The Corpus of American Historical English is a searchable index of word usage in American printed material from 1810 to 2009. Powerful complex searches allow you to trace the appearance and evolution of words and phrases and even specific grammatical constructions, see trends in frequency, and plenty more. Start with the 5-Minute Tour.
Datamining Shakespeare --- Othello is a Shakespearean tragedy: when the hero makes a terrible mistake of judgment, his once promising world is led into ruin. Computer analysis of the play, however, suggests that the play is a comedy or, at least, that it does the same things with words that comedies usually do. On October 26, 2011, Folger Shakespeare Library Director Michael Witmore discussed his recent work in Shakespeare studies which combines computer analysis of texts, linguistics, and traditional literary history. Taking the case of Shakespeare's genres as a starting point, Witmore shows how subtle human judgments about the kinds of plays Shakespeare wrote — were they comedies, histories or tragedies? — are connected to frequent, widely distributed features in the playwright's syntax, vocabulary, and diction. (approx. 30 minute lecture.) [more inside]
The Gawain Project is an ongoing translation of the late 14th century anonymous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (originally written in Middle English) into Modern English, for the amusement of Arthurians and anyone who likes a good story. [via mefi projects]
Everything you wanted to know about pre-Columbian Central America but were afraid to ask lest your heart get ripped out and offered to Quetzalcoatl
The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies is your one-stop shop for pre-Columbian Central America awesomeness. There are so, so many wondrous things on that site, I don't quite know where to begin. I suppose John Pohl's scholarly introduction is a natural place to start. But maybe you just don't have time to read anything and just want to dive into pretty, pretty pictures. Perhaps the most user-friendly databases are Justin Kerr's photographs Maya Vases (e.g. 1, 2, 3) and Pre-Columbian Portfolio (e.g. 1, 2a, 2b, 3). From there you can delve into the collection of Linda Schele's photographs (e.g. 1, 2) and drawings (e.g. 1, 2, 3). There are more image databases but let me direct you to the collection of old Maya, Aztec and Mixtec books which are simply stunning (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4 [last link pdf]). You can read more about Mayan and Mixtec codices and download high resolution versions of the entire books. There are also Maya dictionaries, glyph guides, linguistic maps and a who's who. There is also classic Mayan and Aztec poetry in translation. I'm telling you, that's not even half of what this amazing site has to offer.
In Parentheses is a collection of many ancient, medieval and classic texts from all over the world, many of whom are hard to find anywhere, let alone on the internet. There are translations from Greek, Old Norse, Medieval Irish, Japanese, Incan, Old French, Medieval Latin and many more! As well as all that they have papers in medieval studies and vaguely decadent and orientalism series. Adding to that there's a linguistics section with wordlists and language flash cards in languages such as Icelandic, Quechua, Basque, Classical Armenian and a whole bunch more. [flashcard links go to pdf files]
Holding up sprigs of parsley, Trujillo's men queried their prospective victims: What is this thing called? The terrified victim's fate lay in his pronunciation of the answer. Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo spearheaded an anti-Haitian massacre in which armed thugs killed every Creole speaker who couldn't pronounce the trilled R in the Spanish word for parsley. (Using pronunciation to make ethnic distinctions is called a shibboleth, a tactic often used in wars.) The murders inspired Edwige Danticat's The Farming of Bones and Mario Vargas Llosa's Feast of the Goat, as well as a poem recited for Bill Clinton by poet laureate Rita Dove. Ironically, Trujillo's desire to "whiten" Hispaniola not only led him to order the 1937 massacre, but to lobby in 1938 for the settlement of Jews fleeing Hitler.
The Analytical Language of John Wilkins - the Decimal System post below reminded me of this exquisite essay by Jorge Luis Borges. Famous for its appearance in Michel Foucault's The Order of Things, the essay describes an attempt to create a non-arbitrary language. For fans of Borges' work, this is absolutely classic.