Exophonic Writers.

Parul Sehgal reviews (for the NY Times) several books by Leonora Carrington, a writer I was unfamiliar with; her story is a fascinating one:

Carrington is also a member of a select group of writers — exophonic writers, they’re now called — who work outside their mother tongues. Her memoir, “Down Below,” has perhaps the most unusual translation story I’ve heard. After her first husband, the Surrealist painter Max Ernst, was sent to a concentration camp, Carrington suffered a nervous breakdown and began to believe that by purging she could purify the world. She was sent to an asylum in which treatment amounted to a form of torture: She had artificial abscesses induced in her thighs to keep her from walking and was administered drugs that simulated electroshock therapy. She first wrote of these experiences in English in 1942 and promptly lost the manuscript. Later, she told the story to friends in Mexico City, one of whom jotted it down in French. It was then translated back into English to be excerpted in a Surrealist journal in 1944. The blurriness in tone is partly intentional and partly, one suspects, a consequence of being much handled. Many of her pointed short stories were also written in her rudimentary French or Spanish. Her tentativeness with the languages accounts for the “delinquent pleasure of her voice,” Marina Warner writes in a new introduction to “Down Below.” “Unfamiliarity does not cramp her style; rather it sharpens the flavor of ingenuous knowingness that so enthralled the Surrealists.”

There follows a discussion of other writers who changed languages, including Nabokov, Conrad, Yuko Otomo, Jhumpa Lahiri, Emil Cioran (“When I changed my language, I annihilated my past. I changed my entire life”), and Yiyun Li (who “has written that she adopted English in her 20s with a kind of absoluteness that was tantamount to suicide”); then:

The opposite ambition spurred on Carrington. Other languages seem to afford her more life, more lives. She relished feeling ungainly and unsure. Far from feeling impoverished by a smaller vocabulary she felt liberated. “The fact that I had to speak a language I was not acquainted with was crucial,” she wrote of her time in Spain. “I was not hindered by a preconceived idea of the words, and I but half understood their modern meaning. This made it possible for me to invest the most ordinary phrases with a hermetic significance.” […]

She was a writer who insisted on more veils, more masks. It’s said she loved the Egyptian room at the Met, that the sight of all those tightly wrapped mummies was deeply reassuring to her, that she loved basement apartments and living below the ground. Every language she learned seemed to offer a new place to conceal herself, to hide in plain sight — but never out of cowardice. In her elaborately surreal English, in her simple French and Spanish, she kept revisiting her places of fear, almost compulsively retelling her story. “The more strongly I smelled the lion,” she ends one story, “the more loudly I sang.”

The more such writers I learn about, the more interesting the phenomenon seems. Thanks, Trevor!


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    Let me put in a plug (for those interested in the phenomenon) for Jonathan Littell, who was US-born, grew up partially in the US and partially in France, spoke fluent and not-obviously-weirdly-accented AmEng when I crossed paths with him a bit in college 30+ years ago, but then went on to write and publish his critically acclaimed debut novel (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Bienveillantes) in French. I believe it remains the only novel to win both the Prix Goncourt and (in English translation) the Literary Review’s coveted Bad Sex In Fiction Award.

  2. Bathrobe says

    Non-native speakers writing in major languages like English or French is impressive, but I was much more impressed by an American writing a novel in Japanese, 星条旗の聞こえない部屋 published by Hideo Levy in 1992, which was translated into English in 2011.

  3. David Marjanović says

    “I was not hindered by a preconceived idea of the words, and I but half understood their modern meaning. This made it possible for me to invest the most ordinary phrases with a hermetic significance.”

    …which doesn’t translate to anyone else, so she was writing exclusively for herself, not for any readers. Right?

  4. Bathrobe, but Japanese is a major language; 125 million wealthy speakers, more than German, more than Persian.

  5. True, but I still find an American writing a novel in Japanese pretty impressive. Somehow it seems a harder trick to pull off than writing one in German or French, though I may just be succumbing to exoticism.

  6. SFReader says

    There is this guy, an Englishman, who wrote detective novels in Hausa back in 1980s.

    Apparently he wrote them very well – to this day Nigerians remain unaware that the author isn’t African.

