Category Archives: recommendations

Mari textbook

Breaking the radio silence with a nugget found on the interwebs:

The Viennese website on Mari language now makes a whole textbook of Meadow Mari available for free download! It is an English translation of a Russian textbook “Marijskij jazyk dlia vsiex”, but a) it is expanded [esp. the grammar notes] and b) it comes with AUDIO

All the Ugrofinists among you – including those still in the closet or in denial – should check it right now.


Two links

Just two links in this bad excuse of a post. But these are good links, or rather links to good places, so you will forgive me.

First, there is a website of my friend from Unilang, Ali Jahânshiri. A lot of interesting and useful information on Persian, including the best Persian keyboard layout I have ever seen. You can check Ali’s good work on Unilang’s Persian forum, too.

Second and last, another find via languagehat. The blog is called “Poemas del río Wang” is written in English, Spanish and Hungarian and is very erudite and beautiful. A must-read.

One smarter than me.

One smarter than me…

… can never be.
would you agree?

But seriously, everyone, me included, thinks of him/herself as much smarter than he or she really is. And this, sometimes, creates problems for everyone around.

A side note:

Dumb people thinking they are smart are one thing – you can easily (if you’re smart that is – do you see the beginning of a paradox here) see them for who they really are. The real problem lies with people who are smart but think of themselves as even smarter (and let me tell you, there are lots and lots of them). It’s not that easy to tell, is it? I mean, especially if you are not as smart as you think.

Back to the main point:

In order not to be deluded by self-pride into thinking you’re the brightest crayon in the box, the sharpest knife in the drawer and whatever other silly metaphor you can think of, it’s good to find someone unquestionably smarter than yourself and take comfort in your own inferiority, finally knowing that there’s someone up there, who must be more lonely and misunderstood than you yourself are.

Now, the point of this post is to introduce such a person. I don’t know his name nor other personal details, other than he is an Englishman of partial Irish descent and two passports (I wouldn’t mention that much, were it not for the Irish part). I don’t think he recognises me even by my nick, as I am not an active poster on the forum we both frequent.  He thinks sharp and he writes extremely well – you can have a taste at his blog.

Some things should be obvious from that, but as the topics he takes are sometimes esoteric, the blog writing does not give him justice. For that check this forum and search for posts by ‘Salmoneus’ – the range of topics is much wider so it should be more accessible. In particular, take a look at his analysis of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” in this thread (the best parts are on the fourth page, but the whole of it is worth reading; btw, another poster there, ‘Pthug’ is also one of the smartest people I know).


A meta-comment:

this blog has just had a three-fold increase of the number of visits/day, but there’s nothing much in the way of comments (I can count on Jade and Eskandar, but I know they would still comment  if they were the only visitors – heck, for a long stretch of time, they were the only visitors). So, @the silent majority: what’s going on? Cat’s got your tongue/fingertips? In writing a blog, the bigger half of satisfaction comes from a healthy debate/argument/exchange of insults.

Babylonians speak to us now

Let’s help the buzz spread:

A team from University of Cambridge put online a collection of Babylonian and Assyrian texts with recordings. Nerdcore!

Of course, neither the UoC team nor the rest of us (apart from the occasional necromancer perhaps – step up, folks I know you’re reading) can be sure how did the Babylonian language really sound like. So the recordings – a reconstuction based on modern Semitic languages – are probably quite far off. Still, a nice little thing to read and listen to.

I’ve seen this first on omniglot and later on languagehat. Both are really worth reading (LH better suits my tastes).

Геннадий Айги.

Опять получилось, что сижу и никак не знаю о чем писать. А ведь язык надо упражнять, кормить его своими мыслями дабы не исчез.

Раз у меня в данный момент никаких интересных мыслей нет, расскажу о тем, что я сегодня нашел в сети. А если честно – то нашел на много раньше, а сегодня просто вспомнил. Вот и путь в Вавилон, не город, а совсем современный сайт о совсем современной русской литературе (не знаю почему так назвали).

Там я впервые познакомился со стихами Геннадия Айги (черт, никак не помню, склоняется ли фамилия или нет). Впечатление есть. Какие впечатление – скажу, если спросите.

Books for Irish

As you know I’m trying to teach myself Irish these days. My main sources are two books: Learning Irish by Micheal O’Siadhail and a three-volume set of Buntús Cainte which is, I think, an interesting and effective combination. I don’t want to fully review either of them but let me just say how their philosophies compliment each other.

