From Volskaya to Karenina.

I’ve finally started Anna Karenina, certainly the greatest Russian novel I’ve never read even in translation (in fact, it would probably have won me a game of Humiliation), and I’m sure it will provide material for a number of posts. Right now I want to mention a very pleasing fact I learned doing some preparatory reading: Tolstoy got the initial inspiration for the novel from happening to see Pushkin’s fragment “Гости съезжались на дачу” [The guests were arriving at the dacha], which was in a volume his wife had left lying around: “Despite myself, not knowing where or what it would lead to, I imagined characters and events, which I developed, then naturally modified, and suddenly it all came together so well, so solidly, that it turned into a novel.” You can read a chunk of the fragment in translation here. I can see why he was captivated by it; Pushkin is such a great writer even his fragments are amazingly rich.

I have to say, I was a little afraid I would have a hard time getting into the novel, having read so much about it and knowing it was considered a candidate for Greatest Novel Ever, but I was caught up in it immediately, and could understand why Russians grabbed the installments as they appeared and talked about them eagerly. Even though Tolstoy was giving up on literature (he wanted to concentrate on helping the peasants) and came to hate working on it (he only finished it because he needed the money, having blown a large sum on what turned out to be unproductive land in Bashkiria), he just couldn’t help writing brilliantly. What a shame he resisted his calling so stubbornly!

Also, I soon came across the famed term образуется, which Marian Schwartz had the unfortunate inspiration of rendering “shapify”; see the links and discussion at this 2016 LH post.


  1. Hah! My favorite novel of Tolstoy’s. It wobbles occasionally (how could it not?) but it’s a terrifyingly vivid exposition of what’s at stake: how precious grace is and how easy it is to mistake something else for it, or even worse, to have it and then lose it. It’s sort of War and Peace written backwards: a story of the candles guttering and going out.

    How wonderful to be able to read it for the first time with such a thorough grounding in the language, time & place! I envy you.

  2. Yes, I’m glad I put it off this long. Before too long I’ll be on the Brothers K, which I have read in English, but so long ago (half a century or so) that I might as well not have; I’ve forgotten almost all the plot.

  3. For instance, when Lyovin goes to visit his half-brother, the well-known author Koznyshev, and finds a professor there arguing about the line between psychological and physiological phenomena in man, and then after the professor goes admitting that he’s quit the board of his district’s zemstvo, I would have skimmed the whole passage impatiently, waiting for the plot to resume, if I had come to the novel cold. Now I read it avidly, placing it in the context of the topics of materialism and modernism that were so hot in 1870s Russia, and I chuckle reading this (Garnett’s translation):

    “That’s how it always is!” Sergey Ivanovitch interrupted him. “We Russians are always like that. Perhaps it’s our strong point, really, the faculty of seeing our own shortcomings; but we overdo it, we comfort ourselves with irony which we always have on the tip of our tongues. All I say is, give such rights as our local self-government to any other European people—why, the Germans or the English would have worked their way to freedom from them, while we simply turn them into ridicule.”

    I can picture Dostoevsky nodding vigorously at the ironic portrait of the Belinsky-era Westernizer (his Stepan Trofimovich could have said the same thing).

  4. >>blown a large sum on what turned out to be unproductive land in Bashkiria

    Is this why he picked Bashkirs for the setting of “How much land does a man require?”

  5. As I recall, the land in that story was actually rich-looking and presumably productive soil.

  6. Probably. He thought the land he was buying was rich and productive, but he also thought he was going to win when he sat down to gamble.

  7. Bill Walderman says

    When I came to the end, I was disappointed: no second or even first postscript.

  8. Hey, no spoilers!

  9. John Cowan says

    No, but there is a Third Postscript there (printed in invisible ink).

  10. Bathrobe says

    Regarding Anna Karenina, Hatters might be interested in this excerpt from an article about the Impact of Russian and Western Literature on Mongolia by John R. Krueger, a professor at Indiana University who specialised in studies of Chuvash and Yakut, and Mongolian languages and died only last year. The article was published in 1959. I very much doubt you could publish something like this today and get away with it:

    The Mongols are a nomadic people, living in felt tents, driving their herds over the steppes to pasture, and supplying their wants almost entirely from their animal wealth. Emotionally, they are immature with respect to literature. Steeped as they were (before the Revolution) in the lore of a Buddhistic cosmology, usually watered down into mere supernaturalistic animism with vestiges of shamanistic practices, the fantastic and supernatural is commonplace to the Mongol. The villain of his epic literature, for example, is the many-headed monster of superhuman power, the mangɣus. The Mongol believes the air, the rocks, and all living beings to be endowed with spirits, and that these are a force in his own life. This is woven into the very fabric of his thinking.

