Tuesday, December 27, 2011


How is this for a belated Christmas present: I have just learned that the paper I presented at the 2009 SBL International Meeting (prepub PDF) has been published by Peter Lang in the proceedings volume from the session titled The Canon of the Bible and the Apocrypha in the Churches of the East (full bibliographical info below).

Hovhanessian, Vahan S. (ed.):
The Canon of the Bible and the Apocrypha in the Churches of the East
Series: Bible in the Christian Orthodox Tradition - Volume 2
Peter Lang Academic Publishers
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2012. VIII, 113 pp.
ISBN 978-1-4331-1035-1 hb.
 As a budding (if not young) academic, I guess I should be proud, but truth be told, I'm not. On one hand, I'm somewhat surprised that besides from submitting the manuscript, I had no input in the editing process, which would have enabled me to correct some serious translation errors. On the other, had I had some say in the publishing process, I might have withdrawn the paper from publication completely. As I found out only a few weeks ago, the Arabic text which I thought I had rediscovered had already been published in a critical edition (Testamentum Salomonis arabicum, Córdoba: Servicio de Publicaciones Universidad de Córdoba, 2006) by Juan Pedro Monferrer-Sala, who is a much more competent scholar than I am. Now true, I did make a few connections he did not plus it's the first time the subject has been presented to the English-reading public, so the paper is not a complete waste of cellulose, but then again, I did make a few horrible translation errors which shall now forever live in print and on Google Books and then there's the total embarassment of the whole thing. I wonder if that's ever happened to anyone else and how they dealt with it.
And the worst part is that this seems to be a constant theme accompanying my academic endeavors - every time I invest time, energy and money into a project that seems worthvile, just as a tangible result is about to be produced, I find that someone, somewhere has already done it, only better. Used to be one of those long dead Russian motherfuckers (and they still remain the most likely suspects), now it's just about everybody. This happens three or four times and you start seriously doubting if you have what it takes to, well, make a contribution and if you and the world at large would not be better off if you just packed it in, called it a day and went off to harvest jam in Cambodia* or build power plants in Yakutia**.

* The Slovak equivalent of being up shit creek without a paddle.
** A real option available to me.

Friday, September 09, 2011


I received the following message this morning:

I sure like the 15% discount, but I love their language policy. However, it appears to be a new one, as this message from a while ago confirms:

I wonder what they thought the point of the transliteration was...

Friday, April 08, 2011

liveblogging GHILM 3

... 'cause the hell why not.
... while the battery lasts.
... theme of the day: "Work in progress" (is there any other kind)?

- Intro by Thomas Stolz and Ray Fabri.
Highlight: all future publications by GHILM will be handled by Akademie-Verlag Berlin, proceedings from GHILM 2 should be finished by the end of the month. And there will be a electronic corpus of Maltese going live by the end of the month. Dammit, beaten to the punch again.

- Invited speaker 1: Thomas Stolz. A lively talk on group formation ('we three' etc.), all of it based on Thomas' bedtime reading (with statistics!). Note to self: get it.

- Ray Fabri on clitic and definite NPs in Maltese that's bound to knock the socks of Balkanologists (spoiler alert: clitic doubling with indefinite NPs. Take that!). A lot if it overlapped with my talk and the ensuing discussion actually spoiled parts of it. Great minds etc., I guess.

- Me.
Highlight 1: I didn't shit myself.
Highlight 2: Neither did the audience.
I screwed up an example (that'll learn me to make last-minute changes), but otherwise went pretty well.

- Maris Camilleri on restrictive relative clauses. Crammed full of information and - needless to say - excellent.

- Chris Lucas on negatives from the point of view of dynamic syntax. First time I've ever heard of dynamic syntax and Chris' explanation of the principles actually made sense. Plus some interesting asides on polarity items and interrogative vs. negative 'x' in Maltese.


- Invited speaker 2: Frans Plank on the direction of derivation, mostly nouns<-> adjectives and comparison of direction of derivation with English and German within specific semantic classes. Poor (present) Michael Spagnol got blamed for most of errors.
A comment (from the discussion) by Frans Plank a propos basic vs. derived forms: "In Proto Indo-European, what we see as basic is actually derived. Etymological dictionaries of Indo-Euroean list roots as verbs which is probably more science-fiction than science."

- Michael Spagnol and Albert Gatt on labile verbs (see Haspelmath 1993). Michael did the theory and described Haspelmath 1993 as his favorite paper evah. I almost yelled "Nerd!". Albert presented the results of an online / corpus study examining the use (transitive vs. intransitive) of labile verbs in Maltese and put together a list of verbs biased either way. Very nice. Note to self: need to steal their methodology.

Battery died. Crap.

- Thomas Mayer (et al., but he was the one standing there) with a pretty awesome talk on finding the formula for forming the broken plural in Maltese.
- Phyllisienne Gauci and Maris Camilleri again on the dual. Next time somebody claims there are no dialects in Maltese, play them the recording of all the native speaker disagreeing on this seemingly minor point. OT: "thallasanejn" = "two seas". Archaic, but still awesome.

