Category Archive 'Language'
04 Aug 2021

Learn to Speak Bidenese

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HT: Bernie Sanders (not the communist one).

24 Jun 2021

Crazy Academia Story of the Week

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Daily Mail:

A liberal arts college in Massachusetts has warned its students and faculty against using ‘violent language’ – even banning the phrase ‘trigger warning’ for its association with guns.

Brandeis University in Waltham has created an anti-violence resource called the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center which provides information and advice to students and staff.

It lists words and idioms, including ‘picnic’ and ‘rule of thumb,’ which it claims are ‘violent’ and suggests dreary alternatives such as ‘outdoor eating’ for the former and ‘general rule’ for the latter. …

In addition to its page of ‘violent language’ the college has a whole section dedicated to ‘oppressive language,’ which includes ‘identity-based language,’ ‘language that doesn’t say what we mean,’ ‘culturally appropriative language’ and ‘person-first alternatives’


“Violent language” list.

RTWT

04 Jan 2021

“Amen and Awomen”

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The Sun reports that you can be an ordained Methodist minister and be elected to Congress and not understand the meaning of the word “Amen” concluding Christian prayers.

A democratic congressman has sparked fury after ending a prayer with “amen and awomen”.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, an ordained United Methodist minister from Missouri, also mentioned the Hindu god Brahma while praying at the opening of Congress.

He said: “We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and ‘god’ known by many names by many different faiths.”

“Amen and awomen,” he said as he closed the prayer.

RTWT

Amen comes from Old English, via ecclesiastical Latin, via Greek amēn, from Hebrew ‘āmēn ‘truth, certainty’, and is used adverbially as an expression of agreement. It adopted in the Septuagint as a solemn expression of belief or affirmation.

30 Oct 2019

New Term: “Cali Sober”

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Katie Heaney, at The Cut, explains:

Recently, I saw a conversation between a few women I follow on Twitter about Fiona Apple, who was profiled by Vulture last month. In the course of her interview, Apple mentions that she’s stopped drinking, but has started smoking more weed instead: “Alcohol helped me for a while, but I don’t drink anymore,” she says. “Now it’s just pot, pot, pot.” This was the part of the interview the women were discussing. “Fiona Apple: Cali sober??” one wrote.

The term “Cali sober” here refers to people who don’t drink but do smoke weed, though internet definitions vary slightly: Urban Dictionary says it means people who drink and smoke weed but don’t do other drugs; an essay by journalist Michelle Lhooq uses it to refer to her decision to smoke weed and do psychedelics, but not drink. While the term is new to me, the behavior it describes is not. …

RTWT

27 Sep 2019

Tocharian Deciphered? Apparently Not

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According to Language Log, the plot thickens.

[There was] excitement generated a few months ago by the announcement that “Tocharian C,” the native language of Kroraina (Chinese Loulan) had been discovered, hiding, as it were, in certain documents written in the KharoṣṭhÄ« script (“Tocharian C: its discovery and implications” [4/2/19]). Those documents, with transcription, grammatical sketch, and glossary, were published earlier this year as a part of Klaus T. Schmidt’s Nachlass (Stefan Zimmer, editor, Hampen in Bremen, publisher). However, on the weekend of September 15th and 16th a group of distinguished Tocharianists (led by Georges Pinault and Michaël Peyrot), accompanied by at least one specialist in Central Asian Iranian languages, languages normally written in KharoṣṭhÄ«, met in Leiden to examine the texts and Schmidt’s transcriptions. The result is disappointing, saddening even. In Peyrot’s words, “not one word is transcribed correctly.” We await a full report of the “Leiden Group” with a more accurate transcription and linguistic commentary (for instance, is this an already known Iranian or Indic language, or do the texts represent more than one language, one of which might be a Tocharian language?). Producing such a report is a tall order and we may not have it for some little time. But, at the very least, Schmidt’s “Tocharian C,” as it stands, has been removed from the plane of real languages and moved to some linguistic parallel universe.

