Caveat: 스님과 자동차

This is a Korean-language pun I saw online (mastodon). Unfortunately, because my Korean isn’t that good, mostly Korean puns go right over my head. I don’t even recognize them. This one I recognized as a pun, and I decided to try to figure it out. I have fond memories of classes with my Korean middle school students where they would try to explain, in English, some Korean pun or joke that had gone over my head. I always thought it made for a great intrinsic motivation for English learning and practice.

Q: 스님이 차에서 내리지 않는 이유는 뭘까요?

A: 차에 기도하기 때문이에요!

Q: Why couldn’t the monk get out of his car?

A: Because he was about to pray.

I think the pun is in the word(s) 차에 [cha.e], which in the question means “in the car” but in the answer means “about to”. So there’s some ambiguity in the answer, between “Because he was about to pray” vs “Because he was praying in the car”. To be clear – maybe I didn’t understand the joke. I welcome corrections by those more knowledgeable, and I’ll post them as updates if that happens.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Tree #1725 “Identifying the season”

This tree is the pussy-willow tree I (trans-)planted last year. It seems to have figured out when Fall is.


A customer came in the store, with her child. The woman was speaking Haida with the child. This is what you do when you’re trying to help a child develop some bilingualism – it’s an attempt at some immersion. When she bought her products and was checking out, she said (I’m pretty sure) “Háw’aa” which means thank you. That was the first time I’ve had a customer speaking Haida in the store. The language is close to extinct, but there are strong community efforts being made to resurrect it. I told the woman I thought she was doing a wonderful thing.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo[daily log: walking, 4km; retailing, 9hr]

Caveat: 가을이 지나지 않고 봄이오랴

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

가을이        지나지 않고       봄이오랴
ga.eul.i anh.go bom.i.o.rya
autumn-subj pass-NEG-CONJ   spring-SUBJ-come-RHET-INTERROG
[Can] Spring come if Autumn does not pass?

This means all things should be done in their right place and in the right order. For example, to translate this first I had to figure out what that weird ending is. It’s a “rhetorical interrogative” – a special ending just for rhetorical questions! What every language needs, eh?


Caveat: various -dles

There is a fad circulating online, for a little online word-game called “Wordle.” It’s okay, I guess. Just a little word-guessing game, and perhaps part of what draws people to it is that you’re only allowed to play once a day, which creates a kind of artificial scarcity.

Frankly, there’s a variation on Wordle called Absurdle that I like better. Unlike Wordle, you’re allowed to play as much as you want. But it’s much, much more frustrating. That’s because instead of the puzzle choosing a random word and you having to guess it, this version makes the puzzle “hostile” – if you guess the word the computer has chosen, but other options are available, the computer will change its mind, and move to a different word. So you’re trying to guess at a moving target. It’s exactly like playing 20 questions with a 6 year old, actually.

And then I found Semantle. This game is, perhaps, superficially a bit like Wordle or Absurdle. But instead of just guessing at spelling out a word that the computer has chosen, instead you’re trying to guess a word based on a kind of “hot/cold”, described relative to some rather complex semantic maps of word use. These are the same sorts of mega-dimensional semantic vectors (co-occurrence matrices, I think) that are used in AI-styled language translators, such as e.g. google translate. Anyway, this last is the game I find most addictive, as I try to think about how the semantic fields play out in a large corpus of sample texts.

Caveat: epistemectomy

I just made up this word: epistemectomy – a procedure which removes knowledge from a person or information system.

I read strange things on the internet almost every day.

Earlier today, while Arthur was at the dentist, I found and began reading a web story (or, maybe, novella), on my phone. It’s about an object that functions as an “antimeme”. An “antimeme” is an idea (perhaps embedded in an object) that in its nature prevents people from being interested in it or remembering it. This opposes to the normal definition of “meme” – which is an idea that encourages people’s interest and recollection.

So unfortunately I can’t remember much about the story (okay, maybe that’s a joke).

Anyway, I recommend you can try to read it. It’s quite weird, though – just a warning. In fact, though, the story recalls certain features of certain secret societies that play difficult-to-define roles in some of my unfinished novels.

Here is the beginning of the story: We Need To Talk About Fifty-Five (part of the Antimemetics Division series).

Caveat: the

Apparently the word “the” has been declining in use-frequency over the last 100 years or so  – though it remains the single most common word in the English language.

There is a recent article on the Language Log Blog about it: here.

There is a more in-depth (more definite?) article from the same source, from some years ago: here.

I have always really liked the word “the” – it’s one of my favorites. Perhaps it became a favorite about the time I realized there are languages that don’t have a word that means “the”. Russian, for example, has no definite article. And they do fine. Korean, too, utterly lacks a word for “the” (Korean, on the other hand, deploys a “topic clitic” (-는) that is quite weird and impossible to translate to English reliably, but that overlaps semantically in some respects with “the” – but not enough to be considered in any way the “same” word).

