Hello, I’m alive! Summer’s eaten me alive and spat me out just in time to let school stomp on me. Here’s some relevant news, then some not relevant news.

Publishing news!
Two incredibly exciting things.

Firstly, A Ghazal For Morning appeared in Myths of the Near Future‘s third issue! It’s on the second page and it has a fantastic illustration.

Secondly, I made it flood made it into inkscrawl’s sixth issue, on the theme of ‘journey’!

Myths of the Near Future’s a prose and poetry e-zine for 16-25 year-olds, and it’s equally as great, and they’re always open to submissions. Inkscrawl’s a poetry e-zine/journal thing, of less than 10 lines, fantastical, speculative, mythical, minimal poetry, one that I’ve read for a long time and loved for an equal amount of time. It’s one of the few minimal poetry e-zines out there, I think. This is actually the second time I submitted to them – the first time, I got rejected – so, you know, there’s a motivational lesson if you need it!

Personal news:
I’ve been to England: London, Oxford, and Cambridge, respectively. I know which universities I want to go to now, for linguistics, so that’s fantastic, if extremely worry-inducing. I’ve also done two courses: an Introduction to Language course from UCLA, which was fantastic (linguistics is amazing), and Archaeology from Brown University, which was cool.

In less accomplishment-worthy news, I saw Pacific Rim, which was amazing. Hearts in my eyes. I’ve read a lot of books, I mean, a lot, I’ll update my GoodReads and you’ll know how much. You can find more at my deviantART page, but they include everything from Wuthering Heights to V For Vendetta with a lot of Sappho’s poetry (Anne Carson’s If not, Winter is amazing) in between.

Unfortunately, school’s starting tomorrow (actually, tomorrow), and this is my last year, so I’ll not find a lot of time for the internet – I will try, but not a lot, because, it is my last year, and I’m terrified, to be honest. Wish me luck.

About the title – it’s a phrase I heard in Walking In The Rain by Grace Jones (who is amazing, listen to that song, it is amazing) and it’s cool. “trip the light fantastic” means to dance nimbly or lightly, or so the Wikipedia page tells me; it first appeared in a poem by Milton, and it’s been viewed as a cliche since 1908, which, I’m fine with that, fine, I think it’s brilliant.

Linear B is an ancient European Bronze Age script, dating back 3,500 years. When a British architect finally cracked it in the 1950s, he was hailed as a genius – but he may never have succeeded had it not been for a woman on the other side of the Atlantic.

This is the woman who spent two decades of her life trying to crack Linear B – a script dating 3,500 years old, from the Bronze Age, an unknown script in an unknown language. This guy named Ventris – Michael Ventris – is usually credited fully with deciphering it, but Alice Kober probably had a large part to do with it.

She was the one who figured out that Linear B was an inflected language – like Spanish, or Latin, or German – but tragically, desperately sadly, she fell ill and died suddenly soon after, at the age of 43.

In a lecture after he had cracked Linear B, and before his death, Ventris did however give substantial credit to Kober for her contribution – but this acknowledgement went largely unnoticed.

But Linear B was deciphered, together with Kober and Ventris – to be revealed as a form of ancient Greek. The thing is, it’s Linear ‘B’ – because Linear ‘A’ is another, older Cretan writing system, with not enough for anyone to have deciphered it – yet.

Okay, this is neat.

Friedrich Terrible is actually a translation of Bedřich Hrozný, who was actually a really cool guy, who studied and/or knew about ten languages, went on some archaeological expeditions, translated recipes for brewing Sumerian beer, which, incidentally, happened to be about 5,000 years old.

But that wasn’t enough for him. No. He had to do more. So he singlehandedly deciphered the Hittite language in 1915.

image

You might not know who the Hittites are – that’s okay, I didn’t either until just recently, they were discovered at the beginning of the 20th century, along with a bunch of tablets. The Hittite Empire was an ancient empire in Asia Minor and Syria from 1700-1200 BCE. (Ancient like woah.)  Their language is fascinating, as Jay Jasanoff says:

Now, the writing system they were written in was the cuneiform system of ancient Mesopotamia, the writing system that the Babylonians for example used. […] the language itself that was spelled out by these signs was completely unintelligible; it was a new language, one that we didn’t know before.