One last item before the poster session: Albert Gatt officially announced the launch of the Maltese Language Resource Server Corpus (http://mlrs.research.um.edu.mt/index.php?page=3). Going live soon, this will be the big ass (over 72 million word tokens) you've always dreamed about. This surely beats the 48 million words I put together over the last few months, but at least a part of it can and will be integrated into MLRSC.

And finally, the poster session. My favorite part was the statistical analysis of possible tri- and quadriliteral roots by Mike Spagnol and Thomas Mayer (busy as bees, the Konstanz guys) and the comparison between possible and attested roots. Pretty cool stuff with wide-ranging implications.

So that's it for day 1. I'm off to bed, wouldn't wanna miss Bernard Comrie's talk at 8:30.

... aka "Membership drive for the International Federation of the Sleep Deprived."

Invited speaker 3: Bernard Comrie on the typology of Maltese loanwords. The data was of course obtained within the scope of the Loanword Typology project (see also this LanguageLog post and the links therein). It turns out Maltese is pretty high on the list with 37.00% of the lexical items borrowed, so slightly less than 39% for English. Surprisingly enough, the ratio of borrowings from English is very low (2-3% or something like that).
- Next up, Marie Alexander with a talk on the mixing of English and Maltese in children. Fascinating data on language choice for both parents and children.
- Sandra Vella et al. on the distribution, function and pragmatic properties of pauses and breaks.
- Matt Wolf of Yale with a very heavy and very technical optimality-theory-related talk.
- Another very technical paper by Gilbert Puech analyzing the fundamentals ofMaltese phonology.
- And yet another heavily technical, but in a different way, talk by MarkBorg describing in great detail the methods he and his team are using to create a speech synthesis engine for Maltese (it's all in the diphones). Once completed, the engine will be freely available and so will the methodology.

... why am I up at 7:30 on a Sunday?

Invited speaker 4: Elisabeth Hume with another experiment-based analysis, this time of word-final geminates in Maltese. It turns out that not only are the geminates kept geminated (which is rare), there is also a lengthening of the preceding vowel. This has implications for the way information is transferred in terms of redundancy vs. robustness. Work in progress, but definitely a fascinating matter.
- Next up, Adam Ussishkin and Kevin Schluter with a talk on auditory root and binyan priming. The overall question is whether the roots and patterns (binyanim) are a part of the mental lexicon. If they are, then priming should be possible - in other words, if you are presented with a word with a certain root/pattern, recognizing another word with the same root/pattern should go much faster. Test like these are usually done visually which is problematic with Hebrew and Arabic script. So the Arizona guys developed an auditory test for both superliminal and subliminal priming. Superliminal means the priming element is played as it is. Subliminal - and this is where shit gets really weird - but in the best way possible - involves playing the priming element backwards, time-compressed. It turns out that there is no priming effect on patterns and there is one for root. The really surprising part is that that effect is roughly the same for supraliminal AND subliminal priming. Really awesome work.
- Mike Spagnol with a re-analysis of Maltese derived stems. Bottom line: there aren't 10 (or 9, minus IV), but actually only 4.5, seeing as there are mutually exclusive pairs (say, if a root occurs in VII, it doesn't occur in VIII) and there are only a few verbs in X.
- Martin Zammit with a much needed reevaluation of some of Aquilina's etymologies using newly published material on Tunisian Arabic. The fun part for me was that I recognized about half of the lexical items from Tunisian Judeo-Arabic.
- Another talk on etymology by Daniele Baglioni where he offers the thesis that at least some of the Romance loandwords didn't come to Maltese directly from Sicilian/Italian, but from a variety of Italian he terms 'Levant Italian' - a variety used as an international language in the late-medieval Levant and beyond.
- Jan Joachimsen with one more OT-related paper, this time focusing on Maltese orthography and its acquistion by children.
- And last, but not least, L. Brincat with a report on a study of how chatting (not texting) influences the spelling habits of Maltese teenagers. Executive summary with a bunch of caveats: there is some correlation between the amount of time spent chatting and relatively low testing scores. The real interesting part was the examination of chat Maltese, which shows a bunch of really familiar features, such as using numbers for syllables ("4c" = "forsi" = "perhaps, 8 = '-ejt', the 1SG/2SG perfect suffix for defective and loan verbs), the total absence of the word "iva" = "yes" ("ehe", "ija" and forms like that are used) and so forth. Work in progress or not, it was a fine conclusion to what I can only describe as best conference evah.

Now let's catchup on some shuteye. Tomorrow, I'm going book shopping.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


... about three minutes ago here at the office, a wonderful example of Slovak-English code mixing so typical of corporatespeak:

Ísť go live s environmentom, kde nevieme restorovať produkciu, je suicide.

The items in bold are English, at least by origin. "Produkciu" is included as well - "produkcia" might be an honest-to-Shiva Slovak word, but in this context, it means "functionality" or "proper working order" and not, as it usually does, "output".

