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Sunday, February 14th, 2010
11:33 am - obsessions
It's nice when fun and profit converge: a Greek translation I made of a passage in Trollope won a prize. (Nicer yet, it turns out they've doubled the award recently without telling anyone).

I wonder if anything similar will ever happen with the more Tolkienian hobby I indulge when I should be thesis writing. Would anyone buy a grammar of an imaginary language? I'd like to self-publish one someday (though I might have to learn Metafont first). Here is part of the story of Queen Kúnikki, who gave birth to a snake:


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Monday, February 8th, 2010
7:53 pm - programming help?
I wonder if one of you programmers out there would be willing to help with a small desideratum of mine.

I'm in need of a script that does the following: it takes all the pages that come up as hits for a given Google query, and dumps them into one big file that I can then search. And it has to work for Hebrew queries and pages. The reason I need this is that I'm trying to get frequency data for various Hebrew verb forms for a paper on loan verbs, and Google hit counts aren't a good proxy because the same token can occur multiple times in a page (and show up as one hit). So I need a large corpus, and there doesn't seem to be an existing one that's suitable.

I don't know enough programming to judge how complicated this would be to write, but something tells me it might be the work of a moment for one sufficiently savvy. And some of you are plenty savvy. So if this is the case, any chance some kind soul could whip up such a thing for me? I'd be much obliged.

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Monday, October 12th, 2009
10:55 pm - Programming advice, please
If you know something about talking to computers, I'd appreciate your advice on how to go about the following project.

I want to write a program that can scan Ancient Greek verse - specifically, the Iliad and Odyssey - and produce statistics about various metrical features. There are e-texts of these (though the ones I've found so far are suboptimal, since they don't show the accents, which are often informative about vowel length). Scansion is largely, but not completely, mechanical, and depends on vowel length (which is sometimes marked but often not) and syllable structure.

I want the program to be able to answer questions like "In the Odyssey, what proportion of metrically heavy syllables are heavy by virtue of containing a long vowel, and what proportion are heavy because they're closed syllables? Is this significantly different from the corresponding numbers for the Iliad?" (If the answer is yes, that might be an argument for separate authorship.)

Now, I don't know anything about programming, but I'm hoping this project is simple enough that I can successfully tackle it eventually, if I give it a couple of hours a week. So: what would be a good language to start learning (I assume you can do this in BASIC, so the question is really which language has the gentlest learning curve), and how?

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Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
11:29 pm - some Hebrew etymologies
לחם, מלחמה, הלחים < ל+חם
- and Arabic lahm 'meat', the original sense being 'produce by application of heat', hence 'forge' (with extension to כלי מלחמה 'forged tools, weapons' and hence מלחמה 'war') as well as '(baked) bread' and '(cooked) meat'.

לבש < ל+בש
The original root being בש 'shame', as in בושה; 'wear clothes' = cover shame or nakedness.

חרון אף : נחר, חרחר
'snort with the nose' > 'express anger' > 'be angry'.

אין (שלילת קיום) < אין (מלת שאלה)

The interrogative ayn, indirectly attested in minayn/me'ayn 'from where?', and which also has relatives an in le'an 'where to?' as well as ay/ey in many other compound question words - ey-ze, ey-kh(a), ey-fo - and hey in hey-khan, became a negative existential through the pragmatic implicatures of rhetorical questions, of which Semites are notoriously fond. 'What's the use of etymology?' pragmatically means the same as 'There is no use in etymology'; likewise a sentence like Genesis something:something

ואדם אין לעבד את האדמה

'and man to cultivate the land there was none' was once

ואדם אין לעבד את האדמה?

'and where is a man to cultivate the land?'

I wish I knew some comparative Semitics so I could see whether there's anything in any of these guesses. But they're fun, in any case.