“The” is a very strange word, actually, if you start to think about it. If languages can do fine without a word that means “the”, what, exactly, is the word “the” doing?

If things go on with the same trend, perhaps English will evolve in the direction of eliminating definite articles. I did some googling and found the example of Aramaic (specifically its Eastern dialects) as being a language that once had but has now lost the definite article. The opposite change is much more familiar to me: though Latin lacked definite articles, all of its modern descendants (Italian, Spanish, Romanian, etc.) have them. Historical linguists blame the Greeks for the spread of the definite article – the Greeks’ enthusiastic deployment of definite articles is well known.

That said, most evidence suggests Greek-speakers acquired their definite article mania from those Phoenicians. Early Semitic languages appear to have been original innovators of old-world definite-articlism, and modern Arabic is well known for its ubiquitous definite article, “al- “, such that that prefix is a marker for “Arabic” in stereotypical representations. Aramaic is interesting because, with such a long, long documented history (3000 years!) it has in fact passed through both processes: it at one point acquired a (the?) definite article (under influence from Hebrew and Arabic, perhaps) and then later lost it again (in many dialects).

In a slight digression, there is a nice word worth knowing: arthrous. This is a term in formal linguistics and philology, an adjective meaning that a particular language uses articles (both definite and indefinite, or of other weird flavors of article e.g. Swahili, I think). Thus English or French or Greek or Arabic are “arthrous” languages, because they have articles (definite, indefinite, or both); meanwhile, Russian, Korean, or modern Eastern Aramaic are “anarthrous” languages, because they do not have grammatical articles.

Perhaps in future English will make do without definite article.

(The.) End.

Caveat: LINGVA LATINA vs 한국말

So I was surfing the internet to random linguistics things – as one does – when I ran across this youtube video of a guy giving a passionate speech in seemingly entirely spontaneous Latin. He’s not what you would call a first-langage native speaker of Latin, obviously (there’s no such beast), but he’s definitely what one would classify as a fully fluent second language speaker of it. His Latin is “accented” by his first language (Italian) – but anyway, most fluent Latin speakers speak what is called “church Latin” which is essentially what we might think of as “Latin with an Italian accent”.

I suppose this intrigued me because I studied Latin while in high school, and subsequently was in essence a student of Romance Philology at the University of Pennsylvania, in my graduate program in Spanish Literature and Linguistics. I was required to take Spanish philology, which included being able to negotiate texts in late Iberian Latin and Old Spanish, as well as familiarize myself with other languages that influenced the Spanish Language’s evolution: Arabic, Gothic, “Celtiberian”, Basque, etc. I also had to take a “reading exam” in French (quite hard for me – my high school French was originally poor and rusty too) and Portuguese (less hard – I’d studied Portuguese some).

The epiphany that struck me as I watched this man speechifying in Latin was that in fact, I understood him better than I would a similar speech in Korean. The combination of my fluency in Spanish, my familiarity with other Romance languages like French, Portuguese and Italian, and my original fairly strong Latin from high school served well enough to make a lot of sense out of what the man was saying. I couldn’t necessarily give a summary of his ideas, but I could at least gather topic to some extent, and catch lots of individual concepts. My Korean comprehension isn’t quite that good – even though I lived in Korea for more than a decade and several times dedicated myself to formal instruction in Korean (maybe a cumulative of 2 years worth of college-level Korean).

This is of course a bit depressing, given my publicly visible “revised bucket list“. I haven’t been doing much Korean study, these days.

Caveat: Lisp in Life

What follows will make no sense to you if you are unfamiliar with Conway’s “Game of Life” or don’t know what Lisp is.

Conway’s Game of Life is a very simple “cellular automaton” that is known to be Turing Complete. See wikipedia.

Lisp is a high-level computer programming language, quite revolutionary in its time and one of the oldest computer programming languages still in wide use. See wikipedia some more.

Long ago, I was a “Lisp hacker” – I wrote programs in Lisp. Specifically, as an undergraduate linguistics major (and computer science minor) at the University of Minnesota in the 1980’s, I wrote complex programs that could parse a tiny subset of highly ambiguous English syntax, centered on the multivalent nature of the word “that“. That was my senior thesis, that I prepared for Professor M. Kac, my advisor: it was a 50 page paper with an appendix in the form of a compilable Lisp program that was at least another 50 pages, printed out. I have a recollection that at one point, my program while in development caused the mainframe (yes, I was working on, I think, some kind of VAX at the time) to crash or something, and Dr Kac got a call in the middle of the night from the computer department at U of MN asking what in the world I was working on. In fact it wasn’t an infinite loop, but rather, a very very very long loop, and so the system admin had flagged it as de facto infinite.

