Archive for Languages

yan tan tethera

According to Wikipedia: Yan Tan Tethera […] is a sheep-counting system traditionally used by shepherds in Northern England and some other parts of Britain. The words are numbers taken from Brythonic Celtic languages such as Cumbric which had died out in most of Northern England by the sixth century, but they were commonly used for […]

On the pronunciations of “Uvalde”

Interesting NPR article about various ways to pronounce Uvalde, and about language as a “signifier of race” and identity, and about power structures and anglicization, and respecting how people say their own town’s name, and more. Content warning for descriptions of people having been punished for speaking Spanish. Here’s a quote, though there’s lots more […]

Sign-language gloves don’t translate

Every time I see another article breathlessly announcing a new high-tech glove that will “translate” American Sign Language into English, I wonder what that really means, but I’ve neglected to follow up with research. A 2017 article from the Atlantic, “Why Sign-Language Gloves Don't Help Deaf People,” answers my questions; it turns out that all […]

Identifying languages by their writing

I recently read a couple articles on how to identify many languages by how they are written. Harbeck offers good, often cheeky mnemonics for recognizing languages based on Roman lettering (Western and European languages), as well as Asian, Middle Eastern, Cyrillic, and North African languages. Helpful, although I would like to see tips for identifying […]

Endangered languages of NYC

The Endangered Language Alliance (ELA) have published a New York City map that denotes languages and dialects (e.g., Sindhi, Ilokano, Ojibwe, etc.) to specific regions within the five Boroughs. The map in the middle of the page is zoomable, but not to a really high resolution (street and block level). They are currently working on an […]

Lorre

From Howard Waldrop’s afterword to his story “The Effects of Alienation”: [Peter Lorre] arrived in England knowing three words of English: Milk, Hamburger, Yes. He got his first job with Hitchcock because someone told him Hitch liked to tell long boring shaggy-dog stories. Lorre went up, shook his hand, watched Hitchcock's lips move for five […]

Sixty-one “letters”

I just read/skimmed a story from 1983—“Cryptic,” by Jack McDevitt—in which the protagonist has come across a radio signal that seems to include “sixty-one distinct pulse patterns, which was to say, sixty-one characters.” The protagonist consults the only linguist he knows, who says, among other things: “Sixty-one letters seems a trifle much.” And goes on […]

Auto-translating sound effects

A friend recently posted (to Facebook) a video of an animal eating something, and added the following text as a commentary/description for the video: MONCH MONCH MONCH Facebook offered to translate that for me. I accepted the offer. Facebook’s translation read as follows: Monch monch monch monch monch monch It then offered to let me […]

On Pound’s “translations” from Chinese

I’ve been hearing Ezra Pound’s name for decades, but it recently occurred to me that I didn’t know anything about his life or his poetry. So I went looking online for more information about him, and quickly came across an entertainingly written 1958 takedown of Pound’s and Ernest Fenollosa’s approach to translating Chinese poetry: “Fenollosa, […]