Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tolkien at the OED

Just stumbled onto this book, which is going right to the top of my wishlist:

The Ring of Words : Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary

From Amazon's book description:

"Tolkien's first job, on returning home from World War I, was as an assistant on the staff of the OED. He later said that he had 'learned more in those two years than in any other equal part of his life.' The Ring of Words reveals how his professional work on the Oxford English Dictionary influenced Tolkien's creative use of language in his fictional world.

"Here three senior editors of the OED offer an intriguing exploration of Tolkien's career as a lexicographer and illuminate his creativity as a word user and word creator. The centerpiece of the book is a wonderful collection of 'word studies' which will delight the heart of Ring fans and word lovers everywhere."

Contents (from the page at Oxford U. Press):
1 Tolkien as Lexicographer
2 Tolkien as Wordwright
3 Word Studies
Epilogue: Tolkien's influence on the English Language

Friday, April 28, 2006

Procrastinator's Respite

I know you. I know what you're doing. You're half-way through a translation and it's already the day for the Blog Translation Carnival. Well, you're in luck! You've got two more days to finish those translations! April's Carnival of Blog Translation will occur on Sunday, April 30 -- National Honesty Day. Don't be left out: get translating!

The American Inklings

For all those in the D.C./Northern Virginia area:

Announcing the first meeting of the American Inklings

When: Wednesday, May 10, 7:00pm,
and every 2nd and 4th Wednesday

Where: Cosi's, in the Reston Town Center
11909 Democracy Drive, Reston, VA (Map)

The original "Inklings" were a group of mostly university colleagues who got together to discuss literature and poetry--either things they'd read or things they'd written. Theirs were the first ears to hear original drafts of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, and theirs the first mouths to offer critique.

Modeled after that group, the American Inklings are artisitic souls who meet twice a month to share, critique, and possibly collaborate on various creative projects: poems, stories, songs--whatever the Muse inspires!

There's no commitment: Come as you're able, share your writings or ideas, or just listen and be inspired!

For more on the original Inklings:

For more on the founders of the American Inklings:
King Alfred:

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Gratulerar, Sverige!

There's a new member of the Swedish orthographic family: It's a W! The Swedish Academy has officially granted the letter W its own section in the dictionary. (Note the article's file photo of an actual W! :-P

Until now, words beginning with W were listed in the V section, since they are pronounced the same in Swedish, and any words with W were foreign borrowings anyway.

We usually think of the V sound in English as characteristic of Germanic accents (Nordic, German, Dutch, etc.), but in fact, the W was original to all Germanic languages in the beginning, even though only English preserved the sound. (Compare Lat. ventus; Eng. wind; Ger. wind; Sw. vind)

The German and Scandinavian dialects underwent the same change, from [w] to [v]. German, using the latin alphabet kept the w-spelling, while Norse changed to v. The original Germanic runic alphabet, the Elder Futhark had from the beginning a separate rune for W, but not for V. The letter V was sometimes represented by F (in Old English, where F surrounded by vowels was pronounced like v: hence knife/knives, wife/wives, etc.), sometimes by W (in places where it would end up becoming a V). Notice in the Dalrunes set of Younger Futhark how the runic V is simply a modified F.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Germanic Genealogy #3: Watch!

Waiting witches keep watch on vigorous vegetables.

Well, ok, maybe they don't, but this sentence is interesting nonetheless: All the adjectives and nouns in the sentence are traceable to a common great, great, very great grandfather. The Proto-Indo-European root weg- led to words in Old English, Old High German, Old French, Middle Dutch, and Latin, and sure enough, modern English has drawn from them all. Among others, it gave us the words:

wait: from Old North French waitier, to watch;

witch: from Old English wicca, sorcerer, wizard (feminine wicce, witch), from Germanic *wikkjaz, necromancer (< “one who wakes the dead”);

watch: from Old English wæccan, to be awake, from Germanic *wakjan;

vigorous: from Old French, from Latin vegēre, to be lively, from suffixed (causative) o-grade form *wog-eyo-;

vegetables: from Latin vegēre, (see 'vigorous')

The common thread is strength/liveliness: To wait meant to watch, which meant to be awake, which meant to be lively. A witch was one who wakened/enlivened the dead. Vigorous still means lively/strong. And vegetables are things that are alive (before the dinner plate stage, obviously). The two main strains come to us through Latin, preserving the meaning of being lively, and through Germanic, with the main idea of being awake.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Last Call