So our man Bedřich fortunately gets himself a job as a clerk during WWI, where he has plenty time – and copies of the tablets that he obtained just before he was conscripted, which was either some serious time traveller stuff or just glorious luck. Either way, he has this in front of him:

“NU NINDA-AN EZZATENI WATAR-MA EKUTENI”.

Keep in mind, no one knew much about this. You could tell that “ninda” was ‘bread’ because it was written in the Babylonian writing system and meant ‘bread’, and same goes for some of the other words – ‘god’, for example – but that was pretty much where the train stopped. But Bedřich took it further.

He took a brilliant guess – knowing “ninda” to be ‘bread’, he hypothesised that “ezza” was potentially related to Greek “edein”, Latin “edere” and German “essen” – and meant ‘eat’. With that, “nu” became ‘now’, and – perhaps most famously of all – ”watar” became ‘water’.

It’s a sweet story either way: obviously, you can do that “watar”, ‘watar’ thing with a bunch of languages – did this one just get lucky? As this excellent post explains:

“Similarities can be found between any languages chosen at random. It’s far more significant that the inflectional pattern visible in Hittite helps us to understand the origin of the diversity displayed by cognate ‘water’ words elsewhere in the IE family and is part of the evidence used in the reconstruction of the PIE morphological system.”

Therefore:

“Now you will eat bread and drink water”.

The first translated sentence of Hittite. Wow. Our fellow Bedřich went on to publish the Hittite code of law (using the tablets) in 1922.

Sources: 12.

Anyone here read Asterix and Obelix? I love those comics, I used to read them all the time (in English). (They’re better than Tintin. I will fight you on this.) The comics are an incredible work of translation – originally written in French by René Goscinny, making great comedy jokes in French and Latin, and painstakingly translated into English by Anthea Bell, who did an incredible job and is one of my translation heroes.

I loved the names – the ‘ix’ suffixes for the Gauls, like Cacofonix the bard (“cacophony”) or Getafix the druid (get-a-fix, who fixes everything), and ‘us’ suffixes for the Romans, like Ignoramus (obvious) or Magnumopus. But the jokes that were in Latin often left me confused – (another reason to study Latin!) – so this site is a godsend. It explains the jokes and still manages to leave the humour in – and as most of us know, translating humour is one of the hardest things of all.

“The drunken spy says ‘sol lucet omnibus’ and then ‘hic haec hoc’. The first means ‘the sun shines on everyone’ and the second is some latin grammar disguised as drunken hiccups. The translators are genius!”

The decision means that the Bengali-speaking students in the state will be able to pursue their study in their mother tongue from 2013-14 academic sessions.

This is pretty cool. Bengali is now a second language in Karnataka. The article also mentions something I’ve always wanted to talk about: Language Martyrs’ Day.

The coming of the announcement just before May 19, which is celebrated as Language Martyrs’ day in Barak Valley, has been welcomed here.

Language Martyrs’ Day is on May 19th, and is held in honour by Bengalis in north-east India (as well as Assam) to remember the eleven Bengalis who were killed by police fire on that day, 1961. The day is also known as Language Movement Day. It’s a national holiday of Bangladesh.

As you can see, by the date – 1961 – this isn’t a recent event. The eleven people were protesting the legislation of the Assamese language, which mandated its use. This had began since 1952, when there was the Bangla Language Movement, which formed due to a decision that resulted in Urdu being the single national language for all of Pakistan.

This was a problem. Urdu, at the time, was a minority language – it was the (supposed) elite class, of West Pakistan, who spoke it. The whole problem wasn’t helped by a declaration governor Khawaja Nazimuddin made: “Urdu and only Urdu will be the national language of Pakistan.”

