Article on hitherto unidentified Mari items in Pallas’s Vocabularia comparativa

Linguistica Uralica 2016:3 is out, and in it is my article “On some hitherto unidentified Mari items in the ‘Vocabularia comparativa’ of P. S. Pallas” (PDF). Here’s the abstract followed by the considerably more detailed Russian-language summary:

The ”Linguarum Totius Orbis Vocabularia comparativa” of Peter Simon Pallas published in 1787—1789 is a prominent early record of the Mari language, containing Mari translations of 273 Russian headwords.This material has been examined by Thomas A. Sebeok in an ample commentary published in 1960, and by Alho Alhoniemi two decades later, but they were unable to identify all words. Using recent lexical resources on Mari and studies of the original manuscripts, the present contribution identifies further words and corrects some errors in earlier interpretations. The result is a more complete picture of Pallas and 18th-century Mari.

«Сравнительный словарь всех языков и наречий» П. С. Палласа, изданный в 1787–1789 годах, является выдающейся ранней записью марийского языка, содержащей марийские переводы 273 русских заглавных слов. Этот материал был исследован Т. А. Себеоком в его обширном комментарии, опубликованном в 1960 г., а затем А. Алхониеми, почти двадцать лет спустя. Оба ученых не смогли однако распознать всех марийских слов содержащихся в этом словаре. С помощью современных лексических источников по марийскому языку, а также благодаря изучению рукописных словарей являвшихся источником для Палласа, автор статьи расшифровал некоторые из ранее неидентифицированных слов, а именно: Ирла́ ‘боль’ = MariE (Большой Кильмез) irla ‘ворчать’; Шу́идабу́и ‘власть’ = MariE šüδə̑βuj ‘сотник’; Чюмышта́ ‘ростъ’ = MariE č́ə̑memčəmem ‘натянуть’; Шитешь ‘ростъ’ = MariE šə̑tem W Nw šətä ‘прорастать’; (Чумра)тырмышь ‘шаръ’ = MariE tə̑rtə̑štərtəš ‘шар’; Пыла́мирь ‘буря’ = MariE pulamə̑r ‘беспорядок, смута, раздор’; Садиги ‘паръ’ = MariE saδə̑γe ‘так, таким образом’; Муней ‘колъ’ = MariE (Большой Кильмез) munej ‘жаба’; Кунзя ‘судно’ = MariE (Малмыж) kunźə̑ ‘воз’; Чипталмаш ‘брань’ = MariE č́ə̑ptalaš ‘нападать’; Пилнышь ‘побѣда’ = MariE pə̑lnaš ‘слабеть’; Шурть ‘китъ’ = MariE šə̑rt Nw šərt ‘злой дух’; Всерсе ‘послѣ’ = MariE βarase ‘последний (только что появившийся)’; Умсысь ‘безъ (кромѣ)’ = MariE umsə̑z ‘безумный’. В статье также отмечено, что бяи ‘въ’ – это возможно удмуртское слово, ошибочно упомянутое как марийское. Результат настоящего исследования дает лучшее понимание словаря Палласа, а также марийского языка XVIII века, несмотря на то, что 17 марийских слов из словаря Палласа по-прежнему остаются неясными.

Entering southeast Albania: cycling Pogradec to Korça

The cycling from Librazhd to Korça proved suddenly smooth: relatively flat terrain after the mountains and asphalted roads. (The people in these parts also speak in a fashion closer to Standard Albanian, making understanding much easier). Early September, however, brought perpetual rain, which made it very difficult to enjoy this portion of my travels. Continue reading Entering southeast Albania: cycling Pogradec to Korça

Contraction as a source of Meadow Mari a in an inherited Uralic word

In his article “The Finnic ‘secondary e-stems’ and Proto-Uralic vocalism”, published in the 2015 issue of Journal de la Société Finno-ougrienne, Ante Aikio presents a new set of related Uralic items involving Mari: [Proto-Uralic] *woja/i ‘wild (animal)’ || MariW wojǝr | Komi vej | KhVVj wajǝɣ (< PKh *wājǝɣ) | MsSo ūj (< PMs *ūj) (UEW: 553). — The Mari word has not been previously been included in this cognate set.

I had formerly noted down MariW βojə̑r, drawn from Tscheremissisches Wörterbuch, in my big collection of unetymologized Mari words, so now with Aikio’s observation I must strike it from the list. What is interesting, however, is that the word is apparently attested in literary Meadow Mari, as well, but under the form вар ‘wild, running wild (after confinement)’. If this is the same word, then the originally two-syllable word has undergone contraction, producing an initial-syllable /a/, not something one generally expects from inherited Uralic material.

