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The world’s weirdest languages

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(Photo: Corbis)

The best arts and literature reads, including far-out dialects, life on the set of The Wire and a sad sketch of ageing poet and critic, Clive James.

World’s weirdest languages
Tyler Schnoebelen | Idibon | 26 June 2013
If you rank the world’s languages by the structural features they share with other languages, the one most different from the majority of all other languages is Chalcatongo Mixtec, spoken by 6,000 people in Oaxaca, Mexico – in which, for example, there is no difference between statements and questions. English ranks 33rd. The English way of marking a question, by changing word order, is used in only 1.4% of languages.

Life on the set of The Wire
Brett Martin | Slate | 8 July 2013
This may be pretty much what you’d expect, about the inevitable interpenetration of life and art during prolonged filming on location: “In the isolated hothouse of Baltimore, immersed in the world of the streets, the cast of The Wire showed a bizarre tendency to mirror its onscreen characters in ways that took a toll on its members’ outside lives.” But, even so, irresistible stuff, lots of fun facts, for admirers of the series.

Clive James – A life in writing
Robert McCrum | Guardian | 5 July 2013
Sad sketch of poet and critic approaching death. “Almost everything in the life of this great literary polymath is edged with darkness. James dwells in a kind of internal exile: from family, from good health and from convivial literary association, even from his own native land. His circumstances evoke a fate that Dante might plausibly have inflicted on a junior member of the damned in one of the less exacting circles of hell.”

An interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard
Jesse Baron | Paris Review | 3 July 2013
Norwegian novelist and memoirist, compared by reviewers to Proust, discusses his life and work, particularly Min Kamp – My Struggle – his autobiography in progress. “I wanted to see how far it was possible to take realism before it would be impossible to read. So in Min Kamp I’m doing nothing but digressions, no story lines. Language itself takes care of it. The form gives something back”.

A billion stories
Evan Osnos | New Yorker | 5 July 2013
The New Yorker’s always-excellent Beijing correspondent signs off after eight years in China with a reflection on the stories and characters encountered there. And he saves one of the best for last: Qi Xiangfu, whom Osnos found working as the neighbourhood street sweeper, but who leads a parallel life as a poet, student of classical Chinese literature, and moderator of an online modern poetry forum.

The letter
Elon Green | The Awl | 3 July 2013
Elegant and always interesting account of Robert Gottlieb’s underrated six-year editorship of the New Yorker. When Si Newhouse appointed him to succeed William Shawn in 1987, the editorial staff wrote Gottlieb a letter asking him not come. He came anyhow, but the letter cast a long shadow. Gottlieb never quite felt at home. His “interim government”, wise but hesitant, ended when Newhouse brought in Tina Brown.

Unconventional wisdom
Justin Peters | Columbia Journalism Review | 1st July 2013
Rather wonderful profile of The Baffler, “the journal that blunts the cutting edge”. Sample quotes from editor John Summers: “We want the most destructive possible criticism with the highest possible literary standards.” “The consensus has all been wrong. The country is dying at the top.” Regular contributors include Chris Lehmann, David Graeber, Susan Faludi, Rick Perlstein. So yes, you probably should be reading it more often.

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