  7. Bathrobe says

    There is this guy, an Englishman, who wrote detective novels in Hausa back in 1980s.

    That is also profoundly impressive. I wish I knew who he was.

    Addition: Could it be Dan Fulani?

  8. Yes, let’s hear more about that if possible!

  9. Bathrobe says

    Japanese is a major language

    I chose the wrong word. What I meant was writing in mainstream Western languages which are widely known around the world. English and French are both what I would call ‘metropolitan languages’. Japanese has nothing like that status, despite the country’s large population and overall affluence.

  10. SFReader says

    John Hare was the last British colonial official in Northern Nigeria. He is a well-known explorer, conservationist and author. He traveled all over Africa and Asia (crossing Sahara and Gobi deserts) and wrote a number of books on many subjects.

    Sometime in 1970s he wrote a textbook on Hausa language and apparently in order to enliven its text he included a few detective stories in Hausa which he had to write himself (Hausa detective fiction being nonexistent at that point). They became very popular in Nigeria and eventually he ended up writing a series of Hausa detective novels under pseudonym Dan Fulani.

    Lately he has been busy with saving Mongolian wild camels and he wrote a few books on the subject.

    Maybe one day we’ll see new author of Mongolian detective novels…

  11. SFReader says

    An article about detective fiction of Dan Fulani/John Hare


    (don’t worry, the article is in English)

  12. I might be evil, but every time I read an article on today’s hip exophonic writers, I wonder which of them is going to be shown as a fraud à la Jerzy Kosiński.

  13. These things are a cline. The English-language prose in which Hannah Arendt clothes her luminous ideas is almost entirely the work of Professor Lotte Köhler of CCNY (1920-2011, played by Julia Jentsch in the 2012 film), a close friend and assistant of Arendt and a colleague, friend, and contemporary of my mother. Arendt freely acknowledged this in the appropriate places in her work by describing Köhler’s activity as “Englishing”, something between editing and translation, perhaps with elements of each.

  14. Sometime in 1970s he wrote a textbook on Hausa language and apparently in order to enliven its text he included a few detective stories in Hausa which he had to write himself (Hausa detective fiction being nonexistent at that point). They became very popular in Nigeria and eventually he ended up writing a series of Hausa detective novels under pseudonym Dan Fulani.

    Wonderful story, thanks!

  15. Michael Hendry says

    Professor Lotte Köhler should have gone a bit further in Englishing Arendt’s prose. I’ve forgotten who pointed it out first, but using ‘fundament’ to mean ‘foundation’, as Arendt (or Köhler) does, makes native speakers giggle – at least if they’ve read Gulliver’s Travels and other works that use the word in an entirely different meaning.

    It is an interesting linguistic quirk that ‘foundation’ and ‘fundamental’ are treated as a standard noun-adjective pair in English, when foundation-foundational or fundament-fundamental would be more logical. Is the obscene meaning of ‘fundament’ the cause of this divergence?

    I imagine there are other examples of this kind of mismatched pair, though I can’t think of any right now. Benign-malignant is not quite the same thing grammatically. In that case, I’ve always assumed that the main reason doctors don’t say benign-malign or benignant-malignant is that it makes so much difference: they wouldn’t want patients to get the wrong idea about the deadliness or otherwise of their cancers from mishearing a single syllable.

    Another example of not-quite-the-same-thing: person-people, which has pretty much killed off singular ‘people’ as in “peoples of the world”, unless that died of other causes. I learn a lot of English teaching Latin, e.g. having to explain that populus does not mean ‘people’ as in plural human beings – that’s homines – it means ‘people’, plural ‘peoples’, as in ‘nation’, which few of my students have ever heard of.

  16. Michael Hendry says

    Just thought of another example of a Latinate adjective paired with an Anglo-Saxonish (or at least not-very-Latinate-looking) noun. There doesn’t seem to be an adjective formed directly from ‘judge’ in contemporary English. We have to say ‘judicial’ or maybe ‘juridical’ or conceivably ‘juristic’, not ‘judgish’ or ‘judgely’ or anything like that.

  17. David Eddyshaw says


    was a renowned Classical Tamil poet.

