Friday, June 30, 2006

‘any’: problem with that

From Linguistics in the Netherlands (PDF):

There is no single Dutch morpheme which corresponds exactly to English any and the correct mapping from Dutch to English is a complicated many-to-many relation. Consider the representative examples in (24) through (36), which have been obtained from Dutch newspapers and books and native speaker informants (NSI).



Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/30 at 03:30 PM
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Three Cheers, and Two Articles, for Descriptivism

Analyzing Eggcorns and Snowclones, and Challenging Strunk and White (New York Times on Language Log) (more)

Dean of arts and letters explores ‘bad language’ (Ashland Daily Tidings on Edwin Battistella)

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/30 at 03:25 PM
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‘On Language’ 6/21 - Some advice about advice

Hopefully, the grammar police will keep advice to themselves
On Language
Chicago Tribune
June 21, 2006
By Nathan Bierma

“In an effort to make the world a better place, I cleave to Conan the Grammarian’s Three Rules of Correcting Others,” writes best-selling language maven Richard Lederer, a.k.a. “Conan the Grammarian,” in a cover article in Verbatim, a Chicago-based language magazine.

His first: “Are you right?”

Second: “Will it make a difference?”

If the answer to both questions is “yes,” Lederer concludes, then you may proceed to the third rule: “Do the correcting in private.”

Lederer’s three rules are fairly simple and straightforward, but to me, they illustrate the flaws of the entire enterprise of giving grammatical advice. “Says who?” is always an appropriate response to Lederer’s first question, because what he means by “Are you right?” amounts to this: Do manuals on English usage and style recommend the correction you’re about to make?

But usage manuals are seldom written by linguists, who actually study how language works. The manuals tend to make subjective, selective and shaky suggestions. The authors pass off their own personal preferences or folk customs as gospel truth.

Arnold Zwicky, a linguist at Stanford University, writes at his Web site that linguists’ “foundational assumptions diverge strikingly from those of the advice literature at almost every turn.”

He cautions, “The advice literature on language is [merely] advice, comparable to advice on diet, exercise, gardening, child rearing, relationships, and the like.” ...

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/30 at 03:22 PM
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Proverbs 27:4: Aramaic 1, Septuagint 0

From Aramaic Thoughts at

Selections from Proverbs 27 - Part 3

Verse 4 is as follows in Hebrew: Wrath is cruel and anger is overwhelming, and who can stand before jealousy? In the Septuagint it reads: Wrath is merciless and anger is sharp, but jealousy can bear nothing. In the Peshitta the verse reads: Wrath is impudent and anger is violent, and who is the one who can stand before jealousy? The general sense of the verse is clear—that jealousy is even worse than anger—but the versions differ somewhat in the details. Especially, in the second half of the verse, the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew text and from the Peshitta, since it makes “jealousy” the subject, rather than the object of the verb. This difference is difficult to explain, because the syntax of the Hebrew text is clear. At some points, particularly in poetry, the subject and the object in Hebrew may be difficult to distinguish, but that is not the case here. Clearly the translator of the Peshitta has understood the verse better than has the translator of the Septuagint. The Septuagint’s translation makes understanding the verse more difficult than necessary.

There are other points of interest in this verse. The word translated “jealousy” in all three versions is also the word translated “zeal.” continued…

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/30 at 01:22 PM
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Friday, June 16, 2006

Idiom-less threat from Iranian president?

From the NY Times:

“Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to wipe Israel off the map because no such idiom exists in Persian,” remarked Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan ...

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/16 at 10:09 AM
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Monday, June 12, 2006

Bookshelf: ‘The Syntax of Spanish’

Zagona, Karen. The Syntax of Spanish (Cambridge Syntax Guides) (Cambridge, 2002). [P-A-G-e-s]

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/12 at 06:17 PM
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Thursday, June 08, 2006

‘On Language’ 6/7: Frisian: language of my ancestors, sibling to English

Frisian flag

Sheer pride keeps alive Frisian, a cousin to English On Language‘ Chicago Tribune June 7, 2006 By Nathan Bierma see