    It is not surprising to find that the more fantastic a story was, the better it was liked, and that this was the kind of literature that appealed most to the Mongol. As a result, the works of authors like Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allen Poe were very popular, as were good adventure stories by various authors, notably Jack London (whose works still enjoy immense popularity in Russia). This is literature, to be sure, but of the sort which in America would be found in the juvenile department of a public library.

    Many issues of Šine Toli [a newspaper started in 1913 by the Buryat scholar Žamcarano] were taken up with Köke mongɣol-un köke tuɣ (The Blue Banner of the Blue Mongols), a translation of a historical novel by Léon Cahun. This work is a fast-moving adyenture story laid in the days of Chinggis Qan, filled with knights, battles, and beautiful girls. Another story of Cahun’s, La Tueuse, was translated (Mongolian title: Alaɣači) by Žamcarano but never published.

    As many of the new cultural accretions stemmed from Russia, it is only natural that the Mongols also turned to the great classics of Russian literature. Here the same problems arose. Short stories by Čexov, Turgenev, Tolstoj, Puškin, and Gogol’ were translated and received with success. It would have been folly, however, to translate the works of Dostoevskij, with their involved psychological overtones. Although Tolstoj’s War and Peace was translated into Mongolian, his Anna Karenina was not. A film of the latter work, with Mongolian subtitles, once played in Mongolia, and was a dismal failure, for the audience completely failed to understand it. The position of the Mongols can be likened to that of the Indians in America, who no doubt prefer “Westerns” and “whodunits” to the works of contemporary figures like Hemingway or Faulkner. The new genre of science-fiction would probably be quite popular among the Mongols.

  11. That sort of rhetoric and those cultural generalizations were well past their sell-by date even in 1959; I’m surprised to find out Krueger was born as late as 1927 — I would have guessed he was a product of the previous century.

  12. SFReader says

    Either he wrote rubbish or the Mongols really changed.

    Looked online and found typical top 10 bestsellers list in Mongolia:
    1. Mongolian historical romance novel
    2. Mongolian translation of Girl Code by Barbara Corcoran
    3. Mongolian historical novel about early 20th century Mongolia
    4. Drawing book for little kids
    5. Mongolian translation of another women’s self-help book by Mary Kondo
    6. Translation of self-help book by Mark Manson
    7. ABC book for little kids
    8. Short Japanese-Mongolian dictionary
    9. Translation of Madonna’s biography
    10. Memoirs of Mongolian pop-star Sarantuya

    That’s the boring stuff Mongolians actually read.

    So much for fantasy and SF.

    {thinking} maybe young kids watch Japanese SF and fantasy anime. That’s about the extent of Mongolians’ interest in the genre.

    Too much practical and down to earth people to enjoy it.

  13. John Cowan says

    Sure, Native Americans have always wanted to read stories in which their ancestors are portrayed as stupid and villainous.

    Update: They do enjoy Western movies when the Indians speak a native language (not necessarily the right one) if they understood what’s being said, as it’s usually insulting and hilarious.

  14. Bathrobe says

    The article was also highly critical of the role of socialist political censorship in deciding what was worth translating and publishing. Of course it was at the height of the Cold War and, what is more, probably correct in that regard, but it’s an interesting glimpse of the mentality during the period.

    Nevertheless, as well as contempt for the indigenous people of his own country, it also seems to betray disappointment with the people he was an expert on. Maybe he wrote it when he was feeling down on himself…

    And yes, Mongolia has changed a lot since it gained its de facto independence in 1991. Give people the freedom to choose and you will find they choose all kinds of trash (sorry if I sound like Ezra Pound!)

  15. Buddhistic cosmology, usually watered down into mere supernaturalistic animism

    A supposed scholar, even a racist one, should know that this is backwards, and that the animism was there first.

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    The wikibio of Krueger credits him with a work with the fascinating title “The Destructure of the Turkic Languages.” A typo for “Destruction”? A typo for “Deep Structure”? An idiosyncratic coinage that failed to catch on? Unfortunately the accurate answer turns out to be that the work is the boringly-titled The structure of the Turkic languages, being Krueger’s English translation of Kaare Grønbech’s Der türkische Sprachbau. Who knows how the intrusive “De-” got into wikipedia.

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, Žamcarano turns out to be this fellow, who died in the Gulag.

  18. SFReader says

    By the way, Anna Karenina was translated into Mongolian in 1971.

