Monday, October 27, 2008


I love hybrid language, in all its forms, but when it is written, it can be especially creative. It took me a little while to notice that the CNN logo here also spelled out بالعربية bi 'l-'arabiya in Arabic, but I think the 7-up designers take the cake with this one, which still looks like the 7-up logo until you look closely and see that the 7 is actually أب (though with 3 dots below) and then the rest is seven (I suppose it would ruin it to put in سبع instead). The question is whether any Arabic speakers would be confused and think it was more closely related to the number 6 which looks like a 7 in what we call Arabic numerals. Actually both systems are Hindu-Arabic, and the one used in the west came to Europe through the Maghreb and Andalusia, whereas, Eastern Arabic countries continued to use a number system more closely related to the Hindi original.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I came across a french cultural group which has a similar name: "Mille et Une Langues" and offers language classes in Lyon. They also founded a group called KoToPo, which is probably both a creative acronym and a Niger-Congo language spoken in Nigeria and Cameroon (where it is known as Peere).
But this then led me to another site on the Mille et Une Langues du Petit Prince which makes the astounding claim that the Little Prince is the best-selling work of fiction in the world. On our them of books I had to check that out, and verify it with the librass: In fact it does not come on any sort of top ten according to Wikipedia's list, nor according to Russel Ash's top 10 of everything which I remember reading quite a while back and being surprised that the "What Would Jesus Do?" book was number 9. (Incidentally I bought a postcard 2 days ago on the WWJD? theme - slightly irreverent, but not as bad as this). But I digress... The bit that was interesting about the Little Prince was that it has been translated into 150 many languages, and especially now (drum roll please...) Amazigh! It was disappointing to find out that Le Petit Prince wasn't originally written in French, despite it being Saint-Exupery's mother tongue - that my well have been the first book I ever read in French. But back to the Amazigh Principito, which is in Tifinagh script, and translated by a Québecois Moroccan, Fouad Lahbib. Though I haven't gotten very far in my berber studies, it appears that the title is Aglden not the article's stated Ageldun Amezzan. Which made me wonder if this is just the diminutive of Prince (as in Principito) or if the title is cut off. I think it sounds better with a diminutive rather than two words, and was really hoping I would find some creative Arabic diminutives, like امويّر (amweyer) as we might hear in Hassaniya. Instead, the only creativity was a disappointing replacement of رحالة for امير by one of the syrian translators... the only other noteworthy section of the little prince article was this bit on Argentinian language Toba: Il y a deux ans, la parution du Petit Prince en toba, dialecte parlé par une petite communauté aborigène du nord de l’Argentine et intitulé So Shiyaxawolec Nta’a, a permis aux membres de cette communauté de pouvoir lire autre chose que le Nouveau Testament.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wir Philologen

The ideophone's post about the fad among late 19th century philologists to dabble in African linguistics reminded me of this, my favorite passage of Nietzsche:

Griechen und Philologen.

Die Griechen huldigen der Schönheit
sie entwickeln den Leib
sie sprechen gut
religiöse Verklärer des Alltäglichen
Hörer und Schauer
für das Symbolische
freie Männlichkeit
reiner Blick in die Welt
Pessimisten des Gedankens

Philologen sind Schwätzer und Tändler.
hässliche Gehege.
schmutzige Pedanten.
Wortklauber und Nachteulen.
Unfähigkeit zur Symbolik
Staatssclaven mit Inbrunst
verzwickte Christen

Monday, October 20, 2008


This Colombian bibliophile brings a new meaning to the term portmanteau with his rural walking library, which could best be translated as a "librass." Uses of portmanteau ("un galicismo que significa 'palabra combinada'"), which are not as common in Spanish as in English, (despite my own frequent encounters with and usages of Portanol recently). However the way of forming acronyms in Spanish speaking countries, as well as many other places in the world is very portmanteau-like. The English idea of acronyms taking one letter from each word is rarely true in the rest of the world, and produces what I think are much worse sounding names - like URL (earl?). Even with english's few cooler-sounding acronyms, the extra letters here and there in Spanish acronyms have the benefit of clarifying what the actual composition of the acronym is - most english speakers probably don't even know that laser stands for light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation, not to mention radar and scuba...
May the Biblioburro march on!

The NYT article which brought this article to my attention ends with a stanza from Rubén Darío's poem "A Margarita Debayle":


Margarita, está linda la mar,
y el viento
lleva esencia sutil de azahar;
yo siento
en el alma una alondra cantar;
tu acento.
Margarita, te voy a contar
un cuento.

Este era un rey que tenía
un palacio de diamantes,
una tienda hecha del día
y un rebaño de elefantes.

Un kiosko de malaquita,
un gran manto de tisú,
y una gentil princesita,
tan bonita,
tan bonita como tú.

