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Last Build Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2017 21:36:24 +0000


Pisemsky’s Thousand Souls.

Sat, 21 Jan 2017 21:36:24 +0000

I’m almost halfway through what is generally considered Alexei Pisemsky’s best novel, the 1858 Тысяча душ, translated by Ivy Litvinov as One Thousand Souls, and I can’t wait any longer to post about it — it’s so good I have to let the world know. I’ve praised Pisemsky’s Brak po strasti [Marriage for passion] (here) […]


Sat, 21 Jan 2017 01:11:18 +0000

I occasionally take a whack at dumb, prejudiced, or ill-informed items relating to language, but it’s a side dish at LH. To the redditors at badlinguistics, it’s the whole menu, so if you have a hankering for mockery of things like “Italian is dying because people are using loanwords and not the subjunctive” or “A […]


Fri, 20 Jan 2017 01:10:12 +0000

This is one of those “I’ve been annoyed by this all my life and it’s time to do something about it” posts. I hate the word loess ‘a windblown deposit of fine-grained, calcareous silt or clay,’ because I have no idea how to pronounce it. AHD gives (lō’əs, lĕs, lŭs), M-W \ˈles, ˈləs, ˈlō-əs, ˈlərs\; […]

Shakespeare’s World.

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 16:33:51 +0000

Roberta Kwok reports in the New Yorker about a website where anyone can contribute transcriptions of bits of manuscripts from Shakespeare’s time: The first-known records of many words are in Shakespeare’s plays, but it’s not always clear which he invented and which were already commonplace. The handwritten material of Shakespeare’s contemporaries is “more or less […]

On Being Translated Back to Myself.

Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:59:06 +0000

Boris Fishman has a winning Author’s Note in the latest NY Times Book Review about his trip to Estonia, where he confronted a Russian translation of his novel A Replacement Life (which I will really have to read): The embassy had scheduled a reading in Russian, so it commissioned a translation from a local trinitarian. […]

Irinarkh Vvedensky, Intrusive Translator.

Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:53:21 +0000

I happened on a passage in The Oxford Handbook of the Victorian Novel which I thought was interesting enough to post here. Julie Buckler, after describing how familiar Russian readers were with even minor British authors, since from Pushkin’s time on they were made available almost immediately in the “thick journals” that provided the intellectual […]

The Charts of Reper.

Sun, 15 Jan 2017 21:17:24 +0000

I’m reading Goncharov’s Фрегат “Паллада,” toggling back and forth between the Russian text and the translation, The Frigate Pallada, done by one Klaus Goetze, who says in the Preface “I was born in Berlin in Germany, and at the age of eighteen I didn’t know a word of Russian.” He studied with Baron von der […]

Zhou Youguang, RIP.

Sun, 15 Jan 2017 01:07:13 +0000

Zhou Youguang, the inventor of the pinyin system of writing Chinese, has died at 111 — a remarkable age in any event, but especially so for someone born in his time and place. I hadn’t known about him, but he led quite a life; Margalit Fox has a fine obit at the NY Times: […] […]


Fri, 13 Jan 2017 22:29:13 +0000

The ALIM project (Archivio della Latinità Italiana del Medioevo) intends to offer for free consultation, on the Internet, all texts written in Italy in Latin during the Middle Ages. Many thanks to Bruce Allen, who sent me the link; he said “I mean, how cool is that?” and I responded “Very cool! None more cool!”

The Language of Chess.

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 01:55:41 +0000

A useful roundup by Edwin Battistella at OUPblog: Chess comes from the 6th century Sanskrit game chaturanga, which translates to “four arms.” The arms refer to the elephants, horses, chariots, and foot soldiers of the Indian army, which evolved into the modern bishops, knights, rooks, and pawns. The chaturanga pieces also included the king or […]

Inventing Mandaic.

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 23:20:34 +0000

C.G. Häberl has an extraordinarily interesting post at his blog Philologastry (which I am glad to learn about) on how Mandaic as a subject of study (as opposed to a mere tool for spoken communication) has been, and is still being, constructed. He starts out with the Slovak philologist Rudolf Macuch and his Handbook of […]

That Two-Fisted-Man-Tobacco, Prince Albert.

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 15:04:35 +0000

Mark Liberman at the Log investigates the phrase “up/out the wazoo” and its eggcorn up/out to wazoo; that’s an interesting phenomenon, but what I want to make sure gets the widest possible attention is the splendiferous 1919 tobacco ad he turned up (via OCR error) in his search. It begins “Say, you’ll have a streak […]

How the World’s Languages Name the Rainbow.

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 01:45:39 +0000

Claire Bowern writes in The Conversation about her research into color terms: My colleague Hannah Haynie and I were interested in how color terms might change over time, and in particular, in how color terms might change as a system. That is, do the words change independently, or does change in one word trigger a […]

The 17 Funniest Hungarian Expressions.

Mon, 09 Jan 2017 00:53:48 +0000

Yes, that’s a dumb title, but I’m a sucker for these things (as long as they’re true to the facts of the language, which this appears to be as far as I can tell). Colm FitzGerald created the listicle; my favorite: 3. Hungarians don’t ask little children “Why are you crying?”, they ask “Why are […]

War and Peace on the Installment Plan.

Sun, 08 Jan 2017 00:45:11 +0000

Brian E. Denton takes an interesting approach to a famously long novel: My project is a year-long, chapter by chapter, daily devotional reading of and meditation on Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I read the novel for the first time seven years ago. I loved it. I wanted to read it again. The only problem was, […]

Automatic Speech Recognition for Low-Resource Languages.

Sat, 07 Jan 2017 01:16:42 +0000

Maeve Reilly writes about an interesting initiative: For those who speak English, or another language that is prevalent in First World nations, Siri or other voice recognition programs do a pretty good job of providing the information wanted. However, for people who speak a “low-resource” language—one of more than 99 percent of the world’s languages—automatic […]

Seite Books.

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 01:39:01 +0000

I came across a reference to Seite Books and wanted to know how the name was pronounced, so I googled up this LA Times article from 2014 by Hector Tobar and was immediately hooked: When Adam Bernales and Denice Diaz started Seite Books in a little storefront in East Los Angeles, a lot of people […]

An Interview with Sarah Thomason.

Thu, 05 Jan 2017 01:35:17 +0000

Sally Thomason (who occasionally posts at Language Log) is a wonderful linguist I’ve written about here more than once; last March Ryan Bradley interviewed her for the Paris Review, and it’s very much worth reading. An excerpt: Are there languages that are better at adapting? When languages meet, does one “win”? Sure. But that comparison […]

Getting Past ‘Indigenous’ vs. ‘Immigrant’.

Wed, 04 Jan 2017 01:28:12 +0000

Back in August 2015, Dave Sayers had a bracing post on a contentious topic: “Indigenous languages” and “immigrant languages” are much discussed in language policy research, but surprisingly little time is spent actually defining those terms. In general, “indigenous” tends to encompass two features: a long heritage in a place; and some form of contemporary […]

Women and Vodka!

Mon, 02 Jan 2017 23:21:39 +0000

This is an interesting piece about an illustrator named Lou Marchetti and a writer named David Markson, but I’d link it just for the magnificent reproductions of the front and back covers of the anthology of Russian stories whose title I have borrowed for this post. Thanks, Trevor!