Saturday, May 20, 2006

Xenophobia in the U.S. Senate


Declaring English to be the national language is about as necessary and meaningful as declaring Going To The Beach to be the National Summertime Activity.

The myth that immigrants to the U.S. lack the incentive and the will to learn English is pervasive but silly. The problem that there aren’t enough classes for immigrants to learn English is very real, and widely ignored.


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/20 at 01:30 PM
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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Verbal adjective in Luke 5:38

In his overview essay ‘Differences Between Classical and Hellenistic Greek,’ Jay Treat writes that in Hellenistic (Koine) Greek, “verbal adjectives in -te/oj are lacking (the only NT example is in Luke 5:38), and those in -to/j have been crystallized into a set group.”

I wanted to find out what that lone Luke example was. (I again give the disclaimer that I haven’t formally studied Greek, so this will be clumsy.) The verse is a short one: “But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins” (NRSV). In Greek (xlit’d): alla oi non neon eis askous kainous blęteon

That’s the only NT instance of blęteon, defined as “which must be thrown or put.” All translations listed at have “must be put.”

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/16 at 05:14 PM
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Monday, May 15, 2006

Bookshelf: ‘WH-Clauses In English’

Trotta, Joe. WH-Clauses In English: Aspects of Theory and Description (Language and Computers 34) (Rodopi, 2000). [P-A-G-t-i-r]

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/15 at 08:15 PM
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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Top 10 Baby Names in 2005

From the AP:

For the 10th year running, Emily is the most popular name for infant girls in the United States, according to figures this Mother’s Day weekend from the Social Security Administration. ...


Top 10 Names for 2005
RankMale nameFemale name
1 Jacob Emily
2 Michael Emma
3 Joshua Madison
4 Matthew Abigail
5 Ethan Olivia
6 Andrew Isabella
7 Daniel Hannah
8 Anthony Samantha
9 Christopher Ava
10 Joseph Ashley
Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/13 at 03:37 PM
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‘Repair and Relevance of Differential Language Expertise in Second Language Conversations’

From Applied Linguistics:

Repair and Relevance of Differential Language Expertise in Second Language Conversations
Kanagawa University
Applied Linguistics 27/1: 25–50  Oxford University Press 2006

This paper examines the relevance of differential language expertise in ordinary
conversation between speakers of Japanese as a first and second language.
Adopting a conversation analytic perspective, the study focuses on other-repair
as one sequential environment in which the participants recurrently orient
to their differential linguistic knowledge. Specifically, it will be shown that
language expertise was made relevant (a) when one participant invited the
other party’s repair and (b) when the participants encountered a problem in
achieving mutual understanding. On such occasions, the interlocutors oriented
to the differences in their linguistic knowledge through their talk and other
interactional conduct. The study thus provides evidence for differential language
expertise as a participant category that emerges on occasion but bears no
relevance for the participants during most of their talk.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/13 at 11:14 AM
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Friday, May 12, 2006

Evidential, raised possessor, and the historical source of the ergative construction in Indo-Iranian

From Transactions of the Philological Society:

Evidential, raised possessor, and the historical source of the ergative construction in Indo-Iranian
By Theodora Bynon

Transactions of the Philological Society
Volume 103 Page 1 - April 2005


This paper argues (i) that the source of the ergative construction of the transitive verb in Indic and Iranian languages was anticausative but not passive as has widely been assumed, (ii) that it functioned as a modally marked evidential which indicated that the event in question was inferred or reported rather than directly witnessed, and (iii) that the agent was by origin a genitive-marked adnominal possessor raised out of its noun phrase and later reanalysed as the syntactic subject, its uniform instrumental-marking in Sanskrit being an innovation. In view of the fact that the possessive modifier precedes its head this analysis can account naturally for the position of the transitive agent at the beginning of the clause, preceding the object. It is, finally, suggested that the construction originated with non-agentive intransitive verbs and that it spread to transitives through the intermediary of ergative (ambitransitive) verbs which can have both intransitive-spontaneous and transitive-causative forms, a hypothesis which creates a diachronic link between lexical and structural ergativity.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/12 at 11:30 AM
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Translating ‘Hypocrites’ in the Gospels

More from Kenny Pearce (more earlier):

A repeated issue on this blog has for some time been the difference between translation and transliteration and the way that the vast majority of Bible translations have failed to actually translate a large number of critical words, simply writing out the original Greek words instead. One such example that I’ve been thinking about recently is the word ‘hypocrite.’ ... the English word ‘hypocrite’ does not have the same meaning as the Greek upokrites and this at the very least kills a very good metaphor (compare my post on ‘talents’ ), and possibly even distorts the meaning of the text. ...