  18. John Hare at least had the advantage of being a pioneer in the genre of Hausa-language detective stories (Have these stories ever been translated, incidentally?). Even more impressive to me is the rare phenomenon of an L1 speaker of a major language who becomes a respected writer in a language learned in adulthood which is both A) A minor language (especially a non-State language), and B) A language with a well-established indigenous literary tradition. There is an English-born Catalan-language writer, Matthew Wood, who is the only instance of this kind of exophonic writer I know of:


  19. Constanzo Beschi was a renowned Classical Tamil poet.

    Great example! I love these stories, and there seem to be a lot more of them than I ever suspected.

  20. There is judgy ‘tending to judge others harshly or critically’ (1997), but you don’t have to be a judge to be judgy.

  21. judgy (I’ve not heard the word before) seems to mean the same as judgmental(?)


  22. That is one sense of judgmental, but it can also mean ‘of judgment’, as in judgmental error ‘error in judgment’. Judgy is fairly recent and slangy.

  23. Bathrobe says

    As usual, Languagehat is a treasury of new discoveries, at least for me.

    John Hare, aka Dan Fulani, has his own website.

    I hadn’t heard of Jerzy Kosiński before. The Wikipedia article on The Painted Bird doesn’t put him in a very good light…

    In 1730 Constanzo Beschi translated and explained in Latin the Tirukkuṛaḷ. I had never heard of this work before. According to Wikipedia, it contains (among other things) 250 couplets on royalty, 100 couplets on ministers of state, and 220 couplets on essential requirements of administration. I wonder how it compares with ancient Chinese books on morality and statecraft (Confucius, Mencius and the rest).

  24. Bathrobe says

    On this page is a complete list of Hare’s publications, including his Hausa works.

  25. Excellent finds!

  26. I hadn’t heard of Jerzy Kosiński before.

    I’ve only known him from the film Being There, and what I’ve cursorily read about the making of it.

  27. Huh. I had only known her as a painter and sculptor of some very odd surrealist works. Do a google image search and see for yourself. But a novelist as well? Who knew?

    (Also a friend of and collaborator with Remedios Varo, as a quick look reminds me.)

  28. SFReader says

    There is a considerable number of hoaxes by Polish authors. In addition to Jerzy Kosiński, one could recall Slawomir Rawicz or Stanislaw Suplatowicz (aka Sat-Okh)

    Apparently there is something mischievous in Polish culture making Polish writers prone to playing jokes on their gullible readers.

  29. Bathrobe says

    In the Parul Seghal article that prompted this post, there is a short passage that is germane to language, especially the relationship between the written and spoken languages as we have often discussed it at LH:

    I … first wrote the previous paragraph (slowly and unhappily) in Hindi, a language I’ve spoken all my life but rarely written in, and then translated it (slowly, with much cheating) into English. It was an unpleasant, embarrassing exercise, like being blindfolded and shoved into a strange room. Every direction I turned brought me into thudding collision with my limits. Writing can often feel like this — but rarely to such a painful degree. How puny is my vocabulary in Hindi, I realized, how muddled my thinking, how equivocal and hesitant I become; it’s as if something of myself as a child has been preserved there. To move back into English was a relief.

    It is clear from this passage that it’s possible to be fluent in a language (with, I’m assuming, mother language fluency) and yet be unable to write in it. The vocabulary of the spoken language is ‘puny’, the spoken language undisciplined in the habits of writing is ‘muddled’, and attempts to write in that language result in the writer becoming ‘equivocal and hesitant’.

    This is closely related to issues that have been discussed here concerning people who are more comfortable writing in a different language than in their own spoken idiom. This is related to issues of diglossia that we’ve also discussed here, whether that is Arabic, German, or Chinese. In fact, it could be described as quite normal for people to speak in one idiom and write in another.

  30. There is a considerable number of hoaxes by Polish authors.

    That is why if, for example, a Swiss plans to perpetrate a particularly flagrant hoax, he will do so using a fake Polish identity:


  31. It is clear from this passage that it’s possible to be fluent in a language (with, I’m assuming, mother language fluency) and yet be unable to write in it.

    Such was, I think, the predicament of James Macpherson (which prevented him from forging the Gaelic originals of his “translations”).