Last call for translation for the Blog Translation Carnival this Friday. Post your translations and send me your links in the next couple of days!!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Cool Quotes #9: For Lange Frigedæg

For Good Friday ("Long Friday" in OE), here's an excerpt (and loose translation) from the Dream of the Rood. I covered this part in my last podcast, for which see the link on the sidebar. (For the rest of the poem, I've decided to break up into two separate podcasts so I have more time to look at individual lines and words (by request). I had thought to get at least one up before Easter, but this whole podcast experiment, while fun and fruitful and totally worth it, is still a little more work than I planned, and anyway most of the rest of the poem is about the resurrection or afterwards anyway.)

Update (about 20 minutes later): I've colored the words in the translation that are alliterated in the original. As I mentioned in the last podcast, this may approximate the subtle way alliteration causes the words to be connected in the reader's mind. Sometimes the colors jump out, other times they're hardly visible; this just makes it match the effects of alliteration all the more.

Syllic wæs se sigebeam,     ond ic synnum fah,
forwunded mid wommum.     Geseah ic wuldres treow,
wædum geweorðode,     wynnum scinan,
gegyred mid golde;     gimmas hæfdon
bewrigene weorðlice     wealdendes treow.
Hwæðre ic þurh þæt gold     ongytan meahte
earmra ærgewin,     þæt hit ærest ongan
swætan on þa swiðran healfe.     Eall ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed,
forht ic wæs for þære fægran gesyhðe.     Geseah ic þæt fuse beacen
wendan wædum ond bleom;     hwilum hit wæs mid wætan bestemed,
beswyled mid swates gange,     hwilum mid since gegyrwed.
Hwæðre ic þær licgende     lange hwile
beheold hreowcearig     hælendes treow...

      Gestah he on gealgan heanne,
modig on manigra gesyhðe,     þa he wolde mancyn lysan.
Bifode ic þa me se beorn ymbclypte.     Ne dorste ic hwæðre bugan to eorðan,
feallan to foldan sceatum,     ac ic sceolde fæste standan.
Rod wæs ic aræred.     Ahof ic ricne cyning,
heofona hlaford,     hyldan me ne dorste.
þurhdrifan hi me mid deorcan næglum.     On me syndon þa dolg gesiene,
opene inwidhlemmas.     Ne dorste ic hira nænigum sceððan.
Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere.     Eall ic wæs mid blode bestemed,
begoten of þæs guman sidan,     siððan he hæfde his gast onsended.

Feala ic on þam beorge     gebiden hæbbe
wraðra wyrda.     Geseah ic weruda god
þearle þenian.     þystro hæfdon
bewrigen mid wolcnum     wealdendes hræw,
scirne sciman,     sceadu forðeode,
wann under wolcnum.     Weop eal gesceaft,
cwiðdon cyninges fyll.     Crist wæs on rode.
(ll. 13-25, 40b-56)

    *     *     *

Wonderful was that victory-tree     while I was spotted with sins,
maimed by my defilements.     I beheld that tree of glory
adorned with vestments     shining so beautifully
decked with gold;     gems had
honorably clothed     the tree of the Almighty.
Yet, through that gold,     I came to discern
the former strife of wretched men:     and that it first began
to bleed on its right side.     I was overcome with grief;
afraid before that fair vision.     I saw that noble symbol
change its robes and appearance:     now it was wet with blood,
drenched from its bloodflow,     now it was adorned with jewels.
I lay there yet     a long while
gazing in repentant sorrow     at the tree of the divine Healer...

      Up the high gallows He climbed,
bold, in the sight of so many,     for now mankind he meant to redeem.
I trembled then, as the hero embraced me;     yet I dared not bow to the ground,
dared not fall to the surface of the earth;     I was to stand firm.
A cross was I raised,     the powerful King I raised up,
the Lord of heaven;     I dared not bend.
With dark nails they ran me through,     my wounds visible to all,
open, treacherous wounds;     yet I dared not harm any of those fiends.
They derided both of us together.     I was drenched with blood,
which gushed from the side of the man,     when he had sent forth his spirit.