Sunday, March 06, 2011


Finally some good news: the programme for the GĦILM 3rd Conference on Maltese Linguistics is now available online. The conference, which will be held between April 8th and 11th in Malta, is jointly organized by the International Association of Maltese Linguistics (Għaqda Internazzjonali tal-Lingwistika Maltija, GĦILM) together with the University of Malta and, as the name says, the third since the founding of GĦILM. I missed the first two, but not this time - in fact, if you look closer, you'll see my name (misspelled, as required by tradition) on the very first day with a paper on object reduplication (also known as clitic doubling) in Maltese (abstract, PDF). I can't help but notice that my paper on syntax - which is really not my field of expertise - follows Ray Fabri who is the most likely candidate for the position of numero uno honcho when it comes to Maltese syntax. So, um, yeah, no pressure or nothin'...

Thursday, January 13, 2011


And while we're on the subject, there is a debate currently raging on teh intert00bz concerning Microsoft's challenge to Apple's attempt to patent the phrase "app store". As Chris of The Lousy Linguist reminds us:

... the basic idea, as Wikipedia defines it, is distinctiveness ... While it may be the case that Apple introduced the term in 2008, it seems to have expanded to generic use in less than a year and now gets used at least semi-regularly for non-Apple products.

Well, yes, but what exactly is distinctivness in this context? As many were quick to point out, there is nothing distinctive about either "Windows" or "Office". John Gruber of Daring Fireball argues that that's totally ok, because Microsoft isn't selling actual windows or offices, a point I fail to grasp. If "Windows" or for that matter "Apple" can be trademarked, I don't see a reason why "App Store" or "AppStore" (note the capitalization) shouldn't be.
Also, let's pause for a sec and consider the word "app". Yes, the American Dialect Society word of the year, defined thusly:

noun, an abbreviated form of application, a software program for a computer or phone operating system

And this is where I say 'whoa there'. "App" certainly isn't a mere shortened form of "application". First of all, it refers specifically to applications on mobile devices with touchscreens* and applications for Macbooks (notebooks with OSX) that can be purchased through Mac App Store. Thus I have apps on my iPod touch and Palm Pre, but applications and programs on my desktop PC (Windows 7) and notebook (Vista)**. What's more, an "app" in terms of mobile devices isn't just any application for any mobile device. My venerable Palm m105 with Palm OS 5 had applications on it and they sure as hell weren't called apps. And neither are the Java applications on my trusty Siemens U600 or whatever it was I had on the iPaq I borrowed for that one trip back in '02. We all shortened words a lot even back then and yet, somehow we didn't come up with "app". Apple did, some time in 2008 with the introduction of iPhone, no doubt capitalizing on the similarity with company's name. And it's only then that "app" (and, by extension, "app store") entered public consciousness. The use of the term "app" was extended to computer applications with the introduction of Mac App Store last November, once again through concentrated effort on Apple's part.
And secondly, as Ian Bogost points out (via Daring Fireball), an app isn't just any new application. It is, for better or worse, a new way of creating and packaging functionality:

The days of the software office suite are giving way to a new era of individual units, each purpose-built for a specific function... or just as often, for no function at all.

So with all due respect to Ayn-Rand-channeling Mr. Russell Pangborn, an 'app store' isn't just a store that sells apps the same way a 'toy store' is a store that sells toys. It's a whole new platform for providing software, one that Apple invented and one that everybody else is copying. Now I'm no fan of copyright or trademarks, but if trademarks are a part of the system we use to protect intellectual property, then this one should by all rights go to Apple.

* I know, I know, but it's the best definition I can come up with.
** The Google Chrome OS is an outlier, as Google stuff tends to be.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Turning now to the world of technology, this year's Consumer Electronics Show was all about tablets and boy, what a long parade of meh it was. Thanks but no thanks, I'm still waiting on iPad 2 and whatever it is HP will be announcing in February. One product, however, did stand out and it was Motorola's Xoom. It wasn't so much the specs or the promise of Honeycomb as this teaser video:

Funny, clever (I literally lol'd at "successful Latin American distribution") and for the most part accurate. Except that one bit. With all the effort they put into getting the scripts and artefacts right, why did they have to display the English version of the Ten Commandments? How much cooler would that video be with the Decalogue in Hebrew in Paleo-Hebrew script! And they didn't even have to hire a Semitic philologist for that, all they had to do was google "charlton heston ten commandments":

The other big news item among us geeks was the decision by Google to drop support for the H.264 codec from future versions of Chrome and replace it by WebM, a move widely criticized and characterized as the final sign of Microsoftization of the formerly non-evil corporation. Ironically enough, one of the most interesting reactions came from the general vicinity of Redmon, WA. It begins with the following words:

The world’s ability to communicate with one another is a key factor in its rapid evolution and economic growth. The Esperanto language was invented last century as a politically neutral language that would foster peace and international understanding. Since the launch, we’ve seen first-hand the benefits of a constructed language:

Go read the whole thing and follow the links. Spoiler alert: Yes, it is a satirical piece. But darn me if the parallels aren't eerie.