Saturday, December 15, 2007

Baby names, apropos of nothing in particular

I wonder what it means that the last time I made a list like this it was much more rife with unpronounceable Polish on the one hand, and unabashed hippiness on the other. I hope it's that I have developed more respect for the plight of my theoretical future children on the schoolyard and not that I have sold out and become boring in my old age.

In any event, here is the list of names I would actually consider bestowing as of today, girls kinda sorta in general order of predilection, boys alphabetically:


Eleanor (Ella)
Isabel (Izzie or Bella)
Alexis (Lexie)
Imogene (Idgie)
Matilda (Tillie)



For some reason it's much, much easier for me to think of girls' names that I like than boys' -- and I'm not quite sure why this should be. Maybe it's that, being a straight male, I've spent more time considering the aesthetics of girls' names? I'd be interested to hear about other folks' experience with this, and also your lists, if you have them.

By the way, I'm sort of embarrassed to have included Aidan in the above, considering its appalling trendiness at the moment. I'm afraid I have to say I just really do like that name for a little boy, and in my defense I did first hear it attached to an adult and not a toddler.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A suffusion of yellow

Douglas Adams' book The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul is available in Finnish, entitled Sielun pitkä pimeä teehetki, which translates as "The Soul's Long Dark Teamoment."

In case you were wondering.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lesser-Evil Politics and Endless Despair

If you are like me in feeling utterly disgusted with and unrepresented by both major political parties in this country, and I suspect you are, why do you keep voting for them? No, but seriously.

The argument that everybody endlessly gives, viz. that otherwise the other, worse, party will get elected is, frankly, asinine. It seems like some kind of mass insanity which inevitably results in nothing but the ongoing prosperity of the completely unacceptable status quo. The plain fact is that we will never have a genuine democracy in the U.S. until there are more than two viable parties to choose from, and this fact should in itself be enough to persuade anybody that voting Democrat is a Bad Idea.

I would never, ever vote for a candidate who did not openly and without reservation support same-sex marriage, a woman's right to choose, socialized medicine, funding for social programs, a firm boundary between the government (and education) and religion, massive reduction of our military budget, and environmental well-being over corporate greed -- and neither should any intelligent, responsible, ethical person.

Seriously, people, there needs to be a change in this country, and it needs to happen now. This means you. Don't support the parties whose primary goal is not to rock the boat for fear of losing Ohio.

(For information, here is a comparison of Democrat/Republican positions on a number of key issues compared with the Green Party. Note that I don't necessarily advocate the Greens specifically, but I find this chart instructive.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

More funky relativization

The story you're about to hear is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, at their surprisingly adamant insistence.

So the other day I was talking to a co-worker, Micole Arny, about the fact that she had come back from lunch very sleepy and somewhat confused, at which point she uttered the following phrase:

"Do you know what's fault it is?"

She was going to follow this up with a description of the enormous burrito she had just consumed, but was immediately interrupted by my impassioned demands to know whether she had just said what it sounded like she had just said.

It's confirmed: not only did she say this, but she felt completely unselfconscious about it even when questioned. Clearly this is an exciting development.

That this could happen is, of course, not all that surprising, especially by analogy with "whose" which sounds like "who" plus a possessive suffix (in fact, isn't "whose" hwæs in OE, the genitive of hwa "who?" This makes sense because hwæs would also be the genitive of hwæt "what," giving rise to this whole problem). It is, indeed, a fairly stupid thing about English that it lacks a standard way to relativize an inanimate possessor in a manner that doesn't sound completely ridiculous: "the book whose cover had been defaced" sounds marginally acceptable, but certainly not "Do you know whose fault it is?" with the meaning that Micole intended.

...and so we're forced to circumlocute, or if we're more adventurous, invent some new, more convenient morphology. Any bets on whether this one will be "normal" in 100 years?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Gapless relative clauses in Polish

I am thrilled to report that a few weeks ago I was finally able to capture this odd relative construction that my grandmother occasionally perpetrates in Polish. The "standard" phrase would run something like this:

Tomek, którego poznałeś...
Tommy-NOM, which-ACC meet-PAST-2SG
"Tommy, whom you met..."

Really a very normal Indo-European relativization strategy. The somewhat weirder one that my grandmother has been observed to do is as follows:

Tomek, co go poznałeś...
Tommy-NOM, what him-ACC meet-PAST-2SG
"Tommy, that you met him...," i.e., "Tommy, whom you met..."

So instead of a declined relative pronoun, we have what may be an invariable marker something like the English "that," followed by the relative clause with a retained pronoun. I have never (consciously) observed pronoun retension in Polish relative constructions in any other context.

It would be interesting to find out how common this is, and whether that "co" is really indeclinable in this construction -- under ordinary circumstances, of course, it has the full array of forms: co, czego, czemu, czym, etc. I'll have to try to come up with a test that I can administer to my grandmother without making her self-conscious.

Interestingly, by the way, my mother's usual way of phrasing this kind of relative clause in English is a nearly perfect analog to this Polish clause: "Tommy, who you met him..."

Other comparative linguists out there: how often does this pronoun-retension strategy manifest itself in Indo-European? The only IE language I'm aware of in which this is the standard is Farsi, if I'm not mistaken.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The best of the best of craigslist

Potato Cannon

Date: 2007-08-06, 11:21AM EDT

It's 8ft long. My neighbors figured out what was happening so I need to get rid of it today.

