Credible verbs (Archae Editions 2020)
by Clarence Barlow & Richard Kostelanetz



Over four decades ago Charles Dodge produced a tape of computer-assisted music titled Any Resemblance Is Purely Coincidental in which an unnamed super-tenor (in fact, Enrico Caroso) sings a familiar operatic in processed ways beyond those known to the human voice. To some the piece is technically impressive; to me, it’s always been supremely funny, for the same reason that animated cartoons realize humor by portraying semblances of people making superhuman moves. One theme of the following text is that computers were programmed to discover new pseudo-logical words that are incidentally funny. Whether the German trios are more amusing than the English, or vice versa, I’ll let readers decide.
–Richard Kostelanetz, FarEast BushWick. 11385-5751

When I started to learn the German language in 1968, I was impressed by its verb conjugation. The prefix “ge-” in most perfect tense verbs was striking. Much later I learned Dutch, which also has this feature, but that’s another story. And it was also later that I learned that Middle English used the prefix “y-” the same way. But more striking was the way German irregular verbs differed from the infinitive when used in the past and the perfect. For instance “bersten barst geborsten” is more colorful than its English equivalent “burst burst burst”. Indeed as many as three quarters of English irregular verbs equate past and perfect, one sixth equate these two also with the infinitive. But a much smaller fraction of German irregular verbs equate past and perfect, and then only if the initial “ge-” and the final “-en” are removed in the latter. Therefore it was German that made me think way back then that regular verbs made to look irregular could be amusing. My first was “lieben lob geloben” instead of the regular “lieben liebte geliebt” from the verb “to love”. More followed. When Richard came up with the same idea for English, it was a challenge to me to program my computer to make comprehensive – if not exhaustive – lists in both languages. The German list is clearly longer than the English one.
–Clarence Barlow, Barcelona, Spain.

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