The movement spread until the entire province was at a stalemate, essentially. Unfortunately, people had to die before the government relented, but eventually the government of Pakistan did relate, and the movement is thought to have begun the independence movement for Bangladesh – which became an independent nation in 1971.

Bengali’s the seventh most spoken language in the world (according to Ethnologue), so – pretty cool.

image
“Bangla” in the Bangla script.

Sources: 1.

>> As ever,

While email sign-offs aren’t my enemy, they’re … somewhat of a struggle. Usually for formal emails, I use “best”. “Regards” has always been too grownup for me, “yours truly” indicated a degree of honesty I’m not sure I felt comfortable with giving out. I feel awkward especially using “sincerely” when sending off writing to be published. It sounds to much like “Yours sincerely, (please, please, please accept me), [name].”

Before email, I believe that for letter-writing, there was “yours faithfully” for the formal, or “yours sincerely” and for the informal or formal love letters and suchlike – well, you could have anything from “love” to fare thee as well as I fare, which I think is deliciously clever, in case you get spurned – and there’s always the usual SEAL or signed, sealed and delivered. XOXO is common in emails. For my family and close friends, I tend to use the all-encompassing “love & etcetera”. They don’t mind.

Anyway, sign-offs and the discussion thereof of them is a thing, and they’ve been talked about on the internet. There’s been an amusing article on Slate that concludes that we should just stop with the whole email sign-offs to spare awkwardness and streamline:

In the end, it will make things easier on everyone. So let’s do this. I’ll go first.

A few days ago, I emailed this piece to my editor as an attachment. It felt good to write the corresponding message: “Here’s the piece on how email signoffs are the worst and why we should get rid of them for good. I hope you like it.” There was nothing more. No “Hello,” no “Take care,” or “Best,” or, heaven forbid, “My very best.”

There’s also this ‘un on much the same thing but with more hilarity.

The writer Marjorie Ingall recently found a press release that her husband, Jonathan Steuer, had forwarded to her with the note, “Thought you’d be interested,” and it was signed, “Best, J” — to which she replied, “What am I, your accountant?”

So clearly this is an important issue (I don’t think, as per the first article, many have stopped using sign-offs). I found a great article on the Paris Review by Sadie Stein called as ever, and as you can probably guess, “As ever,” is her – and the professor she found it from – choice. It’s great, I like it, I’m stealing it. I’ll stick to “as ever” and my usual brief “best” for the formals from now on.

Then there’s always the beautifully poetic and romantic, as she points out (and I can’t help but agree with her):

The best of all came via a letter in The Paris Review’s archive, from a legendary editor to a famous writer: “I touch your wrists.” I’d marry someone who wrote me that.

From Language Log. One of my favourites. You guys know what meta is, right? You have fandom meta, ideas about a fandom, great big writerly thoughts about characters and shows that are fantastic. In a general sense, meta means self-referential, about (itself), in a way.

“This sentence has thirty six letters,” is an example of meta – a sentence about itself.

The OED defines meta as,

designating or characterized by a consciously sophisticated, self-referential, and often self-parodying style, whereby something (as a situation, person, etc.) reflects or represents the very characteristics it alludes to or depicts.

The guy this comic talks about, Douglas Hofstadter, who basically predicted meta before meta was meta by writing essays about it before it was a popular term. He coined the term ”going meta”, used for the rhetorical trick of taking a debate to another level of abstraction, and talking about itself.

(For more on meta, check out this.)

Sources: 12.

>> Seeing at the Speed of Sound.

This is fascinating article by Rachel Kolb, who has been deaf since birth, on lipreading and what comes with the daunting task of lipreading. It’s an amazing article – touching and informative. She writes about many things – from the difficulty of lipreading, to how it feels to lipreading, and more.

EVEN THE MOST skilled lipreaders in English, I have read, can discern an average of 30 percent of what is being said.

