Monday, November 19, 2007

Most Unread Books Meme

Meme: The 106 Most Unread Books (according to LibraryThing)

(Bold is for books you've read. Italics for books you've started but haven't finished. Strikethrough is for books you found unreadable. And, finally, leave the ones you haven't read as they are.)

I have a lot of reading to do. And I've enjoyed everything I've bolded below.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Anna Karenina

Crime and Punishment


One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wuthering Heights

The Silmarillion

Life of Pi

The Name of the Rose

Don Quixote

Moby Dick


Madame Bovary

The Odyssey

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre

A Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

War and Peace

Vanity Fair

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Iliad


The Blind Assassin

The Kite Runner

Mrs. Dalloway

Great Expectations

American Gods

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Atlas Shrugged

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Memoirs of a Geisha




The Canterbury Tales

The Historian

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Love in the Time of Cholera

Brave New World

The Fountainhead

Foucault’s Pendulum



The Count of Monte Cristo


A Clockwork Orange

Anansi Boys

The Once and Future King

The Grapes of Wrath

The Poisonwood Bible


Angels & Demons

The Inferno

The Satanic Verses

Sense and Sensibility

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Mansfield Park

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

To the Lighthouse

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Oliver Twist

Gulliver’s Travels

Les Misérables

The Corrections

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


The Prince

The Sound and the Fury

Angela’s Ashes

The God of Small Things

A People’s History of the United States : 1492 - Present



A Confederacy of Dunces

A Short History of Nearly Everything


The Unbearable Lightness of Being



The Scarlet Letter

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

The Mists of Avalon

Oryx and Crake

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Cloud Atlas

The Confusion



Northanger Abbey

The Catcher in the Rye

On the Road

The Hunchback of Notre Dame


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Aeneid

Watership Down

Gravity’s Rainbow

The Hobbit

In Cold Blood

White Teeth

Treasure Island

David Copperfield

The Three Musketeers

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A New One

Here's one I haven't heard of before: documentation of a Basque-Icelandic pidgin that developed about 400 years ago. Sailors and traders have to communicate somehow, so they ended up with this interesting combination of languages. Also mentioned in the link: evidence of a 16th-century basque-algonquinian language.

H/t languagehat.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Linguistic forced adoption

I wish more linguists were language teachers.

In the last couple of years I've done some tutoring in Latin. Part of the program in teaching Latin usually includes a specific focus on what English words have descended from the vocabulary taught in each lesson. I discovered a small pet peeve on my part when I noticed that the kids' teacher often gave them words that, while related to the Latin word, did not come from them. E.g.: English night from Latin nox, noctis. Yes, we have very many words that come from Latin (let's see, so far I've already used: tutoring, usually, includes, specific, focus, descended, vocabulary, discovered, part, noticed, related). But we do speak a Germanic language, after all, and lots of our words go back from modern English to Old English to Proto-Germanic to Indo-European. (I'm skipping steps here, of course, but the route is clear nonetheless, and doesn't pass through Latin.)

So if Indo-European is the parent language, then the languages that descended from her dialects into their own separate languages are the daughter languages: Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Persian, Slavic, Germanic, etc. That makes Latin a sister of (proto-)Germanic. She may be an elder sister, but a sister nonetheless. So if an Indo-European root yields words in both Latin and Germanic, then we say they both come from IE, not that the Germanic word comes from Latin, or vice-versa. Let's trace a few random words to get this distinction down.

Night. Not from Latin. There is a direct line from Modern to Middle to Old English (niht, neaht) to proto-Germanic naht, which also yields nahts in old Gothic, Nacht in German, natt in Norwegian, etc. Parallel to the Germanic naht (sisters, again) would be Latin nox, noct- and Greek nyx, nyxt-, as both descend from the Indo-European root nekw-t-.

Cry. From Latin. This word has an interesting etymology, recently posted at Language Hat. It is one of many words that came into Middle English through Old French and Latin. It doesn't appear in any form in Old English, and therefore doesn't come from Proto-Germanic.

Picture. From Latin. Pictus, past participle of pingere, plus the -ura suffix, came directly into Middle English. (The pingere form, having morphed to peindre in old French, finds itself with a new past participle form--peint--that also comes into English as paint.)

