A bold, new approach to language that addresses the subtleties of cultural identity

Look Inside


Introduction     1

Part 1. Text Building in Javanese     21

Text Building, Epistemology, and Aesthetics in Javanese Shadow Theater     23

The Linguistics of Particularity: Interpreting Superordination in a Javanese Text     71

Binding Wild Words: Cohesion in Old Javanese Prose     89
with Thomas Hunter

Person in Kawi: Exploration of an Elementary Semantic Dimension     109
with I Gusti Ngurah Oka

Aridharma: Framing an Old Javanese Tale     137

Part 2. Some Burmese Figures     183

Biography of a Sentence: A Burmese Proverb     185

The Figure a Classifier Makes: Describing a Particular Burmese Classifier     211

The Elusive Figures of Burmese Grammar     231

Part 3. Learning Malay      259

The Figure a Sentence Makes: An Interpretation of a Classical Malay Sentence     261

Silence Across Languages     283

Part 4. Translating Emerson into Old Javanese     295

Beyond Translation: Esthetics and Language Description     297

On Emerson on Language     317

Part 5. Music and Language: Language and Music     331

Translating the Art of Music     333

A Musical Icon: Power and Meaning in Javanese Gamelan Music     349
with Judith Becker

Part 6. A Place for Particularity     365

Attunement; An Essay on Philology and Logophilia     369

Language in Particular: A Lecture     405

Part 7. Afterword     427

An Afterword: Apologia for the Essay     429

Index     433


"This is not only a new philology but a new American linguistic philology. . . . Becker's harvest over a lifetime will be widely welcomed and respected." -Paul Friedrich, University of Chicago
". . . a book of extraordinary quality and importance." -James Boyd White, University of Michigan
How does Ralph Waldo Emerson sound in Kawi?
In this collection of essays A. L. Becker develops a new approach to translation he calls modern philology, an approach that insists, beyond translation, on the sorting out of ambiguities and contexts of meaning. Becker describes how texts in Burmese, Javanese, and Malay differ profoundly from English in all the ways they have meaning: in the games they play, the worlds they constitute, the memories they evoke, and the silences they maintain. In each of these dimensions there are excesses and inadequacies of meaning that make a difference across languages.
Drawn from over three decades of studying, teaching, translating and writing about Southeast Asian languages and literatures, the essays collected here for the first time are particular accounts of Becker's experiences in attempting to translate into or out of Burmese, Javanese, and Malay a variety of texts. They describe such things as the building of a Javanese shadowplay, how a Sanskrit story about the language of animals has been used in Indonesia, and some of the profound semantic silences a translator faces in taking an anecdote by Gregory Bateson from English into Malay.
In linguistics, the essays emphasize important kinds of nonuniversality in all aspects of language and look toward a new theory of language grounded in American pragmatism. In anthropology, the essays demonstrate that much of culture can be described in terms of text-building strategies. And for the comparativist, whether in literature, history, rhetoric, music, or psychology, the essays provide a new array of tools of comparison across distant languages and cultures.
A. L. Becker is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Anthropology, University of Michigan.

A. L. Becker is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Anthropology, University of Michigan.