Archive for the ‘texts’ Tag

From Peter Boodberg’s “Philologist’s Creed”   2 comments

I’ve recently finished David B. Honey’s Incense at the Altar: Pioneering Sinologists and the Development of Classical Chinese Philology, AOS Series 86 (New Haven: AOS, 2001), which my friend Chuck Häberl pointed out to me a few months ago. The books covers the lives and works of these “pioneering sinologists” from various countries, backgrounds, and temperaments in what was for me a delightful reading experience.

While I’ve not mentioned Chinese here before, the study of Classical Chinese language, literature, and history developed, not surprisingly, along lines partly analogous to the study of other such fields, including the textual matrices and complexes frequently touched on at hmmlorientalia. Among the scholars discussed in Honey’s book is Vladivostok-born Peter Boodberg (1903-1972), and for now I’d just like to quote part of the latter’s “Philologist’s Creed,” which Honey gives in full (pp. 305-306). It’s a testament of Boodberg’s approach to philology (not only Chinese), his “brooding humanism” (Honey, p. 306), penned in a confessional tone (with echoes of the language of Qohelet in one part), and the excerpt given here (and the whole of it) might resonate — even if wryly! — with other students and scholars.

I mind me of all tongues, all tribes, and all nations that labored and wrought all manner of works with their hands, and their minds, and their hearts. And I cast mine yes unto Hind, unto Sinim, and the lands of Gogs and Magogs of the earth, across wilderness, pasture, and field, over mountains, waters, and oceans, to wherever man lived, suffered, and died; to wherever he sinned, and toiled, and sang. I rejoice and I weep over his story and relics, and I praise his glory, and I share his shame.

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The tipping point of textual expertise   2 comments

How much reading do you have to do in a language until you read smoothly, without having to stop often and ask yourself about morphology or syntax, or to consult the dictionary? A simple question with a more complicated answer. It depends on the reader, on the language, on the text and genre, and even on the particular sentences within those texts (not all sentences within the same author or genre are of the same difficulty for learners), &c. And there are, of course, different kinds of reading, and many texts, too, for one reason or another merit, not only reading, but even multiple re-readings. Even with these variables, for most of us, fluid reading (or hearing) means the past mastering of several thousand lines wherein the dictionary did have to be frequently cracked, wherein the grammar did have to be checked, wherein the concordance did have to be probed, and wherein the original beside the version did have to be compared, and so on.

At the beginning of a unique Greek grammar for beginning students, Paula Saffire refers to a time in graduate school when reading Greek became less encumbered and more automatic for her.

The reason this happened was that I was reading Greek, happily, about eight hours a day, because of Harvard’s most powerful teaching tool, the Reading List. (Read all of Aeschylus, all of Sophocles, all of Homer, seven by Euripides, and so on.)[1]

The great Swedish scholar of Chinese, Bernhard Karlgren, wrote in 1908 of his reading assignments in some Germanic languages — to which family, it should be noted, belonged Karlgren’s mother tongue — while a student of Adolf Noreen:

300 pages Icelandic prose, 80 pages Icelandic poetry, 100 pages Gothic grammar, 40 pages Gothic text, 275 (difficult!) pages Old Swedish. I have very good reasons to rest a little while.[2]

At the time, Karlgren was working on two majors: one the subject just mentioned, and the other being Slavonic Languages. (Karlgren needed to master Russian because of the font of materials on Japanese and Chinese in that language. Students of Georgian are in a similar situation today.)

I don’t have a specific number, whether in hours or in lines, to answer the question asked above. But I know that it is a lot, and in many cases we may recognize the specific number only after the fact. One day, after hour upon hour and line upon line, we just realize that we’re moving along in a text with far fewer bumps in the road than before. And that’s when a new kind of enjoyment begins in the language.

If you have any studio-biographical references for scholars’ and learners’ time and efforts spent among the pages of foreign languages, please share them in the comments.

[1] P. Saffire and C. Freis, Ancient Greek Alive, 3d ed., p. xv.

[2] Letter of April 11, 1908 to his girlfriend Inna, quoted in N.G.D. Malmqvist, Bernhard Karlgren: Portrait of a Scholar, p. 38.

The Christmas story (Luke 2) in Old Georgian   3 comments

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been at work on a little document presenting the Christmas story in Old Georgian. From a philological perspective, and from the perspective of language pedagogy, the Gospels stand out as a special group of texts, because in many languages we have multiple translations or revisions of earlier translations. In addition, of course, there is the fact that a number of passages exist in more or less similar versions across the four Gospels. All that to say, the Gospels offer students of this or that language and those interested in the variety of ways a text may appear in different translations an excellent opportunity for study. (Other genres where similar benefits accrue from the same kind of surviving multiple translations are philosophy and patristics.) The benefit derivable from a study like this to some extent depends on the format of its presentation. (For an excellent presentation of the Syriac Gospels, see George Kiraz’s Comparative Edition of the Syriac Gospels, 4 vols.) A digital presentation of the requisite texts certainly offers promising possibilities, but at least strictly for the texts, a conventional 2-D display with one layer, whether on paper or on screen, can be very valuable for those who read it closely.

From here (unidentified ms).

From here (unidentified ms).

It is this conventional single surface and single layer presentation that I have followed here. Since we’re in the Christmas season now, it’s a fitting time to read over any relevant texts, whether for language practice or some other reason. In the New Testament, the Christmas story, of course, is found in Matthew 1:18-25 and 2:1-12 and in Luke 1:26-38 and 2:1-20. It is only the last section that I have included here. In this document (xmas_story_old_georgian) I’ve given that text verse-by-verse first in Greek as a kind of anchor point, then in Georgian in each of the Adiši, Pre-Athonite, and Athonite redactions, all of which are freely available online thanks to TITUS/Armazi. Following the text in these versions, comes an almost comprehensive lexicon and full verbal concordance, hopefully to make the document a more useful reader for students and because lexical tools for Old Georgian in English are quite meager, and any addition to that small list of instrumenta will, I think, have value. (I have similar documents, too, for the Temptation and Transfiguration pericopes, and outside of the Gospels, some other passages from the rest of the Bible, both OT and NT.)

I welcome any comments on the document, not only corrections, but also remarks on the layout, on the worth of a lexicon for such a small text selection, whether more grammatical information should be supplied (and if so, how much), &c.

As always, thanks for reading and best wishes in your studies!

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