Dictionary of the Oldest Written Language–It Took 90 Years to Complete, and It’s Now Free Online

It took 90 years to complete. But, in 2011, scholars at the University of Chicago finally published a 21-volume dictionary of Akkadian, the language used in ancient Mesopotamia. Unspoken for 2,000 years, Akkadian was preserved on clay tablets and in stone inscriptions until scholars deciphered it during the last two centuries.

In the past, we've published audio that lets you hear the reconstructed sounds of Akkadian (Hear The Epic of Gilgamesh Read in the Original Akkadian and Enjoy the Sounds of Mesopotamia). Now, should you wish, you can download download PDFs of U. Chicago's Akkadian dictionary for free. All 21 volumes would cost well over $1,000 if purchased in hard copy. But the PDFs, they won't run you a dime.

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A Lecture About the History of the Scots Language … in Scots: How Much Can You Comprehend?

Dauvit Horsbroch has served as the Language and Information Officer of the Scots Language Centre since 2007, and has spent considerable time living in North East Scotland. Above, watch him give a 19-minute lecture on the history of the Scots language ... in Scots. For the first 20 seconds, you might think, no sweat, I can hang with it. Then suddenly your comprehensions fades out, only to return moments later, before disappearing again. And on it goes.

As you listen, you can entertain the long-simmering debate: Is Scots a distant dialect of English? Or is it its own distinct Germanic language? Writes Slate: "Both modern English and Scots descended from Old English in the 1100s, and developed separately for hundreds of years. When Scotland and England joined to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, Scots was widely regarded as its own language, distinct from English. It is still one of Scotland's three official languages (the other two are English and Scottish Gaelic), but because it is mostly mutually intelligible with English, it's sometimes regarded as a dialect of English or slang." If you'd like to see Scots written, as opposed to just spoken, spend time over at the Wikipedia Scots page.

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The Theater Dictionary: A Free Video Guide to Theatre Lingo

It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your showstoppers are? Or, more to the point, do you know why a musical-comedy writing team seeks to orient its showstopping number at “eleven o’clock”?

The Theater Development Fund’s Theatre Dictionary is an ongoing attempt to define and document theater terms for both the rabble and any budding practitioners who’ve yet to master the lingo.




Each term is accompanied by a loopy slapdash skit. Not all of the performers exhibit the pedigree Veronica J. Kuehn and Nick Kohn of Avenue Q bring to “Eleven O'Clock Number,” above, but casting administrators and ticket booth reps in starring roles lend a homey egalitarianism, such as when students from the Yale School of Drama’s Department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism are given free license to explore the origins of “vom.”

(This loosey goosey approach also allows for uncredited appearances by other theatrical tropes---the marathon rehearsals where popcorn constitutes lunch and one actor repeatedly complains that his work has been insufficiently acknowledged.)

A “What Does This Word Mean” tab for each term anchors the video silliness, providing historical and anecdotal context. It’s in keeping with the Dictionary’s greater goal of bringing theater to the people, letting everyone play with the toys.

Some of the definitions are practical shorthand…

Others are couched in longtime, possibly archaic theater lore…

I’d exercise caution with some of this lingo. Even though many of these terms are born of practicality, overusing them may cause others to view you as the most obnoxious of self-declared Triple Threats, the kid in the comedy-tragedy mask sweatshirt, prone to belting out the entire soundtrack of CATS at the slightest provocation. (“Thanks, 5!!!”)

Some of these terms have unexpected crossover appeal, most recently Ghost Light, above. Knowing the meaning of the term will help you better appreciate the power of the Ghostlight Project, a post-election coming together of theater artists and audiences in defense and support of vulnerable communities.

You can browse the Theater Dictionary complete glossary here or watch the videos on TDF’s Youtube channel.

The Theater Dictionary’s FAQ contains information on how professional theatre companies and organizations and college-level theatre programs can apply to contribute a video.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Learn What Old Norse Sounded Like, with UC Berkeley’s “Cowboy Professor, Dr. Jackson Crawford

If you want to study another language, by all means feel free to study such widely spoken ones as English, Spanish, and Chinese. But obscurity, as we all learn at one point or another growing up, also has an appeal, though we often need someone cool to give us a hint as to which obscurities to pursue. One "cowboy professor" has, since the videos he posts to Youtube have begun to gain popularity, emerged as the cool guy who may well turn a generation of scholars-to-be on to the study of Old Norse. Though he holds an academic position at the University of California, Berkeley, "Wyoming's Dr. Jackson Crawford," as he refers to himself, seems to spend at least part of his time in what he describes as "the Wilderness of the American West."

