Endangered Language Alliance

‘Welcome to the new website of the Endangered Language Alliance. We are a non-profit organization whose mission is to further the documentation, description, maintenance, and revitalization of threatened and endangered languages, and to educate the public about the causes and consequences of language extinction. You can read more about us here.’


I’m Not Hanging Noodles on your Ears


My friend Julia Suits, New Yorker cartoonist, just sent me a copy of this book by Jag Bhalla, of which she is the illustrator. I don’t know if Julia knows of my fascination with linguistic curiosities but this is right up my browsing alley. It is a delightful book, all about idioms from other cultures. I recall one of my favorite browsing books, Howard Rheingold‘s They Have a Word for It, about untranslatable concepts other cultures embody in native words. Bhalla turned my head when he pointed out in the introduction to the present volume that idioms are essentially expressions that are untranslatable in their own language!

And Suits’ wonderful illustrations, with their absurd and at times surreal literality, are perfect amplifications of the incongruity Bhalla sets out to depict.


How Do You Say 2010?

Time Considered As A Helix Of Semi-Precious St...
Time Considered As A Helix Of Semi-Precious Stones

Today’s All Things Considered had a story about the division of opinion over how to refer to the name of next year Which is it, “two thousand ten” or “twenty ten”? One commenter said that “two thousand ten” is proper and polite; I think he went so far as to call it the “adult” thing to say. This gets right to the core debate about whether proper usage is vernacular — as spoken — or normative.

But, more important, the story did not address more vexing questions. First, what nickname will we use for 2010. 2009 was “oh nine”; will we say “one oh” or “oh ten” for short? For example, if you trade in your “oh five honda” for a new car, is it an “oh ten prius” or what?

And how will we refer to the decade to come in aggregate? This, it seems, has remained an unresolved issue with respect to the decade now ending: what came after the Nineties? The “oughts” or “noughts”? So are we heading into the “teens”? Does anyone know how people referred to the corresponding decades a century ago?

(And, no, I’m not going to beat a dead horse by mentioning that, of course, since there was no year zero, the decade does not really end for another year, until December 31, 2010. I thought we had put that one to rest a decade nine years ago at the turn of the century.)


There’s a word for that?

LAS VEGAS - JUNE 16:  Cirque du Soleil perform...

Mamihlapinatapai is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the “most succinct word”, and is considered one of the hardest words to translate. It describes “a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start.”” (Best of Wikipedia)


‘To Be’ or Not ?

Alfred Korzybski, Polish philosopher and scien...

Explore, if you will, the world of E-Prime. Arising from the thinking of Alfred Korzybski and the International Society for General Semantics which he founded, E-Prime consists of the subset of the English language left after expunging it of the use of the verb ‘to be’ in its two major functions of connoting identity (“I am a weblogger”) and predication (“I am nice”). Proponents feel that these uses of ‘to be’ cause major confusion of thought and consequent social problems. To start with, consider how the use of the same verb for identity and predication readily obscures the distinction between opinion and fact. Moreover, it readily lends itself to stereotypy and inflexibility.

This paper claims that using “E-Prime in Negotiation and Therapy” can challenge dogmatic viewpoints, clarify confusion, and defuse conflict in daily life. I don’t conduct myself as a strong proponent of E-Prime in my life; awkward circumlocutory constructions arise whenever I try to write in that way. But the difficulty in using it perhaps speaks to how early in our lives the associated thought patterns were ingrained. Language doesn’t determine what we can and can’t think, but it does readily shape what can be thought with ease as opposed to with difficulty, IMHO. Does the challenge involved in thinking ‘outside this box’ perhaps indicate the importance of doing so? The links above have plenty of further links if you want to explore your identifications and predications more thoroughly.