Sunday’s New York Times Magazine contained a 66-page (!) insert entitled “wordsearch: a translinguistic sculpture by Karin Sander.” It turns out to be an advertising supplement, and normally I wouldn’t be promoting such things here, but I think you’ll see why I couldn’t resist when you read this description:

Her work of art, which she calls a “translinguistic sculpture,” will be printed on October 4, 2002 in the New York Times. Wordsearch explores the hybrid surfaces of New York’s linguistic landscape: on four double page spreads in the newspaper’s business section, and thus in place of the daily share quotations and stock prices, words from 250 mother tongues spoken in New York are arranged into columns, each one having been donated by a native speaker living in the city and representative of the entire respective language, which has an opportunity to “get a word in” here in a literal sense. Each word, whether personally meaningful or particularly characteristic of the “donor’s” culture, is in turn translated into every other language spoken in New York. The filigree web of text arising out of this and covering the pages of the newspaper may be read as a kind of dictionary – the result of a research project in linguistic anthropology. At the same time, however, it works as an abstract image: even at a short distance from the page, it resembles an information matrix difficult to comprehend and comprised of a pattern of lighter and darker grays.

That’s taken from a website put up by Deutsche Bank to plug the project; unfortunately, the supplement itself doesn’t seem to be online, but here‘s a news story about it, and here‘s a list of the languages — click on any one and get a page where you can hear the chosen word spoken. The supplement itself includes not only six pages showing chosen words as written by the speakers (‘help’ in Burmese, ‘guest’ in Pakistani Punjabi, ‘culture’ in Icelandic, ‘music’ in Chickasaw, ‘white’ in Irish Gaelic, etc. etc.) but all sorts of essays, including one by Hilton Als on Marianne Moore. And everything’s in both English and German. All in all, well worth trying to find (or digging through your Sunday paper for if you haven’t thrown it out yet). I think it’s an interesting idea, and I’ll try to remember to buy the Times on Oct. 4.
Update. It’s out today, and it’s well worth checking out. English words across the top of the pages, other languages in columns below; under “butterfly,” for example, are bilinwal, pillangó, papillon, farashah (in Arabic script), farfalla… The original chosen word of which the others are translations (in this case Turkish kelebek) are in bold and underlined, forming a diagonal pattern. It’s pages C9-C16 of the New York edition.


  1. Damn! Does nobody but me think this is cool? Mark (Mr. Other Languages)? Pat? Anybody?

  2. I do, I do. My girlfriend and I discovered the project while using a newspaper we found on the street to pack my 1965 World’s Fair glasses. A frantic google search yielded your page, for which we’re grateful. But as of 10pm Sunday the 6th, the deutsche bank site and moment art are both down. Peculiar, no?

  3. This is truly bizarre. I had just visited Catarina’s blog and found this:

    “I got an email from a stranger this morning, and what a delight! She, Shannon Holman, said she’d found my web site , saw that I was looking for Pinckney Benedict’s Dogs of God and offered to send it to me. ‘I am not a maniac,’ she closed. Who could resist?
    But the best treat of all was going to the URL appended to the bottom of her email, and discovering these wonderful poems, these paintchip poems and her resume of irrelevant experience.”

    I visited the website and was entranced — what clever graphic design, what delightful use of words! Then I came back to languagehat, scrolled down to see if anyone had left any comments… and there was one from Shannon herself! I’ve given many a lecture on the inevitability of coincidence and its meaninglessness in the scheme of things, but this certainly rattles my cage. I mean, what are the odds? OK, I’ll stop babbling now, and just say 1) I’m glad you dropped by, 2) I’m very glad you added an appreciative comment to my lonely, neglected wordsearch post, and 3) I love your site. Y’all come back now, you hear?

  4. Oh wow, it took me 20 years, but I made it back to this post….by Googling to try to see if any of my own long-lost paint chip poems are still rattling around the internet!

  5. Shannon! Welcome back (there’s not many places out there on the internet where you can restart a conversation after 20 years), and here’s a selection of your paint chip poems preserved at Internet Archive. What are you doing these days? Got a website?

  6. Amazing, thank you!
    No website currently but if I get it together to make another one, I’ll let you know, and in the meantime I’ll enjoy reading yours now that I’ve found it again.
    As my mother always said, “Life is short, but it’s wide.”

  7. That’s a good line; I’ll have to start using it.

  8. David Marjanović says

    + 1

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