Thursday, November 8, 2007

notitia dignitatum omnium tam civilium

Decades ago, when I was living in self-imposed, political exile in Bonn, a friend sent me a letter. I don’t really remember anything much from the letter, except (his knowing that I was a linguaphile) a bold request for the Latin translation of the title of his then-current favorite movie, Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo. It’s the sort of thing that makes linguists shudder, but it would burn up some free hours, or, so thought I. Long story short, Cairo is a rather modern city, but the Roman legions (specifically Legio XIII Gemina) were hanging about in its general environs, and the fortress they were occupying was called Babylonia. Anyway, reminiscing about this this morning led me to discover a wonderful little corner of the Web: Dr Ingo Maier’s The Cnh or Notitia Dignitatum links site. The Notitia Dignitatum is a fifth century example of a Roman bureaucratic document: a detailed list of the offices, both civilian and military, of both halves of the Roman Empire.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

feet of quine and old aside of pope

As the war between the prescriptivists and the descriptivists wages wroth with no end in sight, this gnome flew in over the transom the other day (from a friend via email):

We cannot stem linguistic change, but we can drag our feet. If each of us were to defy Alexander Pope and be the last to lay the old aside, it might not be a better world, but it would be a lovelier language.

[Willard van Orman Quine Quiddities (1987) p.231.]

I hadn’t read much Pope, so the professor’s allusion was lost on me, but Google is your friend:

Expression is the dress of thought, and still
Appears more decent, as more suitable;
A vile conceit in pompous words express’d,
Is like a clown in regal purple dress’d:
For diff’rent styles with diff’rent subjects sort,
As several garbs with country, town, and court
Some by old words to fame have made pretence,
Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense;
Such labour’d nothings, in so strange a style,
Amaze th’ unlearn’d, and make the learned smile.
Unlucky, as Fungoso in the play,
These sparks with awkward vanity display
What the fine gentleman wore yesterday;
And but so mimic ancient wits at best,
As apes our grandsires, in their doublets drest.
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold;
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old:
Be not the first by whom the new are try’d,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

[Alexander Pope An Essay on Criticism (1709-11) ll.318-36.]

Alike fantastic, if too new, or old: Be not the first by whom the new are try’d, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside. Words to live by, no doubt about it.


Friday, November 2, 2007

gdansk for the memories

I recently found what may be the world’s first, and perhaps only, blog in the Kaszubian language. It's called Czëtnica. Kaszubian (along with Czech, Slovak, Pannonian Rusyn, Lachian, Polish, Silesian, Slovincian, Polabian, and (Upper and Lower) Sorbian) is a West Slavic language. I first learned about Kaszubian reading the Tin Drum. And, of course, there is a Kaszubian version of Wikipedia (Wikipediô).

[Addendum: It seems I was all wrong about Czëtnica. It isn’t really a blog, even though it uses WordPress software. Thanks to Mihoł for setting me straight. It’s a vortal for literature, both Kaszubian and worldwide. He suggested a couple of other Kaszubian sites, Kaszëbskô Wëdowiédnô Starna and formæ formarum. which really are blogs in spite of their using CMS software. Now I guess I have no excuse but to learn Kaszubian.]

I note that there’s a German Minority (Mniejszość Niemiecka) party in Poland. I wonder if there’s a Silesian dialect of German that’s still spoken there? There is a German-language newspaper in Silesia: Schlesisches Wochenblatt.

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