Often on that hill     I have had to endure
terrible deeds.     I beheld the Lord of hosts
stretched with violent force.     Darkness then
did cover with clouds     the corpse of the Lord,
a radiant twilight;     a shadow went out
strove under the clouds.     Then wept all creation,
mourning the fall of its king.     Christ was on the cross.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cool Quote #8: Like Father Like Son...Not!

No commentary needed here; just another blunt saga quote on the generation gap.

Thorstein, Egil's son, was a very handsome man when he grew up, with fair hair and a fair complexion. He was tall and strong, although not on his father's scale. Thorstein was a wise and peaceful man, a model of modesty and self-control.

Egil was not very fond of him.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

A Reminder

Tents are going up, mead is being stirred, and language barriers are being toppled!

Don't forget to be looking out for blogposts to translate for this month's Carnival of Blog Translation, which will take place here on 28 April. (Yes, even this post counts, technically.)

Germanic Genealogy #2: Ants (and Aunts)

The modern word ant comes from Old English æmette. With the standard Germanic stress on the first syllable, if you say æmette often enough and fast enough (try it!), you'll stop bothering with the e's, and end up with something like æmt. Once there, it's a short jump to ant, by a process called assimilation: the bilabial m (pronounced with the lips) is assimilated by the dental t. If you make an m dental, you have an n. This is a common linguistic occurance: hemp, from OE henep; as well as all those words with Latin prefixes like in + logical = illogical, and actually, ad + similis > assimilate.

This process also happend to a word that many (I suppose most) Americans pronounce the same as ant: aunt.

Aunt comes from Middle English aunte, from Anglo-Norman, ultimately from Latin amita. Here again, once the middle syllable is dropped, the t plays Borg to the m's futile resistance. So you have something like anta/ante. Except there's a u. Why is there a u? Well, it seems to have originated with Anglo-Norman. There are many au-words in Anglo-Norman whose Parisian French (and often modern English) versions lack the u. For example:

aume (= English soul), beside French ame from Latin anima
aumuce (amice), from Old French amis, from L amictus
aunsien (former, ancient), beside F ancien
auprés (after), beside F aprés
ausmes (> E alms)
ausuager (> E assuage)

Now, of these, only aunt retained its au-spelling. Why? I'm not sure; I could speculate that later contact with French kept words like amice and ancient closer to their Parisian spellings than the Anglo-Norman ones, but it could just as easily be due to a change of spelling conventions internal to English. Perhaps one of my knowledgeable readers could fill in this gap?

Either way, it's fun to watch the process work on words from such different sources.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Podcast #2: The Dream of the Rood

Latest on the podcast: Part 1 of 2 going through the Dream of the Rood. Part 2 will finish the poem by the end of Holy Week next week. After going through the OE text so closely in preparation for this cast, I found lines of it coming back to me in church on Sunday. Not that that's a bad thing. Anyway, some relevant links:

Wikipedia on The Dream of the Rood

Text in Old English

The latter is useful if you want to follow along. Each word is linked to the glossary in the frame below. Enjoy!

Monday, April 3, 2006

The Scottish Collaboration

(Cuz, you know, you're not supposed to name it. Bad luck and stuff.)

First off, the new issue of Dappled Things is out, featuring one or two contributions by yours truly, and a poem by Mikaela. The songs we wrote last fall inspired her poem in this edition, while the poem I have there inspired her to write one of the songs in our current collaboration, which Mikaela has already been blogging about.

So after the huge success of our collaborative efforts in writing a trilogy of songs loosely inspired by Old Germanic poetry (success being defined as our having thoroughly enjoyed the whole project), Mikaela and I are now gettin' our Shakespeare on. The Scottish Play is really a perfect candidate for our collective attention: It's dark. It's tragic. It's overcast. It's psychological. And it's Scottish.

Anyway, we have four songs in mind this time: one between Macbeth and the 3 sisters; one between Macbeth and Lady M.; one vaguely inspired by the lament for the state of Scotland in the scene in England between Malcolm, Macduff, and Ross; and a fourth song, which Mikaela wrote, inspired by the aforementioned poem, in turn inspired by the aforeunmentioned play.

