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Poem by Akhmadulina [Jul. 23rd, 2004|10:30 pm]
Apologies for the lack of writing, but I'm in the middle of a summer hiatus. I hope to return in the Fall if not sooner.

However, I'd like to take a minute to answer a question submitted by Robin of Paraverse, who says in a comment to an old post:

Speaking of Russian poems could you be kind enough to teach me the name of the poet and the rest of the poem with the line

ti dumayesh ya iz garyesti tak priyama golobu derzhu;
ya, ne ist garyesti, ist gordosti tak priyama golobu derzhu.

or something like that -- i knew the whole thing about 30 years ago before giving up russian for japanese -- also, isit well known?

I'm not familiar with the poem, I'm afraid. However, Google finds a relatively close match in a poem by the contemporary Russian poet Bella Akhmadulina:

Не уделяй мне много времени,
Вопросов мне не задавай.
Глазами добрыми и верными
Руки моей не задевай.

Не проходи весной по лужицам,
По следу следа моего.
Я знаю - снова не получится
Из этой встречи ничего.

Ты думаешь, что я из гордости
Хожу, с тобою не дружу?
Я не из гордости - из горести
Так прямо голову держу.

Hope that helps, and thanks for stopping by.
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Blog-about-your-favorite-poem meme [Apr. 30th, 2004|02:36 pm]
To commemorate the end of National Poetry month, the NY Times and the City of New York have encouraged poetry lovers to carry a poem with them on April 30th and share it with their friends, co-workers, classmates and family members. {a burst of light } proposes a more mimetic and electronic version of the ritual for bloggers:

To commemorate the end of National Poetry Month, blog about your favorite poem and provide at least one link to other poems and/or a bio of the poet.

I will spend April 30th away from my computer so I'll cheat, start early, and pre-date the entry. (Mind you: This is something I can only get away with in an electronic medium. Walking up to someone in New York on, say, April 29th, and reading a poem to them will elicit very strange looks.)

I don't really have a favorite poem, though I have many favorite ones. Today I happen to be in a cheerful drinking kind of mood, and so I choose this little ditty by Akhmatova: The Last Toast:Collapse )
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Old English and Minimalism Resources [Apr. 28th, 2004|01:23 pm]
A couple of recent language-related resources available in electronic format for all to enjoy:

1. The Electronic Introduction to Old English is "an on-line analogue of Introduction to Old English (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003)" by Peter S. Baker. The full text is freely available on-line and includes links to on-line exercises, an anthology of texts in OE, and an OE glossary. Introduction to Old English is written in a style that seems to be intended for the student that needs to gain a basic understanding of OE in a short amount of time to plow through Beowulf or what-have-you with his glossary handy. This means that it's weak on introducing vocabulary and reinforcing its acquisition. Each chapter addresses some grammar points, and no vocabulary is included other than what's needed for the illustrative examples included in that chapter. I prefer texts with a more systematic approach to introducing new terms on a lesson-by-lesson basis (perhaps because memorizing vocabulary is the bane of my language-learning experience and I appreciate being handfed as much as possible). Personal preferences aside, this is a great resource, and an excellent example of using the web for language-learning purposes.

2. Understanding Minimalism. An Introduction to Minimalist Syntax is a work in progress by Norbert Hornstein, Jairo Nunes and Kleanthes K. Grohmann (expected to be published by Cambridge Univ. Press in the Spring of 2005). What exists of it so far (which is plenty) is freely available here in PDF and Word Document formats. (Link via a post by mitr at terra_linguarum.)
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Regularize your plurals [Apr. 23rd, 2004|11:28 pm]
Bill Poser has an entry at Language Log discussing creative pluralizations of borrowings from a foreign language with which the writer seems to have just a passing acquaintance. This is actually a fairly common phenomenon, often observed in plural terms of Latin ancestry. The example that Bill discusses, rectii, appears in a review of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, by the chef of St. John restaurant in London. Of course, as a famous philosopher once said, there are no rectii (recta would be the proper Latin plural). Sometimes, the all-purpose Latin plural marker -i gets attached to words that are not even of Latin origin, which I suppose is how we ended up with octopi (which has Greek etymology). But the trend is not limited to Latin and Greek. I'm reminded of this example from Cook's Illustrated (I wonder if this crops up in the world of food writing more often?):

We made panna cotti with nine extracts... and gathered eighteen tasters.

where the writer clearly got a whiff of plural formation in Italian, just not enough of a whiff to form the plural of feminine nouns and adjectives.

