Archive: Language

Translate: carry across

Language · NewAPPS ·· More from November 2011
The metaphor implicit in translation is that of something being carried over from one “place” to another. The most fortunate, the most deserving of saints might be translated into heaven; their earthly remains were often translated from one church or monastery to another, along with the prestige of possessing them. Translate in this older sense bears a clear relation to transfer, of which it is merely the irregular past participle.
In those cases a thing was carried over or across: a person, a relic. In the now most common case, that of translation between languages, what’s carried across is not at all obvious. Decades ago, when theories of meaning—or rather speculation about theories of meaning—were all the rage, one would have said that translation consists in the construction and use of a systematic mapping of the sentences of one language to those of another, a mapping that preserves meaning or truth. The first attempts at computer translation worked from a similar definition.
Macnamara, Table
Source: John Macnamara, Journal of Social Issues; 23.2 (1967) 59.
Translation so conceived “carries across” only abstracta: the meaning or truth-value of the source. For anyone who has taken seriously the task of translation, that is a sort of caricature. The truth in it—what makes it caricature and not outright falsehood—is that something can be captured by the algorithms employed by Google and other automatic translation services. Call it the “gist”.


LinkNovember 20, 2011 | Comments (0)

Rightly termed, witcraft

Eric Schliesser’s note on translation put me in mind of one of my favorite books. Early in my graduate career I discovered in the Stanford stacks a series of reprints, mostly in English, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, published by Scolar Press, now sadly defunct. Among the many wonderful facsimile volumes in the series was Ralph Lever’s The arte of reason, rightly termed, witcraft teaching a perfect way to argue and dispute (1573). This is said to be, after Thomas Wilson’s Rule of reason (1552), the second logic book written in the vernacular. And boy is it…
To give you a taste, here is an excerpt from the chapter which in our English would be entitled “Of the subjects and predicates that are in a simple proposition”. The “storehouses” are the categories of Aristotle; a “naysay” is a negation.
Of the foresets and back sets that are
in a simple shewesaye. Chap. 3.
1 The foreset is a nowne placed afore the verbe, and the backset after, as, man is juste: man is the foreset, and just, is the backeset.
2 Sometymes a whole sentence or a clause of a sentence is a backset, or a foreset: as to rise earely is a holesome thing: in this shewsay, to rise earely, is the foreset, and a holesome thing is the backsette, they both supplying the roome and office of an nowne.
To what use foresettes and backesettes serve.
3 The storehouses serve to shew the nature of wordes as they are taken and considered by themselves alone.
4 The foreset & backset of a shewsay declare the respecte that wordes have one to [71|72] an other, as they are coupled and linked together in a perfect saying.
To knowe what respecte the backset hath to the foreset
in every simple shewsaye of the seconde order.
5 If the backset is deuided and parted a sunder from the foreset by a naysay, then doth it but eyther differ from it, or els it is a gainset to it.
6 What differing words and gaynsets are, we have shewed afore in the. 12. Chapter of the first booke.
7 If it be affirmed & coupled to the foreset by a yeasay: then muste the foreset and backset be such as either may be saide of other turne for turne, or not saide.
8 If either may be said of other turne for turne, then is the one of them the kindred, and the other his saywhat: or els one the kindred and the other his propertie.
9 For onelye the saywhat and the propertie compared to the kindred, maye bee said of it, and it of them, turne for turne: but the saywhat expresseth what the kindred [72|73] is, and the propretie doth not.
Lever was very deliberate in his coining of terms; the new terms are intended to replace the Latin-derived terms hitherto in use, to the advantage of those “english men” not versed in the Classical languages. There is no question but that English is up to the task of teaching logic; the only problem will be that some new words will have to be used.