That’s a digression.

Yesterday I found an article about a guy who has implemented a simple Lisp interpreter using Conway’s Game of Life. This is weird. But very cool and amazing. Here is a video of a very simple lisp program running that multiplies two numbers.

Another digression: given that Conway’s Game of Life is Turing complete, and given that the universe seems to be Turing complete, what if the universe is a simulation running on some really giant Conway’s Game of Life?


Caveat: I will pray for your lucky

My coworker Jan, at the gift shop, likes to order various exotic herbal medicines and supplements, often from Asia. She ordered something from Korea not that long ago – I don’t know what it was (some kind of mushroom extract?). But when she got her product delivered, it included this note from the vendor.


To Buyer,

Thank you so much for your purchase!!!!!
I hope you had a pleasant transaction as much as I enjoyed:-)
You are such a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect, incredible, fabulous,
fantastic, the one-of-a-kind, mind-boggling, and Excellent buyer!!!
Even though we are oceans apart, I feel it's my honour to have a
chance to get to know you through That's why I love
having transactions on
I will try to meet your needs by providing better service and

I will pray for your lucky,if you leave a good feedback on
I wish that you are in good health and fortune with your family.
Hope to deal with you again. Thank you.
Have a wonderful day!!! Have a great day!!!!

Many thanks and Kind regards,
Kevin Kim

This made me nostalgic for my Korean students’ inimitable English style. This could have been written by one of them, easily. So much hyperbole!!!! So many exclamation points!!!!!!!!!


Caveat: The piano speaks

I found this online.

This guy used data from a voice recording of a person speaking to figure out which combination of piano keys (i.e. complex “chords”) would best reproduce each point in the wave form of the speech. Generally these are too many keys, needing to be pressed too rapidly in sequence, for a human pianist to do this. So he used a mechanical piano-playing device to reproduce the speech. It’s just on the edge of comprehensibility. Quite eerie.


Caveat: Geget sa, niminwendam

Zhingwaak gaa-ozhibii’aan
Zhingwaak! Zhingwaak! Ingii-ikid,
Weshki waabamag zhingwaak
Dagoshinaan neyab, endanakiiyaan.
Zhingwaak, zhingwaak nos sa!
Azhigwa gidatisaanan
Gaagige wezhaawashkozid.
Mii sa naa azhigwa dagoshinaang
Bizindamig ikeyaamban
Geget sa, niminwendam
Miinwaa, waabandamaan
Gii-ayaad awiiya waabandamaan niin
Zhingwaak, zhingwaak nos sa!
Azhigwa gidatisaanan.
Gaawiin gego, gaa-waabanda’iyan
Dibishkoo, ezhi-naagwasiinoon
Zhingwaak wezhaawashkozid
Wiin eta gwanaajiwi wi
Gaagige wezhaawashkozid.
- Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
AKA Bamewawagezhikaquay
(Ojibwe poet, 1800-1842)
To the Pine Tree
Pine! Pine! I said,
The one I see, the pine
I return back, to my homeland.
The pine, the pine my father!
Already you are colored
Forever you are green
So we already have arrived
Listen in that direction
Certainly I am happy
And I see
He was there I saw it myself
The pine, the pine my father!
Already you are colored.
Nothing, you did show me
Like that, the way it looks
Pine he is green.
He is beautiful
Forever he is the green one.
- translated by Margaret Noodin

Published 2020 by in their Poem-a-day feature.
What I’m listening to right now, as snow falls outside.

Arvo Pärt, “Salve Regina.”

Caveat: В полутьме брожу

что слушаю сейчас.

ГРАЙ, “В объятиях Мары”

Белая зима, ой, пришла да не спросила,
Лютая пришла, серебром снегов укрыла.
Превратила в лёд мою душу и сердечко,
Замерзшими слезами покрыла речку.
Белая зима принесла недобры думы.
Солнце спряталось, да на небе полнолунье.
В полутьме брожу, слышу, смерть крадется тихо.
Снежная метель все свистит да кружит лихо.
Лютая зима холод в сердце поселила.
Хладная пришла, ой, пришла да не спросила.
Принесла печаль, забрала все мои силы
Белая зима.
Ели снежные на ветру качаются,
Да лютая зима в сердце не кончается.
Да вьюгою в окно постучалася нежданно
Лютая зима.
Ой, не спится мне, душу полонила вьюга.
Увела зима за собой милого друга.
Погубили душу зимы недобры чары,
Лютая зима забрала в объятия Мары.
Кто ж так на последних строках годно груванул? Ооочень бы хотелось побольше.


Caveat: what to have at the picnic…

There is a joke about the importance of punctuation in English. It contrasts different meanings that the same words can have with only changes to punctuation:

Let’s eat, Grandma!