He also shoots his videos out there, an appropriately sublime backdrop for the discussion of the mechanics of the Old Norse language, originally spoken by the Scandinavians of the 9th through the 13h centuries, and the myth and poetry composed in it.




Here we have three of Crawford's videos meant to address questions of general curiosity about Old Norse: what the language sounded like, and, in two parts, how best to pronounce the names of the various gods, places, and other elements of its mythology, from Óðinn (whom you might have seen referred to as Odin) to Valhǫll (Valhalla) to Ásgarðr (Asgard).

Jackson also gives readings from the 13th-century Poetic Edda, arguably the most influential piece of Scandinavian literature ever written, and one which he recently translated into modern English. Perhaps a sample:

Þagalt ok hugalt
skyli þjóðans barn,
ok vígdjarft vera.
Glaðr ok reifr
skyli gumna hverr,
unz sinn bíðr bana.

A noble man should
be silent, thoughtful,
and bold in battle.
But every man should also
be cheerful and happy,
till the inevitable day of death.

In addition to that and other impressive CV items, he also came up with the runes and Old Norse dialogue for the hit Disney movie Frozen — just in case you had any concerns as to the language's professional practicality. Explore his Youtube channel here.

via Digg

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hip 1960s Latin Teacher Translated Beatles Songs into Latin for His Students: Read Lyrics for “O Teneum Manum,” “Diei Duri Nox” & More

Click here (and then click the image) to view in a larger format.

I’ve interacted with many entertaining language-learning resources in various classes—from miniseries in Spanish to comic books in French—all geared toward making the unfamiliar language relevant to daily life. Learning counterintuitive pronunciations, parsing a new system of grammar, or memorizing the genders of word after word can be laborious and intimidating in the classroom. Doing so in everyday pop cultural settings, not as much.

When it comes to the teaching of dead languages, the resources can seem less approachable. I certainly appreciate the literary and rhetorical genius of Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Cicero, and Julius Caesar. But during my high school years, I did not always find their work easy to read in English, much less in formal classical Latin. The elation I felt after successfully translating a passage was sometimes dampened as I puzzled over historical notes and glosses that often left me with more questions than answers.

Click here (and then click the image) to view in a larger format.

That’s not at all to say that students of Latin shouldn’t be exposed to cultural and historical context or read the finest exemplars of the written language. Only that a break from the heavy stuff now and then goes a long way. Might I submit to Latin instructors one ingenious tool from Eddie O’Hara, former British Labour Party MP and classics teacher? O’Hara passed away in May of last year, and just this past week, his son Terry O’Hara tweeted these translations of Beatles songs (including two Christmas tunes) his father made in the 60s for his students. At the time, these were the height of pop culture relevance, and, while a far cry from the complexities of the Aeneid, a fun way for Latin learners to relate to a language that can seem cold and imposing.

I will admit, my Latin has fallen into such a state that I can’t immediately vouch for the accuracy or elegance of these translations (“cue fierce arguments among Latin grammarians,” replies one Twitter user), but there's no reason to doubt Mr. O'Hara knew his stuff. "“He was a born educator," his son remembers, "He was a teacher and classicist by background and he had a strong interest in educational matters and Greek cultural heritage." Educated himself at Magdalen College, Oxford, O’Hara taught at Perse School, Cambridge, Birkenhead School, and in the early 70s, C.F. Mott College in the Beatles’ own Liverpool.

Click here (and then click the image) to view in a larger format.

In addition to his role as a statesman, the Liverpool Echo remembers O'Hara's many decades as “a popular teacher who brought classes to life translating Beatles lyrics into Latin.” We do not have any indication of whether he actually tried to sing the lyrics, though his students surely must have attempted it. What must the chorus of “All My Loving” sound like as “Ita totum amorem dabo, Tibi totum, numquam cessaba”? Or “She Loves You” as “Amat te, mehercle”? Singing them to myself, I can see that O’Hara was sensitive to the meter of the original English in his Latin renderings. But I’d really love to see someone set these to music and make a video. Any of our readers up to the challenge?