  • Location: Park Slope
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

(Original post here)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I love cleaning vomit

...I mean, who doesn't, right? But no, I mean I REALLY love cleaning
up vomit. I think some people might even be surprised by the way my
face lights up whenever I'm informed that someone has let out the
peacock in the bathroom sink and could I please deal with it. And
really, the more easily identifiable the chunks are, the better I like
it. Large pieces of steak in particular really do it for me for some
reason. And can we talk quantity for a minute? When I'm cleaning my
vomit, I like there to be enough to really get both of my hands
immersed in it -- not that I'd turn up my nose at cleaning up a thin
puddle on the floor, but the experience isn't as transcendental.

Does this make me a weirdo in some way?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Those halcyon days of ASCII

Remember X-SAMPA? I think Mr. Parrish and I may be alone on this one. It seems to be gradually disappearing from the internet in the face of Unicode, which for once I can't fully say I'm in favor of. The thing is that sometimes I'm writing an e-mail and want to transcribe something phonetically, but I'm not in the mood to search through code tables to try to find the proper diacritic -- and then not be sure that the client's Unicode compatibility will be advanced enough to successfully decode my message on the other end.

I was surprised never to hear a word about any of the ASCII schemes for encoding the IPA during all my years in UC Berkeley's linguistics department. I think awareness needs to be raised that there is actually a standard way of doing this.

Here, then, is the X-SAMPA chart, as salvaged from one of only two places I could still find it in less than an hour of searching. Now that this is up here I figure I can use these symbols in my e-mails with impunity, n'est-ce pas?

Addendum, two weeks later: My self-righteousness about this wonderful standard may not have been fully warranted, given my discovery that I apparently actually use a mish-mash of X-SAMPA and Kirshenbaum, determined largely by my aesthetic judgments on the merits of the two systems. But let's be reasonable, who in their right mind would even consider using "%" for secondary stress? And [æ] is clearly supposed to be represented by "&" instead of "{". Basically, I would like people please to use the conventions in effect on the conlang listserv back in the mid-90's. Thank you.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Voulez-vous apprendre une langue avec moi ce soir?

I get the impression that you, like me, are beginning to feel that itch that means it's time to start studying a language intensively again. Perhaps we should join forces?



Admit it, your language of choice is totally on one of those lists. I'll await your e-mail.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Stridente purum

Well, I've finally done the thing I've been threatening to do for an age and a half, which is to scour the hell out of my bathroom. Gone are the bizarre pink stains in the tub, gone the multiplex layers of whisker sedimentation on the sink from shavings beyond number. I would post a photo, but it would just be a blinding flash of white from all the shiny clean surfaces.

Definitely seems like something worth doing at least every two to three years.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hooray for free reeds

In honor of that amazing instrument which is the accordion in all its myriad forms, I present to you the following examples of mind-bogglingly wonderful and inspiring playing.

First we have a French tune being performed on a Castagnari G/C diatonic accordion. I am blown away by how beautiful this is:

Then we have this melody on an Irish-tuned "diatonic," perhaps in B/C? Note that this style of playing doesn't use the basses. Aren't his ornaments amazing?

Changing genres a bit, we have a Cajun (single-key diatonic) accordion, playing a two-step:

And for something completely different, a Russian bayan with free basses being used to perform a fugue by Bach. I can't believe how much this sounds like an organ:

Now my job is to somehow learn how to do all this before I go to bed tonight.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Solution: Funny Pants

I'm feeling rather pleased with myself at the moment, having taken what seems like a first substantive step into the world of full-time bicyclistdom with a combined total of about 30 miles cycled today. The surprise is how much I'm enjoying this, and how little it feels like an inconvenience.

Backing up just a touch, I'm now riding a Dahon folding road bike rather than my recumbent, which I've decided my life (and square footage) is not quite ready for despite its comfortableness. Comfortability. Something. Have you seen this strange beast yet, though?

In any event, I got up early today and rode over to Lake Merritt to buy bagels for breakfast (I think this one is closer than the Noah's in Rockridge, but my cycle computer is apparently on the fritz and keeps resetting itself so it's hard to be sure). After a few of those and a dose of the ol' X-Files, the day called out for something more ambitious.

A little while ago, while trying to find a way of navigating the space between Amelia's house and the Bayfair BART station without being smooshed by every passing motorist, I ran across and particularly liked the look of the "Fun Sunday morning ride" someone had posted there. It being Sunday morning this Sunday morning, the time seemed ripe.

Here's a map of the route. The idea is to curve around Lake Merritt, skirt downtown Oakland, ride along the Embarcadero (a borrowing into Spanish from Mixtec*, by the way, meaning "ugly deserted industrial wasteland") to the Fruitvale bridge over to Alameda, then down the coast onto Bay Farm Island thereupon to describe a wide waterfront circle. This last bit in particular was gorgeous and wonderful.

So there's something new for me. I definitely think I will need to buy some goofy cycling shorts, though, as I undeniably have some soreness in the...whatever you call that area in which you develop soreness after biking long distances without goofy shorts.

And now:

*An abject lie. But you knew that.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Esperanta Mistraduko de l' Tago #2

Tiun ĉi vorton mi havis multajn okazojn por pripensi dum mi estis universitata studanto, kaj ankaŭ instruis E-on. Ju pli mi uzis ĝin, des pli ĝi min ĝenis pro ĝia tuta miseco.

