Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

Boris Johnson and Antisthenes

July 24, 2019

johnson

[Antisthenes] said that states are destroyed when they cannot distinguish fools from serious men.

τότ’ ἔφη τὰς πόλεις ἀπόλλυσθαι, ὅταν μὴ δύνωνται τοὺς φαύλους ἀπὸ τῶν σπουδαίων διακρίνειν.

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 6.5

We have had some discussion about this on social media.  The question would be how to interpret φαύλους and σπουδαίων, which are basically trivial vs serious, but can represent a number of related contrasts.  The original citation contains a number of discrete opinions on diverse matters and does not really help with interpretation here.

In the course of the discussion, Diarmaid MacCulloch described Johnson as Not a fool, and ultimately not very serious. Ambitious, and utterly untrustworthy.  Which may be the kind of person Antisthenes was thinking of–as far as we can ever tell…

Linear B at the Summer School in Homer, UCL 22-26 July: Day 2

July 23, 2019

linbfig21

1023  We await two new people.  Alexandra comes to shut  off my escape.

1048  I don’t feel too bad…yet…

1052 I want to go home.  The god Νηρεύς exemplifies the classes of consonants omitted in Linear B.

1200  It is a vessel containing honey.  I want to go home.

1245  I go home!

Linear B at the Summer School in Homer, UCL 22-26 July: Day 1

July 22, 2019
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Linear B sign inventory

MONDAY JULY 22: 0627  Do I want to wake up now?  No.

0910  The train gets crowded and stops at Denmark Hill for a long time.   The driver announces that a passenger has fainted.

0940  UCL–there are signs to the Slade Summer School and EF. Great! I follow old people to the A V Hill Lecture Theatre.

1002 Antony Makrinos is the Zeus of the Summer School.  There are 98 participants, some male and some female.  UCL has a strict green policy, as well as catastrophically awful admin even by academic standards.

1035 Ester our lecturer goes to find someone who understands the IT.  Everyone is very young, keen and bright.

Tiryns is Ester’s favourite Mycenaean site.

rhyton1

So that’s what a rhyton looks like (from Ayios Vassileios)

You can hear Michael Ventris talking on the BBC about his decipherment here.

1345 Should we have come back now (as in the programme) or at 1430 like she said?  Best to practise our silent staring at blank screen skills for a bit.

1430 When she says she doesn’t expect us to learn the 91 syllabic signs immediately she means the opposite of course.

Exercise in  reproducing the syllabic grid is just like management training where the trainer lets you get so far and then suggests it would be better if you organised yourselves rather than all doing the same thing.  Except that this is interesting and important.

1530 I set off home without pausing for  Disability in Antiquity.  It is hot.

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Ester addresses the troops over a completed Linear B exercise (in duplicate)

 

 

 

Linear B at the Summer School in Homer, UCL 22-26 July: Day 0

July 21, 2019

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I thought I would keep a diary of doing Linear B at the Summer School in Homer to give people an idea of what it is like.

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SUNDAY 21 JUNE

 What do they mean, registration from nine to ten?  I haven’t got a train up to Town in the morning rush for more than a year now.  Doubtless I will have to stand, and Bloomsbury is in the wrong bloody place anyway.   And what’s this talk about ‘Disability’–the ancients certainly didn’t go in for that kind of polite language.

Three-and-a-half hours less five minutes of classes.  I suppose I will survive.  But I don’t imagine there’s going to be anything interesting on at the Renoir if it does become too much.

linbpost3

 

But then I have to admit that the Day 1 programme looks very interesting, and I would regret missing it.  The main cause for optimism is surely that all of the participants will be at the same level of not knowing anything about Linears B or A.

Genesis 41:56-42:5 in Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew

June 21, 2019
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Biblical Hebrew

For people who might be looking for a short parallel passage to compare Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew, we give the examples above and below.

josephmh`

Modern Hebrew

More about things to read in French

June 12, 2019
alain-fournier

Henri-Alban Fournier

So, to continue the story, our client expressed a preference for doomed romance and a decided aversion for the passé simple and suspiciously un-French surnames (so much for Houellebecq!) That led to Modiano and Alain-Fournier.

The latter did not entirely escape censure on Facebook:

I really don’t like Le grand Meaulnes! Hated teaching it! But as ever that says more about me than the book. Should have thought of Le silence de la mer (Vercors) for passé simple if I remember correctly.

I tried re-reading Meaulnes a few years ago and gave up at page 192, oppressed by the thought of another 123 pages of the same…stuff…At least Alain-Fournier is conceptually simpler than Modiano (especially) or Vercors, since he bashes you repeatedly over the head with what he wants to say while they expect you to understand it from what they leave out…

Actually the first 3 paragraphs are not at all bad and helpfully illustrate the use of various tenses in the indicative:

Il arriva chez nous un dimanche de novembre 189…

Je continue à dire “chez nous”, bien que la maison ne nous appartienne plus. Nous avons quitté le pays depuis bientôt quinze ans et nous n’y reviendrons certainement jamais.