Jesus’ criticism in these verses doesn’t have to do with the high moral standards professed but not lived up to, it has to do with general insincerity, and putting on a show. Jesus speaks in a vivid metaphor, saying that to the scribes and Pharisees “life is a stage.” When we transliterate the work into English, we destroy this metaphor and, while we may get the general sense, we certainly miss the depth of what Jesus is getting at here. ...

Also see KP on ‘talents’

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/12 at 10:27 AM
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‘The Language of Athenian Democracy in the New Testament’


There are two particular words I am thinking of here: ekklesia and kerux. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that these words are consistently translated one way in ‘Bible Greek’ and another way in ‘secular Greek’ when Bible Greek and secular Greek are the same language! In secular Greek they are “assembly” and “herald” respectively, but in New Testament translations they are usually “church” and “preacher.” Now, these are perfectly ordinary words in the Greek, but their usage by the Athenian democracy was so prominent in the literary tradition of Greece that I cannot imagine that the Greek speaking Christians in the first century who first began to use these words didn’t have classical Athens in mind, so let’s start from the beginning and have a brief discussion of the history of these words, and what the choice of these words might tell us about the early Church’s self-understanding and its message to the world.


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/12 at 10:23 AM
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Thursday, May 11, 2006

More “No word for…” nonsense

From LL, via GB, via EMK:

from Language Log

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/11 at 10:15 AM
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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Where there’s smoke, there’s ‘extinguishing’?

Airports and airplanes are even better for grammar- and word-watching than Wendy’s is. I just got off a plane on which the pilot announced he would “extinguish” the seatbelt light when we got to a certain altitude. I got the image of him making his way through the cabin with a candle-snuffer, while a hopefully able co-pilot took the wheel.

It reminds me of what I wrote in my recent column on Chinese characters: the character for “lamp” contains a component that means “fire,” because that’s how you used to light a lamp. 

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/07 at 03:52 PM
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Diagramming a Wendy’s cup

This (rather wordy) inscription on current Frosty’s (Frosties?) cups at Wendy’s got me thinking about a couple things:

Do something nice for yourself. Something rich, smooth, and chocolaty. And while you’re at it bring someone you like, or admire from afar a Frosty, because everyone likes doing what tastes right.

(If you haven’t noticed (here and here, for instance), billboard and other commercial prose is my favorite thing to analyze grammatically.)


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/07 at 03:34 PM
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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

‘Inflection and Movement in Old English’

From the author’s personal website(pdf):

‘Inflection and Movement in Old English’

Elly van Gelderen

In this paper, I focus on Old English verbal inflection in relation to (b) and (c) in Beowulf, The
Junius Manuscript and The Exeter Book. Many of the arguments hold for other Germanic
languages as well. I show that, even though the inflection is rich in Old English, the language has some
reduced inflection when the verb is in second position. This is unexpected but in accordance with
Chomsky (1995) who does not connect morphological strength with the feature strength that triggers
movement. I argue this reduction indicates that, in the `normal’ Old English clause, agreement is
checked inside VP but that if verbs move to second position, the checking may occur in C resulting
in incomplete agreement. Following Kiparsky (1995), I claim that Old English has limited Verbsecond
because the C position is not generally available. In addition, there is no evidence for AGR
and T positions and therefore, Old English is a problem for Bobaljik & Jonas (1996). I suggest that
positional, rather than morphological, evidence triggers Functional Categories.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/03 at 03:56 PM
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‘On Language’ 5/3: No horsing around: English at the racetrack

Horse-inspired vocabulary in winner’s circle next weekend
On Language
Chicago Tribune
May 3, 2006
By Nathan Bierma

The Kentucky Derby puts horse racing at the center of American sports for one weekend each year, and it reminds us that horse racing once had a huge influence on American culture and the English language.

“The words we’ve added to the American vocabulary reflect our undertakings and devotions,” says Grant Barrett, author of the forthcoming “Official Dictionary of Unofficial English.”

“Think of the gambling terms (`ace up his sleeve,’ the gold-mining words (`pan out’ ). ... Horse racing’s introduction of new American words has been reinforced by its overlap with gambling and our greater past reliance upon the horse, which is still in our collective memory. But more importantly, who doesn’t love a horse?”

In preparation for Derby Day on Saturday, listen for the galloping hooves behind these familiar words and phrases:

Across the board: covering all categories. If you place a bet that a horse will win, and then place additional bets that the horse will place (finish second or higher) and show (third or higher), you’re betting across the board. No matter where the horse shows up on the board that displays the top finishers, you’ll win. The phrase eventually expanded to mean any kind of comprehensive covering of categories. ...

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 05/03 at 03:56 PM
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