Lyrics for the first one were written weeks ago. But the Muse just didn't have a melody for poor Mikaela yet. Maybe it would have helped if I'd been able to get together sooner to work on it, because when we did, the music came fast and furious. And for the first time I realized that when I'd written the lyrics, I'd had in mind not just the rhythm of the words, but something approaching an actual melody. Or, at least something that felt like a memory of a melody. God bless Mikaela for her patience--and amazing talent, being able to take my vague descriptions and turn them into music I suddenly realized was exactly what I wanted: "So, like, start with rain. Well, but higher up. And faster. Not the gentle rain from that other song, but kind of frantic, ominous. Yeah, that's it. Maybe even an octave higher. Ok, now keep that going, but then a really low note ... like those pedal tones Arvo Pärt uses to ground a tune with deep roots. Yeah ... hey, that's like thunder, that makes sense. Ok, now a little bit lower for the next one ... then higher, then way down, and hold it there ... no lower, like ... yes, YES! Man, you know that would really sound great with [both, in unison:] a cello! I wish you knew a cellist ... Ok, now Macbeth speaks ... [a little later] now the witches, you'll notice, finish each other's rhymes, b/c they're really like one mind, so can you make it sound ... whoa, yeah, like that. Maybe even more chant-y, like more monotone ... yeah, no even to here ... oh wow, perfect! So here at the end, where Macbeth's lines use the witches' rhyme scheme, maybe he should sound more ... whoa, yeah, like that. Cool, ok, I think we're done."

I love music, and listen to a huge variety, but I don't think I've ever personally known a musician more talented than Mikaela--and in a very deep, intuitive way. I asked her what the time signature was for one of her songs, and she wasn't even sure; she just felt, thought, and started playing. It flows so freely from her fingers that some bits of composition here and there have been lost b/c she doesn't even write it down: it's all "up here". But even if she forgets the music, she remembers whatever it is that the music came from, so she's usually able to recompose something close or better.

Anyway, We have two complete songs now -- the first and last -- and now we're filling in the middle. Our remaining "homework" has her working on song 2 (the anti-love duet, or competing monologues between M and Lady M) and me writing lyrics for song 3, although we always allow ourselves to pursue inspiration for any song if it comes. And of course we each have had diversions. She's gotten into Portuguese Fado (as I may too, now, with my next paycheck), and I've got other poems to write and languages to study. But eventually I have no doubt we'll have a pretty cool-sounding ... er, quadrilogy that will have very much of the feel of Macbeth.

[Doh! I said it.]

Saturday, April 1, 2006

You -- Yes YOU -- are Invited!

Preparations are already in the works for the third-ever Carnival of Blog Translations! The Carnival, which The Bitter Scroll hath this month the honour of hosting, shall take place on April 28th.

My castle and the surrounding fields will be filled with tents and pavillions displaying the translational talents of visitors from around the world, as well as sideshows and games, and candy and balloons for the kids.

What is a Blog Carnival, you ask? A blog carnival is a travelling signpost that puts together a series of links about a particular theme. Contributors post something relevant on their blogs sometime during the month, and on the day of the carnival (towards the end of the month), the host compiles one big post with links to all the participants. It can be quite a to-do!

To participate in this Carnival, you need merely translate anything posted during this month by another blogger and post it on your own blog, with a link to the original. Fill out the following information and email (see my profile) me before April 28th:

My Name:
Name of My Blog:
My Blog's URL:
Title of Post, in Target Language:

Name of Blog I'm Translating From:
Name of Person Whose Blog I'm Translating From:
Their Blog's URL:
Title of Post, in Source Language:

The first and second carnivals were hosted by Liz Henry of ALTALK Blog and Beverly Trayner of Em duas línguas. If you fancy playing host to the fourth Carnival, let me know.

To date, the following languages have been represented at a Translation Carnival: Bulgarian, English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.

I do have two suggestions for the carnival this month, but it's totally up to contributors: if no one does either of them, it'll still be a successful carnival:

1. Given the location of this month's carnival (viz., here), I would be just tickled to see some translations into dead languages ... Anybody up to the challenge??

2. After I posted my contribution last month, the author of the original had some interesting comments on the unique challenges of that particular translation. I think it'd be fascinating if contributors, either in the comments section or in a separate post, noted briefly some of the unique challenges they encountered. But again: better to contribute something without it, than wait and never contribute!

Email me if you have any questions. Happy Translating!!

[Note: Despite the date, this is not an April Fool's joke.]