  32. January First-of-May says

    That is why if, for example, a Swiss plans to perpetrate a particularly flagrant hoax, he will do so using a fake Polish identity

    I know that he’s supposed to be Ukrainian and not Polish, but this reminds me of Evgeniy Gustman (Evhen Hustman? he is of course much better known under his Americanized name Eugene Goostman).

  33. fake Polish identity

    Or rather the identity of a poylisher yid, which is by no means the same thing (surnames aside).

  34. Are you saying “Wilkomirski” wasn’t supposed to have been from Poland? I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know.

  35. SFReader says

    Wilkomirski apparently derives from town of

    Ukmergė (Latin: Vilkomiria, Polish: Wiłkomierz, Russian: Вилькомир, Yiddish: ווילקאמיר‎ Vilkomir) is a city in Vilnius County, Lithuania, located 78 km (48 mi) northwest of Vilnius, with a population of about 21,000 (2017).

  36. SFReader says

    The city took its original name Vilkmergė from the Vilkmergėlė River, which was initially called Vilkmergė and assumed a diminutive form after the growth of the settlement.[1] It is commonly thought that the name may be translated as “she-wolf”, from the combination of Vilkas (wolf) and Merga (maiden). More likely the second root of the dual-stemmed name is the verb merg-/merk- meaning “to submerge” or “to dip”. According to local legend, Vilkmergė was a girl raised by wolves, who bridged the divide between animals and humans, in the same way as Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli.

    Other historic names for the city include Wilkemerge or Wilkamergen in 1225, Vilkenberge (1333), Wilkinberg (1384), (1455), Vilkomir (1455), Wilkomir (1611), Wilkomirz (1613), Wilkomiria (1766), Ukmerge (1900), Aukmergė (1908); Ūkmergė (1911), Wilkomierz (1918), and Vilkmergė (1919).[2]

  37. Pre-war Poland but today’s Lithuania.The surname Wiłkomirski means ‘from Wiłkomierz’, a town in Vilnius County (modern Ukmergė < older Vilkmergė). Its bearer could be a descedant of Lithuanian Poles or possibly Jews from that place. I suppose the unusual spelling Binjamin was meant to reflect Hebrew Binyāmīn and therefore emphasise the man’s Jewishness.

    Kosiński, while we are at it, was genuinely Jewish (born Lewinkopf, he adopted a Polish surname as a child in wartime Poland, for obvious reasons).

  38. Evhen Hustman?

    Of course his real name is Євген Густман. He probably doesn’t use a patronymic, since he has three fathers.

  39. Sharon Dodua Otoo is a British resident of Berlin who won the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 2016 for her first short story, which she wrote in German.

  40. Bathrobe says

    Contemporary Canadian author Nancy Huston, born in Alberta on 16 September 1953, is a Canadian-born novelist and essayist who writes primarily in French and translates her own works into English. She arrived in Paris in 1973 and obtained a master’s degree on the topic of swear words.

    “Because French was a language acquired at school and university, Huston found that the combination of her eventual command of the language and her distance from it as a non-native speaker helped her to find her literary voice. Since 1980, Huston has published over 45 books of fiction and non-fiction, including theatre and children’s books.”

    She wrote a non-fiction work called Nord perdu : suivi de Douze France (1999), which she translated into English herself as Losing North: musings on land, tongue and self (2002), concerning the sense of displacement she experienced when her life came to be lived more through French than English.

  41. Bathrobe says

    Doreen, you didn’t include enough detail about Sharon Dodua Otoo, including the topic of her short story (a German rocket scientist who worked for both the Nazis and the Russians), the fact that it was written from the point of view of a boiled egg, the fact that Sharon was brought up in a “strict Ghanaian household” in Ilford, and the irony that she won the prize in the same year as the Brexit vote.

  42. Bathrobe says
  43. Samuel Beckett, V.S. Naipaul, Ágota Kristóf, Sholem Aleichem, André Brink, Elif Şafak, Jack Kerouac, Anna-Kazumi Stahl, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, Aliette de Bodard, Brian O’Nolan, Joseph Brodsky.

    Some of these may have grown up multilingual, particularly Sholem Aleichem.

  44. Bathrobe says

    Ah, Wikipedia even has a list!

