Sometimes One Must Speak In An Indirect Way

There are times when one’s communications must be protected from the unwelcome attentions of third parties.  The richness of a language’s vocabulary, and its embedded metaphors and cultural allusions, are powerful assistants to this end.  I was recently reminded of this when reading an anecdote related by that most colorful of biographers, Ibn Khallikan.  We have related many of his stories and wise sayings here in past articles.  The story I am about to relate here is linguistically oriented; it can tell us much about the power of speech in the hands of those who can deliver it with nuanced subtlety.  It will be of interest to any enthusiast of language, philology, and culture.

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Some Humorous Epitaphs

Many forget that we should learn to be wise enough to laugh at the world and ourselves.  Without laughter–the universal tonic for all melancholic maladies–it becomes ever easier to take ourselves too seriously, and to retreat into comfortable recesses of our own minds that promise nothing but stagnation and sterility.  This may be the unconscious message of the humorous epitaph:  a warning to the living that our time here is not unlimited, and that unless we appreciate the idea of memento mori, we are living in delusion.  Few things are so grim that we cannot make light of them somehow.

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The Dream Of Maxen: A Celtic Myth Of “The Mabinogion”

The Mabinigion is a name given to a collection of medieval Welsh tales drawn from the rich mythology of Celtic Britain.  The earliest manuscripts date from around 1325, but it is certain that the tales on which they were based have roots that go back centuries before this time to an age in which Welsh and Roman elements blended to form a unique oral tradition.  I have recently begun reading these tales, and it has been a refreshing experience in the literal sense of the word:  they are unlike any other myths I have encountered.  They conjure up a strange, almost hallucinatory dream-world, where heroism and great deeds exist alongside magic and surreal alternative realities.  Consider this strange yet transfixing passage from a tale called Peredur Son of Evrawg:

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Language Mastery As A Secret Code: How Sadid Al-Mulk Was Saved From Danger

Mastery of language is indeed a powerful tool.  This is especially true when the speakers hail from the same cultural background, and can make use of all those subtleties that would be lost on the non-native. This point is brilliantly illustrated by an anecdote told about Ali Ibn Munqidh, who became emir of the district of Shaizar in northern Syria in 1081.  His surname was Sadid al-Mulk, and this is how I will refer to him in this article.  We will see that words effectively deployed can literally save lives.  This story is adapted from Ibn Khallikan’s short biographical sketch of Sadid al-Mulk.

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The Linguistic Ideas Of J.R.R. Tolkien

We have often discussed language-related subjects here.  Readers interested in language acquisition may find it beneficial to hear something about the language ideas of one of the twentieth century’s most influential fiction authors, J.R.R. Tolkien.  Everyone knows him as a founder (perhaps the founder) of modern fantasy writing; few, however, are aware of the depth and breadth of his linguistic knowledge.  Tolkien himself once said that he considered his books as little more than vehicles for the expression of his language interests:  meaning that for him language was far more important than storytelling.

[To read the rest of the article, click here.]

The Song Of Roland: Duty And Sacrifice


As Europe took shape in the early medieval period, the vernacular languages found their voices in popular epics and ballads.  This was not an accident; access to Latin and its literature required literacy, and this was something not easy to come by at that time.  But the lay audiences of Europe began to develop their own voices, and these soon coalesced by degrees into coherent form.  The tradition was mostly oral at first, until these songs and ballads began to be written down.  In every new civilization it seems that the epic ballad occupies the first stage of literary expression; perhaps this is because a people must first master their environments before they can have the leisure to philosophize.  And mastery of the environment means capability in war.

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A Professional Translator Shares His Thoughts

[A reader of Stoic Paradoxes contacted me recently and shared some of his experiences and adventures gained from many years of translating.  I told him that his ideas would make for a great guest post here.

His language is expertise is Japanese, a language that I am not proficient in.  But it is interesting that translators all face the same challenges, more or less, regardless of the language they are working in.

His comments highlight one of the things I mentioned in a recent article about translating.  It is the idea that you sometimes need to set things aside, and come back to them later, with a new and refreshed perspective.

His article appears below.]

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