LinkNovember 4, 2011

We read stuff

Des mots, toujours des mots
langue au chat
Like English, French has its word-hounds, its mavens, its amateurs vraiment amants. At Le Monde, which is roughly the New York Times of France, two copy-editors divert themselves with Langue sauce piquante. Martine Rousseau & Olivier Houdart comment on matters typo-, ortho-, lexico-, and sometimes autobiographical. One sees in the comments that questions of language boil the blood no less reliably in French as in English.
Confining themselves to the lexicographical, Le Mot du jour (rss) and Le Garde-mots (rss) will augment your vocabulary in daily or semiweekly doses. If there were a French SAT, Le Mot du jour would help you pass it with items like vocifération nitescence (also in Le Garde-mots), and pugnace.
Alain Horvilleur, the author, has published an almanac of words from Le Garde-mots (Jacques André, 2009, 978-2-7570-0088-5).
The specimens at Le Garde-mots are more exotic: panspermie, calotype, gaudepisse (with five synonyms). Learn words like this and they won’t laugh at you next time you hang out at the Luxembourg. Not to your face, anyway.
As long as I’m dealing in words, I may as well mention Wordie, a “social lexicon” where you can create word lists, comment on words, and find images associated with them (this function is iffy).
You’re a reader. At this very moment. (But maybe not now.) Habitual readers tend to like to read about reading and readers. If so, you’ll like Lali. Lali deals mostly in representations of readers reading—paintings, for the most part, but also photographs and sculptures. The text is in French, the images are of no language. Series include: “Anecdotes du libraire” and “À livres ouverts”.

LinkJuly 4, 2009

Dep’t of Dead Language: Forbidden Phrases Section

Language ·· More from May 2009
We’ve had a drug czar for a long time. Various other czars have come and gone. [See update.] But we’ve never had a language czar, not even when William Safire was penning screeds for Nixon. I think it’s time. Moreover, just as according to the Bush Doctrine we must go to war with countries that might at some time in the future support terrorism, so too we must learn to recognize treacherous phrases long ere they cast their sickly pale o’er our powers of thought. Otherwise, the illiterates win.
Pending the appointment of a language czar (hint: I use language!), here are some suggestions for early termination:
  • green shoots: In mere weeks this metaphor has gotten so tired it has to shoot meth just to keep breathing.
  • fell off a cliff: Nothing “suddenly decreases” anymore, or “declines precipitously”—no, we have to watch it go over that damned cliff again.
  • animal spirits: When Keynes used it, the phrase was a colorful anachronism. Having been repeated roughly 104 times in the last month, it now has the flavor of theatre-seat chewing gum.
  • claw back: Sounds ever so much more exciting than “shrink” or “reclaim”… [Wavy dissolve:] “It was five pm, Friday. I clawed back my change from the vending machine and took my espresso back to the office. What I needed pronto was some animal spirits, 180 proof. Then she walked in, and my green shoots fell over a cliff…”
It’s no accident that these phrases come from the economic news. Whenever an economist manages to say something colorful, all the other economists immediately say it again and again, so as to wear it out, just in case someone might get the idea that economics is not 100% scientific.
An antidote: language living still after nearly a hundred years:
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
After three hundred years:
Mean while the Mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:
The Mind, that Ocean where each kind
Does streight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other Worlds, and other Seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green Thought in a green Shade.
Update: Czardom is flourishing under Obama. His administration can boast of adding nine, for a total of at least 23. Though strictly speaking what we have now is 21 czars and 2 czarinas.
I think we’ll need a czar czar before long.

LinkMay 31, 2009

Sacred cow tipping

A Republican blogger asks (following David Brooks) who will replace Bill Kristol at the New York Times. (I know you’re following this closely.) He likes Megan McArdle from the Atlantic.
Unpredictable, intellectual, policy-oriented, witty, with a brain the size of a planet. If there a better public intellectual for our day, I don't know who it is. In Megan McArdle, I see the potential to transform the Right; to tear down the sacred cows and rebuild a much more coherent, effective movement.
Source: EVENE, Vach’Art 2006, Paris
(Emmanuelle Solinski)
Extra points if you noticed the misuse of a semicolon and the clause that no verb; bonus extra points if the planet you thought of came in a Cracker Jacks box. Not because Megan McArdle isn’t smart (she has an MBA, just like our former president), but because it’s a silly comparison. She has a resume as bright as a bulb, and as many ideas as a Senator.

LinkFebruary 3, 2009

Dep’t of Dead Language, Superfluous Words Div.

Language ·· More from December 2008
Uberblockbuster. Ridicule it now.
DiCaprio and Winslet (Mendes’ real-life wife) are longtime off-screen friends reteaming for the first time since the 1997 uberblockbuster “Titanic.”
Don’t you wish you had a “longtime off-screen friend”? They make very nice accessories.