I don't bring this up to be fastidious, which I can be. I bring it up because the writer is clearly shunning the rules of plural formation with which both he and his audience are familiar in favor of ostensibly more scholarly and therefore more impressive forms. If you want to brandish your scholarship, then go ahead (we all like to at one point or another), but first make sure that you possess it. In the meantime, plain old English plural formation1 will do just fine. There's nothing shameful about curriculums or panna cottas or forums or octopuses. And sure enough, there's nothing shameful about rectums.

Incidentally, I visited St. John restaurant when I was last in London, but I did not order any recta. The chitterlings, however, were delicious.

1But not plain Old English plural formation because that would only make matters worse.
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German borrowings [Apr. 20th, 2004|04:51 pm]
The Duden online is promoting its tome on Fremdwörter (foreign words) in the German language and has links to a series of articles (in German) discussing the influx of foreign terminology over the last few hundred years. One of them also mentions a bit about exports, and there I find myself reading:

Es gibt jedoch auch den umgekehrten Prozess, dass deutsche Wörter in fremde Sprachen übernommen und dort allmählich angeglichen werden, wie z. B. im Englischen bratwurst, ersatz, fräulein, gemütlichkeit, gneis, kaffeeklatsch, kindergarten, kitsch, leberwurst, leitmotiv, ostpolitik, sauerkraut, schwärmerei, schweinehund, weltanschauung, weltschmerz, wunderkind, zeitgeist, zink.

(There is also the reverse process, where German words are borrowed and gradually assimilated by a foreign language, as in the English bratwurst, ersatz, fräulein, gemütlichkeit, gneis, kaffeeklatsch, kindergarten, kitsch, leberwurst, leitmotiv, ostpolitik, sauerkraut, schwärmerei, schweinehund, weltanschauung, weltschmerz, wunderkind, zeitgeist, zink.)

(In case there's any doubt where the author leaves none: the claim is not that those are German words that have given rise to English terms; the claim is that those are English words, umlauted up to the nines and everything. The lack of capitalization for the words listed, all nouns, is further proof that in that context those words are no longer German.)

Now, c'mon, says I, dropping words like weltschmerz and weltanschauung (the author inexplicably leaves out my beloved schadenfreude) is a classical leitmotiv of mine, especially when having a kaffeeklatsch with the fräuleins, but... gemütlichkeit? schwärmerei? I've encountered the words aplenty, but never in an English text. (And what in the world is a gneis?) Well, I haven't been reading enough. The author is absolutely correct (well, almost), and the OED backs him up. Here's what the OED has to say about the list (with the more rare and pedestrian terms included for completeness):Collapse )
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Henker- und Damenspiel. [Apr. 14th, 2004|09:42 pm]
Kathrin D. Vaz is a German language instructor in New York, whose website features interactive German hangman and checkers games. The checkers game includes a dialogue box through which "Kathrin" coaches you in German, but it is the German hangman (complete with umlauts) that I find more fun and useful. I quit 3-2 while I was ahead, but I'm sure I'll be returning to it. Viel Spaß!
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Berserk nominalists [Apr. 14th, 2004|04:55 pm]
Desbladet appologizes to the readers from England and Wales (though not necessarily to those from Scotland) for posting a Monday "review of stuff" on a day that is not likely to feel like a Monday to those readers who extend their Easter holiday and for whom "Monday falls on a Tuesday." This last remark, (s)he adds as a bonus, "drives the nominalistes utterly berserk with rage."