    Starts with “Jargaltai ail ger bükhen tsöm adil tös atal jargalgüi ail ger bür öör ööriinkhööröö zovlongoo edlekh bülgee.”

  19. Stu Clayton says

    GT translates that from Mongolian into English as: “Jargaltai ail ger bükhen tsöm adil tös atal jargalgüi ail ger bür öör ööriinkhööröö zovlongoo edlekh bülgee”.

    When I select “automatic language recognition”, it says the sentence is Swedish. The translation is the same.

    I see a new conjectural prehistoric language emerging: Proto-Papperlapapp.

  20. GT probably requires Mongolian to be written in Cyrillic to recognise it…

  21. SFReader says

    Surely you don’t need GT to figure out the most famous opening line in the history of literature

  22. AJP Crown says


    Balderdash, in German? My daughter used to call me ‘Pappalap’ when she was a (Norwegian) baby. I hadn’t realised she intended it as an insult.

  23. Yes, Papperlapapp means “balderdash” in German. As to what it means in baby talk, I can’t say – any babies reading this thread who want to answer this?

  24. Stu Clayton says

    Of course I know that opening sentence. I turned to GT only to find out whether GT knew too.

  25. Bathrobe says

    Surely you don’t need GT to figure out the most famous opening line in the history of literature

    I thought it was “It was a dark and stormy night”.

    Try this:

    Жаргалтай айл гэр бүхэн цөм адил төс атал жаргалгүй айл гэр бүр өөр өөрийнхөөрөө зовлонгоо эдлэх бүлгээ.

    But Google Translate is crap for Mongolian.

  26. Bathrobe says

    An adaptation of the corniest opening line in literature, created especially for kids:

    The night was dark and stormy.
    The billy goat was blind.
    He tried to jump the barb wire fence
    And left his balls behind.

  27. Stu Clayton says

    GT seems to get its wires crossed with the Cyrillic: “All the happy families are all the same, but every family is happy to have their own way of life.” Euphemism rules. But maybe this is exactly the gist of the Mongolian ??

    [I’m glad “exactly the gist” occurred to me. I’ve noted it down for more future use.]

  28. SFReader says

    Word by word translation

    Jargaltai ail ger bükhen tsöm adil tös atal jargalgüi ail ger bür öör ööriinkhööröö zovlongoo edlekh bülgee.

    Happy family household each all same similar though unhappy family household each own way suffering have.

    Almost Classical Mongolian, by the way. Translator Sh.Ochirbat apparently felt that this register was the only fitting for such epic phrase,

  29. David Marjanović says

    The villain of his epic literature, for example, is the many-headed monster of superhuman power, the mangɣus.

    It’s back in white: Tsaagan mangas.

    (Yes, the authors got “white” wrong. I don’t think that can be fixed.)

  30. Stu Clayton says

    # … and a jugal touching the squamosal #

    Cretaceous groping.

  31. John Cowan says

    No, only blunders in Greek or Latin can be fixed, and only before 1999. It’s still true, however, that if a species name is a Latin or Greek adjective agreeing with its genus name in gender, and the genus name changes to one with a different gender, the adjective changes too. But if someone who is both igno and ramus gives a newly discovered hominin the binomial Homo alba, apparently we are now stuck with it.

    In other cases, like the Diana monkey, which went from Simia diana to Cercopithecus diana, there is no actual conflict, because diana is not an adjective; I would have made it dianae ‘of Diana’ in the first place. (Etymologically it must have been a feminine adjective connected with diva and dea, Diana being emphatically the Goddess, but not so in recorded Latin use. On one Pylos tablet we have di-wi-ja as a theonym of Artemis, and this is plainly connected.) Apparently the monkey gets its name from the white fur in the form of a bow, Diana’s hunting weapon, over its eyebrow ridge.

    There is a problem which both Linnaeus and the IZCN recognize with the genus Papilio, namely that papilio ‘butterfly’ did not have an established gender in Latin. Linnaeus was careful to completely avoid normal first-and-second-declension adjectives as species names for this genus (which was much wider in his day), using only nouns in apposition or third-declension adjectives (which have the same form in m. and f.) with it.

  32. Bathrobe says

    Almost Classical Mongolian

    Not exactly Classical, just literary. I’m reading a modern book written just like that.

    accidental misspelling of the word Tsagaan

    Surely you would be extra careful when naming a species of animal… Your screw-up will live for a thousand years.

  33. AJP Crown says

    The most powerful first line on planet Earth

    Sure, All happy families are alike etc. is famous, but not as a first line (according to my googling).
    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that in the beginning, stately, plump Buck Mulligan’s clocks were striking thirteen,” is first-line material. Happy families… could come anywhere.

