May 11, 2004

It took some time, but my dreams have been realized.

I've finally managed to convince my office that I'm a harmless lunatic. Apparently, and this is good to know, being vegan and tattooed and wearing capacitor bracelets is perfectly normal behavior but studying mostly-dead languages at one's desk for fun is not.

My effort to become obscurely multilingual, or at least multiliterate (which is much more likely given that this is me I'm talking about), began today thanks to the combined efforts of and the US Postal Service. With their powers combined, they will be... an entity engaged in the business of delivering to me a copy of William Dwight Whitney's Sanskrit Grammar, 5th edition, first published 1924.

I've had my grubby mitts on the text in question for four and a half hours as of this writing, and already I find myself plunged into a torrid and giddy love affair with the Devanagari alphabet. It's gorgeous. It's weird. The basic unit of the written language is not the letter, which changes form depending on the surrounding letters, nor the word, which is freely abused by the writing conventions of joining final consonants with the initial vowels of the following words and omitting all spacing between words, but the syllable. The book idly exhibits an example of a Vedic verse translated, transliterated and divided into syllables as it would be written, and written in its natural form. I've been picking through it trying to identify the syllables and their components, scribbling clumsy characters and excited notes on a sheet of scratch paper when I figure out that, for instance, that neat little loop under the upturned L is a letter that's a little like "v" and when it's written with a right-facing hook above it it's a syllable like "rva". The short "a" sound is implied, and that tiny hook is a diminished form of the graceful sway that is an "r" standing alone.

I'm in heaven. It's like learning a secret code, but the letters are either architectural or alive. A word is a row of lean-to roofs holding each other up with tails and antennae poking out above and below. The dipthong "ai" gives a word delicately protruding limbs, while a long "a" gives it stability. When I recognized the curly tail of a "d" without consulting the alphabet chart, I got so excited that my scribbles took up half of the next line on the page.

I would continue, but I can't rhapsodize properly when someone's arguing with me about my plants. Please hold; all calls will be answered in the order they were received.

Posted by dianna at May 11, 2004 06:38 PM

Mostly-dead? If I were you I'd be going through Sanskrit's pockets, looking for loose change. If you want, I've got a whole library of Latin grammars, dictionaries, and texts to peruse if you find your thirst for all-dead languages not sated by Sanskrit alone. There really is nothing like reading Cicero's senatorial denouncement of Catiline in the original Latin. It's beautiful.

Posted by: Erik at May 12, 2004 09:43 AM

yes, sanskrit, that sounds very interesting and usef--LANGUAGE NERD! LANGUAGE NERD!

this comment dedicated to sean's snake nerd comment. let us bow our heads in memory of zembla.

Posted by: didofoot at May 12, 2004 11:21 AM

I am underwhelmed with surprise, considering that we wrote notes in transliterated Hebrew in the second grade and that you were decidedly better at it than I was.

Posted by: dara at May 25, 2004 10:29 PM

My Sanskrit book alleges, in fact, that Sanskrit is a Semitic language. So you see it all makes sense. As soon as you started teaching me Hebrew letters it became inevitable that I would eventually take it upon myself to learn Sanskrit.

I need a different textbook, though. The one I've got sucks unless you've spent years studying linguistics and understand what an ablative case is.

Does anyone here know what an ablative case is? Erik?

Posted by: Dianna at May 26, 2004 09:31 AM

is this the one i got you? i am sad for my poor judgement in picking it off your wishlist if so. you should try library book sales. i used to get language books there all the time. and they're only a quarter. or fifty cents tops. hmmm...i wonder when the next sale in phill is...

Posted by: michele at May 26, 2004 09:36 AM

Noooononono. You got me the Arabic and Chinese ones. Those look fantastic. I got the Sanskrit one for myself, so all blame for the sucking lies squarely on my shoulders. There's another one I was looking at that's a lot less linguistics-y and a lot more learn-language-y. I'll get that one.

Library book sales... libraries... I miss the library, damnit. I could have just checked out exciting and useful Sanskrit books to myself and set the due date to sometime after I'll be dead. That's a slightly morbid thing to try to figure out, though.

Posted by: Dianna at May 26, 2004 09:55 AM

ha yes! arabic. i am far more entranced with the arabic learning than anything else. there's a summer boot camp program where you can learn arabic in monterey. i kind of want to go.

Posted by: michele at May 26, 2004 10:00 AM

Arabic is pretty. I like it. I'm trying to resist the temptation to throw my frustrating Sanskrit book in the back of the bookshelf and try Arabic for a while.

The major thing preventing me is that my coworkers would be so smug about it.

Posted by: Dianna at May 26, 2004 10:08 AM

you could always plot against them and rip those smug smiles from their faces. smear those faces in the ink of your plotting.

Posted by: michele at May 26, 2004 10:14 AM