  45. SFReader says

    Bathrobe lists exophonic authors writing in “non-major” languages, while authors themselves are native speakers of “major” languages.

    The opposite situation is usually much more common.

    Rudyard Kipling was native Marathi speaker, for example.

  46. January First-of-May says

    Does it count when someone writes a short text in an obscure language basically to show off? Stuff like Tolkien’s Gothic verse (never mind the Elvish, “self-invented conlang” should really be its own category, especially lately), or that one guy who wrote a few letters in, IIRC, Polabian (forgot his name).

    IIRC there are also a few short stories, and even novels, written in Klingon (despite there being probably no native speakers of Klingon on this planet – not yet, anyway).

  47. Terentius, Apuleius, and any number of other Africans who wrote in Latin.

  48. The Polish novelist Teodor Parnicki (1908-1988) was born in Berlin to expatriate Polish parents, spent his young years in the Russian Far East (speaking Russian and German as his native languages), then escaped to Harbin, Manchuria, and started learning Polish at the age of 15 among the local Polish community (they even had a Polish-language secondary school in Harbin at that time). He first came to Poland to join the University of Lwów, and publisted his first novel when he was 23.

  49. David Marjanović says

    So far, our list of Exophonic authors is:

    That’s if you limit yourself to fiction. We’re approaching the point where all science is in English…

    probably no native speakers of Klingon on this planet

    There is about one, Alec Speers.

    (Alas, he has nothing to do with the Shakespeare Restoration Project.)

  50. Absent from teh Wikipedia list: George Mikes, the Hungarian-British humourist.

  51. SFReader says

    Nikolai Gogol almost definitely was a native Ukrainian speaker, but he wrote only in Russian.

    I wonder what language Adam Mickiewicz spoke as a child growing up in modern-day Navahrudak, Belarus. Some local Belarussian dialect, I assume. Another exophonic then.

  52. The Mickiewicz family had been Polonised for many generations (his father was a lawyer and a public officer), so his mother tongue was certainly Polish, but he grew up surrounded by Belarusian speakers (the local peasants, the domestics) in a country that had just been incorporated into the Russian Empire (so Russian became the language of administration and advanced education). He would have been familiar with Belarusian since he learnt to speak.

  53. Terentius, Apuleius, and any number of other Africans who wrote in Latin.

    Arguably anyone who wrote in Latin after around 200 AD was an “exophonic” writer. By that definition there are thousands of exophonic writers in other literary languages like Arabic, Classical Chinese, Persian, Chatagay Turkish, Sanskrit and English.

  54. SFReader says

    So being exophonic writer is no big deal.

    Being exophonic writer in a minor and insignificant language is.

    Terentius writing in Latin is not newsworthy.

    Claudius writing in Etruscan is.

  55. Arguably anyone who wrote in Latin after around 200 AD was an “exophonic” writer…

    But Terence was active 400 years ealier (the first half of the 2nd c. BC). He was an an exophonic Latin writer (with a Berber background) long before it became fashionable!

  56. Claudius writing in Etruscan…

    I still hope a copy of his Etruscan dictionary has survived somewhere and will be discovered one day.

    Ovid learnt some Getic and composed a poem in it (though in a Latin metre). He boasted that the native speakers had loved the poem, and so he started to regard himself as a national bard of the Getae. Neither the poem nor any Getic review has survived, though.

  57. Ovid learnt some Getic and composed a poem in it (though in a Latin metre). He boasted that the native speakers had loved the poem, and so he started to regard himself as a national bard of the Getae.

    If Nabokov had had a less aristocratic sense of humor he could have had a lot of fun with this, calling Americans Getae.

  58. marie-lucie says

    In one of Frantz Fanon’s books he tells of meeting a writer from Indonesia, who said to him (probably in English) something like : “You are lucky, the language they [colonialists] taught you is known and appreciated all over the world, so you can address your writings to millions of readers world-wide. But look at me: they taught me Dutch ! Who is going to read me in Dutch?”

  59. marie-lucie says

    (North) Africans writing in Latin

    Wasn’t St Augustine part of the same cohort?