  34. Stu Clayton says

    It may be the most famous first line among those from books people “nowadays” haven’t read. Everybody smiles knowingly when the handle of a frying pan is mentioned, but how many of them have actually fried squirrel giblets over an open fire in the Rockies ?

  35. AJP Crown says

    Surely giblets per se are only available in shops? (Asking for a friend.)

  36. @AJP Crown: It should have been: “… striking thirteen, the worst of times.”

  37. Stu Clayton says

    Baked beans too. Cliffsnotes supply the rest.

  38. Actually, until just now I had never noticed the connection between the opening line if Nineteen Eighty-Four and the recurring “Oranges and Lemons” nursery rhyme. And this set me further wondering whether anthropomorphizing church bells is a particularly British thing. Most famously, there is Big Ben, and besides “Oranges and Lemons,” “The Bells of Rhymney” also immediately jumps mind.

  39. AJP Crown says

    Ah. I tried ‘the best of times,’ obviously the wrong bit.

  40. J.W. Brewer says

    I would imagine more people *nowadays* have read AK than have read the novel that gave us “It was a dark and stormy night.”

  41. I wonder how many people could tell you that the opening sentence of War and Peace is “Еh bien, mon prince”? Only four words, and yet so forgettable!

  42. AJP Crown says

    whether anthropomorphizing church bells is a particularly British thing

    Prolly European.

    “The bells! the bells!” – Quasimodo.

    Then there’s: “Ring out the Old, Ring in the New”: The Symbolism of Bells in Nineteenth-Century French Poetry by Aimée Boutin. Nineteenth-Century French Studies.

    “The chimes that on Sundays spread a deep melancholy over our cities.” W. Benjamin, 1927, comparing Germany to Moscow.

    …And Big Ben isn’t a church bell. Your confusion comes from the Gothic architecture.

    (I’m still no further, Stu.)

  43. J.W. Brewer says

    “Bells of Rhymney” is not a traditional text but a 20th-century composition generally said to have been deliberately patterned on “Oranges & Lemons,” so it’s not any independent evidence of a more broad-based British tradition than is, e.g., the Clash’s use of the same structure (“You owe me a move, say the bells of St. Groove” etc.).

  44. Stu Clayton says

    Crown, it’s like Desert Island Disks. If there are no squirrels, or they won’t give you their giblets, and there are no per se shops, you can still survive on Anna Karenina even without the opening sentence. It’s a meaty novel.

  45. J.W. Brewer says

    Russians are into bells, but I don’t know how much they anthropomorphize them. Here’s a translation of part of the service for blessing church bells, but I don’t know how anthropomorphic a noun phrase like “voice of its ringing” would come over as in Church Slavonic. At one point in the service the bell is anointed with the same chrism that is more commonly used to anoint human beings in various sacramental contexts, but since that chrism is also used to e.g. anoint various parts of the structure when a new church building is being consecrated I don’t think that that usage is inherently anthropomorphizing.

    That He will bless this bell to the glory of His holy name with His heavenly blessing, let us pray to the Lord.

    That He will grant it the grace that all who hear its sound, whether by day or by night, shall be roused to the glorification of His holy name, let us pray to the Lord.

    That by the voice of its ringing all destructive winds, storms, thunder and lightning, and all harmful weather and destructive things of the air may be appeased, calmed and cease to be, let us pray to the Lord.

    That it may drive away every power, craft and slander of invisible enemies from all His own faithful people who shall have heard the voice of its ringing, and arouse them to the observance of His commandments, let us pray to the Lord.

  46. “We want some Lennon” say the bells of Karenin.

  47. Russians are into bells, but I don’t know how much they anthropomorphize them.

    Well, this is from a 2003 article on church bells:

    The bell always responded “in the days of the people’s triumphs and troubles” [quote from Lermontov poem]: with rejoicing to victory over the enemy, majestically to the ascension of a tsar, alarmingly and menacingly when the enemy was near, sorrowfully to drought, wholesale death, and other misfortunes, and summoning to mourning people, fire, and flood. It showed the way to those lost in blizzards and snowstorms and to ships in the fog and warned about dangerous places with underwater stones; from its blows the forces of evil retreated and evil spirits ran away.

    A regular participant in the spiritual and worldly life of the people, it was lovingly animated [literally ‘given a soul’] by them. The various parts of the bell are given “humanized” names: ear, shoulders, tongue, voice. Noteworthy are also “names” like Tsar, Swan, Falcon, George, Gabriel, Drone, Bear, and Burning Bush.

