Sid Caesar — A Language for all Seasons

Sid Caesar died in 2014 at age 91. A pioneer in the gentler arts of subtle humor, Caesar approached his craft with an inquisitive spirit and intellectual curiosity — you can’t do that without patience and discipline. He listened to rhythms and song, he could mime anything animate or inanimate. Though able to transmit the theater of language, his only two tongues were English and Yiddish.

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All languages are indeed songs. Iambic pentameter is, quite simply, the cadence of spoken English. In my opinion a haiku never sounds right in English because the Japanese haiku does not transplant well in foreign soil.

From the Caesar, not the one known for “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres”:

“I didn’t allow cue cards because, to my mind, when you’re acting with someone you listen when they speak, … Because then you can push off not just what they say but how they say it. You don’t just hang around waiting for your cue.”

Translation is a gentle art,  all translations are rough estimations. Something is always lost in the translation. In the hands of the demagogue language is a weapon to leverage propaganda. Agendas render translations that wish to mislead — always, or at least often enough.

Poetry resists translation intensely. But that is as it should be — poems are distilled language, translation muddies and soils.

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By my own estimation an oft repeated remark by Albert Einstein is not a good enough translation of the German. A wise man once hadn’t said…

The German:  Raffiniert ist der Herrgott aber boshaft ist er nicht

The most common render: Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not.

A single word change: Mischievous is the Lord, but malicious he is not.

I think it’s good alliteration. Well, I may be outnumbered, but isn’t it an improvement on the more clumsy subtle/malicious. Perhaps I’m guilty of some degree of bias when taking sides with my own blog. With a nod to a rare public voice (hint: Habemus papam — “who am I to judge.”)
2-saints-from-palestine
Movements to excommunicate — or at least exile — Pope Francis are loud, vociferous and growing with brute fervor.
Listening patiently is among the lost arts. The sentient fellow-being in your presence deserves your attention — it’s that breathtakingly short moment when they may reach and teach you. Carpe diem!
Okie dokie, let’s consider another quote from Mr. Caesar:
The remote control changed our lives, … The remote control took over the timing of the world. That’s why you have road rage. You have people who have no patience, because you got immediate gratification. You got click, click, click, click. If it doesn’t explode within three seconds, click click, click.
~ Sid Caesar (from Successories)
When it comes time for you to speak, do not use your words as weapons but as tools for removing barriers, widening perspectives and sharing a planet where homo sapiens is the sole responsible specie threatening to drop another extinction event on all and each.
 Be also wary of weaponized symbols and icons, my impertinent opinion of course.
Thanks for reading.

A SaFaRi into the SaHaRa

My last detour took us to a Picnic (pique-nique in French) in 1934 Grange, Pennsylvania. Here is a footnote to that previous post has ended up in the opening paragraph for this post. You may not have wondered about the Yiddish word shtick . It’s from the German noun Stück (a piece).  

What’s your shtick, Bill?

Yakking  on about different ways to yak away. 

There is just something exhilarating about learning languages. aha-momentHere are three (3) remarkable benefits: 

  1. remove barriers,
  2. erase borders and, if fortune favors,
  3. become less baffled

We’re glad that you are taking a safari into the Sahara. Please tell us less.

Root letters in Arabic do something quite curious. They occur in an ordained order. Here is a root you may have noticed in the title  — SFR. Arabic dictionaries segment meaning through a root system. Grab that Arabic dictionary over there and flip away until you’ve encounter SFR,  see below.

2-%d8%b3%d9%81%d8%b1-sfr

Don’t forget to read from right to left.

Bill, are you going to tell us about a book that teaches Arabic with aplomb?

Yes.

I want to share how much Sugar Comes from Arabic by Barbara Whitesides helped me master Arabic, and have a rollicking time at the same time. It’s an amazingly beautiful ring-bound volume that is simply delightful. As with all my reviews, I just want to pass on good words for great works. It’s what teachers do.

Calligraphy is one of those hobbies I’ve hobbled through with my left-hand. Now I can’t overestimate the unexpected thrill of gently pulling the pen along my paper — no plowing into the paper, or covering up writing while writing.  You may have noticed that English is written from left-to-right.

Let us consider prefixes, suffixes and diacritical marks. Hey you say, there are bunches of words having such and much to do with “travel” in Arabic — words like safari.Hey I say, the Arabic root for desert is SHR. Technically, the Sahara Desert suggests Desert Desert. Here is a fun web page for those wanting yet another resource on Arabic verb forms.sahara

Well that was breathtakingly tedious, but we needed to yawn in order to dispel stale air. But you were heading into a desert, please proceed.

Interesting innit?

 

Here’s another innit —

arabic-sound-heuristic
Here is a useful diagram for associating alphabet whats and wheres. I’ve found it helpful for distinguishing the “sun and moon” letters in Arabic.

Didn’t you write a toss-off post a while back — just trying to change the subject.

Yes — Sudden solitude in a crowded desert, based on a line from T.S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion.

Thanks for reading.

 

Teitsch Deitsch

The time has come, the ziegler said, to speak of many things, or perhaps just about Teitsch and Deitsch.

yiddish
Yiddish borrowings — from Teitsch

Yiddish is a rendering of the German word Jewish — ‘Jüdisch‘.  This evening I took another look at it. A German might say ‘Such’ (but pronounce it ‘zook’) – ich suche einen neuen Look (I’m looking for a new look).

Where did you look, Bill? And, by the bye, we despise digression. And we’re easily unamused.

Among the less traveled crannies and nooks, under rocks or falling from trees. The usual haunts.

I’m the kind of person that spends moments thinking about the structure of German language — the gleanings of such squandered moments might help explain the resilience of languages based on German — things that Tiggers do best.

tiggers-do-best

Here’s my tentative thesis: German is so god-awful complicated and rigid that it remains recognizable to the speaker of modern Deutsch, by dint of complexity.

So you posit that it is a durable language — rigorously so. 

The Engländer spoke a form of German brought from Saxony (Sachsen), but the proverbial original German was jostled so thoroughly by the Vikings that all the inflections fell off.

Well at least I’ve anchored that reference to ‘things falling from trees.’

Do you speak Yiddish, Bill?

I can very easily understand the transliterated and the spoken Yiddish, i.e. without the Hebrew letters. It’s as familiar as Swedish or Dutch subtitles for a German film. In fact, Yiddish adopts German sounds and word order. Take a look and listen to the Omniglot site for a timely example.

heimish-101

Profile of an Endangered Language

Might we have a piece of birther cake?

A word from our sponsor:

Beware the big lie, the humorless, the enforcer of arbitrary rules, the racist, maker of rules for jazz performers. In short, never underestimate the threat of fascism. Only 15% of its speakers survived the Holocaust. Of the surviving speakers 10% live in New York, many by way of Ellis Island.

Why doesn’t the current President of the United States ever laugh? Or is that a ludicrous question?

We now return you to our regularly scheduled program, in progress.

Do you speak Pennsylvania Deitsch, Bill?

Those immigrants from the 18th century brought their language of origin.  Deitsch is a spoken language with several transliterations to mime the sound. Yet, the structure, word order and vocabulary survive with amazing fidelity. Interesting stuff

padutch1934picnic

Hiwwe wie Driwwe (a Deitsche newspaper)

On a related topic, what kind of beach books do you read?

Here is an out-of-print volume that I found at a local library discard sale for 50 cents.  

The World’s Writing Systems by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright

the-worlds-writing-systems

Here is that very book on archive.org

Thanks for reading.