Wednesday, April 23, 2008

txting the fall of the rome

One of the fun things to do in museums is to try to read and decipher ancient inscriptions. Just knowing Latin or Greek is not enough, because of the extensive use of abbreviations in monumental inscriptions. Marble being an expensive material on which to write, the messages needed to be brief. Take for example, a milestone from the Via Trajana in Italy from the early second century CE. First is the original message, second is the unabbreviated version in Latin, and third is an English translation:


Imperator Caesar
divi Nervae filius
Nerva Trajanus
Augustus Germanicus Dacicus
pontifex maximus tribunitia potestate
XIII imperator VI consul V
pater patriae
viam a Benevento
Brundisium pecunia
sua fecit.

The emperor Caesar,
son of the deified Nerva,
Nerva Trajanus
Augustus, victor over the Germans and the Dacians,
chief priest,
holder of the tribunician power 13 times, saluted emperor 6 times, consul 5 times,
father of his country,
made the road from Beneventum
to Brindisium
at his own expense.

[From Lawrence Keppie (1991) Understanding Roman Inscriptions, pp.65-6.]

So, it occurred to me, that the Roman Empire fell, not because of lead poisoning, moral turpitude, or invading Goths and Vandals, but as a result of their language being diluted and degraded by a plague not unlike text messaging abbreviations. This also explains how the noble tongue Latin devolved into the barbarous jargons that are Italian, French, Provençal, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Romantsh, and Romanian. (Published on the InterWeb earlier. And a tip of an iceberg to Professor Pullum over in the UK for posting this and jogging my memory.)


Monday, April 21, 2008

flutter by wings

A while back, miladus edenensis posted on his delightful blog, Ad Usum Delphinorum, a link to an exhibit at the Bibliothèque nationale de France on Honoré Daumier and his heirs (link), one of which, Wiaz, drew the cartoon below (link). The insouciant pear is French Prime Minister, Jacques Chirac, and the trenchant knife is Édouard Balladur, the Minister of Economy, Finance, and Privatization.


Not being familiar with Wiaz, I looked him up in the French Wikipedia, and, lo, his real name, Pierre Wiazemsky, made me think of Eve Democracy in Godard’s Le Vent d’est (1970, link) and Odetta in Pasolini’s Teorema (link). His sister Anne Wiazemsky was also the middle of Godard’s three wives, all of whose names begin with Ann. As if all that was not enough, the siblings Wiazemsky were the grandchildren of the daughter of Francois Mauriac (Claire) and the Prince of Wiazemsky and Count of Levachov (Yvan).

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

lexica supina

More and more dictionaries have been showing up on my browser. Here’s a list:

  1. John Florio. 1611. Queen Anna’s / New World / of Words, / or / Dictionarie / of Italian and English / Tongues, / Collected, and newly much augmented by / Iohn Florio, / Reader of Italian vnto the Soueraigne / Maiestie of Anna / Crowned Queene of England, Scotland, France, / and Ireland, &c. / And one of the Gentlemen of hir Royal Priuie / Chamber.
  2. Edward Robert Tregear. 1891. Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary.
  3. Ralph Lilley Turner. 1962–1966. A comparative dictionary of Indo-Aryan languages.
  4. Woxikon, the Online Dictionary. German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Swedish.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

bleedin pony, innit?

We all know that English is going to wrack and ruin, and that the road to its destruction was paved by descriptivist linguists and skulking lexicographers. And the media are doing their part preaching to choir:

It had four wheels and cost a lot of money but, sadly for one impatient teenager, the similarity ended there.

A teenager was greeted by a display cabinet instead of a taxi because her Ali G-style slang confused a series of phone operators.

The girl hurriedly dialled directory inquiries to book a taxi from her home in London to Bristol airport, using the cockney rhyming slang Joe Baxi.

Yesterday when the “story” broke, there were along a score or so of ghits. Today, we’re up to 2,670 ghits. More blogging and bloviating. But there is some debunking is going on, too, at Five Chinese Crackers (link), Obsolete (link), and Chimp Media Monitor (link) blogs. A likely origin seems to be a press release (link).

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