    Колокол всегда откликался «во дни торжеств и бед народных»: ликующе – на победы над врагом, величественно – на восшествия на царство, тревожно и грозно – при близости неприятеля, скорбно – на засуху, мор и прочие несчастья, призывно – оплакивая людей, при пожаре, наводнении. Он указывал дорогу заблудившимся в метель и вьюгу, кораблям в тумане, предостерегал об опасных местах с подводными камнями, от его ударов отступали силы зла, бежала нечисть.

    Всегдашний сопричастник и соучастник духовной и мирской жизни народа, он любовно им одушевлялся. Детали колокола носят «очеловеченные» названия: ухо, плечи, язык, голос. Примечательны также «имена»: Царь, Лебедь, Сокол, Георгий, Гавриил, Гуд, Медведь, Неопалимая Купина.

  48. SFReader says

    Most dramatic opening I can recall:

    “Are we going up again?”

    “No. On the contrary; we are going down!”

    “Worse than that, Mr. Smith, we are falling!”

  49. AJP Crown says

    Here you go, Language. You might like this.

    I knew I’d regret mentioning Desert Island Discs.

  50. In the Russian Orthodox faith, bells are widely considered to be “aural icons,” symbolizing the trumpet calls blown on Mt. Sinai and the sounding of the trumpet for the raising of the dead before the Last Judgment. Just as painted icons are not intended to be mimetic representations of a spiritual object but magical windows into the world of the spiritual, a Russian bell is not a musical instrument but, as Father Roman puts it, “an icon of the voice of God.” A Russian bell, he said, must sound rich, deep, sonorous, and clear, for how can the voice of God be otherwise? It must be loud, because God is omnipotent. Above all, Russian bells must never be tuned to either a major or a minor chord. “The voice of a bell is understood as just that,” he said. “Not a note, not a chord, but a voice.” Whereas Western European bells are tuned on a lathe to produce familiar major and minor chords, a Russian bell is prized for its individual, untuned voice, produced by an overlay of numerous partial frequencies, with only approximate relations to traditional pitches—a feature that gave the Lowell Klappermeisters’ performances the denatured effect of music played on a touch-tone telephone. Where Western European bells play melodies, Russian bell ringing consists of rhythmic layered peals.

  51. Here you go, Language. You might like this.

    Thanks, I do.

  52. David Eddyshaw says

    Call me Ishmael.

  53. J.W. Brewer says

    Come to think of it, maybe “anthropomorphizing” was the wrong foot to get off on, because I don’t actually think the bells in Oranges & Lemons are anthropomorphized. They’re just non-human thingies who as it happens can talk, like talking animals. Thinking that talking animals are being “anthropomorphized” is treating it as axiomatic that talking is a distinctively-to-exclusively human activity. But that’s just the wrong worldview for understanding the perspective of those who take reports of talking animals etc in stride. Thinking that broomsticks or magic carpets can fly is not best understood as ornithomorphizing them, for example — it’s to the contrary a rejection of the assumption that the class of thingies can fly is as constrained as the ornithocentric generally assume. As to bells, treating what self-conscious rationalists would classify as inanimate objects as if they are in some important sense animate (even if not specifically human — note that some of the names in the list in hat’s block quote are human-like while others are not) is more what’s going on, although I don’t know if there’s a single verb like “anthropomorphize” that captures that.

  54. David Marjanović says

    No, only blunders in Greek or Latin can be fixed, and only before 1999.

    Not true. Article 32.5, “Spellings that must be corrected (incorrect original spellings)“: “32.5.1. If there is in the original publication itself, without recourse to any external source of information, clear evidence of an inadvertent error, such as a lapsus calami or a copyist’s or printer’s error, it must be corrected. Incorrect transliteration or latinization, or use of an inappropriate connecting vowel, are not to be considered inadvertent errors.”

    This comes with an Example: “If an author in proposing a new species-group name were to state that he or she was naming the species after Linnaeus, yet the name was published as ninnaei, it would be an incorrect original spelling to be corrected to linnaei. Enygmophyllum is not an incorrect original spelling (for example of Enigmatophyllum) solely on the grounds that it was incorrectly transliterated or latinized.”

    The description of Tsaagan just says: “ETYMOLOGY: Tsaagan, Mongolian for white; mangas, Mongolian for monster.” A dictionary of Mongolian would presumably count as an “external source of information”, not as something located “in the original publication itself”, so the name probably must not be corrected.

    But, like a number of other questions in the Code, this is not completely clear. It’s one of a few issues that I’ve long wanted to gather and publish in the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature.