Una tarde la princesa
vio una estrella aparecer;
la princesa era traviesa
y la quiso ir a coger.

La quería para hacerla
decorar un prendedor,
con un verso y una perla,
una pluma y una flor.

Las princesas primorosas
se parecen mucho a ti.
Cortan lirios, cortan rosas,
cortan astros. Son así.

Pues se fue la niña bella,
bajo el cielo y sobre el mar,
a cortar la blanca estrella
que la hacía suspirar.

Y siguió camino arriba,
por la luna y más allá;
mas lo malo es que ella iba
sin permiso del papá.

Cuando estuvo ya de vuelta
de los parques del Señor,
se miraba toda envuelta
en un dulce resplandor.

Y el rey dijo: "¿Qué te has hecho?
Te he buscado y no te hallé;
y ¿qué tienes en el pecho,
que encendido se te ve?"

La princesa no mentía,
y así, dijo la verdad:
" Fui a cortar la estrella mía
a la azul inmensidad."

Y el rey clama: "¿No te he dicho
que el azul no hay que tocar?
¡ Qué locura! ¡Qué capricho!
El Señor se va a enojar."

Y dice ella: "No hubo intento:
yo me fui no sé por qué;
por las olas y en el viento
fui a la estrella y la corté."

Y el papá dice enojado:
" Un castigo has de tener:
vuelve al cielo, y lo robado
vas ahora a devolver."

La princesa se entristece
por su dulce flor de luz,
cuando entonces aparece
sonriendo el buen Jesús.

Y así dice: "En mis campiñas
esa rosa le ofrecí:
son mis flores de las niñas
que al soñar piensan en mí."

Viste el rey ropas brillantes,
y luego hace desfilar
cuatrocientos elefantes
a la orilla de la mar.

La princesa está bella,
pues ya tiene el prendedor,
en que lucen, con la estrella,
verso, perla, pluma y flor.

Margarita, está linda la mar,
y el viento
lleva esencia sutil de azahar:
tu aliento

Ya que lejos de mí vas a estar
guarda, niña, un gentil pensamiento
al que un día te quiso contar
un cuento.

Rubén Darío (1908)

A Margarita Debayle

Margarita, how beautiful the sea is:
still and blue.
The orange blossom in the breezes
drifting through.
The skylark in its glory
has your accent too:
Here, Margarita, is a story
made for you.

A king there was and far away,
with a palace of diamonds
and a shopfront made of day.
He had a herd of elephants,

A kiosk, more, of malachite,
and a robe of rarest hue
also a princess who was light
of thought and beautiful as you.

But one afternoon the princess
saw high in the heavens appear
a star, and being mischievous,
resolved at once to have it near.

It would form the centrepiece
of a brooch hung with verse, pearl,
feathers, flowers: a caprice
of course of a little girl.

But also, because a princess,
exquisite, delicate like you,
the others then cut irises
roses, asters: as girls do.

But, alas, our little one went far
across the sea, beneath the sky,
and all to cut the one white star
that, high up, made her sigh.

She went beyond where the heavens are
and to the moon said, au revoir.
How naughty to have flown so far
without the permission of Papa.

She returned at last, and though gone
from the high heavens of accord,
still there hung about and shone
the soft brilliance of our Lord.

Which the king noted, said: you,
child, drive me past despair,
but what is that strange, shining dew
on your hands, your face, your hair?

She spoke the truth; her words shine
with the clear lightness of the air:
I went to seek what should be mine
in that blue immensity up there.

Are then the heavens for our display,
with things that you must touch?
You can be altogether too outré,
child, for God to like you much.

To hear that I am sorry, truly,
for I had no plans as such. But,
once across the windy sky and sea
so I had that flower to cut.

Whereupon, in punishment,
the king said, I'd be much beholden
if you'd go this moment and consent
to return what you have stolen.

So sad was then our little princess
looking at her sweet flower of light,
until and smiling at her distress
there stood the Lord Jesus Christ.

Those fields are as I willed them,
and your rose but signatory
to the flowers up there that children
have in dreaming formed of me.

Again the king is laughing, brilliant
in his robes's rich royalty,
he troops the herd of elephant,
in their four hundred, by the sea.

Adored and delicate, the princess
is once more a little girl
who keeps for brooch the star and, yes,
the flowers, and the feathers, the pearl.

Beautiful, Margarita, the sea is,
still and blue:
with your sweet breath have all the breezes
blossomed too.

Now soon from me and far you'll be,
but, little one, stay true
to a gentle thought made a story
once for you.

Rubén Darío (1908)

Translator: C. John Holcombe (2005-2006)

note azahar - great arabic loan word (الزهر)