    Rudyard Kipling was native Marathi speaker

    Probably bilingual as a result of having British parents but Marathi-speaking nurses and other household personnel. But he may have spoken Marathi better than English as a result. Then he was shipped to England to attend boarding school.

  60. I suspect that Kim’s English as a boy was Kipling’s:

    There is a River in this country which he [the Tibetan lama] wishes to find so verree much. It was put out by an Arrow which—’ Kim tapped his foot impatiently as he translated in his own mind from the vernacular to his clumsy English. ‘Oah, it was made by our Lord God Buddha, you know, and if you wash there you are washed away from all your sins and made as white as cotton-wool.’ (Kim had heard mission-talk in his time.) ‘I am his disciple, and we must find that River. It is so verree valuable to us.

  61. Does Elias Canetti qualify?

  62. David Marjanović says

    I still hope a copy of his Etruscan dictionary has survived somewhere and will be discovered one day.


    (And who knows what else than the dictionary was in the “twelve books”. A grammar?)

    Wasn’t St Augustine part of the same cohort?

    Yes; natively he spoke the local Vulgar Latin/Romance, which he said lacked vowel length (this is often interpreted as attesting a Sardinian-type vowel system), but he was also familiar (whatever that exactly means) with Punic, saying (to nobody’s surprise) that it was very similar to Hebrew.

  63. Michael Hendry says

    A borderline case in more ways than one: Ennius said he had ‘three hearts’ (tria corda) because he was born in Rudiae, where Greek, Oscan, and Latin territories met, and spoke all three, though he apparently wrote only in Latin. Which one he learned first, I do not know. As far as I can tell, Rudiae was at or near modern Lecce far down towards the SE tip of the heel of Italy.

    Many of the provincial Roman authors were probably descended from Roman colonists and raised speaking Latin, so I wouldn’t want to claim Martial, Lucan, or the Senecas (all from Spain) as exophones raised speaking some pre-Romance Spanish language. Martial does comment on the outlandish geographical names in his hometown of Bilbilis (near Calatayúd, later home of Gracián, one of his greatest admirers).

    I do wonder about Lucian, from Commagene: did he learn Proto-Kurdish before Greek? One of the 1st-century BC epigrammatists from Gadara – I forget whether it was Meleager or Philodemus – gives three different ways of saying ‘hello’ in one of his poems: Greek χαῖρε, Latin salve (I think – it’s been a while – but what else could it be?), and some close equivalent of ‘salaam’. Was the last from his first language – presumably Aramaic? (I probably should have researched this before pressing ‘Post Comment’ on the previous paragraph, so I’d have more than 15 minutes to write it, but this will have to do for now.)

  64. Michael Hendry says

    Turns out that “what else could it be?” is not a reliable criterion. Who could have guessed? The poet is Meleager, the poem is Meleager IV in A. S. F. Gow and D. L. Page’s The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams (2 vols. Cambridge, 1965), 7.419 in the Greek Anthology – one of three autobiographical epigrams. The last two lines (of 8) read:

        ἀλλ᾿ εἰ μὲν Σύρος ἐσσί, σαλάμ᾿· εἰ δ᾿ οὖν σύ γε Φοῖνιξ,
          ναίδιος· εἰ δ᾿ Ἕλλην, χαῖρε· τὸ δ᾿ αὐτὸ φράσον.

    “If you are a Syrian, salaam; if a Phoenician, naidios; if a Hellene, chaire, and say the same yourself.”

    Gow and Page note that the spellings of the first two greetings are disputed, and might better be σελόμ or σελώμ or σελάμ and αὐδονίς or αὐδονί respectively, though the first and last of the five don’t scan by the usual rules of Greek verse.

  65. Here in Poznań we had a Polish/Greek poet, very prolific in both languages as well as translating both ways. We owe to him the Polish translation of Zorba the Greek, among other things. His name was Nikos Chadzinikolau (1935-2009). He came to Poland at the age of fifteen with a wave of post-Civil War political refugees from Greece.

  66. SFReader says

    Let’s include Stanislaw Suplatowicz aka Sat-Ok.

    According to the legend, he was native Shawnee speaker, who wrote novels in Polish.

    More sceptically inclined believe that his native language was Russian.