    It’s still true, however, that if a species name is a Latin or Greek adjective agreeing with its genus name in gender, and the genus name changes to one with a different gender, the adjective changes too. But if someone who is both igno and ramus gives a newly discovered hominin the binomial Homo alba, apparently we are now stuck with it.

    Article 31.2 doesn’t read like that to me: “Agreement in gender. A species-group name, if it is or ends in a Latin or latinized adjective or participle in the nominative singular, must agree in gender with the generic name with which it is at any time combined.”

    This is repeated as Art. 34.2: “Species-group names. The ending of a Latin or latinized adjectival or participial species-group name must agree in gender with the generic name with which it is at any time combined [Art. 31.2]; if the gender ending is incorrect it must be changed accordingly (the author and date of the name remain unchanged [Art. 50.3.2]).” Brackets in the original.

    However, the Example to Art. 31.2.3 illustrates that such mismatches in any language other than Latin must not be repaired, not even in transcribed-but-not-Latinized Greek.

  55. David Marjanović says

    I should perhaps add, because Wikipedia doesn’t, that what’s white about it is its bones that shine out of the red rock. This is not mentioned in the paper.

  56. Bathrobe says

    The Bells of St. Mary’s

  57. Owlmirror says

    GT translates that from Mongolian into English as: “Jargaltai ail ger bükhen tsöm adil tös atal jargalgüi ail ger bür öör ööriinkhööröö zovlongoo edlekh bülgee”.

    When I select “automatic language recognition”, it says the sentence is Swedish. The translation is the same.

    I wondered if there was an alternate language recognizer/translator out there. It looks like the old Babelfish engine became Bing translator — but it does not include Mongolian.

    Some may be amused by the fact that it thought the above sentence was Welsh.

    For me, having no Mongolian, I look at the doubled vowels, some with diaereses, and think that it looks like Estonian or Finnish. I don’t know those languages either, but I’ve seen what they look like.

    For some reason, I thought I that GT included Klingon (it doesn’t — did it used to?). I may have been misremembering Babelfish, because Bing translate does have that (“In partnership with CBS, Paramount and KLI”, it says in small letters below the translate box).

    The first sentence of Anna Karenina in Klingon:

    Quch qorDu’ Hoch alike; Hoch QuchHa’ qorDu’ QuchHa’ reH bIneHchugh lach’eghDI’ mIw.

    Hm. I changed “alike” to “similar”, and got:

    Quch qorDu’ Hoch nagh; Hoch QuchHa’ qorDu’ QuchHa’ reH bIneHchugh lach’eghDI’ mIw.


  58. ktschwarz says

    For some reason, I thought I that GT included Klingon: Probably because Klingon is an option under “Which language should Google products use?” (i.e., on buttons, messages, etc.). For that they only need a finite set of labels, so they can do a lot more languages than GT, including Pirate and Bork bork bork.

    The only other machine translator that has Mongolian that I know of is Yandex, which produced: “A happy house was whole like the kernel, and all the unhappy families now enjoy their own suffering from each other.” You decide if that’s better or worse than Google.

  59. That sounds like the ending of a novel 🙂

  60. “Whole like the kernel” is very good; I applaud the Mongolian translator.

  61. Not a good translation of the Russian (in case that wasn’t clear), just an excellent phrase.

  62. SFReader says

    Yandex translator like all machine translators is not very good at picking up right translations for words which have several differing meanings.

    In this case, “tsöm” has unrelated (?) meanings “all, total” and also “core” (from which Mongolian word for ‘nuclear’ derives).

    But maybe there is a semantic shift I don’t see

  63. Ah, well then I applaud the Yandex translator for its inadvertent creativity.

  64. Stu Clayton says

    It has not been charged with a crime, so intent is not relevant, nor will a show of remorse be required for leniency. On the other hand, deliberate creativity by a machine translator would be a breach of good faith at least.

  65. J.W. Brewer says

    In what I expect most of you who are enthusiastic about 19th-century Russian novels will agree is a sign of the End Times, my wife advises me that when she types “Karamazov”, AutoCorrect wants to change it to “Kardashian.”

  66. Stu Clayton says

    Turn off autocorrect, you coward

    # I’ve had autocorrect disabled for years, and there are two big reasons I’m never going back. First, it’s easier to get my point across without it. A few transposed letters make a message harder to parse, but one auto-replaced word can change its entire meaning – especially when your phone keeps shoving that word into subsequent messages. #

  67. Speaking of autocorrect:

    lisitsa karaganda (in Russian)

  68. January First-of-May says

    For me, having no Mongolian, I look at the doubled vowels, some with diaereses, and think that it looks like Estonian or Finnish. I don’t know those languages either, but I’ve seen what they look like.

