Archive for Languages

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 […]

Endangered alphabets

I’ve long been fascinated by writing systems across languages and history. Languages, whether written or spoken, sometimes remind me of living organisms: Over time they not only change and adapt, but can become endangered and extinct. To reduce the chances of language extinction, the Endangered Alphabets Project aims to play an active role in preserving […]

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, […]

On French

Tumblr user eevielearnsfrench asks for an explanation of French: https://olofahere.tumblr.com/post/175586618668/cheeseanonioncrisps-futurebartallen In another branch of the Tumblr thread, someone added “Gargling, but with air.” Reddit users respond and add suggestions. Examples: Eating your own tongue with a paired wine. (–popgruys) Like English but with three and a half fingers in your mouth at all times. (—sharrrp) […]

“Every Day, Another Language Dies”

I have a variety of concerns and dubiousnesses about Heather Altfeld’s essay “Every Day, Another Language Dies,” published at Lit Hub in May. (Originally published in Conjunctions 70, under the title “Obituary for Dead Languages.”) But I nonetheless found it a poetically lovely and sad eulogy for languages lost and languages we’re losing, so I […]

Learning Spanish terms via etymology and cognates

As I’ve been slowly learning Spanish via Duolingo, I’ve found the large number of cognates between Spanish and English very useful. Sometimes, false cognates get in the way; the most common example I see of that is the word embarazada, which English monoglots may assume means “embarrassed,” but which instead means “pregnant.” But setting aside […]