Archive for July, 2012

Hon. gentlemen

July 14, 2012

The mighty ponds of Hampstead

Being a fan of Mr. Samuel Pickwick, Esq., I am well disposed towards following similarities between his immortal Club and scientific communities, especially in my own field, theoretical linguistics, and in somewhat vaguely related branches the linguists venture to discuss.

It is amazing how many terms like ‘grammar’, ‘phase’, ‘economy’, ‘syntactic’ vs ‘post-syntactic’, ‘left periphery’, ‘focus’, ‘mora’ etc. are easily shared by international pickwickian communities in such a way that the members of these communities are able to distinguish pickwickian and non- pickwickian uses without being able to define the content of the corresponding notions. Nobody knows exactly what ‘focus’ is about, but every self-respecting person knows how Prof. P or Prof. W used this term in his/her ground-breaking version of the Theory of Tittlebats.  One might even stick to the hypothesis that these notions shared by pickwickian communities are inherent ideas, but this hypothesis has not been verified yet: there seem to exist mentally sane linguists (?!) that are allergic to them. There is also a problem of acquiring pickwickian levels of competence (ignorant adult linguists may be compared to toddlers with a possibility of L-1/ L-2 acquisition), but this problem can be eventually solved by getting positions, part-time jobs and research grants as well as by other socialized means.

I am dead serious. I am not trying to say that the notions like the abovementioned ones cannot be defined in a reasonable manner: they surely can. I am objecting to the idea that mutual understanding inside a pickwickian community is a guaranty for a clear scientific content. Besides, I do not think that pickwickian approaches to defining grammars, modules of language, etc. always produce optimal results.

Professor M.C.Hare and professor M.D.Hatter discuss Formal Pickwickian Grammars in the presence of their Phd students.

What’s the attraction of the Pickwickian then?

I feel that that it is a yearning for a true scientific ideal (or image). People discard non-pickwickian uses as rude or ambivalent and desire to be selected club members.

And finally, here is the best portrait of Mr.Pickwick, Esq.,P.P.M.P.C.,  made by a Frenchman and performed by a German.

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Song of Varangian Guests

July 7, 2012

File:Mark Reizen 1.jpg

Ok, this post is not about Mark Reizen (/z/) who was one of the best performers of this bass aria from Rimsky’s opera ‘Sadko); cf. the notes http://www.notarhiv.ru/ruskomp/rimskiy-korsakov/noti/1%20(84).pdf

It’s about the names of Varangian guests and envoys in the 907, 912 and 944 pacts between Rus and Byzantium. I argue that we gain a lot of linguistic information about proper names and naming traditions of the past if we assume that Varangian (i.e. Scandinavian) names were reproduced in Russian texts of the XIth century mostly phonetically, as Old Russian heard them. See the handout of my talk given 13.06.2012 at the International Workshop  ‘Old Russia and the Germanic world in a philological and historical perspective” (Moscow, High School of Economy/ Russian Academy of Sciences):Varangian_guests

As for Mark Reizen’s performance, you can listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mib5hdWcqfI

One of the Varangian names from the Rus-Byzantium pacts once made it to Russian opera – it is Farlaf from Glinka’s ‘Ruslan and Lyudmila’. The reference to Odin in the text of Rimsky’s opera is a tribute to the spreading of contemporary philogical knowledge about Old Scandinavia, their gods and traditions.