Books & Wool, But Of Course

books I gave away about 80% of my books when I left Denmark and I can still see ghosts on the shelves, though I merged my collection with Dave's when we started living together. So many books.

Reading my 2006 blog posts I sounded so cavalier about culling my book collection:

"Red is for never again, never, no, it is so replaceable and it was fun but now the thrill has gone

Yellow is for what a lovely edition, I’ll never find it again and my library wouldn’t be complete without it.

Green is for of course, without a question, it’s part of me and good memories of dear ones.

I may not have a driver’s license but I have many books. I’m putting tiny stickers on their backs: red, yellow, green. So far at least 100 books have been marked with red: Borges*, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ian McEwan, DH Lawrence*, Jane Austen, Thomas Mann* and, er, Marion Zimmer Bradley. The yellow category is the difficult one. Which of Margaret Atwood’s works are yellow and not green? Should I put a bright yellow sticker on John Ruskin or is that a red (because I’m sure there’s a nicer edition out there)?

As I go through my books I realise I’m a flirty reader. I pick up books, break their hearts & spines and drop them cruelly. So many books I never finished: Anita Brookner, Iris Murdoch, James Kelman, Samuel Butler and John Barth. I’m so sorry but it’s not you, it’s me.

And the green books. My friends, my family. Alasdair Gray, Jonathan Coe, AS Byatt, John Donne, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Pullman, Ezra Pound and EM Forster. I pet you gently and remember when I first encountered you. You are in my blood. You are going nowhere.

*victims of the bad edition rule"

And so we're back to 2014. Still so many books and they are not alphabetised. Fret.

Speaking of books, I am currently reading David W. Anthony's The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. It's an interesting look at the Proto-Indo-European language (the ur-language that spawned English, Greek, Hindi, Russian etc) and how PIE is reconstructed following linguistic rules. Anthony also looks at words and concepts that are found throughout the descendants of PIE. Words relating to wagons and wheels, certain types of animals and - relevant to my working life - textiles.

Anthony traces the possible origin* of the word wool - *HwlHn- as PIE contains roots for sheep, ewe, ram and lamb. He argues convincingly that these linguistic fragments point to a domestication of sheep. He also looks at archaeological evidence from Uruk that indicates sheep began being bred for their wool around 3350 BCE. The book then follows the linguistic fragments as they start to spread across the PIE areas. *HwlHn shatters into *Hwel- or *Hwol- .. but the word fragment doesn't always mean "wool". Sometimes it means "to felt", "something made of felt/wool", "to press" or "to weave". Anthony even looks briefly at whorls and spindles. Most of the book is devoted to horses and wheels (as the title indicates) but I did enjoy the dip into textiles. I'm now settling into a section on Neolithic farming in the Caucasus. As you do.

PS. Lots of people have posted pictures of their bookshelves (shelfies?). Do join in!


I had to laugh when I saw this little news story: Company seeks Glaswegian interpreter.

Today Translations spokesman, Mick Thorburn said: "Over the last few months we've had clients asking us for Glaswegian translators.


"Usually, the role would involve translating documents but in this case its more likely to be assisting foreign visitors to the city whose 'business English' is not good enough to understand the local dialect."


He added: "We're not necessarily looking for people who are particularly skilled in linguistics, just candidates who can help out clients who may struggle with native Glaswegian."

I remember arriving in Glasgow and not being able to understand most of what was being said around me. While getting some Glaswegian colleagues helped (although I have never found a use for the phrase "that fake bake is pure dead brilliant, hen"), I struggled until I twigged that Glaswegian is basically akin to my Danish uncles attempting to speak English. There is a certain flatness to Glaswegian intonation that is very, very similar to mid-Zealandic intonation and some words spoken with a broad Glaswegian accent sound more like their Danish counterpart than the actual standard English word: home becomes hame which sounds quite like a slurred mid-Zealandic hjem. For a girl who has tried to escape rural Denmark for most of her life, all this feels a bit like a cosmic joke.

Thanks to my friend Lise, I spent most of my lunch reading about the 16th best football team in the word ever. The most recent incarnation is through to next year's World Cup which bodes well for the amount of (tense) knitting I'll get done. Huzzah!