La vorto estas ĉi tiu: DORMEMA.

Ni senprobleme havas ĉi tie la radikon dorm-, kaj la sufikson -em-. Pri la radiko verŝajne estos nenia konfuzo, sed kio pri la sufikso? Emo estas io, kion oni faras multe aŭ ofte, kaj normale kio ŝajnas sufiĉe grava parto de la personeco de la homo, kiun ni priparolas. La plej ofta ekzemplo de la uzo de tiu sufikso estas parolema, kiu priskribas personon, kiu multe aŭ/kaj ofte parolas. Aliaj ekzemploj:

ofte aŭ multe atakas, korpe aŭ vorte
konsentemulo multe aŭ facile konsentas
multe, ofte aŭ senkverele laboras

Kaj tiel plu. Ĉu do dormemulo estas homo, kiu ofte aŭ multe dormas? Eble, sed ne normale. Se mi diras, "Mi estas dormema," la dezirata signifo ne estas "Mi estas persono, kiu dormas multe." MALE, mi verŝajne estas persono, kiu NE dormas multe, almenaŭ laste! La signifo de la vorto, kiel oni efektive uzas ĝin, estas "sentanta la bezonon de dormo."

Kial do la signifo de -em- diferencas kun tiu ĉi unu radiko? Logiko certe mankas.

Mia celo ĉi tie ne estas solvi tiajn problemojn, sed nur montri, por ke ni ĉiuj pli bone konu nian lingvon. Eble estas pli bona maniero por esprimi tiun ĉi ideon, kaj eble ne. Tre interesis min aŭdi vian opinion, sed bonvolu tralegi antaŭe la unuan artikolon el la aro.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Felis silvestris catus

So the question is, do I need a cat? I am led to believe that they are warm and snuggly, which would certainly be a boon. Any opinions?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gender roles in song titles

In shameless imitation of Adam's ingenious idea, here's how my iTunes library shapes up.

Female Agent/Subject

She Knew What She Was - Adam Parrish
She Says - Ani DiFranco
I Want You (She's So Heavy) - The Beatles
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window - The Beatles
She's A Woman - The Beatles
She Loves You - The Beatles
She Said She Said - The Beatles
She's Leaving Home - The Beatles
If She Wants Me - Belle & Sebastian
She's Losing It - Belle & Sebastian
She Talks To Angels - The Black Crowes
She's Your Lover Now - Bob Dylan
She Belongs To Me - Bob Dylan
She'll Come Back To Me - Cake
She'll Hang The Baskets - Cake
She Needs My Love - Damian Marley
She Can't Burn Me Now - The Del McCoury Band
Keep Her While She's There - The Del McCoury Band
She Sings Songs Without Words - Harry Chapin
Dance (Oft She Visits) - Henry Purcell
She's Saving Me - Indigo Girls
She Is The Swallow - The Ivytree
Something In The Way She Moves - James Taylor
She Said She Was A Dancer - Jethro Tull
She's Like A Swallow - Lorinda Jones
She Moves Me - Muddy Waters
Nobody Knew She Was There - Peggy Seeger
April Come She Will - Simon & Garfunkel
She's Actual Size - They Might Be Giants
She's Your Cocaine - Tori Amos
She's Got Her Ticket - Tracy Chapman

Male Agent/Subject

When He Reached Down His Hand For Me - Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys
He Was A Friend Of Mine - Bob Dylan
He Came From The Mountain - Bruce Cockburn
He Taught Me How To Yodel - Burnett Family Bluegrass
Give Him One More As He Goes - The Carter Family
He Never Came Back - The Carter Family
He Took A White Rose From Her Hair - The Carter Family
He Moved Through The Fair - The Chieftains
He Ain't Comin' Home No More - Nina Simone
He Was My Brother - Simon & Garfunkel
He Woke Me Up Again - Sufjan Stevens
In This Temple As In The Hearts Of Man For Whom He Saved The Earth - Sufjan Stevens
What's He Building? - Tom Waits
A Quick One While He's Away - The Who

Female Patient/Recipient/Object

And I Love Her - The Beatles
To Know Her Is To Love Her - The Beatles
I Saw Her Standing There - The Beatles
Tell Her About It - Billy Joel
If You See Her, Say Hello - Bob Dylan
They Call Her Mother - The Carter Family
Keep Her While She's There - The Del McCoury Band
I Saw Her Again Last Night - The Mamas & The Papas
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her - Simon & Garfunkel
Promise Her Anything - Tom Jones
All The Girls Hate Her - Tori Amos
If You Can Touch Her At All - Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson

Male Patient/Recipient/Object

Give Him One More As He Goes - The Carter Family
Tell Him - The Exciters
Let Him Go On Mama - John Hartford
Bring Him Home - Les Misérables
First Shot Missed Him - Mississippi John Hurt
You Can Have Him - Nina Simone

Some Conclusions

According to my music collection, women...

know things, know people, say things, are heavy, come in, are women, love, leave home, want me (or not), lose it, talk, are lovers, belong to people, come back, hang things, need love, burn men, exist, sing, visit, save people, are swallows, move, move other people, are like drugs, have tickets (32 tokens)

Men, on the other hand...

are friends, come, teach, go, don't come back, take things from people's hair, don't come home, are brothers, wake people up, build, are away (12 tokens, omitting "he" meaning "God")

As patients or recipients, women are...

loved, known, seen, told things, called "mother," kept, found, promised, hated, touched (12 tokens)

As patients or recipients, men are...

given things, told things, let go, brought home, missed by gunfire, had by women (6 tokens)

Summing up: Wow.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The origin of an Ada

I've just heard the best story in the world. For those of you who know Ada, this will totally make sense. For those of you who don't know Ada, you should.