With a vague sense of ethnic pride, a vaguer sense that I owed it to my great-grandfather and a complete ignorance of the Frisian language, I attended the 50th and final Frisian worship service in Grand Rapids, Mich., last month. For me, the service hammered home a key distinction about my own ethnicity. I usually say that my ancestors were Dutch. But my great-grandfather, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1890, might have objected to that claim. Technically, he was Frisian, and for Frisians, that is more than just a technicality. Friesland is a province of the Netherlands along that country’s northern coast, but dating back to the ancient days when it was a vast kingdom and maritime power, it has always been its own country, in a way. The Frisians are one of the oldest ethnic groups in Europe and one of the most doggedly independent. A famous Frisian slogan is “Frysk en Frij,” meaning “Frisian and Free.” The Frisian language also represents a piece of linguistic trivia: Old Frisian was the closest relative of Old English, its sibling in the West Germanic language family. Linguists tend to say that in its earliest days, English used to sound a lot like German. But it’s closer to the truth to say that English used to sound a lot like Frisian. So as a Frisian descendant and an aspiring linguist, I had two good reasons to attend the final Frisian-language worship service in Grand Rapids, where an annual Frisian service has been held since 1957 in an area church. ...
Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/08 at 09:27 AM
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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

GBooks on German

Google Books links for some books on German:

History of the German Language Through Texts
by Thomas Gloning, Christopher Young

The German Language Todayby Charles V J Russ

Modern German Pronunciation: An Introduction for Speakers of English
by Christopher Hall

Language and German Disunity: A Sociolinguistic History of East and West in Germany, 1945-2000
by Patrick Stevenson

Linguistic Purism in Action: How Auxiliary Tun Was Stigmatized in Early New High German
by Nils Langer

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/06 at 04:42 PM
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GBooks on OE

Google Books links for some books on Old English:

The Syntax of Early English
by Olga Fischer, Ans van Kemenade, Willem Koopman, Wim van der Wurff

An Old English Grammar and Exercise Book with Inflections, Syntax, Selections for Reading…
by C. Alphonso

The Cambridge Old English Reader
by Richard Marsden

Old English Biblical Verse: Studies in Genesis, Exodus and Daniel
by Paul G. Remley

Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England
by Bruce Mitchell

The Beowulf Reader: Basic Readings
edited by Peter S Baker

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/06 at 04:32 PM
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Friday, June 02, 2006

The Bible in Asian America

The final issue of the SBL journal Semeia, in 2002, was a double issue on “The Bible in Asian America.” SBL has posted a full-text PDF of the issue at its site. The articles include:

Introduction: Whose Bible? Which (Asian) America?
Tat-siong Benny Liew ..........................................................................1
1. From Babel to Pentecost: Finding a Home
in the Belly of the Empire
Eleazar S. Fernandez ..........................................................................29
2. Resident Aliens of the Diaspora: 1 Peter and Chinese
Protestants in San Francisco
Russell G. Moy ....................................................................................51


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/02 at 09:49 AM
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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Vocab lists: ‘one of the most inefficient applications of human cognitive facilities’

From a provocative paper in JETS called “Greek vocabulary acquisition using semantic domains” (which discusses NT Greek but has broader applications):

Some L2 teachers have championed semantics-based approaches for vocabulary acquisition. John T. Crow claims that semantic fields are the best way to expand an individual’s vocabulary and discourages the use of decontextualized word lists based on frequency of occurrence computations.21 He claims that the use of these lists has been the primary teaching aid of vocabulary, although “rote learning is one of the most inefficient applications of human cognitive facilities.”

Update: Since writing this article, the author published a book called Mastering New Testament Greek Vocabulary Through Semantic Domains (the link goes to Google Books, which has the full text).

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/01 at 05:00 PM
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‘On Language’ 5/31 - These type of questions are tricky

These kinds of mistakes can make us all feel bad
On Language
Chicago Tribune
May 31, 2006
By Nathan Bierma

Here are two short questions readers sent in by e-mail that I think deserve detailed answers.

Q. More often than not, talking heads on TV, especially football color announcers, say “these kind of plays.” Please make them stop.

—David Smith, Glencoe

A: You vastly overestimate my power over TV announcers. But it’s not just sportscasters who say “these type of things” or “these kind of things.”
A search at Google Scholar, which searches academic articles, turns up thousands of examples like this one from the International Society for Optical Engineering: “Two places where these type of data sets can be found are…”

An article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reads, “However, reliable quantitative data ... needed for these kind of studies are lacking.”


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/01 at 04:53 PM
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