The difficulties of lipreading are, probably, obvious – people who speak fast, people who speak slowly, people who lisp, or stutter – it’s a difficult task for speaker and interpreter both. Without question, more so for interpreter, though. When you factor accents into the question, communication often breaks down entirely.

Accents are a visible tang on people’s lips. Witnessing someone with an accent is like taking a sip of clear water only to find it tainted with something else. I startle and leap to attention. As I explore the strange taste, my brain puzzles itself trying to pinpoint exactly what it is and how I should respond.

Lipreading is also a contradiction in terms – especially when you think about sign language. Many people who live in deaf communities communicate entirely through sign language, and do not lipread at all. For Rachel Kolb, this results in a struggle:

Sometimes I feel guilty that I lipread at all. I fear that I am betraying myself by accepting the conventions of the hearing world.

Sign language’s 100% as opposed to lipreading’s 30% is undeniable – and this is realised in the article; as for Ms. Kolb, sign language is completely comfortable, where as lipreading is fraught with emotion and challenges. Like the audiologist says at the end – it’s amazing.

>> How many hands are required?

All hands on deck! We’re going to take a look into prescriptivism – in particular, into the phrase, on the other handAnd when I say we, I mean Anne Curzan is, as she posted the article I’ve linked above, which looks into both an editorial practice and is a fascinating, concise look at prescriptivism.

[…] for years, when I have run across on the other hand, I have scanned backward to see if there is a on the one hand; if not, I have replaced on the other hand with in contrast or something similar. And let me tell you, I have done a lot of replacing of other people’s on the other hand’s. For all my descriptive tendencies as a linguist, I was privileging a prescriptive sense of logic (that if there is a second or other hand, there must be a first hand) […]

Prescriptivism up until a point has made some sort of vague sense to me: it’s nice, I suppose, to have rules for a language – it makes it easier to learn. However, when those rules are far and beyond what is actually happening in the language, it becomes assertionism (a lovely term I picked up from this article) – such as, for example, the rule that conjunctions should not begin a sentence in formal situations, a rule I’ve been brought up with. And never quite understood, as I see it happening all the time in formal situations.

Anyway, the article is an excellent example of determining and understanding how common usage dictates the language, not the other way around:

In other words, the phrase on the other hand is a more popular choice both in spoken language and in formal written language.

It is not surprising that on the other hand has come to function as a contrastive adverbial not dependent on having a first hand. And its meaning is completely clear to both author and reader.

Great stuff.

>> Most obscene title of a peer-reviewed scientific article.

This is a bit late, but I found it fascinating, so here you go. There was a fascinating study on swearing – and this is where I’m going to put a warning for strong language, before you go on – in 2010, politely at first, called, Language preferences for swearing among maximally proficient multilinguals.

The study was later named Christ fucking shit merde! after an interview of Nancy Huston (Anglo-Canadian author).

She explained that when she needs to express a strong emotion, like sudden anxiety, or when dropping a hammer on her foot, she swears in English. The journalist then asked her Vous dites quoi? ‘What do you say’? Nancy answers: Je dis Christ fucking shit merde! ‘I say Christ fucking shit merde!’ (“merde” meaning ‘shit’, is a high-frequency French swearword)

The findings are fascinating. Unsurprisingly, people who spoke more than one languages, perceived swearing in their first language, their mother-tongue, perceived it to be stronger, emotionally. However, people spent a long time speaking their second language, took some time before swearing in that language – being more wary of the unknown, so to speak.

I think that it is because swearing is an indication of “in-group” membership. However, if you have a foreign accent you clearly don’t belong to the “in-group”, and you’re expected not to use these words, and not make fun of the head of state or queen/king.

Fascinating stuff – and also understandable, if not very nice. The idea of an “in-group” is so exclusive – and especially difficult for those who want to learn more languages. Of course, most of the people I know, when faced with learning a new language, ask: well, what are the funny swearwords?

Fittingly enough, the article won an award – for the most obscene title! But I agree with the author – crossing out the title would be too ironic to actually follow through with. “Christ fucking shit merde” it is.

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