Saturday, April 30, 2011

They went to do what?

They went “do aithrigi a peccad”, that is, “for penance / penitence / repentence / repenting of their sins”. The word “aithrige” (dative “aithrigi”) is the verbal noun of the Old Irish verb “ad·eirreig”, which had two somewhat different meanings: (1) repeats, and (2) changes. The latter meaning was extended to include “changes for the better; improves”.

The verbal noun “aithrige” takes the idea of “changing for the better” one step further so that it ends up implying a change of attitude, and thereby an attempt to undo, repair, rectify a mistake.

Interestingly, the Old Irish verb “ad·eirreig” bifurcates during the history of the language, so that today in Modern Irish we have both:

1) “athraigh = changes” and its verbal noun “athrú = changing, change”; and

2) “aithrí = penance; repentence”.

In any case, the Three Monks apparently went into the wilderness in order to undo their sins before God by doing penance, not in order to repeat them!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

in the hopper

The Monks have six new languages in the hopper, waiting to be processed. But there's also some structural work underway on their polyglot site. Once the work is done, more versions will appear!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011


The tripod is the most stable of structures ... except in human relations.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Uto-Aztecan, North to South

Michael Dunn and colleagues just published a paper in Nature that systematically challenges the theory of universal grammar long propounded by Noam Chomsky and his acolytes. This is the theory that says we all learn language effortless as children because we have a built-in “language organ”, a set of instructions that Pinker dubbed “the language instinct”.

The paper by Dunn et al., “Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals”, was summarized in this piece in Wired.

click to enlarge

The research involved the analysis of four widely separated language families, one of which is the Uto-Aztecan of North and Central America. The Monks are pleased to note that they span the full extent of that family's geographical range, from Shoshoni in the north (Idaho) all the way to Nawat (also known as Pipil) in the south (El Salvador). In the middle they also have: Western Mono (California), Hopi (Arizona), Classical Nahuatl (México) and the contemporary Nahuatl of Huasteca (México). They look forward, as always, to adding further representatives of the Uto-Aztecan family!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Q: When are three monks not three monks?

A: When they are Genii Cucullati. These guys don't look all that different from the missionary monks on the Shetland stone. They appear to be wearing the same hooded woolen garment, known as the birrus or cucullus. This representation of a trio of Genii Cucullati (or Hooded Spirits) comes from Housesteads in Northumberland, along Hadrian's Wall, but images of them, often as a group of three, were common throughout the Romano-Celtic world. There are no associated inscriptions, and their exact role in Romano-Celtic religion is uncertain.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

monks in Shetland

Three Monks

Here's the entire panel, which is in the Shetland Museum, where it is known as “The Monk Stone”, identified as a Pictish altar with a carving of Christian missionaries.

These guys appear to be wearing a long version of the one-piece hooded garment called in Latin birrus Brittanicus (which I discussed recently in Irish here). The birrus, which was made of wool and was reasonably waterproof as well as warm, was common in Gaul and Britain during the Roman period and into the Middle Ages. The word birrus comes from the Gaulish word birros, meaning “short”. The original version consisted of a hood and short cloak which covered just the shoulders and upper body. (The French word beret derives ultimately from the same word and garment, via Italian berretta.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

When is a monk not a monk? (cont.)

click to enlarge

The Sumerian solution, applied several thousand years after the heyday of the Sumerians by Dan Foxvog, a scholar of the language who recently retired from UC Berkeley, was to make the monks into “gala-priests”. The first two words in the text above are gala eš5. That eš5 means “three” is obvious.

The gala-priest was one of the several different classes of temple functionaries. His job was to sing choral liturgies (“heart-soothing laments”) for the goddess Inanna, as well as private burial laments. Gala-priests may have had a “third gender” identity in Sumerican culture. They sang their songs in the women's dialect (eme-sal) and some of them took women's names, and for those that know Sumerian, the elements that make up the written word gala are suggestive!

Friday, April 8, 2011

When is a monk not a monk?

When he's a sādhu, or a sannyāsī, or a Daoist priest, or a Pharisee, or a Sūfī, or a nanishundehai-daiboo or “prayer-whiteman”, which was the Shoshoni solution.

In Hopi, the monk becomes, not greatly to his credit, a tota’tsi, a “tyrant, dictator, demanding person; applied to Catholic priests (Franciscans) during the Spanish occupation”.

These are just a few examples of how the anecdote can be localized to fit the language and culture that it's moving into.


Le Petit Prince has been translated into “around 200 languages, second only to the Bible for the number of translations”, according to this site. With only around a hundred versions of the 3M so far, I see they'll have to redouble their efforts. ;-)

By the way, what and where is Mirandese? Off to Google it!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Things to look at more closely?

Or, words to conjure with:

1. tríar : the power of the number three and triplicity in Indo-European culture and Irish culture in particular (the popularity of triads)

2. manach : the history and institution of monasticism, and the absence of the concept in other cultures

3. saegul : the world, in a Christian context, and in the pre-christian (?) dichotomy of in centar and int alltar, this world and the otherworld

4. peccad : the Christian concept of sin and its analogs in other religions/cultures

5. Día : Who Is This God Person Anyway? (the philosophical blockbuster by Oolon Colluphid in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

6. toingim : variations and literary uses of the “I swear...” formulas in Early Irish literature

But first a joke!

One joke deserves another (and this one only works in English). Three monks went to live in solitude off the coast of Ireland. They called their home “Celibacy Rocks”. (You may groan now.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The idea here is...

... to treat this as a journal platform to muse about, explicate and expatiate on the the Three Monks. Input and discussion will be very welcome. But no one knows that this blog exists yet... or so I think!

Tríar Manach