Saturday, March 23, 2013


I’m taking another short break from blogging while I head out of town over the spring vacation. I hope the articles I linked to in the last post will keep you busy while I’m gone. See you in a few weeks!

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Round-Up of Articles

Here are a few articles on language, literature, and translation.

The first one is an article about inventing languages. More specifically, it’s on John Quijada and his Ithkuil language.

For those of us who work on the Nordic languages, this piece, which is on whether English is a Scandinavian language, is particularly interesting. It lists a number of English words that are Scandinavian in origin, such as: “anger, awe, bag, band, big, birth, both, bull, cake, call, cast, cosy, cross, die, dirt, dream, egg, fellow, flat, gain, get, gift, give, guess, guest, hug, husband, ill, kid, law, leg, lift, likely, link, loan, loose, low, mistake, odd, race, raise, root, rotten, same, seat, seem, sister, skill, skin, skirt, sky, steak, though, thrive, Thursday, tight, till, trust, ugly, want, weak, window, wing, wrong.”

Next is an article about the 800 languages in New York City.

Here is a piece on legal language and translation.

Finally, here is an intriguing article on a whistling language. As the article says, “This method of communication, in which the Spanish language is replaced by two whistled vowels and four consonants, has a peculiarity perfectly suited to this landscape of deep valleys and steep ravines. It has the ability to travel up to two miles (3.2km), much further and with less effort than shouting. By the 1970s and 80s, there were only a few whistlers remaining, but at the end of the 90s there was renewed interest in silbo, in part due to an initiative to make it a compulsory subject at primary school.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Verbs, Verbs, Verbs

Last month, I published a review of a fun book all about verbs, and I thought I’d post it here too.

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch
Constance Hale


A book-reviewer.

Alas, no.

The proceeding sentences are all missing something, and for that reason, they’re not terribly informative or interesting. So what is it that is absent?

Yes, that’s right.

The verb.

Now you might be yawning at this stage, filled with half-forgotten and not very pleasant memories of English class and bewildering discussions about parts of speech. But hold on a moment. As Constance Hale points out in her enjoyable new book, Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch,  verbs are the “pivot point of every sentence” (p. 10). They “put action in scenes, show eccentricity in characters, and convey drama in plots. They give poetry its urgency. They make quotes memorable and ads convincing.” (p. 10)

The way each chapter in Hale’s book works is that she takes on a topic (voice or tense, for example), explains what is challenging about it (this is the “vex” of the title), demolishes a common belief about verbs (“hex”), encourages readers to get rid of a bad habit (“smash”), and educates readers about new things to try (“smooch”). She offers activities (“Try, Do, Write, Play”)  and uses quotations from both literary and popular writing to exemplify her ideas.

For example, in one vex, she explicates verbals, which “don’t change with time…don’t express voice…have no moods. They are bona fide verbs: they can be modified by adverbs and they can take objects and complements. But in sentences they don’t act like verbs.” (pp. 224-5) To demonstrate participles, she quotes Dickens’ depiction of Scrooge as a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” (p. 227)

In a hex, she tells us to “reject the rule “Always use Standard English”” (p. 117), and she speaks up for the use of dialect, as in Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I a Woman”. In another, she dismisses the idea that we shouldn’t use double negatives (pp. 96-7). In other words, don’t don’t. Got it?

One smash she offers suggests that long words can be too “pompous, highfalutin, and abstract” and she recommends avoiding “bequeath, commence, conjoin, interrogate, and remunerate” (p. 80). I personally don’t agree, because I think there are texts and situations where such words are needed – they presumably wouldn’t exist if they weren’t useful – but I do take her point that people sometimes try to write or speak in an unnecessarily complex way. In another smash, she discusses the challenges inherent in phrasal verbs, such as differ from and differ with (pp. 254-8).

Hale recommends the imperative – in other words, order such as “Just do it!” – in one smooch (p. 194), and nuance in another, by which she means in part understanding the difference between commonly interchanged words, such as careen, career and carom (p. 286-8).

The book comes with a number of appendices, such as recommendations for dictionaries, a list of irregular verbs (did you remember that the past tense of abide is abode, and did you know that tread becomes trod, which then becomes have trodden?), information on challenging words (what’s the difference between raise, raze, and rear, and when do you use behove?), and an analysis of the history of language. I would have appreciated an index, though.

This is definitely not the grammar book you might remember from your school days. Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch is easy to dip into at will, and it offers useful information, activities, and suggestions that will help any writer. Hale is an opinionated and witty guide to the weird and wonderful world of verbs.

Just buy it! Or don’t don’t.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Nordic Translation Conference (Again!)

It’s your last chance to registerfor the Nordic Translation Conference. It takes place 4-6 April and we’re almost out of spaces, which is in a way quite exciting (I’m glad there’s so much interest!).

The keynote speakers are scholars Andrew Chesterman, Riitta Oittinen, Ástráður Eysteinsson, and Anna Mauranen. The Nordic authors who will read from their work at the conference are Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, Ninni Holmqvist, Morten Søndergaard,  Kristina Carlson, and Gaute Heivoll.

If you work with the Nordic languages, do come along!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Translation and Sex

Not long ago, I reviewed Tom Cutler’s book Slap and Tickle. Translation, as we well know by now, appears everywhere, including in relation to sex.

As Cutler points out, the bible has many sexual prohibitions and other discussions with sexual words. However, the “English translators of the Bible were a bit squeamish about some things”, as Cutler writes. In a section in Genesis, the original text said, “If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my penis, and deal kindly and truly with me”, but the English translators replaced “penis” with “thigh”. 

Cutler writes, the “ideal then being that if you were making a solemn oath your testicles would be in jeopardy if you bore witness. When your lawyer next uses the words ‘testament’, and ‘testify’, remember that he or she is using words with the same root as, ‘testicle’.” (all quotes from p. 32)

What Cutler is getting at here is that translators have a lot of power and can substantially change our ideas about a text (and laws), as well as make us forget etymology and connections between words.

Next time you think about or get near testicles or thighs, think about translation. Or, on second thought, maybe not…