At. Not from Latin. The Latin preposition ad is related, but as a sister (not a mother) to the Germanic at. (Ado also comes from Germanic at, but through Norse.)

I'm not sure why it bothers me that people attribute to Latin words that came from Germanic; it's not like the English language has its feelings hurt, and either way kids are learning that languages are connected. And yet, Latin is so obviously important, it doesn't need help from false attribution; whereas I always enjoy pointing out the Germanic character still strong in our language (since it is the most Romancified of the Germanic family). Mostly I guess I just like it when people are precise, and while I know too much about how languages change to expect precision from the average speaker, I would like teachers to be able to make the distinction, or know enough to look it up.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Cool Quotes #11: The Decline of English

There seems to have been in every period in the past, as there is now, a distinct apprehension in the minds of very many worthy persons that the English tongue is always in the condition approaching collapse and that arduous efforts must be put forth persistently to save it from destruction.
--Thomas R. Lounsbury, grammarian (1908).

Sunday, September 2, 2007

China Fixes Signs, For Great Justice

This article is from back in February, but I just came across it while browsing funny signs and bad translations. Apparently the coming of the Olympics has Beijing all embarassed with the prospect of the rest of the world seeing the horrendously funny translating job displayed on many of their signs, and there's a campaign underway to fix the signage around Beijing:
For the next eight months, 10 teams of linguistic monitors will patrol the city's parks, museums, subway stations and other public places searching for gaffes to fix.
(Eight months starting last February, and lasting the rest of this year.) You absolutely must click on the picture and enjoy the horror slide show.

The funniest part to me is the actual resistance to removing such signs on the part of nostalgic Westerners. It's ok, guys, we'll always have Zero Wing.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Language Stops Plane

Language Log reports that the mere speaking of Arabic got air passengers suspicious enough to alert authorities to ... the speaking of Arabic. Now that I'm studying Arabic in more earnest than previously, I hope this won't cause undue concern--ok, I admit, I don't really care if people have a problem with it. And anyway, my pasty white northern Europeanness probably will work in my favor in the eyes of similar suspicious passengers. Seriously: you can't live in the modern world and be terribly surprised to hear just about any language, especially one spoken by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. (And I'll admit here I was spoiled growing up in Brooklyn and hearing everything!) But if you do think of Arabic primarily as a language that many of our enemies speak, wouldn't you want more people speaking it? Anyway, Bill Poser's point about what languages terrorists actually speak is well made--I better be careful who I speak French around.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Reading up on Central Asian history and names and such took me to the word Turan, a vague term used in medieval Persian literature for the land of Turkic and other peoples beyond Persia, meaning literally "land of the Tur". Interesting enough, especially given the article's attempt to sort out historical common usage from actual ethnic, geographic, and linguistic distinctions (always a tricky job), but what struck me was the analogy provided for the formation of the word:
Tūrān ("land of the Tūrya" like Ērān, Īrān = "land of the Ārya")
I never realized the etymology of the name of Iran before.

Incidentaly, the A-to-E vowel change also gives us the name of England out of Angla-lond, as well as word pairs like man-men, Denmark-Dane, and even ultimately star-steer. In Old English this is called I-mutation, since you mutated the sound of the first vowel by anticipating the sound of the I in the following syllable. This mutation remained even after the syllable with the I, often a inflectional (grammatical) ending, had been dropped. There are other examples in Old English that don't look like they apply in Modern English because lots of Old English a's have become modern O's.* But if you allow for this, you can see the effect of I-mutation in pairs like whole/hale and heal (OE hal/hæl, halian), strong and strength (OE strang, strengþu), long and length (OE lang, lengþu), old and elder (OE ald, ieldra), know and knew (OE cnawan, cneow).

*This is where we get off having the O-sound represented by "oa" as in boat, throat, coat, etc. The A in Old English bat was pronounced close enough to an O that people noted it by writing an O next to the A. I assume the same origin for the Scandinavian letter Å, except scribes there wrote the O on top instead of to the side.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Haiku

New place, web access
computer that works again
and back to blogging.