Monday, September 27, 2004

California's Indigenous LanguagesMy latest Tribune language column:
On the revitalization of Native American languages in California.
temp link/perm.preview

Here's the Economist's Kenneth Hale obituary with the Louvre quote. It says Hale could converse in about 50 languages. More on his Green Book. If you're interested in language death, take a deep breath and start clicking: Languages in Danger on Listmania; bibliography on Indigenous Language Stabilization from; a post about UNESCO's forthcoming "Language Preservation and Documentation Handbook: South Asia version"; intro to a paper or book called Revitalizing Indigenous Languages; resources on endangered languages from

More specific sites:, about the So. Calif. language I mention in my column; also, the revitalization of the Oneida (NY), Omaha (Neb), and Comanche (Okla) languages. More from the BBC from NPR, with links to audio samples from Africa and Asia.

Here's a review, excerpt, and overview of Mark Abley's Spoken Here. And here's a review of David Crystal's Language Death.

More from LL:

In August 2002, Wayt Gibbs wrote a piece in Scientific American called Saving Dying Languages. It included a full-page geographical plot to show the degree of correlation between locations of endangered languages and regions of greatest biological diversity. I wish someone could do a similar plot but with a linguistic uniformity score for each region of the world superimposed over a conflict index.
David Crystal considers this issue in his great book Language Death and mentions other cases of conflict in regions of linguistic uniformity. In a footnote, he quotes a section from the The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy about the mythical Babel fish, a universal language translator which, "by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation." x/x

And here's a drawing of the indri, mentioned in the briefs at the end of my column.

- The words of a protester (the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq) who disrupted a Laura Bush speech earlier this month:

“I wanted to rip the president's head off. ... I think if I had him in front of me I would shoot him in the groined area.” x

- This blogger and this columnist suspect Iraqi prime minister Allawi's speech to Congress last week was written by the White House. I wonder if his use of the phrase better off is a tip-off--not just because it is so frequently uttered by Bush, but also because it is idiomatic (or, at any rate, the individual parts do not suggest to speakers who struggle with English, such as Allawi, their meaning when paired). The world, he said, is “better off without Saddam Hussein.”

- MSNBC aired the results of a CBS poll on how many Americans "Think Iraq was the right thing to do"--"Iraq" being synonymous with "invading Iraq," and you can't help thinking that whenever Bush looked at a map circa 2002, he couldn't conceive of the name of the country without wanting to invade it.

- Saw an ad for a movie--Wimbledon, I think--that included this endorsement: "'Thumbs up!' Ebert and Roeper." I scratched my head: you usually see E&R's unanimous recommendation written as "Two Thumbs Up!" But in this case, apparently one of the critics had given it thumbs up and the other thumbs down--an ambiguous endorsement, dishonestly presented here. If the movie was indeed Wimbledon, this is exactly what happened: Ebert gave it thumbs up, Roeper thumbs down.

- Upon hearing the familiar voice of Terry Gross when he interviewed her, the Trib's Michael Wilmington says he was voicestruck. (Here's my piece on Gross from my college paper.)

From Sports Illustrated, 9/27:

-"When I was little I was big." WILLIAM PERRY, 1981 Clemson's 6'3", 305-pound guard, talking about his childhood.

- When de Vicenzo signs [an] incorrect card, 66 becomes his official posting, and he misses the green jacket by one phantom stroke. Afterward de Vicenzo's spirit and English are both broken. ... "What a stupid I am."

- Rick Reilly, on one SI collector: "He's got every single issue--protected in plastic slipcovers and stacked, in order, neatly on bookshelves in his living room. "There were four or five over the 50 years that didn't come for one reason or another," he said, "but I always managed to go to my dentist and take them from him." Where else would you go to fill a cavity?"

- My wife referred to our young nephew yesterday as double as old as when we last saw him. I assumed this was one of her unique contrivances, but "double as much" gets 819 hits at Google (compared with 544,000 for "twice as much").

we also experience a twist in the apparent wind in the order of
5 degrees or so (close hauled - downwind the twist can be double as much)

He spent double as much for sugar in 1904 as he did in 1890.

Elderly women lose nearly double as much calcium as elderly men because of hormonal changes due to menopause

Then there were just more than double as much cdma 3G customers than GSM/UMTS 3G customers in the end of 2003.

Murphy advertise in the news paper in the East and offered the workers 5 $ in
day that was double as much as the normal salary on that time

The merchant repenting, offered to give him double as much if he would make it again,
but neither his promises nor Cosimo's entreaties could make him consent.

- A link I saved: Terry Eagleton on fundamentalism:

Fundamentalism doesn't just mean people with fundamental beliefs, since that covers everyone. ... "Fundamental" doesn't necessarily mean "worth dying for". You may be passionately convinced that the quality of life in San Francisco is superior to that in Strabane, but reluctant to go to the gallows for it. ... Fundamentalism means sticking strictly to the script, which in turn means being deeply fearful of the improvised, ambiguous or indeterminate.

From Tim Dowley's Introduction to the History of Christianity: "The term 'fundamentalism' came to denote an unduly defensive and obscurantist attitude which was anti-scholarly, anti-intellectual and anti-cultural."

- The Trib's Rick Morrissey a week and a half ago: "Babe Ruth was beloved. Bonds is a lot of things, but 'beloved' isn't one of them. If 'beliked' were a word, Bonds wouldn't even be that." The Chicago Reader notes that Reilly first used this word, but exonerates Morrisey of plagiarism.

- via From Thomas Hobbes, A Brief Of The Art Of Rhetorick, Bk. III ch. II, Of the Choice of Words and Epithets:

THE Vertues of a Word are two; the first, that it be perspicuous; the second, that it be decent; that is, neither above, nor below the thing signified; or, neither too humble, nor too fine. Perspicuous are all Words that be Proper. An Orator, if he use Proper Words, and Received, and good Metaphors, shall both make his Oration beautiful, and not seem to intend it; and shall speak perspicuously.

Previous column and inflections

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