Let’s eat Grandma!

Well, Korean has a similar issue, but at the level of spacing between words, which normally is a bit of a gray area in Korean orthography – I have the impression there is a lot of variability in how individuals choose to space things like the case clitic particles – do they attach to their respective nouns or float freely?
But sometimes, spacing can change meanings. Hence this joke in Korean:

아기 다리 고기 다리 던소풍!
agi dari gogi dari deonsopung!
Baby legs, meat legs, dawn picnic!

아 기다리고 기다리던 소풍!
a gidarigo gidarideon sopung!
Ah, I’ve been waiting and waiting for a picnic!

The syllables are all the same. But depending on where you put the spaces between the words, you might or might not eat the baby.

What I’m listening to right now.

우원재, “CASH.”

Cash, my work and my benz
Now I’m guilty I’m dead
Cash makes you and my pain
But I love it. I’m dead
Cash, my love and my fams
So I love u my dad
Cash loves you and my back
But bitch I hate myself
Cash, my work and my benz
Now I’m guilty I’m dead
Cash makes you and my pain
But I love it. I’m dead
Cash, my love and my fams
So I love u my dad
Cash loves you and my back
But bitch I hate myself
돈 땜에 살어 돈 땜에 죽어
돈 땜에 울어 돈 땜에 헤매
돈 땜에 무려 돈 때론 무력
돈 빼면 무력 돈 땜에 숙여
돈, 돈, 돈, 돈 땜에 두려워
돈이면 돼요 돈 이게 사기템
돈이면 계속 멋지게 살어 damn
돈은 공평한데 때론 차별해 어때
돈을 자비롭지 근데 잔인해 어때
때 때 난 겁이나 법이나 정이나 없대 돈 앞에는
But u stop that 탓 돌리기는 돈 잘못 없대
난 익히 들어 이미 자본에 백기 들어서
여기 털어 먼지 안 나는 사람 없다라고 들었어
나는 get cash
당연히 때 탔지
Oh my god, gash
난 가끔 놀라 많이
나는 get flash
돈은 나빠 마치
우린 돈을 많이 닮아가는 거지
Cash, my work and my benz
Now I’m guilty I’m dead
Cash makes you and my pain
But I love it. I’m dead
Cash, my love and my fams
So I love u my dad
Cash loves you and my back
But bitch I hate myself
Please you be patient
오우 야, 난 참지 못해 그지
멍청한 걸 어쩌라고
Make more money make more cash ya
오우 야, 난 참지 못해 그지
돈이 최고 새꺄 돈 앞에서 부족하지 돈이 나는
오우 야, 난 참지 못해 그지
공평한 게 없다면 난 가져갈게 나의 무길 다시
오우 야, 난 막지 못해 그지
이게 나의 탓이라면 돈에 탓을 물게 대신 다시
Oh I’m bitch
돈의 노예 나는
나는 겉만 번질
속이 썩어 가지 나는
오 아버지
도와줘요 나를 제발
Go set bungy
돈 번 뒤의 모습에
난 죄책감에 절어
Hey cash, where are you from? I don’t know
거짓말이 돈이 되길 빌어 cause we gonna earn
So I love errbody I love it
But bitch I hate myself
Cash, my work and my benz
Now I’m guilty I’m dead
Cash makes you and my pain
But I love it. I’m dead
Cash, my love and my fams
So I love u my dad
Cash loves you and my back
But bitch I hate myself
But bitch I hate myself


Caveat: The Blogosphere’s Etymology

A person who goes by Tanadrin posted a fanciful etymology for the word “blogosphere”:

Blogosphera is naturally 1st declension (the medieval form of blogosphaera, from the Greek βλωγοσφαῖρα), blagosphera is actually the neuter plural of the rarely-attested blagospherum, itself derived from the earlier blagospes, “to check a blog in the hopes it has updated in the last five minutes, even though it almost certainly has not.” Blagh is the Umbrian reflex of the Greek βλωγοσ, both ultimately from Indo-European *bʰleh₁-, “to blow, be vapid; to be wrong on the internet.” The oblique form of spes (sper-) was altered by analogy, and the meaning of the plural in question shifted from “checking your list of blogs repeatedly” to “the blogs being checked.” Yet blagosphera remained the subject of plural verbs until the Late Latin period, when it was treated as a singular first-declension noun by scribes with a poor knowledge of Latin.

Blagoblag is actually unrelated; it comes from Proto-Germanic *blakaz, from the Indo-European root *bʰleg-, “to shine”, referring to the glow of a computer screen. The word entered English via Old Norse, which retained the reduplicated form (lost in the West Germanic languages, but not the North or East) from verb class VII, *blagoblagana, “to shitpost.”

I find it entertaining.