    I don’t know any (or, at least, much) Mongolian, Finnish, or Estonian, but I’ve seen enough Finnish and (to a lesser extent) Estonian to tell that it doesn’t look that much like either – too many consonant clusters, and no doubled consonants.

    I’m not sure what language I would have guessed if I didn’t know what it was – perhaps Yakut or Kalmyk? Very possibly I would have correctly said Mongolian.

  69. J.W. Brewer says

    I actually don’t know if my spouse meant autocorrect in the strict sense the piece Stu linked to condemns (where you aren’t affirmatively asked to concur with the software’s guess as to what you meant to type) or was using it loosely to include the sort of predictive-suggestion software that piece approves of or at least tolerates.

  70. SFReader says

    Well, it doesn’t take much to figure out that Jargaltai could be Mongolian. Possessive suffix -tei/tai, pretty much unique to Mongolic languages in the region, would be familiar to military history buffs who like to read about Mongolian hordes – many 13th century Mongolian warrior names have this ending (Subetei being the most famous)

  71. Y:

    A supposed scholar, even a racist one, should know that this is backwards, and that the animism was there first.

    That there was animism there before Buddhism does not preclude the Buddhism’s also having turned into animism, surely. (Not that I’m supporting Krueger’s position.)



    It’s not worth much. The Bing Klingon translator is quite useless. Quch qorDu’ Hoch nagh, if it means anything, is “Each stone of the family is happy”, and the rest of the sentence is even less coherent. It should probably be something like rurchuq Hoch qorDu’mey Quch; jaS QuchHa’ Hoch qorDu’ QuchHa’ “All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy differently”. (Well, that’s my attempt, anyway; I’m not a particularly good Klingonist.)

  72. SFReader says

    Until native speaker comes in, you’ll be the best Klingon speaker we are likely to have

  73. January First-of-May says

    Until Nick Nicholas comes in, you’ll be the best Klingon speaker we are likely to have


    (Actually, I vaguely recall some other Klingon speakers showing up in LH comment threads, but I couldn’t find any specific references.)

  74. John Cowan says

    That there was animism there before Buddhism does not preclude the Buddhism’s also having turned into animism, surely.

    Indeed. Thus Teshoo Lama to the Keeper of the House of Wisdom in Lahore (transparently Kipling’s father) in Kim:

    ‘For five – seven – eighteen – forty years it was in my mind that the Old Law was not well followed; being overlaid, as thou knowest, with devildom, charms, and idolatry. Even as the child outside said but now. Ay, even as the child said, with but-parasti [idolatry: the child in question is a Muslim].’

    ‘So it comes with all faiths.’

    ‘Thinkest thou? The books of my lamassery I read, and they were dried pith; and the later ritual with which we of the Reformed Law have cumbered ourselves – that, too, had no worth to these old eyes. Even the followers of the Excellent One are at feud on feud with one another. It is all illusion. Ay, maya, illusion.’

  75. ICZN weirdness of the day: When the bowhead whale, fomerly Eubalaena mysticetus was pulled out of that genus and into genus Balaena, of which it is the only living member, its status as as the type species of Eubalaena remained undisturbed. Thus the type species of Eubalaena does not belong to Eubalaena. As I understand it, which is probably not much, that isn’t supposed to happen, as the whole point of a type species is that if the genus gets split, the moiety containing the type species keeps the genus name.

    David M?

    (Eubalaena is plainly a calque of right whale.)

  76. Very odd!

  77. David Marjanović says

    Not only isn’t that supposed to happen, it didn’t happen. Linnaeus named Balaena and B. mysticetus in 1758, says the Pffft!; Eubalaena was named in 1864, and its type species – the southern right whale, E. australis – was named in 1822 as a species of Balaena.

    (Eubalaena is plainly a calque of right whale.)

    *facepalm* I never noticed!

  78. Well, maybe you can explain what’s going on in WP s.v. type species, because it confuses the *@$# out of me.

  79. David Marjanović says

    That article is very badly and confusingly written (and the discussion reveals the authors don’t understand much of the topic), but there’s nothing really wrong in it, and I can’t see any whales there. What it really says is that the names of genera are allowed to be younger than the names of their type species: Balaena australis was taken out of Balaena and made the type species of a new genus Eubalaena, and in the process it became Eubalaena australis, but when you cite the type species in a taxonomic work, you should mention the original genus name (and the author & year) just to make sure everything remains traceable in the literature.

    I’ll try to rewrite the article on the weekend. Should be a matter of minutes, really.