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Saturday, July 25th, 2009
11:26 pm - Harry Patch, 1898-2009
The world is a little poorer today: the last man to have fought in the trenches is dead, at the fitting age of 111. Things that for the rest of us are history - the Western Front, no man's land, the miseries of mud and gas, Passchendaele - still lived until today for one man as memory: no more.

current mood: sad

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Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
9:00 pm - ὁ βίος καὶ αἱ δόξαι τοῦ καλοῦ κἀγαθοῦ Τριστράμου Σανδίου
Here, for your entertainment, is the opening of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, followed by a translation into Ancient Greek. (The rendering is perhaps a bit wooden in places; suggested improvements will be welcomed.) (Take that, Andrew Wilson!)

Read moreCollapse )

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Friday, April 10th, 2009
12:53 pm - TGIGF
So just how much family trauma was this Jesus kid repressing?

First he disowns, not just his father the carpenter as an individual, but the entire category of earthly fatherhood. This is way beyond the normal Oedipus complex - he doesn't want to kill his father, he wants to pretend that he himself, uniquely in history, never even had a human father.

Then, having denied the carpenter and all he stands for, he goes on to pursue a life which, as he must subconsciously know, is going to get him nailed to a piece of wood.

I see some very troubled familial psychodynamics here.

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Thursday, January 15th, 2009
8:57 pm - For my own Monument / Matthew Prior
As doctors give physic by way of prevention,
Mat, alive and in health, of his tombstone took care;
For delays are unsafe, and his pious intention
May haply be never fulfill'd by his heir.

Then take Mat's word for it, the sculptor is paid;
That the figure is fine, pray believe your own eye;
Yet credit but lightly what more may be said,
For we flatter ourselves, and teach marble to lie.

Yet counting as far as to fifty his years,
His virtues and vices were as other men's are;
High hopes he conceived, and he smother'd great fears,
In a life parti-colour'd, half pleasure, half care.

Nor to business a drudge, nor to faction a slave,
He strove to make int'rest and freedom agree;
In public employments industrious and grave,
And alone with his friends, Lord! how merry was he!

Now in equipage stately, now humbly on foot,
Both fortunes he tried, but to neither would trust;
And whirl'd in the round as the wheel turn'd about,
He found riches had wings, and knew man was but dust.

This verse, little polish'd, tho' mighty sincere,
Sets neither his titles nor merit to view;
It says that his relics collected lie here,
And no mortal yet knows too if this may be true.

Fierce robbers there are that infest the highway,
So Mat may be kill'd, and his bones never found;
False witness at court, and fierce tempests as sea,
So Mat may yet chance to be hang'd or be drown'd.

If his bones lie in earth, roll in sea, fly in air,
To Fate we must yield, and the thing is the same;
And if passing thou giv'st him a smile or a tear,
He cares not--yet, prithee, be kind to his fame.

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Sunday, October 26th, 2008
1:33 pm
My new favorite word.

current mood: canny auld gaberlunzie

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Wednesday, September 24th, 2008
9:55 pm - niggling thought
If I had spent the hours I've put into training myself to be an academic on writing instead, I would probably have a book out by now. I don't do this for an internal and an external reason: I lack the discipline, and I need an institute to stamp my visa. This is depressing. Some other linguist could write the papers I will publish; whatever its merit, no one else can write the book I would write.

current mood: discontented

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Saturday, September 13th, 2008
9:56 pm - a fragment of Sappho
Katthánoisa dè keísēi oudé pota mnāmosúnā séthen
esset' oudè póthā eis ústeron. ou gàr pedékhēis bródōn
tn ek Pīeríās, all' aphánēs kān Aídā dómōi
phoitāsēis ped' amaúrōn nekúōn ekpepotāménā.

"You will lie dead, and there will not ever [pota] be any memory of you nor longing [póthā] for you thereafter. For you have no share in the roses of Pieria [home of the Muses], but unseen even in the house of Hades you will roam about [phoitāsēis] with the shadowy dead, having flitted away [ekpepotāménā]."