Structures Lost and Found

Two links: Abandoned Russian Lighthouses - a series of crumbling structures in beautiful natural surroundings. Add a healthy dollop of poverty and tragedy:

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the unattended automatic lighthouses did [the] job for some time, but after some time they collapsed too. Mostly as a result of the hunt for the metals like copper and other stuff which were performed by the looters. They didn’t care or maybe even didn’t know the meaning of the “Radioactive Danger” sign and ignored them, breaking in and destroying the equipment.

The Linguistic Diversity of Europe - an interesting, if brief, look at how the linguistic landscape (literally!) may have looked as long as six millennia ago. Ringe makes a good case for how he constructs it (as we have very little, if any, hands-on evidence, obviously) and the comments are interesting too. I'm a sucker for (Proto-)Indo-European linguistic archaeology, anyhow even if that makes me sound vaguely geeky.

On Speeches and Speech Acts?

So Obama is betting on the word's enduring power as a reformer of American life. Historically he has good reason for, from the beginning, words and texts have constructed American realities, not the other way round. The spell cast on Americans by the mantle of words goes all the way back to the first Great Awakening in the 1740s when flocks thrilled to Methodist preachers such as George Whitefield. Evangelical passion remains a brilliant strand in the weave of American discourse, but when it made way for the reasoning of the enlightenment deists and unitarians who made the revolution, another element of American speech-power sounded loud and clear: the reverence for classical oratory. The Republican bet is that all this is a thing of the past; that, self-evidently, we live in the age of images, and words are just the add-ons to the beguilement of the eye; that all we have are soundbites. Obama's is the more stunning gamble; that so far from the digital age killing off the reign of the word, it has actually given logos a whole new lease of life.

Simon Schama on Barack Obama's acceptance speech, August 28, 2008.

Unsurprisingly my brain went 'ping!' when I realised Schama was trying to make a point about the performative and transformative powers of language. Always nice to be thrown some discourse analysis over breakfast. Even more unsurprising: the comments to the piece are almost all uniformly refusing to take up Schama's gauntlet.

Welcome To My Head

I promised E. that I'd list the podcasts I like. I'm relatively new to podcasts (I'm slow on the uptake), so I'm yet to build up a list of definitive favourites. If someone has recommendations, I'd be happy to hear them! Left Field Cinema is an intelligent podcast looking at both arthouse cinema (like Kieslowski) and mainstream films like Alien. I like the podcast because it assumes the listener is intelligent and it covers a lot of films I enjoy.

The Knit Picks Podcast. KP is a low-budget yarn company focused on the North American market - and they've managed to produce a podcast which is both very informative and very intimate. Kelley Petkun will either irritate or amuse you - she reminds me of a good friend of mine and so I enjoy catching up with Petkun's wide-eyed middle-class commentary on travelling, dogs and golf. I kid you not.

Oxford University's Medieval Podcasts. I have really, really enjoyed their podcasts on Anglo-Saxon texts and culture. This may not be everyone's cup o'tea, but these podcasts have been right up my street. To be avoided if New Historicism gives you a headache.

Lingua Franca. An Australian podcast on language. So far my favourite episode focused on linguistic typology (i.e. classification of languages based upon structural rather than semantic or historical similarities) but the podcast covers a lot of ground: spelling, loanwords, coarse language usage etc.

I'm yet to find podcasts dealing with current literature, modernism, poetry, art history, entertainment or humanism. Anyone?

In related news - that is, "Karie starts using web tools that have been around for years" - I am now keeping up with blogs via a blog aggregator. Gosh, I'm so 2003 sometimes.

Finally, I have (re-)discovered The Phoenix Foundation in recent days. If you like your music indie, mellow, folky and kiwi ..

Brief Interlude on Language

Watching the Austrian cellar abuse scandal unfold, I could not help but wonder one thing. How had the imprisoned children's linguistic skills developed? I learned from the BBC that some of the children communicated with each other in ways that did not adhere to standard German linguistic structures. The Austrian news story is horrifying, of course, and I feel slightly guilty that I find its language acquisition aspect so intriguing. It also led me to briefly reacquaint myself with the legend of Kaspar Hauser and the idea of universal grammar. I should get out more. Speaking of which, I just finished knitting my first major project (I'm going to be self-indulgent enough to post a picture once I know the recipient has received it). The cherry trees outside are beginning to bloom. And while I am still struggling with stamina and energy, I do think I am getting better ever so slowly.