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Of Interest:

Patience is a Virtue

You may have heard about this: the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has finally completed a project they’d begun in 1921 - they have published the final volume in a comprehensive dictionary of the ancient Akkadian language, bringing the project to a close after 21 volumes.

The dictionary covers a huge scope of time, ranging from 2,500 BC to 100 AD, and describes the language that brought the world the Code of Hammurabi, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and which was spoken in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Though usually written in cuneiform, the language is the earliest example we have from the Semitic language family, which includes Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Nabatean, Amharic, Syriac and several others.

Perhaps the most interesting angle to us is the name of the dictionary itself: the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, which was the name by which the language was known when the project started. These days, after a century of scholarship, archeology and argument, the language is known as Akkadian, reflecting the empire run by Sargon the Great from the city of Akkad, commonly held to be the first empire in human history.

You can read more

Put In Words

We came across a rather lyrical and enthralling article which describes the job of being a lexicographer - one who compiles dictionaries. Written by a working lexicographer, of whom there are few in this world, the article describes the process and the history of this noble and obscure profession.

We are reminded of a story told by the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith at a Harvard luncheon, where he told of his experience testifying before a congressional panel on the economy. A senator, being unfamiliar with a word the Professor had used in his presentation, had an aide look up the word for him. He then addressed the speaker, saying he’d had an aide look up the word ‘febrile,’ and went on to say that Galbraith had used the word incorrectly.

The Professor responded thusly: “Being that I sit on the Usage Committee of the American Heritage Dictionary, I shall have them emend the entry.”


And Thanks For All The Fish

We note with excitement the reports of an experimental effort being called CHAT, for Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry, which for the first time seeks to establish a two-way communication with dolphins. While researchers have been working on communicating with dolphins using pictures and sound since the 1960s, all previous efforts have been, in essence, one way, with humans directing the dolphin’s activities - and with no opportunity for the dolphins to communicate their needs to the humans. Remarkable things have been shown through these earlier efforts, including the dolphins’ ability to recognize and keep track of more than 100 words, and to respond appropriately to changes in syntax [‘bring the surfboard to the man’ versus ‘bring the man to the surfboard.’]. In this new experiment, divers are working with the dolphins to create a mutually agreed upon series of sounds to represent concepts.

This is the first real step towards true interspecies communications, and we’re excited about the possibilities, and what can be built on the outcome of these experiments. We’re especially pleased to know the researchers are really getting down to basics and examining the preconceptions, going so far as to wonder if dolphins even have words, as we understand them.

We’ll be keeping our eye on this one...

Word Search

The English language is a vast, wonderful thing. It is, in fact, the language with the largest number of words, and arguably the best documented, with most every word tracked to its sources, etymology and first use in print courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary

We note with pleasure
a new attempt to corral a large number of the words we have in English which have no apparent derivation - ‘orphan’ words, in the field. Prof. Anatoly Liberman at the University of Minnesota has made this effort is life’s work.

He seeks to account for words we use every day, but which have no apparent source or discernible etymology. Words like frog, boy, girl, oat, dwarf or heifer seem to have shown up out of nowhere, and while getting a first date of use for many of these will be easy, sorting out their backstory seems nigh on impossible to us.

Brave lexicographer, credit to linguists everywhere...


In the wake of the recent announcement that the Oxford English DIctionary will be including ‘LOL’ and ‘OMG’ in the future editions, an article on the BBC News web site takes a look at some aspects of ‘txt.’ The article makes some interesting observations on language chance, written vs. spoken language, etymology, and other things that float our boat around here. The comments on the article are just as interesting. We particularly enjoyed the sidebar on non-English variations on the theme:

LOL around the world

mdr (and derivatives)
French version, from the initials of "mort de rire" which roughly translated means "dying of laughter"

Hebrew version. The letter
ח is pronounced 'kh' and ה is pronounced 'h'. Putting them together makes "khakhakha"

Thai variation of LOL. "5" in Thai is pronounced "ha", three of them being "hahaha"

Swedish abbreviation of the term Asgarv, meaning intense laughter

Afghan abbreviation of the Dari phrase "ma khanda mikonom", which means "I am laughing"

Know Your Meme)

Moral of the story: be sure to know the colloquialisms of the target market you are aiming for, in terms of both geography and language, or your product name could have people ROFL[T]AO. Nomenon’s Native Speaker Language Checks can ensure that no one giggles at your big overseas launch.