“Learning Irish” is very demanding and grammar-heavy. The explanations are succint and you really have to pay attention or you’ll miss a footnote with an essential point. It progresses in a very systematic manner, one  which aims at giving the learner a sound understanding of the inner workings of the language and not at getting him to speak as soon as possible. As a result, there are no chatty dialogues and for one-third of the book you know just one verb – to be.  If you are patient, by the time you reach the end of the book, you’ll have achieved a solid competence in Irish, be sure of that. There are many exercises (and the key!) and all the reading passages are translated. The variety being taught is Cois Fharraige dialect, a variety of Connamara (ie. western) Irish, which again contrasts “Learning Irish” with “Buntús Cainte” because the latter teaches  Standard Irish (but SI is sort of close to Connamara, so that’s not a big problem).

If “Learning Irish” is serious then “Buntús Cainte” is above all fun. It gives no dull explanations, has lots of  cute and  funny pictures and teaches conversation right from the start. The point is, going by it alone, you would never get the idea that there are two genders in Irish and thus you wouldn’t be able to predict eg. if a new noun is lenited after an or not. If you learn your grammar elsewhere, “Buntús Cainte” serves as an excellent source of conversation patterns.

In short – I recommend them both, but only in tandem.

The books I read and a book I haven’t read yet

A long time ago I would bore my readership (all five people of them, no jokes) telling unwanted stories about whose book I like the most and why. It seems that a good part of ‘my’ authors are taken care of by the modern word [1) it looks like it is an excellent website, so you should check it both on my account [to read about my tastes] and on your account as well [to read something really good]; 2) I’m linking to its Flann O’Brien’s page, because the homepage doesn’t work].

Now, not all of the people listed there I know, and from those whom I know, not all I do like, but the number of those I do know and like is high enough to make  coincindence impossible and the whole thing interesting. And if it is so, then there is a solid fat chance that I would have liked the other listed writers were I acquainted with them, wouldn’t you think?

Flann O’Brien, the guy from the page I linked to, is the first on my list. For one, I love and enjoy the kind of imagination and humour which stands behind this:

In Donegal there are native speakers who know so many million words that it is a matter of pride with them never to use the same word twice in a life-time.

More importantly, there’s his Irish masterpiece, “An Béal Bocht” which seems like the best thing the Irish literature has on offer for me. Once I learn the darn language well enough, that is.

Language forums

Still a lot of work to do, still (almost) no time to write. Let’s break the radio silence with the simplest kind of post:
a collection of links. This time it’s the best language forums I found:

Zompist Bulletin Board – frequented mainly by conlangers (people who design languages for fun and – sometimes –  promise of profit), lot of interesting information to get from there. Most users have native or native-like coimmand  of English, so the discussions are less childishly polite than on some other places.

Unilang – probably the biggest one around. Has many sub-forums devoted to particular languages but their quality varies wildly (but the Persian one is simply excellent thanks to the tireless and always helpful alijsh). In my experience, the main forum (for all languages) is a waste of time consisting mostly of teenage chit-chat.

Lingvoforum – the biggest Russian forum I found. Top quality, with lots of links and no shortage of people both knowing what they are talking about and being able to express themselves very well.

Amalgrad – tightly moderated Russian forum focusing on Middle Eastern languages. Invaluable treasure trove of resources, but nothing will save you if you break their rules. – a husk of a Polish-language forum which never gathered enough momentum to kick start. Back in the day I was one of the most active posters there. UPDATE: an attempt to revive it is underway.

These are what I found to be the best, but undoubtedly your judgement will differ from mine. Do send me your opinions and suggestions. I would be really grateful for links to language forums operating in languages other than English, Russian and Polish.

A blog to recommend

A friend of mine, Rémy LeBeau (unfortunately, it seems that’s not the name in his papers) apart from the very promising-but-hibernated blog on Pashto runs a blog which is generally worth reading.

One of his last entries, on the language situation in Afghanistan as well as disproportionate focus of Western academia on Iranian (actually Tehrani) Persian which in practice translates to neglect other varieties, deserves a particular attention, just as the article which prompted it (also on the language issue in Afghanistan but from the perspective of an US officer). Why? Because what they say rings true, and is quite rarely said.

My two cents:  On one hand, given the disparity between Iran and Afghanistan in population, economic potential, literacy levels and emigration patterns, it is no wonder most departments of Persian Language and Culture focus on Iran and Iranian Persian. Quite similar argument can be made for Dari vs. Pashto. However, the dangers of looking at people  only through the lenses of their neighbours’ language need to be stressed.

An astray thought: Poles should know about it well. For obvious reasons, most scholars of Slavic languages and cultures worldwide (and especially in the West) start their journey with Russian (I personally would recommend Russian over Polish to any foreign learner who has no special reasons/prior preference), and in the process, many of them acquire through a kind of osmosis, internalise  and  hold as their own, the Russian views on Eastern European history, politics and culture, many of which (the views) smell to us as neo-imperialist and plain dangerous. Sorry for that digression, I guess the bottom line is: if you want to learn about the Pashtuns, ask them themselves, not people they have had a troubled realationship with.