Nous habitions les bâtiments du Cour Supérieur de Sainte-Agathe. Mon père, que j’appelais M. Seurel, comme les autres élèves, y dirigeait à la fois le Cours supérieur, où l’on préparait le brevet d’instituteur, et le Cours moyen. Ma mère faisait la petite classe.

You’d almost think it had been written to demonstrate use of tenses!!

Meanwhile, there will be a few Modiano-related events at the Institut français in September…

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Patrick Modiano

 

Recommendations for things to read in French

June 9, 2019
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In order of size…that’s the way

Our friend Kseniya is now feeling bored living in Israel.  I suggested that she ought to read some French literature in the original, which would show she was a person of distinction and refinement who had better things to do with her time than look for a job.

So I assembled the items above from my bookshelves, guided by the principles of contemporaneity and concision, with some hope of impossible romance.  (Actually only Le Grand Meaulnes fits that particular bill).

Some discussion on Facebook yielded in addition:

Maupassant, Boule de suif. Or other short stories

But that’s really French literature as she is known in Russia and BdeS relates to a specific juncture of the Franco-Prussian war.  Also Turgenev, Chekhov and Bunin all did the same kind of thing with much greater subtlety and lightness of touch, or better as we simple souls put it.   But on the other hand ‘Misti’ has a cat in it of course and embodies animal cruelty to humans rather than the reverse, which tends to be the case in Maupassant.

I have recently read a few things by Jean-Christophe Rufin with mixed enthusiasm. But the one I’d really recommend, Rouge Brésil, is definitely long!

608 pages, and it looks like the kind of thing that Robert Nye used to turn out by the yard in the 1970s…

How about Beauvoir Le sang des autres?

310 pages!

And from Twitter:

Gaël Faye, Petit Pays (recent winner of the Goncourt des lycéens)

I think our client, as a right-thinking Russian girl, is interested in Metropolitan France, and in particular Paris, and specifically the few particular streets in Paris that all right-thinking Russians dream of.

JMG Le Clézio, L’Africain (Nobel Laureate)

Actually this looks interesting, but it still takes place in Africa (see on Gaël Faye above).

Further suggestions will be more than welcome!

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Ordered by date this time

 

How to make best use of Conversation Exchange?

April 3, 2019

language-exchange

We have been asked give some advice on the use of Conversation Exchange, based on something like 4 years’ experience of Russian-English exchange with 10 or so partners, both in  person and over the Internet.

Clarify objectives

To start off, you should be clear from the beginning what you were looking to get out of the exchange and what exactly you could offer in return.

Control discomfort

It is useful to have defined topics of conversation to avoid either having the same conversation time after time or getting into details of one’s life, thoughts and feelings that one would not necessarily want to share with a stranger or chance acquaintance.  The aim is really to keep a level of linguistic discomfort that helps you to learn things that might not be entirely straightforward.  One way of doing this is to set a target of I am going to learn (say) five new things during this conversation–if you meet your target, it really doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make or how stupid you feel.

Exchange between equals

I think you need either a reasonable level of the target language (I think that the site used to say that you needed Upper Intermediate for conversation to be any good–compare the definitions) or a degree of linguistic sophistication so as to make use of material you didn’t necessarily understand immediately.

It is probably also a good idea to explicitly agree on how long the session is going to last and to split the time so that half of it is spent in language A and half in language B.  There is always a tendency to drift into chatting in the language with the stronger learner (let’s say it’s language A), which of course minimises overall effort but then not speaking to foreigners at all reduces it still further.  So you should have discussion of points in language B and correction of mistakes in language B in language B, to avoid getting into language A as a lingua franca.

There is a tendency for some people to want their conversation partners to teach them language X, which is generally not realistic unless the partner is a language teacher by trade–and if they are, then they ought to be paid for their work.

Politeness and safety

Following the general rules for meeting people on sites of various kinds, you should avoid criticising other people you have met there (because the person you are talking to will fear you criticising them to others) and certainly give it up immediately if what is going on makes you feel uncomfortable at a personal level.  More on this here.

Time matters

There are also a number of practical points, which may apply especially to sessions of Internet contact.  It’s best to have a set time each week, because then you’re subconsciously preparing yourself for it.  It’s very difficult to arrange things on the fly with someone who is essentially a stranger–you don’t know what constraints they are operating under or what their conventions are regarding punctuality.  If you’re dealing with somebody from  another cultural background, while it may be clear to you that at five o’clock means some convenient time before 5:30–how are they meant to know that?

Rachel’s Hebrew Class 2018-19

March 30, 2019
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Joseph and Mrs Potiphar, so it seems

Rachel Montagu is again running an Advanced Biblical Hebrew course as detailed below.

