Letters From the Editor


A very interesting guide to writing systems, Omniglot; my favorites, for now, are Lontara and Makasar, Gujarti, and Ol’ Reliable Mayan. There is also the numbers 1 to 10 in 4500 languages, grouped by region.

Amazing so many languages are still preserved; some countries make this preservation a priority, like South Africa with its 11 official languages, though imagine what that means in practical terms: tax forms, marriage forms, highway signs, police officers reading rights, all somehow available in 11 dialects.

Unrelated: Isn’t Emerson great?

We should go to the ornithologist with a new feeling, if he could teach us what the social birds say, when they sit in the autumn council, talking together in the trees. The want of sympathy makes his record a dull dictionary. His result is a dead bird.
Also, you know what’s funny? Academic jokes. Witness:

A distinguished linguistics professor was lecturing on the phenomenon of double negatives. As he neared the end of his talk, he drew himself up and declared solemnly: ‘In conclusion, let me observe that while there are numerous cases where a double negative conveys a positive, there is no case where a double positive conveys a negative.’ Whereupon, from the back of the room, arose a small voice dripping with disdainful condescension: ‘Yeah, yeah…’
HA! Finally, an old but sweet review by James Wood pointing out how boring Updike can be:

Kitsch is, among other things, an unknowing complicity in self-limitation. Updike does not mean to condescend, of course; but in striving to find good ‘literary’ words, like ‘tender’ and ‘poignant,’ he both inflates and deflates language, almost as if he were condescending to himself. Updike’s prose has begun to exhibit a curious, paradoxical habit of seeming at once insufficient (life is always more than ‘gallant,’ terror more than ‘vague,’ infidelity more than a ‘weave’) and presumptuous (don’t tell us, the reader feels, what is touching and tender and poignant until you have proved your case). Insufficient because true meaning eludes its grip; presumptuous because it assumes that it can handle truth so glibly, with such casual gloves.

Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at rosecransbaldwin.com. More by Rosecrans Baldwin

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