When Ada's mother was giving birth to her (back in the 20s), she noticed that one of the nurses was crying. When she asked what was wrong, the nurse said that she had just found out that her sister in Ireland had died.

Ada's mother asked the nurse what her sister's name was, and said that if her child was a girl, that was what she would name her. It was, which is how Ada got her name.

Oh man. Still a bit sniffly after that one.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mark your calendars, everyone

Apparently I've got until December 2059.



Well, hell. If I learn one language and one musical instrument every five years, which seems perfectly reasonable, that's ten more of each I can gather up before I go. Not so bad, really. Let's check in in 2039 and see how things are going.

Y'all should go find out your departure dates so we can plan who's going to carry me up onto the mountain.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Too much close in the sky

Insanity of the post of this morning fêz me to carry through that I simply could not prevent to try to function an entire entrance through babelfish. Nothing goes here...

Yesterday I removed my daily old one of the medium-school and continued the task that I had on the back part of some years of transcribing in the computer. In the process, I discovered some facts disquieting on previous mine self. I had thought always of the fourteen old years I eat me being bàsicamente a lesser version of current mine self, but such seems unhappyly not to be the case in all the respeitos. Although he has similarities definitively, I age ornery really pretty and the some arrested sights that I would characterize now eat razoavelmente ackward.

I assume that I do not have to be everything that surprised -- I mean, a terrible lot I happened in the twelve years of intervention. I assume that I had not carried through only how much I moved. But it is disappointing because I always had presumption that, if I to have in some way if to find with then of the back part, us very in little in them we transform automatically friends fast; but I do not know if I to like exactly this person if I to have to meet with now.

E this fact makes to question me all the luck of the things on the events of my infancy, and wants to know it if some misfortunes that I made responsible in the hardone of the world could preferivelmente have had had more to make with my proper attitude.

I am not being all what hardly in myself, even so, case that any one is worried. I know that teenagers is whiny for the definition, and I have one many of the things that can only be learned with the experience. E does not have no question that I had suffered very in the hands from perversity of the richness. Still, I will have some words chosen well to offer self of my youth callow if always we possibility to meet with.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

S.O.S School

Some years ago I received an e-mail at work from a gentleman in Brazil who was hoping to start a children's museum in his town. As far as I can tell, he was asking for advice and tried to use machine translation to convert his Portuguese to English. The results, as you can see, are nearly unintelligible:
Expensive Mr. Josh Brandt I was happy in receiving its email and of its availability in helping me. As same Mr. it said that much information to be changed by email, I ask to it what voçê suggests me. My dream and power to mount a museum for child in the molds of the theory of Multiple Intelligences. E I do not make the lesser idea as to make a museum. It helps me.
I just think that's pretty fantastic. By the way, you've seen the Uzbeki dish detergent, right?

Postscript: I just realized that the "My dream and power" line must originally have been O meu sono é poder..., meaning "My dream is to be able." But of course e also means "and," and poder also means "power," whence the hilarity.

For those of you who enjoy mistranslation by computers, you must check this out. Good for endless hysterics.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Slavic script swapping

Since it's largely a matter of historical circumstances (as opposed, for example, to phonological appropriateness) whether a given Slavic language ended up being represented by the Roman or Cyrillic script, I've often wondered how difficult it would be to switch things around. How hard could it be to replace one Slavic language's orthography with that of another?

Actually, it turns out to be quite a lot harder than I had, at first, imagined. If I intend to keep letter values more or less as they are in the modern languages, I'm faced with the fact that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between Roman and Cyrillic characters (except in Croatian and Serbian, obviously, but that's a whole other story). The two script families also have rather different ways of conceptualizing various morphophonological processes, particularly palatalization.

To illustrate the problem, take the Russian word for "seven," семь. The onset and nucleus are unproblematic in a Roman orthography: se-. Note that we don't have to do anything special to indicate the palatalization preceding /e/, as back jers in Russian changed to o instead of e as in West Slavic, which means that there are very, very few /e/s without initial palatalization. How to represent the final palatalized /m/, though? There is nothing in the Roman script like the Russian soft sign, a letter in its own right which indicates that the preceding letter is palatalized. The analogy with other Roman characters in Slavic languages would be "m" with an acute accent -- but that would be inventing, which I'm trying not to do. Any wise thoughts on this point would be thoroughly appreciated.

Luckily, my sample text has no words with final palatalized segments absent from Western and Southern Slavic. This is from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy:

«Что это? я падаю? у меня ноги подкашиваются», подумал он и упал на спину. Он раскрыл глаза, надеясь увидать, чем кончилась борьба французов с артиллеристами, и желая знать, убит или нет рыжий артиллерист, взяты или спасены пушки. Но он ничего не видал. Над ним не было ничего уже, кроме неба — высокого неба, не ясного, но все-таки неизмеримо высокого, с тихо ползущими по нем серыми облаками.