  80. @David Marjanović: Good luck with the rewrite. This afternoon, I corrected something on a Wikipedia page—just taking out a sentence that was wrong for the general situation and, in any case, infinitely too technical for the article introduction—and within a couple hours, some fool had put it back in.

  81. I can only think that at some point I misread australis as mysticetus; yet another brain fart. This all got started while watching an Australian nature series on PBS called The Marvelous Land of Oz, narrated by Dame Edna Everage Barry Humphries in a booming bass faux-British Cultivated Australian accent. Great video, though, and lots of shots of right whales (australis, obvs) from above and below the water.

  82. David Marjanović says

    —and within a couple hours, some fool had put it back in.

    Some topics are popular enough for such things to happen. In others, link-breaking typos go unnoticed for years and years – just today I turned a red “Daohygou” into a blue “Daohugou”.

  83. I was searching today, to see if I could find a recording of the song setting of “Bells of Rhymney” by someone with a Welsh accent. Mostly I wanted to see how the rhymes would sound with Idris Davies’s original pronunciations. The best known version, by The Byrds, and another famous one by Judy Collins have very Americanized pronunciations. Ironically, this actually improves the quality of the first rhyme, of “give me” with “Rhymney.”

    I didn’t find any version online that seemed to have a consistent Welsh pronunciation, although Pete Seeger (who wrote the music) and John Denver each seem to make an effort with some of the proper names. In Denver’s introduction, he also points out something I had not previously noted, that the solo guitar accompaniment developed by Seeger has a very bell-like character, something lost in The Byrds’ folk rock version. (However, Seeger did not always play the song that way either. There are other live recordings of him using a more conventional American-style “railroad track” rhythm guitar.) I also learned that Denver had actually gotten his big break by replacing Chad Mitchell when the latter left the Chad Mitchell Trio. (Apparently, the group was subsequently known as just the “Mitchell Trio,” until the last of the original three left, at which point the successor group had to take an entirely new name.)

  84. PlasticPaddy says

    Here is idris davies reading the poem with a partner:

  85. @PlasticPaddy: Thanks! I am always interested in whether poets or lyricists would choose to pronounce things in such a way as to improve their slant rhymes.

    (The video is bad though. I really dislike that kind of crude mouth animations superposed on static faces. However, I am moved to ask: Is it supposed to be obvious, to those knowledgeable in Welsh culture, who the female picture is of? And is she actually the one reciting the poem with him?)

  86. PlasticPaddy says
    is a very good memoir by a friend. It does not mention any woman except the poet’s mother.
    I thought the woman might have been Caitlin Thomas, who had at least similar hair.

    David Eddyshaw might like this….

    Send out your homing pigeons, Dai,
    Your blue-grey pigeons, hard as nails,
    Send them with messages tied to their wings,
    Words of your anger, words of your love.
    Send them to Dover, to Glasgow, to Cork,
    Send them to the wharves of Hull and Belfast,
    To the harbours of Liverpool and Dublin and Leith,
    Send them to the islands and out to the oceans,
    To the wild wet islands of the northern sea
    Where little grey women go out in heavy shawls
    At the hour of dusk to gaze on the merciless waters,
    And send them to the decorated islands of the south
    Where the mineowner and his tall stiff lady
    Walk round and round the rose-pink hotel, day after day after day.
    Send out your pigeons, Dai, send them out
    With words of your anger and your love and your pride,
    With stern little sentences wrought in your heart,
    Send out your pigeons, flashing and dazzling towards the sun.

    Go out, pigeons bach, and do what Dai tells you.

  87. PlasticPaddy says

    I am not on Twitter, but if you are, you could ask him ????

  88. @PlasticPaddy: I don’t Tweet either, and if I were on Twitter, I’m not sure I would want to get into a discussion with that guy, whose bio says: “English Brexiteer. Reform UK Party Supporter. Re-animator of Great Poets.Record Collector.” I doubt he would approve of a poet like Davies, who published in a number of left-wing periodicals, including the British tankie organ par excellence, the Left Review.

    Only this week, I learned that the polymath John Dewey (maybe the most important figure in the history of education in America) wrote, among his many books, a rebuttal to the evidence presented by the Stalinists against Leon Trotsky after the latter’s exile. Just now, I learned from Wikipedia that the Left Review refused to run an advertisement for Dewey’s book. When the magazine was criticized for the refusal, Randall Swingler defending the editors with the claim that “there is a line at which criticism ends and destructive attacks begin, and we regret that this line separates us both from Dr. Goebbels and from Leon Trotsky.”

Speak Your Mind