (Momentarily at a loss.) I seem to detect a note of end of term in your remarks. I am not denying that the Agamemnon is a play. It is perhaps the greatest play ever written —

TAPLOW. (Quickly.) I wonder how many people in the form think that?

The original Greek, as well as another brief passage, at the link.

English Is an African Language – Ka Dupe!

Biodun Jeyifo, a scholar of African studies and comparative literature, published an article that a kind reader brought to my attention, English is an African language – Ka Dupe! [for and against Ngũgĩ] (Journal of African Cultural Studies 30.2 [June 2018]: 133-147), which is a (to my mind) convincing response to the ideas of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o ([ᵑɡoɣe wá ðiɔŋɔ]; see this LH post for previous discussion) concerning the English language in Africa. The article is behind a paywall, but you should be able to get limited JSTOR access for free if you want to read it (which I recommend). Here’s the abstract:

In a radical departure from the orthodoxies of postcolonial African cultural and linguistic nationalism, the paper calls for acceptance of English as an African language with a central argument that insists that all languages widely used in Africa ought to be classified as either indigenous or non-indigenous. This argument rests on a vigorous critique of what the author identifies as the principle of absolute autochthony as the only determinant of which languages are African and which are not. As the most eloquent and influential proponent of this principle, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is the central focus of the paper with regard to both the positive and negative aspects of his ideas and positions on the language question in colonial and postcolonial Africa.

And here are a few excerpts:
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I recently ran across the odd word aviso — odd not in itself, but because of its variety of meanings and its restricted usage. I found its Russian equivalent in Irina Polyanskaya’s 2002 novel Горизонт событий [Event horizon], which I’m enjoying even as I have no idea what it’s “about” or where it’s going. Here’s the passage:

Зима 1992 года выдалась снежной. Белым снегом засыпало фальшивые авизо, чемоданы с компроматом, офисы с компьютерами, русские батальоны из Пскова и Рязани, переброшенные в Таджикистан, Абхазию и Приднестровье.

The winter of 1992 was snowy. White snow covered fake avisos, suitcases with kompromat, offices with computers, and Russian battalions from Pskov and Ryazan deployed to Tajikistan, Abkhazia, and Transnistria.

My Oxford Russian-English dictionary has the following entry:

ави́зо, indecl., n. 1. (comm.) letter of advice. 2. (naut.) aviso, advice-boat.

Which certainly makes it seem as if aviso is an English word, but it’s not in AHD or M-W, even the unabridged Third New International. It is, however, in the OED (entry updated December 2011):
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