I've done my best to make an elegant conversion of this into Roman script. There are quite a number of issues I'm still not sure of the best way of handling. For instance, should the genitive ending -ого be changed to -ogo to match traditional spelling in Cyrillic, or -ovo to match pronunciation? In the same vein, should что end up as čto or što? I need some Russian speakers to help me with this one. An aesthetic question is what to do with palatalized consonants followed by back vowels. Should I follow the Polish route with e.g. sia, or the more Croatianish śa? Here's my first attempt:

"Čto eto? ja padaju? u menia nogi podkašivajutsia", podumal on i upal na spinu. On raskryl glaza, nadejaś uvidać, čem končilaś boŕba francuzov s artilleristami, i želaja znać, ubit ili net ryžij artillerist, vziaty ili spaseny puški. No on ničevo ne vidal. Nad nim ne bylo ničevo uže, krome neba — vysokovo neba, ne jasnovo, no vsio-taki neizmerimo vysokovo, s tiho polzuščimi po nem serymi oblakami.

Polish presents far more problems in an artful Cyrillic transcription. It is the only remaining Slavic language which still has nasal vowels, for one thing. Happily Old Church Slavonic does provide us with ready symbols for these, albeit they make a text containing them look thoroughly medieval. Both front and back jers became /e/ in Polish, which means that there are oodles of nonprepalatalized /e/s floating around, and I really don't much care for the Cyrillic grapheme э. I've decided to use the good ol' back jer for these ("hard sign" for you Russian speakers), which is historically accurate anyway. My sample text is from The Peasants by Władysław Reymont:

Mateusz się porwał w ten mig do niego, ale nim mógł zmiarkować co bądź, już Antek skoczył jak ten wilk wściekły, chycił go jedną ręką za orzydle, przydusił aż tamten dech y głos stracił, drugą ujął za pas, wyrwał z miejsca jak kierz, nogą drzwi wywalił na dwór, i poniósł go prędko za tartak, do rzeki ogrodzonej płotem i cisnął z całej mocy, aż cztery żerdki trzasły kiej słomki, a Mateusz niby kloc ciężki padł we wodę.

The presence of those back jers makes me want to throw all the jers back in, just like in pre-reform Russian. I might as well recall the jat while I'm at it, though I'm not quite sure where this ideally belongs etymologically...actually, this is a problem with the jers as well. I can deduce certain ones -- for example, from okno "window" and okien "of the windows," I can tell that there was once a back jer between the "k" and the "n," so okъno and okъnъ. In many other cases, though, I've just had to guess until I can get my hands on a Polish etymological dictionary someday. Below is my initial attempt, looking as old-fashioned as possible. I hope that the current state of our Unicode-enabled browsers is sophisticated enough to display all these weird characters.

Матэушь сѩ поръвалъ въ тънъ мигъ до него, але нимъ муглъ змярковать цо бѫдь, южь Антъкъ скочилъ якъ тънъ вилкъ вьстеклы, хытилъ го еднѫ рѧкѫ за оридле, придусилъ ажь тамътънъ дъхъ и глосъ сътратилъ, другѫ уѭлъ за пасъ, выръвалъ зъ мейсца якъ керь, ногѫ дрьви вывалилъ на двуръ, и понюслъ го прѧдъко за тартакъ, до рѣки огроѕонэй плотъмъ и тисънѫлъ зъ цалэй моцы, ажь чьтъры жердъки трясълы кей сломъки, а Матэушь нибы клёць тѩжьки падлъ въ водѧ.

If I take out all the unpronounced jers and other bits of creative anachronism, I'm left with

Матэуш сѩ порвал в тън миг до него, але ним мугл змярковать цо бѫдь, юж Антък скочил як тън вилк встеклы, хытил го еднѫ рѧкѫ за оридле, придусил аж тамтън дъх и глос стратил, другѫ уѭл за пас, вырвал з мейсца як керь, ногѫ дрьви вывалил на двур, и понюсл го прѧдко за тартак, до реки огродзонэй плотъм и тиснѫл з цалэй моцы, аж чтъры жердки тряслы кей сломки, а Матэуш нибы клёц тѩжки падл въ водѧ.

It's kind of weird, but I don't think it looks thoroughly ridiculous. The only thing I'm seriously dissatisfied with is the treatment of the Polish ó/o distinction, which I've simply transcribed phonetically and thereby lost its morphological logic. One final possibility would be to do away with the back jer for /e/ in favor of "e," and then find a new symbol for prepalatalized /e/. Ukrainian does this with є, so maybe it's worth a shot:

Матеуш сѩ порвал в тен миг до нєго, алє ним мугл змярковать цо бѫдь, юж Антек скочил як тен вилк встєклы, хытил го єднѫ рѧкѫ за оридлє, придусил аж тамтен дех и глос стратил, другѫ уѭл за пас, вырвал з мєйсца як кєрь, ногѫ дрьви вывалил на двур, и понюсл го прѧдко за тартак, до рєки огродзоней плотем и тиснѫл з цалей моцы, аж чтеры жердки тряслы кєй сломки, а Матеуш нибы клёц тѩжки падл ве водѧ.

I'm really very curious whether the above attempts make Cyrillic-language readers feel more comfortable, or just laugh really hard.

I should probably note that I'm not actually advocating any of these systems, lest anyone think that I am once again completely insane. But I do think it's a fascinating exercise.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Vowels are for chumps

For some reason, in the last year or two I've become slightly obsessed with the idea of writing English without vowels. I had first conceived of the idea back in 9th grade, but it took me about ten years of tweaking to get a model system into a state that worked for me.