Caveat: one who hamsts

I sometimes read a satirical linguistics blog called Speculative Grammarian. That blog often posts short, one-line jokes and such. Here are some that recently amused me.

What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot.

Did you hear about the kidnapping at the nursery? He woke up.

This paradoxical statement is false.

The cannibal became a missionary because “if you can’t eat ’em, join ’em!”

What’s brown and sticky? A stick

What did the fish say when he swam into a wall? Dam!

hamster (n) 1. one who hamsts. Ex.: “I’m gonna hamst you up.”


Caveat: Я молодость свою переросла



Уже богов — не те уже щедроты
На берегах — не той уже реки.
В широкие закатные ворота
Венерины, летите, голубки!
Я ж на песках похолодевших лежа,
В день отойду, в котором нет числа…
Как змей на старую взирает кожу —
Я молодость свою переросла.
– Марина Цветаева (русская поэтесса, 1892-1941)
Praise to Aphrodite


No more so rich are the gifts of the Gods;
even the river is different now.
Through wide and widening sunset gates
the doves of Venus fly away.
And I, stretched out on cooling sand,
soon into numberless days go forth.
Like a snake, looking back at his old bright skin –
I have outgrown my youth.
– Marina Tsvetaeva (Russian poet, 1892-1941)
– Adapted by Rose Styron

Caveat: Tree #400

I wanted to do something special for tree number four hundred.
But I failed to take a picture of a tree today.
So I had an idea. I’m a linguist (by college training). Linguists draw “trees” – diagrams of sentences. And I thought of a great sentence that benefits from having a tree drawn of it.
The sentence is: “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”
This sentence is hard to understand. Bear in mind that there are three groups of buffalo in this sentence, but they are all from the town of Buffalo – probably Buffalo, Minnesota, rather than the better known Buffalo, New York. And these buffalo from Buffalo like to buffalo (which is to say, “annoy”) other buffalo. It starts to come clear.
Here is a tree diagram.
Have a nice day.
picture[daily log: walking, 3km]

Caveat: Outside? Play?

I ran across these fascinating videos and blog-entries about a linguist / speech pathologist who is training her dog to use “word buttons.” The dog seems to carry on spontaneous conversations with her owners. She pushes the button “outside” the owner says “not now.” She tries again. The owner says “I’m sorry.” And then the dog pushes the button “play.” The owner says “OK. Let’s play.” This seems very close to toddler-level language use.
Here is the link.
As a linguist, I am slightly skeptical that this can be called “language” in any strict sense. But I have also always thought that Chomsky (et al.) and his notion of a specific “language faculty” in the human brain wasn’t necessary. I have long had an intuition that language is just an “emergent property” of the complex neural networks evolution created for the purpose of “being a mammal.” As such, human language is not qualitatively distinct from the language-like behavior of higher mammals. Rather, it is simply a massive scaling-up. This type of animal behavior feels like a confirmation of that intuition.

Caveat: πoetry

I saw this at a blog I read, called JF Ptak Science Books. The guy is a dealer in old and rare books, with an emphasis on books related to the history of science and ideas. He often posts very interesting things.
He found a text of a poem published in 1905, which has an unusual constraint: each word in the poem has the same number of letters as a digit of the number π (3.141592653589793238462643383279), in order.
The poem’s text:

Sir, - I send a rhyme excelling
 3     1   4  1   5       9
In sacred truth and rigid spelling.
 2    6     5    3    5      8
Numerical sprites elucidate
    9        7        9
For me the lexicon's dull weight.
 3  2   3     8       4     6
   If "Nature" gain,
    2    6      4
   Not you complain,
    3   3     8
Tho' Dr. Johnson fulminate.
 3    2     7       9

Most definitely a bit of oulipisme-avant-le-lettre.

Caveat: hay montes

Penas (Verso XXXIV)
¡Penas! ¿Quién osa decir
Que tengo yo penas? Luego,
Después del rayo, y del fuego,
Tendré tiempo de sufrir.
Yo sé de un pesar profundo
Entre las penas sin nombres:
¡La esclavitud de los hombres
Es la gran pena del mundo!
Hay montes, y hay que subir
Los montes altos; ¡después
Veremos, alma, quién es
Quien te me ha puesto al morir!
- Jose Marti (poeta cubano, 1853-1895)