Finally, since early sixties Beatles lyrics aren’t as likely to engage students in 2017, what pop cultural material would you translate today—classics teachers out there—to reach the bemused, bewildered, and the bored? If you're already hard at work using hip resources in the classroom, please do share them with us in the comments!

Note: To view the images in a larger format, please click on the links to these individuals images: Image 1 - Image 2 - Image 3. When the image opens, click on it again to zoom in.

via Ted Gioia

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Discover Lincos, the Language a Dutch Mathematician Invented Just to Talk to Extraterrestrials (1960)

lincos

The recent hit film Arrival took on a question that has, in recent decades, deeply concerned those involved in the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Say we locate that intelligent life. Say we decide what we want to say. On what basis, then, do we figure out how to say it? Aliens, while they may well have evolved certain qualities in common with us humans, probably haven't happened to come up with any of the same spoken or written languages we have.

In 1960, the Dutch mathematician Hans Freudenthal came up with a solution: why not create a language they could learn? The efforts came published in the book Lincos: Design of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse. In it, writes The Atlantic's Daniel Oberhaus, "Freudenthal announced that his primary purpose 'is to design a language that can be understood by a person not acquainted with any of our natural languages, or even their syntactic structures … The messages communicated by means of this language [contain] not only mathematics, but in principle the whole bulk of our knowledge.'"




Freudenthal created Lincos as a kind of spoken language "made up of unmodulated radio waves of varying length and duration, encoded with a hodgepodge of symbols borrowed from mathematics, science, symbolic logic, and Latin. In their various combinations, these waves can be used to communicate anything from basic mathematical equations to explanations for abstract concepts like death and love." You can read Lincos: Design of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse (PDF), over at Monoskop, and even though it constitutes only the first of a planned series of books Freudenthal never finished, you can still learn the basics of Lincos from it.

Be warned, however, of the intellectual challenge ahead: Freudenthal just plows ahead without even defining many of the concepts, which readers without a background in mathematics or logic will likely need explained, and Oberhaus quotes even one astrophysicist as calling Freudenthal's book "the most boring I have ever read. Logarithm tables are cool compared to it." Still, 56 years on from its creation, this intergalactic Esperanto has had a kind of influence: Freudenthal demonstrated the idea of including an intuitively understandable dictionary in the spaceward-sent message itself, an idea Carl Sagan went on to use in his novel Contact, in which extraterrestrial intelligence-seeking astronomers receive a signal from elsewhere that considerately does the same.

Contact became a major motion picture, something of the Arrival of its day, in 1997. Two years later, a couple of Canadian Defense Research Establishment astrophysicists used a radio telescope to beam out a Lincos-encoded message toward a few close stars. Like any enthusiastic member of their profession would, they sent out information about math, physics, and astronomy. They have yet to hear back from any residents, fellow astrophysicists or otherwise, of those distant neighborhoods. But if any extraterrestrials did hear the message, and even if they have yet to fully grasp Lincos, I have to believe they feel at least a little grateful that, unlike some humans attempting to communicate with others unlike them here on Earth, we didn't just start yammering in English and hope for the best.

via Monoskop

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

215 Hours of Free Foreign Language Lessons on Spotify: French, Chinese, German, Russian & More

spotify-languages

In September, we highlighted for you 75 free audio books available on Spotify--books written by the likes of Jane Austen, James Joyce, Charles Bukowski, Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut, Edgar Allan Poe, Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, William Shakespeare & more. Peruse the complete list here.

This month, we're here to tell you that Spotify makes free language lessons available on its service. If you go to Spotify (download its software here), click “Browse” (in the left hand nav), then scroll way down and click “Word,” you will find collections of free languages in the following languages. You can also click the links below to access 215 hours of free language lessons:

You can find many more lessons, covering many more languages, in our collection: Learn 48 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More. Our list covers everything from Ancient Greek and Dutch, to Thai and Yiddish.

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