From a purely academically curious point of view, I continue to be surprised by how little trouble I have in reading English in which only the consonants were indicated. So how necessary are vowels, really, for a well-oiled orthography? Hebrew and Arabic, inter alias, seem to do just fine without them. The only real problem is one of homonymy: "bt" could mean bat, bet, bit, bot, or but; "til" could be tile, tail, teal, or toil. My hope is that context will take care of this, but I need more experimental data.

In my own experience reading transliterated texts, though, the concept seems to work astonishingly well. This makes me wonder: is the modern marvel of the phonemic alphabet in which both consonants and vowels are written really the best of all possible orthographic systems? Maybe the Phoenicians had it right in the first place.

Here's an excerpt from a favorite book of my childhood, transliterated into one potential version of a consonantal script (from Adrian Mole from Minor to Major by Sue Townsend: London, Mandarin Paperbacks 1992):
Uuk ep uŧ sr ŧrut, kdnt sulu, trid tšut dunstrz bt kd eunli mnj ekruk. Trid tetrkt mi fđrz etnčn bi bŋŋ en mi bdrum flr uŧ eskul šu bt mi fđr šutt, 'Stp đt bldi bŋŋ'. Evnčli ei snt đdg dunstrz uŧ emsj tkt ensid ets klr. Ei uitd feijz, đn ei hrd đdg brkŋ en đstrit. Et hdnt dlvrd đmsj! Ei uz klus tdspr. Ei hd tgt ep tgu tđtilt bt hu ei gt đr ei dunt nu; et ez el ehizi blr. Ei std et đtp vđstrz nkrukt ez lud ez ei kd bt mi fđr hd hz Elma Kugn rkrdz en su ei uz frst tgu dunstrz ttl hm ei uz el. Mi fđr lkt en mi muŧ nsd, 'Krist Elmiti, Eidrin, ir tnslz lk lik Plrs mslz! Wt er iu duŋ dun hir? Gt bk entu bd et uns, iu ful.' Hi tk mi tmprčr: et uz 112 Frnhit. Bi rits ei šd bi dd.

Et ez nu fiv mnts tmdnit, đdktr ez kmŋ en đmrnŋ. Ei jst pri đt ei kn lst eut entl đn. Šd đurst hpn, ei hirbi liv el mi urldli gdz tPndra Briŧuit v69 Elm Tri Driv. Ei ŧŋk ei em vsund mind. Et ez vri hrd ttl wn iuv gt etmprčr v112 Frnhit.
Note: Lest you think I am completely insane, I swear that there are at least two other people besides me who have succeeded in reading this stuff, one of whom was not even a linguistics major.

Anyway. Compared with the standard English version, the omission of vowels uses 31% fewer characters and 28% less space. One can only wonder at the reduction in trees needed for sacrifice to the printing presses of the English-speaking world if we were to adopt such a system.

...not that the contingency is a likely one. Still, I think it's a cool idea.

Next week: We explore the marvelous possibilities of consonantless writing systems. I i a ee i eay ie a o o oeia o u a iea, o ou?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Wish I had the bends

So there's this device called the harmonica. In its most familiar instantiation it has a row of ten holes, each of which contains two reeds. By blowing or drawing (this being the preferred term over "sucking," for obvious reasons) through each channel, a note is produced. On the most common type, pitched in C, for instance, blowing on hole 4 gives you a C, whereas drawing gives you a D. Simple enough.

The complication is that it is actually possible to produce notes in between these two values (a C# on hole 4, for example), using a technique known as "bending." As far as I can figure out, this must be achieved by modifying the vocal tract configuration such that its resonance frequency overrides the natural inclination of the reed in question and causes it to vibrate at a different frequency. Or something. This must not be quite right, though, because it's only possible to bend in one direction -- on hole 4, for instance, one can only bend on the draw -- so the bend is always from high to low. Some accounts suggest that the two reeds are actually working in concert to produce the modified tone, though I have no idea how this could be the case, since the resultant sound is clearly that of a single reed.

I swear that I have been modifying my vocal tract to the full extent possible without creative use of a scalpel, but my tones remain woefully even. Not even the slightest wobble have I obtained, try though I might. I fear that this is one of those techniques that can only be achieved by achieving the technique, and once one reaches this stage it becomes so obvious that it's hard to imagine not being able to do it. Like rolling one's Rs, perhaps?

In any event: I am frustrated.

My final thought before adjourning for the evening is that I am feeling very sick to my stomach after eating too much ice cream at Fentons at Amelia's birthday party. After years of consideration, I have reached the conclusion that about a half cup is the maximum amount of ice cream that I can actually enjoy, which is difficult at the aforementioned creamery because their portions are measured by the bucketful. Hooboy.

One of the many problems with IALs that they always end up with inflated phonologies. What is the point of an international auxiliary language that takes learners years to learn to pronounce correctly?

I was going to say that, in the earlier languages, there just wasn't enough understanding yet about these things for their creators to make good choices; but Volapük actually did a surprisingly...acceptable job. In the consonantism, anyway. Well, at least Schleyer tried.

I'm not just talking about big, highly publicized projects, though I should probably mention in passing some of Esperanto's monstrosities, such as sciuro [stsi`uro] "squirrel." Virtually, scratch that: every auxlanger seems determined to ignore the fact that vast chunks of the world population will be unable to distinguish between at least some of the phonemes of his purportedly ideal language.