This poem was recently brought to my attention because my friend Bob asked if I could provide some insight and translation for the poem, for a choral production he’s working on that includes this text set to music. It seems not that different from other things I’ve blogged, and given how sparse my blog has been intellectually, of late, I thought I might as well post what I gave him here.
It’s important to separate who Martí actually was from the mythical being he’s been made into by subsequent generations of Cubans of all political stripes. He was a classical liberal, and in an aesthetic school called “modernismo” -not exactly the same as “modernism” because of different circumstances. He spent a lot of time in the US during various exiles from Cuba, and was heavily influenced by US poets such as Walt Whitman. He was no communist, but he was aware of Marx and I believe may have interacted some with socialists and communists and anarchists in Europe – you take your allies where you can find them. He did believe in universal human rights as that doctrine emerged from the wake of the abolition movements of the 19th century.
I do believe this poem is political. He was fighting for Cuban independence from Spain, inspired by the liberal fantasies (ideals) exemplified to whatever degree of accuracy by the US, Mexico, Guatemala – all countries where he spent time. So what he’s saying is that the time for self-pity is over. Stop complaining and get up and fight for your freedom, fellow Cubans = fellow humans everywhere. That’s how I interpret it. There are mountains we should be climbing, now, battles to be fought. We’ll let God sort out later who was good and who was bad.
Versos was published in 1891, and Martí died while leading Cuban freedom fighters in Cuba in 1895. His political program was quite mature at that point, and it would be hard to read the poem any more innocently.
Here is my own word-for-word translation.

Problems! Who dares to say
That I have problems? Later,
after the lightning-bolt, and the fire,
I'll have time to suffer.
I know about a deep regret
among the problems without names:
The enslavement of men
is the great regret of the world!
There are mountains, and there's need to climb
the high mountains; later
we shall see, soul, who [it] is
that has set you, for me, to die.

The key word, of course, is penas. I prefer the translation “problems” – it feels contemporarily idiomatic. Penas has a very wide semantic field: “pains” “sufferings” “sorrows” “guilt” “sins” “problems” etc. Especially in the context.
We deploy the word “problems” in modern English similarly. Cf rapper Jay-Z, “I got 99 problems ….”
I almost chose to translate it as “complaints” – to emphasize the fact that the tone of the poem (to me) is a bit of “Get off your butts, people, and DO something!”
Other vocabulary worth comment: pesar. Also fairly wide. I prefer “weight” to “regret” but that doesn’t work with the intensifier “deep”. Perhaps “heavy weight” rather than “deep regret.”
As a syntactician, I love the double (in)direct objects in the last line (“… te me …”) – what Spanish grammar is famous for, in stumping linguists and being a fairly famous example of something characteristically difficult about the language.

Caveat: Incademic

The Quechua language, the historical Native American language of the Inca Empire in the prehispanic period and still alive today, has gone academic: a woman wrote and defended her doctoral thesis entirely in Quechua for the first time in history, in Lima, Peru.

Perhaps this is the first time any Western Hemisphere language has claimed the academy? The only other possible example might maybe have arisen with Nahuatl in Mexico, but I can’t find evidence.

Caveat: Wagyaan giina gha naahlingaay da aasgii gwaayaay inggut ll qinsgaayan

Gaaysta ll qayits dluu
haw ising xhitiit ahlaang tsaagudan ghan ll qaattlagan.
Ll sghunsaangan.
Gam tlagw ll naahlingaay qanggaangan,
Stluuttsadang haw suugangan.
Xhitiit ga ghan ll qiingwas
gyaan llaga ttl gwawgangan.
Wadluu llagu ll naahlingaay gaws dluu
gwii tlakkwaan·gan ll xitgwan·gangan.
Wagyaan giina gha naahlingaay da aasgii gwaayaay inggut ll qinsgaayan.
Wadluu hin Yaahl {ll} suudayan,
"Hlaxaayik gha hl xit."
Giina guunaga Hlaxaayit ttaaya gyangan
ahljiiyahlu gha lla ll suudayani.
"Haw giina gunagaay gyans hl kkudii,
dang tsin isis ahla," hin lla ll suudayan.
Wakkyanan llaga ll hlghwagayan.
Llaga ll hlwaagas ghan aa
giina guunagas unsadalan dluu,
"Hahl gwaa ttakkanaay,
dii kkuuk gha hl naa," hin lla ll suudayan.
"Wagyaan dang giidalang gam tsaghagudangghang asga."
Ahljiiyahlu wiid llagha ll naagan
lla ll tsindas ahla.
- Kingagwaaw
When he [the Raven] left that place,
here came another bird with no home of his own.
He was all by himself.
He had no place to live,
the Sapsucker said.
When he perched with other birds,
they drove him away.
And so, having no place to live,
he kept flying all the time.
And he searched the Islands for something to live in.
Then the Raven said,
"Fly to Hlaxaayik."
He said it because
something dead stood at Hlaxaayik.
"Peck the standing dead thing with your beak.
It's alright; it's your grandfather," he said to him.
Nevertheless, he was afraid of it.
When the dead thing understood
that he was afraid of it,
it said to him, "Grandson, come here.
Live in my heart,
and your children will not be left homeless."
That's where he lives even now,
because that is his grandfather.
- Kingagwaaw (Haida storyteller, early 1900s), translated by Robert Bringhurst

The above fragment appears quoted in the footnotes of Bringhurst’s translation of the Qquuna Cycle by the Haida poet Skaay, in Bringhurst’s volume Being in Being.

