Sail in on a shrimp sandwich

It’s always fun to hear odd-sounding idioms and proverbs in other languages.  Anita Shenoi’s nicely illustrated book Sail in on a shrimp sandwich … and other curious Swedish sayings (2017) lists 63 Swedish sayings. Here are 5 of them, with a literal translation, followed by a description of the meaning. Segla in på en täkmacka…… Continue reading Sail in on a shrimp sandwich

Languages differ in what they MUST say

There is a popular belief that some things can only be expressed in some languages and not in other languages. The linguist and literary theorist Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) took issue with that belief in his well-known statement: ‘Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey’. That statement appears in his short essay…… Continue reading Languages differ in what they MUST say

The werewolf or who-wolf

I’ve discovered an interesting translation of the well-known poem Der Werwolf (‘The Werewolf’), by the German poet Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914). What led me to this translation was a blogpost on Language Hat about ontogeny. Someone commenting on that post mentioned a translation of this poem. The translation is by Jerome Lettvin (1920– 2011). I hadn’t…… Continue reading The werewolf or who-wolf

An English word here? Really?

English words often show up, completely unnecessarily, in texts written in other languages. I came across a flagrant example last week in the weekly literature email from the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The following extract shows the English intruder in bold:    Ein offenbar programmatisches Statement der Jury findet man dann unter den Sachbüchern,…… Continue reading An English word here? Really?

German ‘ohne’ and English ‘without’ as not-with

Does the German word ohne (‘without’) correspond to a single mental concept? A recent paper argues that it does not. Instead, it has 2 components. One component corresponds to what the paper calls the cum concept (English with). The other corresponds to a negation or antonymity concept, which the paper calls anti. The paper also…… Continue reading German ‘ohne’ and English ‘without’ as not-with

A is for Bee

A is for BEE: An Alphabet Book in Translation, by Ellen Heck, is a delightful alphabet book for children. Each page lists one or more words starting with the same letter and has bright pictures illustrating each word. The pages are in alphabetical order. This is an alphabet book with a twist: each page lists…… Continue reading A is for Bee

Google Translate takes on Goethe

I recently posted my translation of Goethe’s poem Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn? with a commentary on my translation, and the German original Do you know that land where lemons grow? – Language Miscellany In a comment on that post, Paul Pacter supplied a translation he’d obtained from Google Translate. Paul commented…… Continue reading Google Translate takes on Goethe

Do you know that land where lemons grow?

I entered my translation of this poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for the 2023 Stephen Spender prize. Like all entries for this prize, it includes my commentary on the translation.  For information about the prize, please see Stephen Spender Prize (stephen-spender.org) Do you know that land where lemons grow,Where through dark leaves golden oranges…… Continue reading Do you know that land where lemons grow?

Future tense and psychological distance

When a verb refers to the future, some languages require explicit marking of that fact. A recent paper presents evidence that companies in countries using those languages are slow in reporting that their goodwill has lost value. The paper suggests that this is because speakers of those languages perceive the future as psychologically more distant…… Continue reading Future tense and psychological distance