LinkDecember 24, 2008

Dep’t of Dead Language

Gravitas had a perfectly fine sense in Latin. It meant ‘weight’. Stones fall because they have gravitas. Smoke rises because it has levitas, the opposite of gravitas.
On its way through Ellis Island, gravitas was cozened by someone’s PR guy (and I mean guy) into thinking it had a more important job to do. It would now denote that quality in people—oddly enough, almost all of them men—which makes reporters swoon in fits of deference. Whenever I see someone use it, I say to myself: This person’s brain has taken a holiday.
Our first example illustrates the point:
Has gravitas Deficient in gravitas
Fred Thompson Sarah Palin
Fred is still one of my favorite US politicians, or at least former politicians. The guy just has such a gravitas that you just have sit up to take notice.
[O’Reilly:] OK, the Rasmussen poll shows that most Republicans like Sarah Palin, and they’d like to see her run again. The general polls show that most Americans don’t believe she has the gravitas.
Needless to say, as our next example shows, you can’t be a leader if you don’t have gravitas.
Has gravitas Deficient in gravitas
John McCain The New Orleans Saints
Whatever might be said of John McCain’s response back then, it was a response. Mac was acting the way you’d expect a president to act. Obama, on the other hand, had to be dragged off the campaign trail while displaying all the gravitas of a pouting schoolboy.
This team’s window to win a championship is still open for a couple of years, but it can’t afford to throw away campaigns like this one […] because they don’t have the gravitas to impose their will on opponents.
Gravitas, for all its, um, gravitas, is a delicate quality. For example, if you have grey hair, even prematurely grey, you may be eligible. But if you’re too young, even the most granitic of coiffs may fail to overcome your juvenile levity.
Has gravitas Deficient in gravitas
David Gregory David Gregory
Enjoying a gravitas boost from his prematurely salt-and-pepper mane and friendships with Tom Brokaw and other of the legendary figures of NBC News, the Los Angeles native quickly became one of the hottest personalities in network news.
Instead of simply naming a successor to Russert […], executives are considering the possibility of multiple hosts, including a trio of panelists. That could help address any shortcoming in gravitas seen in Gregory or Todd, each of whom is still in his 30s.
In this respect, gravitas is like baldness. You have to be born with it, even though it doesn’t show up for decades.
Has gravitas Deficient in gravitas
Frank Langella Richard Nixon
For all his attempted gravitas, Nixon was a shifty-eyed lightweight and transparent phony, whereas Langella is a born Shakespearean. Finally, Nixon has the stature that eluded him in life!
Some things, alas, will never have even the slightest gravitas.
Deficient in gravitas
Return of the Jedi
Britney Spears’s bio
While many young fans love the cuddly Ewoks, others are rather disappointed that the film lacks gravitas.
First a big hat tip goes to Pedro Castro, whose gorgeous, lush cinematography made me feel like I was watching something wayyy more important than I was (just like that sweeping camera work on The Hills. MTV has cornered the market on fake swelling gravitas).
And finally: a crack investigative reporter has discovered that under the new administration we will all experience an increase in gravitas. Maybe that will make up for not having a job or a 401(k).
Caution: Museums with tantalizing gift shops can defeat the purpose and plonk you right back where you started, in full shopaholic mode. You must resist. You must gird your loins with your newfound gravitas and fight the temptation to buy those Smokey and the Bandit shot glasses.
Find more Dead Language here.