Four variants of the syllables pota in the four surviving lines of this fragment (55). This can't be ordinary poetic assonance - it must be a deliberate play on something. My first thought was that these are puns on the name of the boorish woman to whom the poem is addressed (assuming it is; or was Sappho writing to herself in a moment of despair?), but I can't find any suitably similar name attested. Unless they dig up a papyrus containing the entire poem, we'll probably never know what's going on here. Oh Plutarch and Clement of Alexandria, if only either of you had found it in him to quote more than a measly four lines!

(I should say that the second póthā is an editorial emendation, since the text is garbled at that point, but it seems to be a widely accepted one and better than other suggestions.)

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Sunday, February 24th, 2008
10:16 pm
Is there such a thing as a good (comprehensive, informative, and not given to crackpottery) etymological dictionary of Hebrew? (The kind that would tell you, for example, that אצטרובל comes from the Greek strobilos 'twisted, whirled; a top; a whirlpool, a whirlwind; a whirling dance, pirouette'?)

And if there is, and you own it, would you mind looking up אין (the negative existential) and seeing whether it's claimed to be related to question words like איה ,מאין, etc.?

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Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
2:18 pm
I dreamed that a cat gave birth to a book. She lay briefly on her back, under a table, and in a momentary agony pushed out a slimy but perfectly printed copy of Gower's Confessio Amantis. It was full of curious facsimiles, tables of medieval lore in shorthand and the like, all faithfully reproduced by a superbly skillful process of gestation. I showed it to my mother, teasing: "Can your womb make anything as wonderful as this?"

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Tuesday, December 18th, 2007
9:27 pm
I have a vacation of Biblical proportions (forty days precisely), a car, and a plan - Baja! (In some language this is perhaps a palindrome. I will ask my friend Leon Noel of Glenelg, who speaks fluent Malayalam.) Yes: no less a plan than to drive my fairly new and moderately shiny Saturn down the coast, and down the coast, until we arrive somewhere warm, sandy and Mexican. In order, paradoxically enough, to Chill Out. I've been stocking up on provisions, which include:

The Mabinogion, in the Jones and Jones translation. Lady Charlotte Guest's struck me as too Victorian and not Celtic enough. I leafed through this one in the bookstore and it seemed full of good Celtic syntax ("...and she in her coffin!"); though on re-browsing it looks very Maloryan, full of lo and thee and thou.

Irish Myth, Legend, and Folklore (to continue the theme), edited by W. B. Yeats with a long contribution by Lady Gregory.

Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson. A sequel to Kidnapped of which no one has ever heard, probably justly. But I'll read anything by RLS.

The Dream of the Red Chamber. In Somebody's translation.

Dickens, David Copperfield. Hardy, Jude the Obscure. Boswell's Life of Johnson, which, however, I will probably finish before setting out. I got the Everyman abridged version and now regret it.

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, to keep up my favorite pretense. I should read his novels.

Devavanipravesika (pardon the lazy omission of diacritics), a Sanskrit textbook, and Michael Coulson's Teach Yourself Sanskrit, which should compensate for each other's flaws. What Coulson lacks in user-friendliness he makes up for in style, and the converse for the other one.

I think that will do, but I may toss in the Canterbury Tales just to make sure. I'll take a camera, and a notebook, and a bathing suit, and will perhaps update my select and expectant readership from the road; but more likely not.

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Saturday, November 3rd, 2007
9:20 pm - Help please! Lend me your eyes
I'm thinking of revising an old story I posted here long ago to see if I can't get it published in some magazine or other (this is called Breaking Into Print). This presents me with a familiar difficulty, which in this case is more acute than usual. I find it impossible to read my own work with the eyes of a first-time reader; I'm on too intimate a basis with my word-offspring to be able to imagine the effect with which they would strike someone who had not actually produced them. Normally this doesn't worry me much, but with this story it poses a specific and crucial question: I have no idea if the ending works. I mean that I simply don't know whether the reader (including the proverbial Astute Reader) is likely to get what happens at the end.