Seriously, taking in view comparative phonologies, the inventory of an IAL should really never be any more complex than the following:


p t k Ø
m n
s h


i u

Syllable structure:


Even such a small system requires a number of provisos, around palatalization (e.g. /s/ and /t/ before /i/), free variation (realization of /r/, particularly), for example.

(Note: There is, of course, a certain amount of wiggle room within the framework of a "maximum mininum" phonology. It's up to the creator's largely orthographic aesthetics, for instance, whether /r/ or /l/ is chosen as the base phoneme, as many languages have only one or the other and speakers will need to recognize it regardless of its position on the alveolar sonorant spectrum. /y/ and /w/ are quite common cross-linguistically, and might be considered for inclusion, but I've omitted them here because I would hate to see the distinction between e.g. "kiya" and "kia" bear a semantic load.)

Anything more than this and there's got to be quite a lot of willing suspension of disbelief going on right from the start. Of course, it's obvious why no language with a phonology like this has (to my knowledge) been submitted to the IAL-interested public: mathematics. With nine consonants and three vowels, we have a pittance of basic roots: 27 monosyllables, 729 bisyllables, 19,683 trisyllables. It's difficult to work with so little phonetic material.

Still, for those of us who do believe an invented IAL for the world would be cool, there it is. Either we should consciously say, "Well, working within real cross-linguistic phonetic limitations is too constricting, so I'm just going to pretend they don't exist, even though this means that this is mainly a form of artistic expression rather than a real attempt to create an IAL," or we should accept that every real attempt at a worldwide auxiliary language from here on out is going to have to wrestle with this problem, and probably have much longer words.

Maybe studying Rotokas should be a prerequisite.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Esperanta Mistraduko de l' Tago #1

Tiun ĉi artikolaron mi verkas kiel Esperantisto por Esperantistoj. Ĝi firme ne estos unu el tiuj faritaj de neparolanto temantaj pri la "problemoj" de E-o, nek parolo pri la eraroj de studantoj. Temas ĉi tie pri mistradukoj al Esperanto tute akceptitaj de la Esperantujanoj, sed kiuj tute ne devus aperi laŭ la bone klarigitaj filozofioj de la lingvo -- klareco, logiko, neŭtraleco, ktp.

Ironie, unu el la plej seriozaj eraroj farataj de E-o-parolantoj temas, laŭ mi, pri la filozofio mem. Kiel lingvisto, mi scias, ke lingvo ne povas esti kaj vera, vaste parolata, kaj ankaŭ tute logika, sen kreema malordo. Ĉiu lingvo enhavas malordon. Senescepte. Ĝi estas unu el la iloj, kiujn oni uzas por esprimi sin vorte.

Sed Esperantistoj vaste ne scias tion, ĉar ne ĉiu parolanto studis kiel lingvisto, kaj en ĉiu lernolibro la verkisto krias pri tio, kiel "E-o estas la plej logika lingvo de l' mondo!"

Mi volas, ke Esperantistoj komprenu, ke ankaŭ E-o havas tiajn loketojn de malordo. Tio tute ne estas malbona afero -- se oni ĝin nur komprenas! Ĉar ĝenas min ege, kiam "malordaĵoj" aperas en la lingvo, kiuj tute ne havas sencon se oni ne parolas jam Eŭropan lingvon, kaj ŝajne neniu rimarkas aŭ plendas.

Ekzemple: "priskribo."

Uzante la regulojn de E-o, kiujn ni ĉiuj konas kaj amas, kion tiu ĉi vorto devus signifi? Nu, "skribo," unue, estas aŭ la ago de skribado, aŭ io skribita, kiel letero, libro, eseo, noteto sur papero, ktp. Pri la "pri," ni trovu kelkajn aliajn vortojn kun tiu prefikso ĉi:

priparoli = paroli pri
prizorgi = zorgi pri
priplori = plori pri

Sed! Ĝenerale, "priskribi" signifas ne nur "skribi pri," sed ankaŭ aŭ eĉ pli ofte "paroli pri." Aŭ pli precize, "paroli pri io, donante specifajn informojn, por ke la aŭskultanto povu imagi detale."

Mi ne plendas, ke tio ĉi ne estas logika. Kiel mi jam diris, logiko kaj homaj lingvoj ne kunloĝas harmonie. Ĝenas min, kie tiu ĉi mallogikaĵo estas rekta traduko de la latina vorto, kiu ekzistas ankaŭ en pluraj nunaj Eŭropaj lingvoj. Tia traduko estas facile komprenebla por parolanto de indoeŭropa lingvo, sed E-o supozeble devus esti neŭtrala, ne nur "revortigo" de alia lingvofamilio. Kie malordaĵoj ekzistas (kaj ili necese ekzistos), mi preferus naturajn, ne kopiitajn.

Ĉiaokaze, kiel ni solvu la problemon? Mi ne certas, ĉu jam estas alia vorto en E-o, kiu esprimas la saman ideon; oni povus elpensi novan -- ekz. "limni," aŭ io tia -- sed kiu mi estas, ke mi postulus, ke la tuta mondo uzu mian inventon? Sed restas tiel, ke ni havas tiun ĉi tre oftan vorton, kies ekzisto defias la akceptitan filozofion de la lingvo. Estas nia devo aŭ ŝanĝi ĝin, aŭ konfesi, ke ja ekzistas idiotismoj en nia kara lingvo.