LinkDecember 15, 2008

Dep’t of Dead Language

Language ·· More from August 2008
The Olympics, in keeping with its venerable tradition, has been chasing younger viewers by adding new events. But beach volleyball, tacky though it may be,* is never going to grab the youth like Grand Theft Auto II or Mortal Combat.
*Did I say ‘tacky’? Yes I did.
In recent years, however, a new sport has arisen that promises to make kick-boxing look like badminton. From the turbulent border between sports and politics comes
In just the last month, dozens of sports figures, politicians, and Hollywood projects have been thrown under buses. Some have been thrown under buses more than once. Though sometimes the opportunity to participate in this burgeoning new sport has been refused, many people, in all walks of life, have known the thrill of throwing things under buses.
The Olympic version of this sport will include a wide spectrum of events:
  • Throwing Grandma under the bus (lightweight division)
  • Throwing John Edwards under the bus (middleweight division)
  • Throwing Bill Parcells under the bus (heavyweight division)
  • Throwing quarterbacks under the bus (two in the trials, three in the finals)
  • Throwing oneself under the bus (a demonstration event in 2012)
  • Throwing a guy under the bus while staving off wolves (a summer version of the biathlon)
  • Throwing the White Sox under the bus (a bus-throwing marathon)
Though its popularity is new, throwing people under the bus has its roots in ancient Rome and India, where during certain holy days people would be thrown under the wheels of chariots or juggernauts. It fell out of favor during the Dark Ages because vehicles were scarce, but took off again in the Age of Steam when throwing things under locomotives became a fad. After 1890 the advent of bicycles and then automobiles threatened to confine the sport to certain less-developed countries that still retained their transit systems.
Now, however, as public transportation makes a comeback in American cities, buses, trolleys, and even trains are again plentiful enough to allow for mass participation, the formation of leagues, and a competitive structure leading to the national championship to be held this year in New York. Recognition of the sport by the Olympics has sealed the cap on its renaissance.*
*The alert reader will have noticed, in examining the sources below, that not throwing things under the bus is popular too. But of course anyone can not-throw just about anything, whether it’s javelins or Bill Parcells.
I suppose there could be a sort of Puritan Olympics in which people refrained from acts they very much wanted to perform. But it would be hard to tell the not-jumpers from the not-runners. On the other hand, you wouldn’t need a fancy pool for the not-swimmers, or big salaries for the not-announcers. And not-watching would take no time at all.
Find more Dead Language here.


LinkAugust 22, 2008

Dep’t of Dead Language

Language ·· More from August 2008
Who got emboldened recently?
  • Russia (many times)
  • the Russian bully (at least once)
  • the Georgians (many times)
  • Saakashvili (many times)
  • managements of large institutions
  • some commentators
  • inflation hawks
  • the spirit
  • the right-wing noise machine
  • Libra
  • scientists who think a liquid ocean lies beneath the surface of Enceladus
  • cyclists
  • an already cocky homosexual lobby
  • an “anti-Semitic regime”
  • India
  • friends
  • friends… or enemies
  • book titles
  • Americans
  • criminal activities (but only potentially, which is still enough to get you convicted)
What emboldened them?
  • zingers
  • a concession or bone
  • subsidizing common stockholders
  • today’s interview at CNBC with David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors
  • a “confrontational” approach
  • the break to the upside of the change in the core rate
  • everything’s being reduced to faded prints in the back of a newspaper
  • distancing the Obama campaign from Clark
  • the genius thinking patterns of Aquarius
  • the weak, unresolved response of the West
  • not doing the things that are needed to be done
  • longing to be loved but to no avail
  • a finding
  • bike lanes
  • Gregoire’s being elected and the Legislature’s remaining unchanged
  • a promise from Bush
  • a few suggestions
  • a deal between Steiner and the Iranian government
  • concern for Israel’s future
  • McCoy (a writer of pedophilic fiction)
One of our distinguished contributors below asks: “Is it just me, or does ‘embolden’ already belong on the list of words that will be verboten come 2009?”
I think we know the answer to that one.
Find more Dead Language here.


LinkAugust 21, 2008

Dep’t of Dead Language

Language ·· More from August 2008
This week the elephant in the room was:
  • Hillary Clinton (2 votes)*
  • Race (2 votes)
  • Retiring baby boomers
  • Women in comedy over a certain age
  • Not the Republican mascot
  • The Trade Center towers
  • Iran
  • Death
  • The requirement for all new aquaculture management areas to require a private plan change to a Regional Coastal Plan
  • Brother Nick (not so much)
  • Madden NFL 09
  • Former husband Gabby Concepcion or a 300-pound gorilla
  • Something that is growing more obese this decade
  • Something that gets shot with a bazooka
  • Ein amerikanische Ausdruck
  • An elephant
  • *(or maybe it’s the media’s hatred of Hillary)
The elephant weighed:
  • 800 pounds
  • 9,000 pounds
  • 10,000 pounds
The elephant has or has not been:
  • featured
  • recognized
  • embraced
  • contended with
  • dared to be talked about
  • openly acknowledged
  • growing more obese
  • stumbled into
  • included as a reminder
  • shot
What a versatile creature!
You will see in the quotations below that the elephant in the room and the white elephant have merged at least once. The elephant in the room has probably also met the 800-pound gorilla who sits wherever he wants. (An 800-pound gorilla is a big gorilla, but an 800-pound elephant would be much less than pygmy-sized. Not very formidable at all.)
Find more Dead Language here.


LinkAugust 14, 2008