Caveat: ella me llamó pa tras

What I’m listening to right now.

Proyecto Uno, “Te dejaron flat.” I like this song so much. I’ve posted it before (about 7 years ago, here). It’s not that I like it in thematic terms, per se – it’s pretty typical of a certain genre of Dominican-American music, called merengue-house. Rather, I like it because of what’s going on in it linguistically. Constant code-switching, not just between Spanish and English, but between different registers and dialects within each language, too, including all kinds of non-standard calques going on, such as in the title of this blog post. It’s the sort of revelatory text that can reveal how new languages suddenly emerge out of the interaction of existing ones.

Primera noche, recibí una llamada, aha
Fue mi exnovia, sorpresa en mi cara, aha
Ella me llamó pa decirme, negrito me haces falta, aha
Yo la quiero sacar a bailar pero yo no tengo plata, a.

So what’s up baby, echa pa acá y yo cocino, aha
Es una mentira, sin embargo es mi estilo, aha
Ella dijo sí, en una hora estoy ahí, aha
Me quedé esperando hasta que me dormí (you tell me)

Uh, ya tú sae, oh, te dejaron flat
Uh, embarcao, he, plantao
Say word, (word…) oh, te dejaron flat
Uh, embarcao, he, bajo ya

Que lo que, que lo que sube
Que lo que, que lo que sube
Que lo que, que lo que sube
Que lo que, que lo que sube

Segunda noche, ella me llamó pa tras, aha
Pero como Robelto Durán, yo dije no más, aha
Ella lloró y me dijo discúlpame por favor, aha
Si vienes a casa te demostraré amor, aha.

Me tardé pero arranqué y yo llegué, aha
Pa la casa de la chama, le toque y timbré, aha
Ella contestó con una cara asustada, aha
Dijo que su novio vino sin decirle nada (damn!)

Uh, ya tú sae, oh, te dejaron flat
Uh, embarcao, he, plantao
Say word, (word…) oh te dejaron flat
Uh, ya tú sae, hey
(Alrigh’, y’all sing wi’ me now)
Eo, eo, eeo, eeo, eieio, eieio
Eo, eo, eeo, eeo, eiooo, eiooo


Think you gonna play me out this time? (this time)
Think you gonna leave me stinkin?
Think you gonna hurt me?
Think I had what you been drinkin?

Hey mami no te cruces porque no soy tu jueguito
No me llames por teléfono si tú no quieres dar
Con mala fama y yo te lo confirmo
No quiero problema, tú así conmigo
No vale la pena, ay negra, ay negra
(ay negra, ay negra)
Por qué me trata así, no me digas que me quieres
Si yo sé que tú no tienes tiempo para mí (you tell me)

Mami menéalo, mami menea, nea
Mami menéalo, mami menea, nea
(Break it down)
Dale pa bajo baby, dale pa bajo así
Dale pa bajo baby (pick it up, pick it up, pick it up)

… con Proyecto… Uno!

Y la gente dice

Uh, ya tú sae, oh, te dejaron flat
Uh, embarcao, he, plantao
Say word, (word…) oh, te dejaron flat
Uh, embarcao, he… (break it down)

Así, así, así, así, así, así
Así, así, así

Que lo que, que lo que sube
Que lo que, que lo que sube
Que lo que, que lo que sube
Que lo que, que lo que sube

Caveat: There, in the calm of some Platonic dream

This poem, below, was not written by a human being, as best I understand. It was written by one of those new “learning algorithm” AIs (Artificial Intelligences), where you give the AI a large pile of “training data” (i.e. in this case, a vast corpus of human-written poetry) and then say, more or less, “OK, give me a new one like that.” It works similarly to the way google-translate manages to make sense out of changing one language to another, without actually understanding a damn thing. It’s statistics, writ large.

Methinks I see her in her blissful dreams:
Or, fancy-like, in some mirage she lies,
Majestic yet majestic, and of seems
The image of the unconquerable skies.
Methinks I see her in her blissful dreams:
—Or, fancy-like, in some majestic cell,
Where lordly seraphs strew their balmy dreams
On the still night, or in their golden shell.
There, in the calm of some Platonic dream,
Sits she, and views the unclouded moon arise
Like a fair lady full of realms divine;
And, all at once, a stony face and bright
Glittering in moonlight, like the noon-tints of a night.

I found it, and other AI-generated poetry, on the slatestarcodex blog.
All very interesting.

Caveat: 5 Years Mapping and Naming

[This is a cross-post from my other blog.]