I know from Oleg Sergeev’s description that Zemljanitsky’s dictionary, compiled in the 1870s, has воеръ ‘дикий’. Unfortunately, Zemljanitsky’s dictionary contains words drawn from both Hill Mari and Meadow Mari forms, and Sergeev fails to make clear if this particular item was accompanied by any indication as to its origin (as some entries in the dictionary do specify Hill or Meadow Mari). Thus, it is presently impossible to know whether an uncontracted MariE βojə̑r did exist until recently, without going through the challenging process of examining the original manuscript in situ. It is extremely urgent that the Mari manuscript dictionaries in Russian state collections be digitized.

(For information on Zemljanitsky’s dictionary and the presence of this item in it, see O. A. Sergeev’s article “Рукописный словарь марийского языка Земляницкого” in Советское финно-угроведенеие XXIV No. 4 (1988), pp. 292–295).

Challenging roads in northeastern Albania: cycling Kukës–Peshkopi–Librazhd

Cycling across northeastern Albania from Kukës to Librazhd via Peshkopi was an enlightening experience. I had traveled through other parts of Albania before and thought I knew the country, but the northeast has a very different feel. The people seem different, and sadly the overwhelming feeling is one of poverty and abandonment. The views, however, are just as stunning as they are elsewhere in this mountainous country. Continue reading Challenging roads in northeastern Albania: cycling Kukës–Peshkopi–Librazhd

From Kosovo to Albania: cycling the Qafa e Prushit pass

For getting from Kosovo to Albania, I settled on the border crossing at the Qafa e Prushit pass south of Gjakova, which would lead me on to the Albanian city of Kukës. I was intrigued by this border crossing because the Bradt Albania guidebook describes it as “desolate country”, but there are hardly 50 km between Gjakova and Kukës, and the Albanian side of the border is a continuous string of villages. It’s really nothing special by Balkan standards, though the mountain views are nice. Continue reading From Kosovo to Albania: cycling the Qafa e Prushit pass

Across Kosovo: cycling from Prishtina to Gjakova

Last time I cycled in Kosovo, I was new to the whole route-planning thing and ended up traveling the main roads. The roads in Kosovo connecting cities other than Prishtina are not as heavily trafficked as the routes involving the capital, but they still have a steady stream of cars and the occasional truck, and so are worth avoiding if possible. This time, I managed to coax OpenRouteService into giving me a way to cross the country, from Prishtina to Gjakova, on mainly minor roads.

Infrastructure in Kosovo is really impressive. Even minor village roads generally have excellent asphalt, with no feeling of corners cut. These 110 kilometers that I cycled over two days were one of the most pleasant routes in my touring experience, though there were three grueling ascents. Continue reading Across Kosovo: cycling from Prishtina to Gjakova

The Albanian language in Kosovo

One of the great pleasures of this recent trip to Kosovo is that now equipped with a decent reading knowledge of Albanian, I could make sense of all the signage around me. But for one wanting to turn a fairly passive knowledge of the Albanian language into an active one, Kosovo is a frustrating place. I didn’t have a chance to buy the earlier edition of Routledge’s Colloquial Albanian written by Isa Zymberi that is based on Kosovo speech, so I have been using a mixture of more general resources for the artificial standard created in Socialist Albania a few decades ago. Kosovars understand that perfectly fine, and when speaking to me they kindly adapt their speech to a more standard variety, but I cannot understand Kosovars talking among each other and that makes for an awkward experience, especially when being able to follow many YouTube videos from Albania before the trip had so lifted my spirits.

Even bringing along a reference with details on Geg Albanian wasn’t as helpful as I expected: Martin Camaj’s Albanian Grammar with Exercises privileges Geg forms in the vocabulary, with Tosk/Standard Albanian forms following in parentheses. However, many of these Geg forms are not actually usable in Kosovo. Some are said by Kosovars to either be foreign to Kosovo (with the person vaguely pointing west towards northern Albania or Montenegro). Others are dismissed as from the village – indeed, residents of Prishtina and Gjakova seem to have a haughty attitude to rural speech and take pains to speak in a different way, though one that is not necessarily any easier for a foreign learner.

(From where I write this now in northeastern Albania, the accent remains much the same, but lexically things are closer to what I would expect from my learning materials, and it’s a lot easier to get language immersion than among the more cosmopolitan Kosovars who are quick to show off their knowledge of German or English.)

Spelling quirks

It’s curious indeed that after Hoxha’s Albania choose Tosk as the basis for the standard language, the Albanian minorities in Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia – Geg speakers all – so readily adopted this rather perverse standard. Virtually all texts are created in the standard language, showing invariably the Tosk rhotacism though it’s utterly foreign to these parts. Still, occasionally one sees mistakes made in the writing of Standard Albanian ë. In final position it is no longer pronounced in either colloquial Geg or Tosk, and therefore one sees it left out on some signs associated with rural contexts, e.g. blejm hekur for blejmë hekur ‘we buy scrap metal’.

