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Last Build Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2017 01:16:06 +0000


The Solitary Cyclist.

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 01:16:06 +0000

Courtesy of JC, this Sherlock Holmes puzzler from the Futility Closet (quoted from Andrew J. Peck, “The Solitary Man-uscript,” Baker Street Journal, June 1972): In the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist,” Arthur Conan Doyle created an inadvertent grammatical puzzle: Who does the term “solitary cyclist” refer to? As I wrote John, […]

My Sammelband Has Frisket-Bite.

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 01:12:44 +0000

Jer Thorp (“currently the Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress”) presents “A Short Glossary of Delightful Library Terms.” Some of them are pretty basic (incunabula, verso/recto, gloss), but there are enough truly delightful ones I thought it was worth passing along, e.g. Wimmelbilderbuch “A kind of large-format picture book,” respect des fonds “A principle in […]

The Georgian Sea.

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 23:22:36 +0000

I’m still reading Dmitry Bykov’s biography of Pasternak (see this post; it’s been less than two years, and I’m already over halfway through!), and when he got to Pasternak’s translations from Georgian he quoted the first stanza of his version of Valerian Gaprindashvili‘s poem “The Sea,” and I was impressed enough to memorize it: Море […]


Fri, 08 Dec 2017 23:09:06 +0000

There are a number of punts in English; I’m concerned here not with the flat-bottomed boat (from Latin pontō, from pons ‘bridge’) nor with the drop kick (perhaps a dialectal variant of bunt) nor yet the Irish pound, but rather with the betting term meaning ‘to stake against the bank’ (hence UK punter ‘gambler,’ slang […]

GTAGE: The Tsipras Edition.

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 01:37:27 +0000

A few months ago I reported on the return of Nick Nicholas to blogging; he’s been doing great stuff ever since, and it’s high time I posted about some of it. I’ll start with his delightful posts titled “GTAGE: The Tsipras Edition”: Part #1, Part #2. He takes “comically literal translations of Greek into English” […]

Wars on Language, 1917.

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 01:16:16 +0000

Dong Hyun Kang (a senior at Seoul International School with “a keen interest in historical and comparative linguistics”) writes (pdf) for Babel: The Language Magazine about the anti-German campaign in America and the anti-French campaign in German-ruled Alsace during WWI; it’s a sad tale full of linguistic interest, and I recommend the whole thing (four […]

Lake Chad.

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 01:00:24 +0000

I’m finally bracing myself to read Ben Taub’s New Yorker essay “Lake Chad: The World’s Most Complex Humanitarian Disaster” (that’s the online title — in the physical magazine it’s called “The Emergency”), but I was stopped cold and forced to post by the opening: Chad was named for a mistake. In the eighteen-hundreds, European explorers […]

Expresso, the Computational Sequel.

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 23:07:10 +0000

We discussed the espresso/expresso thing briefly in 2014 (though most of the thread is on weird pronunciations); now Vitaliy Kaurov (of Wolfram Science and Innovation Initiatives) has a much deeper dive that quickly gets too technical for me, Finding X in Espresso: Adventures in Computational Lexicology. But I’m sure some of my readers will happily […]

The New Lesvos English.

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 00:59:34 +0000

Matt Broomfield of the New Statesman reports on the lingua franca developing at Moria prison camp on Lesvos: But in the crucible of the overcrowded detention centre at Moria, English is undergoing an accelerated evolution, tentatively beginning to develop its own unique grammar and idiom. My six months working on the island were a crash […]

White Elephant.

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 22:41:23 +0000

Ross Bullen’s essay “Race and the White Elephant War of 1884” is, as you can tell by the title, not primarily about language, but this passage is linguistically interesting enough to excerpt: Further complicating the relationship between human whiteness and white elephants is the fact that the English term “white elephant” is an inadequate and […]

A Year in Reading 2017.

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 17:26:34 +0000

Once again it’s time for the Year in Reading feature at The Millions, in which people write about books they’ve read and enjoyed during the previous year; my contribution is up, featuring my review of Yuri Slezkine’s The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (see this post), as well as my other […]

Greetings to the Universe.

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 21:44:54 +0000

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Caltech presents Greetings to the Universe in 55 Different Languages: A golden phonograph record was attached to each of the Voyager spacecraft that were launched almost 25 years ago. One of the purposes was to send a message to extraterrestrials who might find the spacecraft as the spacecraft journeyed through […]

Egypt in Italy.

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 19:28:07 +0000

I’m reading Peter Thonemann’s TLS review of what sounds like a delightful (if ridiculously expensive) book, Molly Swetnam-Burland’s Egypt in Italy: Visions of Egypt in Roman Imperial Culture, and I had to pass on this section for obvious reasons: A nice example of creative Roman adaptation of Egyptian material culture comes from the south Italian […]

Speech Recognition for Newly Documented Languages.

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 01:17:06 +0000

Alexis Michaud writes for HimalCo (Himalayan Corpora, which “proposes to build parallel corpora for three sub-groups of the Sino-Tibetan family, covering a total of 8 little-described oral languages”): Automatic speech recognition tools have strong potential for facilitating language documentation. This blog note reports on highly encouraging tests using automatic transcription in the documentation of Yongning […]

Language and the “Arts of Resistance”.

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 21:55:44 +0000

I have long revered James C. Scott for his fierce focus on (to quote Wikipedia) strategies of resistance to various forms of domination, but I have also suspected that (like many scholars with an ideological focus) he was oversimplifying and ignoring facts that didn’t fit his theory, so I was glad to read Susan Gal‘s […]

Real-Time Translation via Headphone?

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 01:07:36 +0000

Hayley Tsukayama reviews “Google’s translating headphones” for the Washington Post: Google has set out to make its mark on the headphone world with Pixel Buds — wireless headphones that can control your phone and that claim to translate conversations in real time. But how do they stack up? Google sent us a pair to review […]

Il Kaulata Maltia.

Sat, 25 Nov 2017 20:46:27 +0000

Karl Farrugia posts about Il Kaulata Maltia – The only extant copy of the first journal in Maltese for the Asian and African studies blog of the British Library: The turning point in the history of Maltese publications was the liberalisation of the press in 1839, which formally came into force in March of that […]

Lin Shu and The Legacy of the Parisian Lady.

Sat, 25 Nov 2017 00:57:15 +0000

Mikael Gomez Guthart writes for the Forward about a remarkable translator: Although you may never have heard the name Lin Shu, it should be featured in every book on literature history. [Lin] Shu, a self-taught scholar, originated from the region of Fujian in southwest [sic; should be southeast] China. An heir to the Qing Dynasty […]

The Mermaids who Dried Out.

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 23:51:45 +0000

Patricia Palmer,a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English, King’s College, London, writes about English, Irish, and Ireland in an article first published in 2005; once again, the linked piece is long and complex enough it defies summary, so I’ll just quote a few bits to whet your appetite: We lived in a landscape of […]

Imagining Sanskrit Land.

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 01:01:17 +0000

A long Utne article by Patrick McCartney, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, is structured around his search for “a village somewhere in India where everyone speaks Sanskrit”: Approximately seven years ago, during an Internet search for information about these villages, I came across a clip on YouTube about a Sanskrit-speaking village called […]