    But he’ll be an exophonic writer in any case…

  67. though the first and last of the five don’t scan by the usual rules of Greek verse.

    Why do they even suggest emendations that don’t scan? That seems utterly pointless.

  68. Michael Hendry says

    I should have been more specific. Gow and Page’s knowledge of Semitic languages is entirely second-hand. They write “The experts recommend a variety of different spellings – σελόμ, σελώμ, σελάμ.” and “αὐδονίς (Scaliger) or αὐδονί (Herwerden) is said to be a likelier Greek equivalent for the Phoenician; Plautus Poen. 1141 is commonly quoted here, but it is hard to see what use can be made of it.” A footnote or two would have helped a lot.

    Plautus’ Poenulus (=The Little Carthaginian) has swatches of Carthaginian in it, with Latin translations, but generations of copyists made hash of the unfamiliar text, The latest edition of Plautus, the Loeb Classical Library facing text by Wolfgang de Melo, has 50 pages on “The Punic Passages in the Poenulus“, including a 19-item bibliography. Hatters would probably enjoy it. One random passage: “Neither the old Latin orthography nor the new is good at indicating pharyngeal and glottal sounds.” Poenulus is in Volume IV of the Loeb Plautus: be sure to get the new Loeb edited by de Melo: Loeb has redone half their authors, and standards are much higher for the new editions.

    Here are lines 1141-2 to give you a flavor (PVER is a slave-boy, GIDDENIS the title character’s mother):

        PVER hau amma si lli. GID hauo bane si lli mustine
        mepsi etenes te dum et alamma cestimim.

    I guess this makes Plautus a bit of an exophone himself – assuming this is real Punic, not some kind of comic half-gibberish stage-Punic. De Melo gives detailed word-by-word analyses.

    By the way, the Gow who edited The Greek Anthology was Orwell’s principal tutor at Eton, and (reportedly – I don’t know how solid the evidence is) the ‘Fifth Man’ and first recruiter of the Cambridge spy ring (Burgess, McLean, Philby, and Blunt).

  69. marie-lucie says

    PVER is a slave-boy

    I presume PVER is Latin puer ‘boy’, not a name.

  70. Amma at least is certainly Semitic (cf. Heb im, Aram ima ‘mother’).

  71. I’ll stretch this a bit to one biexophonic translators, who translated between two languages which weren’t his mother tongue.
    Boris (Dov) Gaponov was born in 1934, in the Crimea. In 1941 his family fled to Kutaisi, Georgia, where Gaponov would live, mostly in slum dwellings, for the next 30 years. He started learning Hebrew from his granfather, and continued later on by studying on his own, reading the Bible and a few other books, and by secretly listening to Israeli radio programs. Teaching Hebrew was illegal at the time in the USSR, he had no access to dictionaries, and even paper and ink were at times hard to find.
    Gaponov began by translating Turgenev’s poetry into Hebrew, before starting on his life’s work, a Hebrew translation of Rustaveli’s The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, Georgia’s national epic poem. Gaponov’s translation is a seemingly impossible masterpiece, precisely adapting the original’s metre to a Hebrew equivalent, and preserving the rhyming scheme and alliterations, recreating the poem in beautiful and flawless Hebrew, as skillful as Rustaveli’s original Georgian.
    Gaponov started corresponding with the brilliant Israeli poet Avraham Shlonsky (another exophone writer), who encouraged him, arranged for publication of his work in Israel, and eventually for his emigration to Israel in 1969. Gaponov was by then very ill, mute and nearly paralyzed by a botched brain tumor operation, and he died in 1972. He was lionized for a period, both in Georgia, which put aside its antisemitism to appreciate his service to its underappreciated epic, and in Israel, for his spectacular achievement, and for raising the profile of Georgian Jews, then a ridiculed underclass. Since then, memory of him and of his work has faded.

  72. Good lord, what a story — thanks for sharing it! So his translation of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin isn’t read in Israel? What a shame!

  73. Correction: it was Lermontov’s, not Turgenev’s poetry that he translated.

    The latest I could find on the web about him is a blog from 2005, even then lamenting Gaponov’s being forgotten. The edition of his Rustaveli, a beautiful, well-made book, printed on paper tinted to resemble vellum, is not hard to find in used bookstores.

