Monday, August 01, 2005


A couple quotes from Dostoevsky (why is it that everytime I see his name, it's spelled differently? They didn't have standard spelling in turn-of-the-century Russia?) and another from Tolstoy that I'm pilfering from Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew. Man, I miss writing quotes that I like. It's been awhile.

If anyone could prove to me that Christ was outside the truth, I would prefer to remain with Christ than with the truth. (p. 141)

The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Faith does not... spring from the miracle, but the miracle from faith. (p. 163)

[Concentrating on the Sermon on the Mount, Leo Tolstoy says,] The test of observance of Christ's teaching is our consciousness of our failure to attain an ideal perfection. The degree to which we draw near this perfection cannot be seen; all we can see is the extent of our deviation. (p. 126)

And this is from an introduction to an interview with Cambridge professor (actually, "associate principle at Ridley Hall at Cambridge") and musician and conductor Jeremy Begbie.

Cultural forms [as in, art forms imbued within the culture] are not simply utilitarian or ornamental, but are expressions of an understanding of the nature of creation, specifically of human nature and human well-being. Cultural conventions usually take form at specific times and places because they’re compatible with a set of dominant assumptions about things. They are concrete crystallizations of abstract hopes, desires, and theories.


  1. Two reasons for what you note about names from Russian to English. (And this is even leaving aside issues like regional pronunciations.):

    (1) Russian is written in a different alphabet (Cyrillic).

    (2) Even when the characters are the same, Russian vowels particularly don't have exactly the same values as English vowels.

    So even if you simply mechanically transliterate the Cyrillic characters (which gives you an awkward sense of the pronunciations), you still have to decide how to represent the different vowel system and there's not really a right answer for that. Russian is actually not the worst language for this problem of wildly variant spellings in English; Arabic is -- at least among major world languages.

    For example the sound of the last syllable in "Gorbachev" is actually closer to "-yov" than the usual way an Anglophone would say "-ev." But the "y" and the "o" are both much subtler and shorter sounds than in English. Anglophones, particularly Americans, tend to stretch out their vowels when speaking a language other than our own. Listening to GW Bush speak Spanish is almost as painful to me as listening to his English (and I don't even have anything like native proficiency in Spanish).

  2. they're both funny though. President W's spanish is very stereotypic anglo-mangle.

    Jesus and Joshua both come from the same word, though, right?

    seeing that you know something of linguistics and i'm generally interested but proficiently stupid, are the semitic languages related to the indo-european languages? i know persian is, if i recall.

    thanks for dropping by.

  3. The Semitic languages are not related to Indo-European, at least not without the positing of some, even more "proto," ur-human-language. Of which there is no real historical evidence whatsoever (only conjecture about pre-civilization, which strikes me as fatuous, un(dis)provable theorizing).

    Persian is Indo-European, however (the word "Iran" is a form of "Aryan"). However, you have to consider the overwhelming influence of Islam, meaning among other things the Arabic language, upon Persian culture for 1200-1400 years, depending on how one wants to date. About half the Persian vocabulary is of Arabic origin, and it is even more pronounced in matters of proper nouns (which travel as instantaneously as technology permits) and cultural artifacts (like, to start at the start, the term "Allah"). I believe Ayatollah Khomeini once wrote a book in Arabic in order to solidify his standing as an Islamic scholar, like a Catholic writing in Latin. But his "Arabic" was so heavily Persianized that it had to be translated for the Arabs of the peninsula to understand it. Imperfect analogy: even though the Norman conquest flooded English with French words, English didn't thereby become a Romance language. And even the most Normanized speech of 12th century Winchester was never the language of Paris.

    Yes, Jesus (Greek) and Joshua (Hebrew) are the same word (Yeshua in Aramaic). But the thing about proper nouns, as I said, is that they move between languages very easily with minimal changes. It's really just a matter of getting the borrowing language's tongue around the sounds (with some limits ... the throat clicks in African languages and the tones in East Asian languages simply cannot be rendered in English). And there always will be some smoothing, related usually to possible sound clusters, but sometimes to the orthography itself (character/spelling) as the tail that wags the dog. Example: "Szczecin" in Polish, but "Stettin" in German. English always uses the Polish spelling, but either pronunciation is likely (as the German, as those characters would more or less sound in English, or as the Polish, Sh-ch-e'-ch-ee-n)

  4. wow,

    i do think the study of general - superstructural - linguistics is fascinating. maybe for me, in my mind it points to the post-deluge and the scattering of tongues to the four corners in babbel in early Genesis.

    and you say 'imperfect analogy' partially, i take it, because english is an indo-european language through all of its feeder languages. gaelic-briton (i forget the name for it), norman-franco (i just don't know the proper name for it), and germanic tongues are all indo-europian.

    so, is this a hobby for you? just an interest? or more in tune with your proffession?

  5. Jason:

    Yes, the Norman French-Old English analogy was imperfect for the reason you state. All its principal historic influences -- Old Anglo-Saxon, Old Celtic, Old Norse, Norman French, and then later Latin and Greek -- are Indo-European.

    I have the exact opposite inclination. Structural linguistics goes against my need for concreteness, particularity, examples, testable hypotheses, etc. (I find top-down metaphysics tedious for the same reason.)

    And no, I don't claim any great knowledge of languages. In fact, one of the things I rebuke myself over in the category of "half-finished life projects" is the fact I have some knowledge of seven languages, plus some interest in comparative languages, but I can really only communicate in one.

  6. i tend to think in terms of concepts. i'd say i'm a conceptual thinker, but that's usually associated with engineers and inventors, furthermore, with mathematical skills nonetheless.

    details don't so much bother me as elude me. if the devil's in the details, than God wired me to deliver me from the evil one.

    now, as to your last paragraph, picture being partially puerto rican, in a largely puerto rican neighborhood and a largely puerto rican church. we associate language with identity, especially self-identity, right?

    latinos are no different. they become frustrated with me because i don't know spanish. yeah, i've tried and still try to keep up. but i've resigned myself to trying to learn the intracacies and nuances of the english language, which is beautiful and lovely, much as are the romantic languages. i didn't learn spanish growing up. my mother didn't really learn spanish, and certainly not at home (long story, although i think she could have picked up on some mean cusses). and any formal training, or even informal training, didn't begin til college. and, blah, blah, blah. i don't have a working knowledge of spanish.

    course, nobody asks if i know dutch or luxembourghe or gaelic.


Be kind. Rewind.