I failed to commemorate my 5th anniversary on OGF. I mapped my first node on January 31, 2014. Maybe there were a few nodes mapped before this, but they have been deleted, and they were on that same date. Puerto Desolado was my first OGF town.

Only today, I felt a moment of nostalgia.

I keep working, slowly, on Makaska. One thing that’s important to me: the “native” names in the state are the pseudo-fictional Rakhoda language. This is just an alternate name for the Dakota language, as spoken by the native peoples of southern Minnesota in the pre-European era. So all the native names of the state are actual Dakota words. Hence when mapping, I keep this hand book on my desk:


Music to name things by: Sioux Honor Song

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: Anumpa Tosholi

In the morning, Arthur and I took a walk down the road.
Only a half-a-mile down the road, there is the Choctaw Nation Capitol and Museum. This is Native American country, and Dean and Pam’s farm is nestled up against the reservation land.
The museum was pretty good. There were historical exhibits on the genocide, called the “removal” and commonly called the “trail of tears.” Then a lot about the life since settlement in Oklahoma. I most enjoyed the contemporary artworks by tribal members.
In the museum shop, I made the mistake of looking at the books on sale. There were Choctaw language dictionaries. As many know, I have a weakness for dictionaries, especially in languages I don’t know and probably will never learn.
I bought dictionaries.
Arthur was bemused, as he is anytime he directly encounters my odd book-owning habit.
“Anumpa Tosholi” is in the Chahta (Choctaw) language, and means “word translator” which is the expression they use for “dictionary.”
Later in the day I got to “help” Dean feed some hay to his cows. Really mostly I was standing around.
[daily log: walking, 3km]

Caveat: My almost brother

I call Eugene my “almost” brother. He was an exchange student from Kazakhstan in the early 1990s, living with my dad and stepmother in Southern California, at the time when my brother Andrew was a teenager.
Eugene has been a member of my extended family ever since, even though I haven’t seen him much (I mean, the same could apply to many of my actual relatives, too).
His wife and he live in Minnesota, here, and have two amazing children. I was happy to meet them. I drove out to their house for dinner this evening. We took a selfie at the dinner table. It’s not a great photo, but it managed to include all of us, despite its blurriness.
Since Eugene speaks Russian, natively, and his wife Marisol grew up as a native Spanish-speaker in Los Angeles, they made the decision to raise their children trilingually. It’s quite spectacular to see a 4 year old switching seamlessly between English, Spanish and Russian. The fact that I’m fluent in two of those and able to at least vaguely understand the third (from my two years of college Russian), I had fun switching along with her.
All parents who can should give the gift of multilingualism to their children.
Unrelatedly, earlier, I took another long walk at the big park south of Mark and Amy’s house. I took some pictures. They seem a bit monotonous, I’m sure, but I never tire of the winter landscape here.
I saw a frozen stream.
I saw long shadows.
This is Jensen Lake. A good Minnesota name.
The lake has an island.
I found an unexpected shrine beside the trail.
I saw a hillside beetling into the lake.
[daily log: walking, 5km]

Caveat: Rrrr rr rrrrr!

There is a thing called "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" (ITLAP Day), on September 18th each year.

It's not even a new thing – I remember hearing it discussed on the radio when I was still living and working in L.A. in the 2000s.

I saw this image, a while back, and thought – I should post it for ITLAP Day! So here it is.


[daily log: walking, 4km; tromping, 300m]

Caveat: Yáahl


Yáahl uu st'igáalaan, hal st'i'áwyaagaan.
'Wáadluu xíl hal tlaahláayaan.
Gut'iláa k'íit k'uts hal ts'asláangaan.
'Wáadluu sáng kwáan hal néilaan gyaan hal 'lagáalaan
Asgáayst hal xitgwáangaan táawk uu hal diyáangaan.
'Wáadluu, chíin kwáan gándlaay aa hal táagaan.
Hal sk'ísdlaayaan gyaan xitgáay aa hal jagíyaayaan.
'Wáadluu hingáan an sáanjuudaayaan.
Ahljíihl uu tl' hlgúujuu jahlíis gám 'láa'anggang.

This story is in the Haida language, which is the native language of Prince of Wales Island, where my uncle's home is and where I will be moving. Here is a translation from the same website where I found the story.


Raven got sick, he was very sick.
Then he made some medicine.
He boiled different kinds of tree roots.
Then he drank it for many days and got well.
Then he flew around looking for food.
Then he ate a lot of fish in a creek.
He got full and couldn't fly.
So, then, he just rested.
That is why it doesn't pay to be too greedy.

by Erma Lawrence
Original version published in: Xaadas Gyaahláang (1974), Society for the Preservation of Haida Language and Literature.

[daily log: walking, 3km]

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