So, what do we have in Schmidt’s “Tocharian C”? I can think of three scenarios, perhaps there are more. First, Schmidt may have subconsciously read into his texts what he wanted to be there. There have certainly been such things happening (the well-known first “transcription” of the Voynich Manuscript by William Romaine Newbold* is such a case). Secondly, and less generously, it may have been an outright fabrication, an attempt at deception. But, what would have been the purpose? Thirdly, and more generously, it might have been a kind of “Tocharian Sindarin”—a created language such as Tolkien played so artistically with, given a certain literary verisimilitude by the reference to old manuscripts where it might be found. If so, it was not meant to deceive, but his family, not having been told of its true nature, passed it on to Zimmer as real. And Zimmer, not being a reader of the KharoṣṭhÄ« script (precious few Tocharianists are), naturally enough took Schmidt’s transcriptions at face value.

02 Sep 2019

“It’s Raining…” Around the World

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From midget faded rattlesnake, at Ricochet:

In English, we say, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Explanations for why we say this are numerous, and all fairly dubious. In other lands, other stuff falls from the sky during heavy storms. In Croatia, axes; in Bosnia, crowbars (I’m sensing a pattern here); in France and Sweden, nails. In several countries, heavy rain falls like pestle onto mortar. In English, it may also rain like pitchforks or darning needles. While idioms describing heavy rain as the piss from some great creature (a cow or a god) may not be surprising, a few idioms kick it up a notch (so to speak), describing the rain as falling dung.

And then there are the old ladies falling out of skies. Sometimes with sticks, sometimes without. Sometimes old ladies beaten with ugly sticks. The Flemish say, het regent oude wijven — it’s raining old women. The Afrikaners, more savagely, arm the old women with clubs: ou vrouens met knopkieries reën. Yes, good ol’ knobkerries — ugly sticks, indeed! Afrikaners and the Flemish speak variants of Dutch, so it’s not surprising they share cataracts of crones, armed or not. Why the Welsh also share them is more of a mystery, but yn’ Gymraeg, again we find old ladies raining with sticks: mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn. Traveling to Norway, we find the outpouring of old ladies beaten with the ugly sticks: det regner trollkjerringer — it’s raining she-trolls.

I think the above illustration would have been better with literal female trolls.

16 Jun 2019

Etymology of Greek Provinces

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(click on image for larger version)

14 Jun 2019

British Regional Edwardian Accents

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German scholars made more than 200 recordings of British POWs during WWI in an effort to study regional speech and accents. Surprisingly, these century-old voices have survived to today.

HT: Aram Bakshian.

18 Apr 2019

“Innovation”

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https://jacobinmag.com/2019/04/innovation-language-of-capitalism-ideology-disruption/


Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on the Apple Park campus on September 12, 2017 in Cupertino, California.

Amusingly, leftist English prof John Patrick Leary, writing in Jacobin, sounds a lot like Edmund Burke or Pope Pius X when he’s denouncing popular contemporary cant about “innovation.”

For most of its early life, the word “innovation” was a pejorative, used to denounce false prophets and political dissidents. Thomas Hobbes used innovator in the seventeenth century as a synonym for a vain conspirator; Edmund Burke decried the innovators of revolutionary Paris as wreckers and miscreants; in 1837, a Catholic priest in Vermont devoted 320 pages to denouncing “the Innovator,” an archetypal heretic he summarized as an “infidel and a sceptick at heart.” The innovator’s skepticism was a destructive conspiracy against the established order, whether in heaven or on Earth. And if the innovator styled himself a seer, he was a false prophet.

By the turn of the last century, though, the practice of innovation had begun to shed these associations with plotting and heresy. A milestone may have been achieved around 1914, when Vernon Castle, America’s foremost dance instructor, invented a “decent,” simplified American version of the Argentine tango and named it “the Innovation.”

“We are now in a state of transmission to more beautiful dancing,” said Mamie Fish, the famed New York socialite credited with naming the dance. She told the Omaha Bee in 1914 that “this latest is a remarkably pretty dance, lacking in all the eccentricities and abandon of the ‘tango,’ and it is not at all difficult to do.” No longer a deviant sin, innovation — and “The Innovation” — had become positively decent.