Reading this reminded me of my alma matter, a place where a statement like This week Tuesday is a Monday never elicits any furrowed brows and is commonly understood by everyone without difficulty. I have never witnessed anyone around me become berserk with rage when I've heard the comment (which has been often), so I've concluded the place is devoid of nominalists or perhaps simply overflowed with pragmatists. Tuesday is a Monday is, of course, shorthand for indicating that a typical Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule will apply on the Tuesday following a Monday holiday, a measure that tries to balance the number of holidays that each group of classes is entitled to. By poking around Google, I get the impression that Tuesdays can be Mondays mostly at academic institutions: Brigham Young Univ., East Carolina Univ., George Mason Univ., MIT, RPI, Univ. of Rhode Island, and Western Carolina Univ. all seem to be places where this is possible (an aside: check out this spontaneously captured photo of young Hamlet which was up on the frontispiece of WCU's website).

When it comes to schedules, it seems that a Tuesday is not likely to be a Wednesday or a Thursday, although to my surprise sometimes it is a Friday. Mostly, I am relieved that no Saturday is ever a Wednesday, something that would drive me utterly berserk with rage.
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Scientific American revisits Whorf [Mar. 25th, 2004|05:31 pm]
The April/04 issue of Scientific American has an article titled Draining the Language out of Color which revisits the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (though poor Sapir does not even get mentioned in the article). This hypothesis advances a position with respect to the relation between thought and language, and the question of which shapes which, that, in Whorf's own words, can be summarized as follows:

We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way -- an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organisation and classification of data which the agreement decrees.

I am perpetually fascinated by the question. I don't particularly have a strong inclination to a position on it yet (or at least I didn't until I lived in Germany and had to deal with German and Germans 1), but I always welcome a new article on it, especially as I think we are witnessing a resurgence of interest in the topic, as evidenced by the work of Boroditsky at MIT and other colleagues.

But the article doesn't dwell too much on this newer research (with one exceptional reference to work coming out of the Max Planck Institute). It mostly concentrates on the work of Paul Kay, now emeritus professor of Linguistics at UC Berkely, who has investigated color terms in vastly diffent languages and concluded that there are some universal tendencies in the way humans discretize the (continuous) color spectrum and allocate lexical terms to describe portions of it. Kay himself denies that his work should be viewed as a refutation of the (Sapir-)Whorf hypothesis: his work applies to the very restricted domain of color perception and does not rule out that to some extent language may condition the way we think in other domains.

Kay's raw findings are interesting: Though languages differ greatly in their inventory of color terms (English has about 11 basic terms; Dani, a language from New Guinea, has two!), the way they go about carving out the spectrum shows some tendencies Kay claims are universal. Languages that have two color terms, as per Kay, tend to group what we would call black/green/blue (and other "cool") colors and oppose this group to a white/red/yellow (and other "warm") colors. When a language has a three-way distinction, the grouping tends to go as black/cool, white/light, and red/yellow/warm. These distinctions are then further refined in other languages, leading to a more dense sampling of the spectrum, but... you get the idea: no language seems to arbitrarily group all colors of the spectrum under the same rubric except for shades of mauve, to which it devotes 20 different words.

I don't know how uncontroversial Kay's findings are. However, while reading the article, I find bits like

[i]n any case, Kay notes, the degree to which the perceived world is man-made seems to explain the variation in the number of color words. Hunter-gatherers need fewer color words because color data rarely provide much crucially distinguishing information about a natural object or scene. Industrial societies get a bigger informational payoff from color words.