This is where you come in. You can earn my undying thankfulness in three easy steps: click on the link; read the story (it's short, a thousand words); and tell me whether you found the ending perfectly transparent, perfectly opaque, or some degree of translucency in between. (Feel free to tell me anything else too, of course.) That way, once the story is sent out and starts amassing rejection slips, at least I'll know they're probably not due to the rudimentary level of my Theory of Mind.

current mood: curious

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Wednesday, October 24th, 2007
11:14 pm - Chorda chordae lupus
Nature hath implanted so inveterate a hatred atweene the wolfe and the sheep, that being dead, yet, in the secret operation of Nature, appeareth there a sufficient trial of their discording natures, so that the enmity betweene them seemeth not to dye with their bodies: for if there be put upon a harpe, or any such like instrument, strings made of the intralles of a sheep, and amongst them but only one made of the intralles of a wolfe, be the musitian never so cunning in his skil, yet can he not reconcile them to an unity and concord of sounds: so discording alwayes is that string of the wolfe.

- John Ferne, Blazon of Gentrie, 1586

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Saturday, October 20th, 2007
3:46 pm - The Parting
‘Well, shall we on?’ said the head of a party
Of gnomes and of sprites that had stolen my heart
In a bag, and were riding off into those woods
Where they only may tread who are lovers of Art.

‘What are you waiting for? Don’t stand there yawning
And sniffling as if we had done you some wrong
To carry your heart from the Prosaic Plains
To the woods where we live, and enchant it with song.’

But I sighed and I moaned, and I said to the leader,
‘It’s all well for you: you’re a light-footed elf
With no load but your hat and your sandals to bear:
I am not so unburdened: I carry a Self.’

‘Leave it in the bushes!’ he cried. ‘It’ll be there
The day you return (that’s if ever you do);
And it won’t be the worse for the waiting, you know, for
If you’re tired of it, it’s no less sick of you.’

But I groaned and I grumbled, and said I was feeling
Unwell at the moment and must be excused,
But that if they would kindly return me my heart
I’d come back the next day. – Said the gnome, much amused,

‘Well, have it your own way! If you think that moping’s
A greater delight than the music of elves
And the dancing of dryads, we’ll leave you to sulk here:
But as for this heart, we claim that for ourselves.’

And he gave a shrill whistle between his two fingers
And then in the blink of an eye they were gone:
And nothing remained but a trail of my heart’s blood
That the bag, dripping crimson, had left on the lawn.

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Tuesday, October 9th, 2007
1:33 pm - Dragon-hunting in first-century India
Now the dragons of the mountains have scales of a golden colour, and in length excel those of the plain, and they have bushy beards, which also are of a golden hue; and their eyebrows are more prominent than those of the plain, and their eye is sunk deep under the eyebrow, and emits a terrible and ruthless glance. And they give off a noise like the clashing of brass whenever they are burrowing under the earth, and from their crests, which are all fiery red, there flashes a fire brighter than a torch. They also can catch the elephants, though they are themselves caught by the Indians in the following manner. Read more...Collapse )

current mood: craving dragon liver

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Saturday, October 6th, 2007
11:27 pm - To R. B. / Gerard Manley Hopkins
The fine delight that fathers thought; the strong
Spur, live and lancing like the blowpipe flame,
Breathes once and, quenchèd faster than it came,
Leaves yet the mind a mother of immortal song.

Nine months she then, nay years, nine years she long
Within her wears, bears, cares and combs the same:
The widow of an insight lost she lives, with aim
Now known and hand at work now never wrong.

Sweet fire the sire of muse, my soul needs this;
I want the one rapture of an inspiration.
O then if in my lagging lines you miss

The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation,
My winter world, that scarcely breathes that bliss
Now, yields you, with some sighs, our explanation.

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Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
1:31 pm - hitputar
Hebrew speakers, please help:

Is hitputar the only example of a verb in the hitpu'al template? I can't think of any others, but since a combination of passive and reflexive might be a useful thing to have, semantically, there's no particular reason why other such verbs with a meaning of "do something ostensibly of one's own volition but actually because compelled by someone else" might not exist. Do they? I know hitputar is a facetious recent coinage (by whom?), but are there others?

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