The other misspelling comes from Geg’s preservation of nasal vowels when the standard language has reduced these to ë. Consider the storefront windows shown here, only a couple of hundred meters from each other in Gjakova. A cafe advertises ëmbëlsira ‘sweets’ but writes the initial-syllable vowel with a instead of the standard ë, while another, perhaps more upscale establishment shows the word spelled according to the standard orthography which is indeed the norm even in Kosovo. A storefront reading “Ambelsira, espresso, kapuqino, makiato”Shop window reading “Punëtoria e ëmbëlsirave ‘Dor’ Pasticeri. Punojmë me porosi bakllava, torte dhe ëmbëlsira sipas kërkesave tuaja”

Cycling from Niš to Prishtina

When it came time to cycle from Niš to Prishtina, I was very keen on following the same route as when I hitchhiked this way years ago. Namely, this was the E80, Serbia’s national road 35. As I set off from Niš on the bike, I discovered that cycling is a very different kind of experience: the whole way to Kuršumlija is heavily transited, and there isn’t much of a shoulder to ride on. If I had known this, I probably would have chosen one of the minor roads over the mountains, even if it would have taken an extra day. Continue reading Cycling from Niš to Prishtina

Cycling from Craiova to Calafat/Vidin: another Balkan trip begins

Several years ago my wife and I did a circle of some 3000 km from Romania through several Western Balkan countries and back again. It was a wonderfully memorable experience. As I found myself with two months free while the weather was still fine, I decided to do nearly the same route again, this time going alone to fully immerse myself in the local languages.

Instead of setting off from Timișoara this time, I decided to enter Serbia further south, near Niš. To save some time in doing this, I took the train to Craiova, the capital of southwest Romania, from which I could easily reach the former Yugoslavia by the new bridge across the Danube and then a brief traversal of Bulgaria. Continue reading Cycling from Craiova to Calafat/Vidin: another Balkan trip begins

What I wish I had know before I became a (Russian–English) translator

It has been a few years now that I’ve made my living as a freelance Russian-English translator. For the most part I’m quite satisfied with the job for the great freedom it involves; I can either work from home or as a digital nomad around the world when so desired. Translators actually based in Russia or in English-speaking countries, where they can provide certified translations, probably get a steady stream of dull-but-unobjectionable birth certificates and university diplomas. Since I am based in a third country, I don’t get those, but most of my work continues to be similar to what one might imagine a translator might do: technical manuals, company websites, advertisements, press releases, subtitles for film or television, the occasional full-length book.

Most of what I had read about the art of translation concerns the rendering of the source text into the target language itself, and how to do this well. And yet there are everyday aspects of the job that no one ever told me about before I started. For example, when I began networking with other translators, a universally popular cause of complaint is clients not paying and the need to spend some of one’s precious time chasing them. But another challenge I knew nothing of was that to get to the really good jobs, one has to deal with such irksome or disquieting offers as the following:

  • Propaganda. Due to the deteriorating economic situation in Russia, some clients in the business or arts world are cutting back, but the Russian state continues to have deep pockets. More and more of the work offered to me has been of a crassly political nature: hit jobs on members of the Russian opposition or on the leadership of neighboring countries. Even with things that initially don’t seem of a propaganda nature, one finds somewhere in the text that the writer suddenly mentions the Ukrainian, Georgian, or Kazakh leadership for curiously precision-targeted disparagement.
  • Science cranks. Two or three times a year I am offered a job translating someone’s book or scientific paper, only to discover that the client is a crank claiming to have discovered perpetual energy or some Time Cube-ish understanding of the universe. Such jobs would have to be turned down regardless, because the text is often garbled enough that it is not subject to translation into another language, but by the time you get to the point that you turn it down, you’ve wasted enough time already communicating with the author to try to figure out what exactly his text is about.
  • Self-published fiction of no literary value whatsoever. Nine of ten potential clients here will back out once they realize what translation actually costs, because the average person really does seem to believe that they can get their 300-page book translated for US$100. The tenth client has agreed to your rate, but the writing is so excruciatingly bad that it doesn’t feel worth it at any price.
  • Online casinos. There are quite a few of these around, and they offer a tremendously high rate, sometimes higher than for the aforementioned siloviki-funded propaganda texts, but should one really contribute to this exploitative industry?

Is it still a job worth doing? Sure, I think so. But it’s not all glamour, and even being able to turn something that one loves into a paying job doesn’t mean that one is saved from all hassles and stresses.