The contemporary ubiquity of innovation is an example of how the world of business, despite its claims of rationality and empirical precision, also summons its own enigmatic mythologies. Many of the words covered in my new book, Keywords, orbit this one, deriving their own authority from their connection to the power of innovation.

The value of innovation is so widespread and so seemingly self-evident that questioning it might seem bizarre — like criticizing beauty, science, or penicillin, things that are, like innovation, treated as either abstract human values or socially useful things we can scarcely imagine doing without. And certainly, many things called innovations are, in fact, innovative in the strict sense: original processes or products that satisfy some human need.

A scholar can uncover archival evidence that transforms how we understand the meaning of a historical event; an automotive engineer can develop new industrial processes to make a car lighter; a corporate executive can extract additional value from his employees by automating production. These are all new ways of doing something, but they are very different somethings. Some require a combination of dogged persistence and interpretive imagination; others make use of mathematical and technical expertise; others, organizational vision and practical ruthlessness.

But innovation as it is used most often today comes with an implied sense of benevolence; we rarely talk of innovative credit-default swaps or innovative chemical weapons, but innovations they plainly are. The destructive skepticism of the false-prophet innovator has been redeemed as the profit-making insight of the technological visionary.

Innovation is most popular today as a stand-alone concept, a kind of managerial spirit that permeates nearly every institutional setting, from nonprofits and newspapers to schools and children’s toys. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines innovation as “the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms.” The earliest example the dictionary gives dates from the mid-sixteenth century; the adjectival “innovative,” meanwhile, was virtually unknown before the 1960s, but has exploded in popularity since.

The verb “to innovate” has also seen a resurgence in recent years. The verb’s intransitive meaning is “to bring in or introduce novelties; to make changes in something established; to introduce innovations.” Its earlier transitive meaning, “To change (a thing) into something new; to alter; to renew” is considered obsolete by the OED, but this meaning has seen something of a revival. This was the active meaning associated with conspirators and heretics, who were innovating the word of God or innovating government, in the sense of undermining or overthrowing each.

The major conflict in innovation’s history is that between its formerly prohibited, religious connotation and the salutary, practical meaning that predominates now. Benoît Godin has shown that innovation was recuperated as a secular concept in the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth, when it became a form of worldly praxis rather than theological reflection. Its grammar evolved along with this meaning. Instead of a discrete irruption in an established order, innovation as a mass noun became a visionary faculty that individuals could nurture and develop in practical ways in the world; it was also the process of applying this faculty (e.g., “Lenovo’s pursuit of innovation”).

RTWT

13 Apr 2019

English: One of the Weirdest Languages

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Adam Schembri, a professor at the University of Birmingham, makes the case for the weirdness of English.

English probably sounds a little “weird” to many speakers of other languages. According to the WALS, the average number of distinctive speech sounds in the world’s languages is about 25-30 – known as “phonemes”. …

English has more phonemes than many languages, with around 44, depending on which variety of English you speak. It has an unusually large set of vowel sounds – there are around 11.

According to WALS, most spoken languages only have between five to six vowel sounds. This is part of the reason that English spelling is fiendishly complicated, because it has inherited five letters for vowels from the Roman alphabet and speakers have to make them work for more than twice that number of sounds.

English has some comparatively unusual consonant sounds as well. Two sounds, those represented by the “th” in “bath” and “bathe” respectively, are found in fewer than 10% of the languages surveyed in WALS. In fact, these two sounds are generally among the last sounds acquired by children, with some adult varieties of English not using them at all.

English grammar is also “weird”. English uses varying word orders to distinguish between questions and statements – meaning that the subject of the sentence precedes the verb in statements. Take the phrase “life is a box of chocolates” for example. Here, the order is subject (“life”) followed by the verb (“is”). In the question, “is life a box of chocolates?”, the order of these elements is reversed.

In a WALS survey of 955 languages, fewer than 2% of languages in the sample used English-like differences in sentence structure for questions.

RTWT

05 Dec 2018

Crazy Tweet of the Week

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20 Jul 2018

Alcohol

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