These classes work in the time-honoured fashion: each student in turn reads a verse aloud and then translates it, with input from the teacher as necessary. She also provides some background and interpretation from traditional Jewish teaching.

The emphasis is certainly on understanding the text rather than grammar as such. In my experience, there have been perhaps an average of seven or so students coming to lessons. The level things are taken at tends to depend on who the students are, while the fee per term might be something around £110-£130, depending on circumstances.  At about £ 10 per 2-hour session this certainly looks like good value!

In principle, students should have covered the material in the First Hebrew Primer from Eks before starting this class. If you know the qal conjugation (perfect and imperfect) pretty well for verbs with three strong roots (the ‘regular’ ones if you like) and have some idea about hiphil and niphal and verbs with weak roots, that will probably do.

If you want to know more, you can email Rachel.  I’ve also shared just about everything I know about studying Biblical Hebrew with the world here.

Wednesdays 6.30-8.30 p.m., at Liberal Judaism, 21 Maple Street, London, W1T 4BE

Autumn Term

 Abraham’s journeys (and Hagar’s)

26 September             Gen. 11:26-32, 12:1-20

3rd October                 Gen.13:1-18, 14:1-7

10th October                Gen. 14:8-24, 16:1-8

17th October                Gen. 16:9-16, 17:1-2, 18:16-33

[24rd October   half term]

31st October                Gen.20:1-18, 21:1-7

7th November             Gen. 21:8-34

14th November             Gen. 22:1-19, 23:1-3, 17-20

Jonah, the Unforgiving Prophet

21st November            Jonah 1:1-16, 2:1-10

28th November            Jonah 3:1-10, 4:1-10

Nahum and Obadiah, Servants of God

5th  December             Nahum 2:6-14, 3:1-14

12th  December           Nahum 3:14-19, Obadiah

Spring Term

 All is Futile (Except The Soul….)

14th January                (Obadiah 1:3-21) Ecclesiastes 1:1-6

21th January                Ecclesiastes 1:7-2:14

28th  January               Eccl. 2:15-3:13

4th February                Eccl. 3:14-4:17

11th  February             Eccl. 5:1-19, 6:1-6

[18th February – half term]

25th February              Eccl. 6:7-7:22

4th March                     Eccl. 7:23-8:17

[11th March – extra break week]

18th March                   Eccl. 9:1-18, 10:1-7

25th March                   Eccl. 10:8-11:10

Brothers in Genesis – In The End, Things Improve

1st April                       (Eccl. 12:1-15) Genesis 37:1-10

8th April                        Genesis 37:11-36

 Summer Term

29th April                      Genesis 39:1-23

[6th May           no class – Spring Bank Holiday]

13th  May                     Genesis 40:1-23

20th  May                     Genesis 41:1-24

[27th May         no class – Half term]

3rd June                       Genesis 41:25-57

[10th  June       no class – 2nd day Shavuot]

17th  June                    Genesis 42:1-38

24th June                     Genesis 43:1-34

1st  July                       Genesis 44:1-34

8th July                         Genesis 45:1-28

15th July                      Genesis 47:1-31

 

The NYT Dialect Quiz and Me

February 18, 2019
nytmap

reaction to First version

My first reaction to this was The NY Times dialect quiz  suggests I come from Middlesbrough or Carlisle–well I’ve been stuck at Carlisle station a few times…

And furthermore it’s a question of what age you acquire the characteristics of your speech, so for me you’ve got Teesside (ages 8-18 say) and possibly the Isle of Man (5-8 perhaps) but nothing for Sarf London (2-3 ish and 29-58).

But in summary–for my case–since even the existence of Teesside is only weakly acknowledged in Yorkshire and County Durham and hardly at all further afield, I find this seriously impressive!

nytmap2

Version 2

Of course, it also helps if you read what it says, which is The map shows places where answers most closely match your own, based on more than…respondents who said they were from Ireland or Britain.

My inititial view was that you acquire your accent/pronunciation from the other children you go to school with, but I don’t know whether that applies quite so definitively to vocabulary.  

The rubric, however, gives a more nuanced account:

The way that people speak — the particular words they use and how they sound — is deeply tied to their sense of identity. And it’s not just about geography. Education, gender, age, ethnicity and other social variables influence speech patterns, too.

These dialect markers are so ingrained into people’s sense of self that they tend to persist well after they move away from home. “Identity is what underlies most people’s retention of at least some of their local features,” said Clive Upton, professor emeritus of English language at the University of Leeds, “because ultimately what we say is who we are.”

nytmap3

Version 3

And you can always try again–I don’t think it shows you exactly the same 25 questions each time and you can change your mind about doubtful cases. I ended up with an overall conclusion of the North in general, the North-East in particular and specifically Teesside.