This makes me somewhat skeptical and uncomfortable because these kinds of cutsey, Rousseauesque divisions always do. I also find perverse the idea that in a hunter-gathering environment color distinctions provided by, say, the basic English color terms would seem redundant. And if we accept the assertion that degree of industrialization correlates with the number of color terms in a language, what are we to make of the fact (a fact mentioned in the article) that Russian, compared to English, has an extra color term to make a two-way distinction between darker and lighter blue, a distinction which probably predates Russia's feudal days? (Of course, whether Kay or the journalist made this assertion remains open to interpretation or sleuthing.) I grant the author of that remark that he meant industrialization in a very broad sense since I'm pretty sure most of our 11 English color terms didn't enter the lexicon in the last 300 years. But even then, I'm skeptical that we have acquired a richer color palette as we have moved out of the forests (and of course, the artificial synthesis of color terms to describe items in a J. Crew catalog does not count). I don't know whether we possess the records to investigate this further, but it might be easily refutable.

For more on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, including treatment of the strong and weak versions of linguistic determinism and relativity, you can check out this site.

1This is a joke. Maybe. Kinda. I told you I'm still agnostic on this issue.
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Shodding [Mar. 11th, 2004|01:31 pm]
Sally Thomason writes in her recent Language Log entry Trodding, as in Plodding? about English irregular verbs and the unusual occurrence of the word trodding (in a NYT article on Martha Stewart) as a likely slip for treading. Tread is one of those irregular English verbs that wavers between two past tense forms, treaded and trod. What seems to be happening here is that the writer has crafted a form derived from the present-tense stem (the -ing form) by using the past-tense stem instead. Thomason adds that semantic similarity with plod and the rhyme between plodding and trodding probably helped. She also writes

... replacing present-tense tread with trod ... is the only example I can think of where a new non-past form has been based on an irregular past-tense form (though there probably are others that aren't occurring to me right now).

To her example I would like to add shodding.

Shod is the irregular past participle of the verb shoe, meaning to furnish with shoes or to cover with a metal guard to protect against wear. Like tread/trod(treaded)/trodden, shoe/shod/shodden is also a relatively low-frequency irregular verb where there may have been enough disassociation in the minds of the speakers between the present- and past-tense stems to facilitate the creation of the new non-past form shodding from the irregular past tense. Or perhaps the etymology is altogether different. At any rate, examples of shodding abound. Summoning Google yields the following.

From a business wire:

Harry's London is pleased to celebrate the 75th annual Academy Awards(R) by shodding several of Hollywood's leading men for the event's red carpet, as well as for the parties that surround this very special event.

From a fiction short story at the Oyster Boy Review:

My father figured that fixing feet would be better than shodding them, so like the kid who becomes a doctor to go one step further than his pharmacist father, the old man graduated from the Ohio College of Chiropody.

From Making the Shoes Fit, an article published at The Desert Sun online:

Although it's still early, the Clarkes have been up for several hours trimming the constantly-growing feet that horses are equipped with and shodding them for extra protection and better traction.
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Luath Scots Language Learner [Mar. 9th, 2004|02:06 pm]
Colin Wilson works as "a saftware ingineer wi a weel-kent telecommunications firm, writin saftware in C++." He's also the author of the Luath Scots Language Learner: An Introduction to Contemporary Spoken Scots, a text being promoted as the "first-ever Scots language course." The book is being marketed with an accompanying 2-CD pack containing recordings of the material used in the text (though it would seem one needs to special order the CDs in the US). From the editorial review:

This work is suitable as an introductory course or for those interested in re-acquainting themselves with the language of childhood and grandparents. The book assumes no prior knowledge on the reader's part. Starting from the most basic vocabulary and constructions, the reader is guided step-by-step through Scots vocabulary and the subtleties of grammar and idiom that distinguish Scots from English. An accompanying audio recording conveys the authentic pronunciation, especially important to readers from outside Scotland. The course is based on General Scots with a slight emphasis on the North-East and contains an introduction, 25 graded lessons, an English-to-Scots vocabulary list, and appendices with verb tables and similar material. Each lesson itself contains dialogues, vocabulary, grammatical explanations, exercises, and - most importantly - a section giving background information about life in Scotland, for the reader to understand the material in its cultural context.

I browsed through the book at Borders the other day, and, oh, what a relief it would've been having my own copy before I tried to read anything by Irvine Welsh.

You can listen to the sound of Scots by following the soundfile links at the Scots Online site.
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