  74. WP has articles for John Hare (conservationist) and Dan Fulani, but no connection between them, because it seems that no secondary source actually asserts their identity: there is only the primary source on Hare’s website linked above, and the identity of names and languages between Hare’s books and Fulani’s might be mere coincidence.

    All of which reminds me of the Devil’s Dictionary entry for technicality:

    In an English court a man named Home was tried for slander in having accused his neighbor of murder. His exact words were: “Sir Thomas Holt hath taken a cleaver and stricken his cook upon the head, so that one side of the head fell upon one shoulder and the other side upon the other shoulder.” The defendant was acquitted by instruction of the court, the learned judges holding that the words did not charge murder, for they did not affirm the death of the cook, that being only an inference.

    This apparently is an actual case, Sir Thomas Holt v. Astgrigg, Cro. Jac. 184 (i.e. Croke’s Reports published during the reign of James I, though another source says Cro. Eliz.). The court took it upon itself to say that “notwithstanding such wounding, the party might yet be living”, which seems to me (as to Bierce) to stretch the word might past the breaking point.

  75. This reminds me of bureaucratic locution “sustained injuries incompatible with life”

  76. Speaking of Polish literary hoaxes, perhaps we should mention the most famous of them all – the Voynich manuscript!

  77. Surely you mean the Wojnicz manuscript.

  78. I just read this: “A gifted linguist, Yaltah [Menuhin, pianist and Yehudi’s sister] wrote a poem each day of the year in one of six languages.”

    They may be good for all I know. I haven’t seen them.

    [I’m not sure if it’s the best thread, but I don’t remember one dealing with multilingual authors.]

  79. As good a thread as any!

  80. John Cowan says

    obscene meaning of fundament

    Definitely not obscene; if anything, euphemistic. Quoth Ogden Nash:

    I test my bath before I sit,
    And I’m always moved to wonderment
    That what chills the finger not a bit
    Is so frigid upon the fundament.

    (On scans better.)

    WP has articles for John Hare (conservationist) and Dan Fulani, but no connection between them, because it seems that no secondary source actually asserts their identity

    This is no longer true: “Dan Fulani” now links to a section of “John Hare (conservationist)”, the cited connecting secondary source being an issue of the British magazine New Internationalist.

    the predicament of James Macpherson (which prevented him from forging the Gaelic originals of his “translations”)

    I think Macpherson’s case was stronger: his grasp of spoken ScG was weak altogether, and it was probably not his native language. Quoth WP:

    Macpherson was born at Ruthven in the parish of Kingussie in Badenoch, Inverness-shire. This was a Scottish Gaelic-speaking area but near the Ruthven Barracks of the British Army, established in 1719 to enforce Whig rule from London after the Jacobite uprising of 1715.

    […] On leaving [King’s] college, [Aberdeen], he returned to Ruthven to teach in the school there, and then became a private tutor. At Moffat he met John Home, the author of Douglas, for whom he recited some Gaelic verses from memory. He also showed him manuscripts of Gaelic poetry, supposed to have been picked up in the Scottish Highlands and the Western Isles;[3] one was called “The Death of Oscar”.

    In 1760, Macpherson visited North Uist [a Gaelic-speaking island in the Outer Hebrides] and met with John MacCodrum, the official Bard to the Chief of Clan MacDonald of Sleat. As a result of their encounter, MacCodrum made, according to John Lorne Campbell, “a brief appearance in the Ossianic controversy which is not without its humorous side.” When Macpherson met MacCodrum, he asked, “A bheil dad agaibh air an Fheinne?” Macpherson believed himself to have asked, “Do you know anything of the Fianna?” He had actually said, however, “Do the Fianna owe you anything?” [GT makes it “Do you have anything on the Fen?”]

    In reply, MacCodrum quipped, “Cha n-eil agus ge do bhiodh cha ruiginn a leas iarraidh a nis”, or in English, “No, and if they did it would be useless to ask for it now.” According to Campbell, this, “dialogue… illustrates at once Macpherson’s imperfect Gaelic and MacCodrum’s quickness of reply.”

  81. And yet: for all I know, Macpherson was the father of the distant dog.

Speak Your Mind