Post tiu longa enkonduko, jen la vera Esperanta "Mistraduko," kiun mi priparolos hodiaŭ. Nun, estas vere ke, kvankam tiu ĉi vorto ŝajnas konsisti el du radikoj, idiot- kaj ism-, ĝi efektive estas nur unu: idiotism-. TAMEN, la formo de la vorto estas bonŝanca por multaj Esperantistoj, kiuj vere kredas, ke idiotismoj estas idiotaj. Per la esperantigitaj vortoj de David JORDAN, en la alie bonega Being Colloquial in Esperanto (El Cerrito: ELNA, 1999):

Idiotismo oni fakte pruntis de la franca lingvo. Tamen, ĝia ŝajne normala deveno de idioto estas en bona akordo kun la vidpunkto de la plejparto de Esperanto-parolantoj pri lingvoj plenaj je idiotismoj!
Kia terura kaj danĝera aserto. Ĝi malgajigas min plurkiale: (1) ĉar ĉiu lingvo plenas je idiotismoj -- kiel longe la homaro havos metaforon, tiel longe ekzistos idiotismoj; (2) ĉar idiotismoj aldonas grandan parton de la koloro kaj belo de lingvoj, kiel eĉ Zamenhof diris: "lingvo absolute logika kaj sen idiotismoj estus lingvo senviva kaj tro peza"; (3) plej grave, ĉar ĝi mokas la naturajn lingvojn tute sennecese kaj kontraŭsence.

Ne nur unufoje mi renkontis tian senton en la Esperanto-komunumo. En La Bona Lingvo (Vieno, IEM 1997), Claude PIRON diras
Aliaj fremdlingvoj abundas je arbitraj reguloj, kiuj estas kvazaŭ la kapricaj decidoj de diktatoro elpensinta pli malpli sadisman manieron omaĝi al lia potenco.
Se ni reiros al la baza filozofio de Esperanto, ni trovos la jenon, de la hejmpaĝo de ELNA (elangligita):
[Zamenhof] proponis Esperanton kiel duan lingvon, kiu lasus al homoj, kiuj parolas aliajn denaskajn lingvojn, komuniki, tamen samtempe reteni la proprajn lingvojn kaj kulturajn identecojn. Esperanto ne anstataŭas ies ajn lingvon, sed simple sirvas kiel komuna dua lingvo.
Kial do tiom da negativeco pri naciaj lingvoj? Kiel Esperantisto, mi tute komprenas kaj laŭdas la valoron de Esperanto, de funkcianta internacia lingvo ĝenerale. Kaj mi forte kredas, ke la mondo bezonas Esperanton por atingi veran interkomprenon. Sed tio ne signifas, ke la naturaj lingvoj estas senvaloraj, aŭ ke ili ne estas lernindaj!

Ĉiu lingvo havas neimageblajn profundecojn, kiuj simple estas netradukeblaj. Oni povas komuniki tre, tre multe pere de Esperanto -- sed la riĉecon de aliaj lingvoj oni povas sperti nur lerninte ilin. Estus granda malgajaĵo, se la homoj evitus la lernadon de aliaj fremdlingvoj pro la ekzisto de Esperanto.

Estas hororige, ke la kulturo de la parolantoj de la Internacia Lingvo stimulas malŝaton pri la naturaj lingvoj anstataŭ intereso kaj fiero. Mi ne estas la sola persono, kiu rimarkis tion ĉi. Se vi estas ano de la Esperanto-komunumo, kaj vi neas ĉi tiun problemon, vi devas aŭ ne honesti kun vi mem, aŭ ne atenti.

Tio ĉi estas grandega problemo por nia Esperantujo. Sed notu, ke ĝi estas problemo pri la kulturo, ne pri la lingvo mem -- kaj tio signifas, ke la respondeco estas nia por fari ŝanĝojn, kaj ankaŭ ke tute eblas. Ni devas konfesi ĝin, kaj vigle batali kontraŭ ĝi, ĉar alie ĝi ĉiam restos obstina baro kontraŭ vera mondpaco kaj interkompreno.

Pro tio la vorto idiotismo maltrankviligas min. Mi ne dubas, ke homo kapablas pensi pri ĝi ne kiel "idioto-ismo" sed kiel aparta ideo -- ni faras tiel senĉese per la idiotismoj de la propraj denaskaj lingvoj. Sed por la nunaj tagoj, kiam senlernadaj sentoj pri la veraj kvalitoj de homa lingvo ankoraŭ estas danĝeraj, mi timas, ke tia vortformo betonas malĝustan pensomanieron.

Kiel antaŭe, mi ne estas la voĉo de Esperantujo, kaj mi ne rajtas diri, kiel la lingvo ŝanĝu. Sed mi ja rimarkas, ke ekzistas vorto "idiomo," kiu nun samsignifas kun "lingvo." Nur ideo.

Mi lasos vin hodiaŭ kun frazo de la PIV pri la signifo de "idiotismo." Strange, ke tiel simpla, logika, ĉiea afero povus instigi tian fervoron de malamo.

"Sintagmo propra al iu idiomo, sen sintaksaj similaĵoj en aliaj idiomoj."

Sunday, August 5, 2007

This is a blog

I hope eventually to post things which may possibly be interesting to me and the other handful of people in the world that would find Optimality Theater funny.