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2004-07-02 15:40

Two wheels good, four wheels bad

Never you mind all this tedious foopball malarkey, tomorrow it's time once again for Proper Sport: Le tour de France is back!

Dozens of diminutive men with huge thighs and surprising blood chemistry will be belting around France on pushbikes for the honour of wearing a yellow jumper!

The official French site is, as is traditional, utter pants, and this year we are proud to announce that Norwegish TV2 has won the contract to supply TdF coverage to this 'bladet.

Everyone (i.e., no one) knows that sports as mass entertainment is an essentially 20th century phenomenon, by way of pacifying the urban proletariat. The great thing about cycling is precisely that it has not attempted to construct for itself an origin myth steeped in the glorious deeds of our glorious ancestors, since our ancestors, although unquestionably very glorious, had not invented the bicycle.

I'm currently trying my beloved old bike back on the road, also, after a five year gap inspired by the realisation that Bristol, unlike Southampton, has hills in. (Bad Count von Bladet! No prikkete klatretrøya "spotted klimbingjumper"!)

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2004-07-02 13:26

Isovegetation lines

Isobars are used by meteorologistes to illustrate the geographical distribution of pressure. Isoglosses are used by linguists to illustrate the geographical distribution of pronunciation.

Today, and quite possibly today only, I wish to see the isovegetation line that bounds the regions of Europe where olive trees grow.

Today, though, and I sincerely hope it is today only, my Google Fu is unequal to this task.

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2004-07-02 morning (utc+1)

Foopball and Human Freedom

It isn't easy being a journaliste in Burma ("Myanmar"), as Aftonbladet reports:

I ett mejl berättar gruppens ordförande Åke Sintring om den burmesiske sportjournalisten Zaw Thet Htwe. Han arbetade på en sporttidning i Burma som heter First Eleven. I en artikel förra året ifrågasatte han hur det burmesiska fotbollsförbundet använde de pengar som den internationella fotbollsrörelsen skänkt till hans land. Generalerna i den burmesiska militärjuntan ansåg att artikeln var att jämföra med högförräderi och i november 2003 dömdes Zaw Thet Htwe till döden.

In an email [local Amnesty group]'s spokesperson Åke Sintring told about the Burmese sports-journalist Zaw Thet Htwe. He worked for a sport newspaper in Burma called First Eleven. In an article last year he questioned how the Burmese football associaton used the money that the international football movement gave his country. The generals in the Burmese military junta took the view that the article amounted to high treason and in November 2003 Zaw Thet Htwe was sentenced to death.

Commuted, after an international outcry, to a three (3) year prison sentence. That crazy Burmese military junta, isn't it? You just never know what it's going to do next!

Hoorah, though, for Aftonbladet - the prosthetic social conscience you can wrap your yummy sustainable Norwegish fish and chips in!

You will observe, of course, that while the bad Burmese military junta sentences journalistes to death, we in the civilised and democratique west content ourselves with journalistique incitement to lynchings or assassinations:

THE Swiss referee who disallowed a last-minute goal to send England crashing out of Euro 2004 has spoken about the death threats made against him in the aftermath of the match against Portugal.
[...]
Meier said he had received more than 16,000 e-mails after his address was printed in a newspaper [The Sun, as if you couldn't guess] and read out on ITV's news programme.

Ha ha ha, such merry fun is foopball!

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2004-07-01 later (utc+1)

Proto-Slavic progress report

I have established with some certainty the proto-Slavic for "Do you take credit cards?"!

Also, I suspect that Polish mleko, Serbian mleko, Czech mléko ("milk") may be a lead. I'm conjecturing a Proto-Slavic form something like *yummy moo cow squirtlings but frustratingly I can't quite get all the pieces to fit.

[Update: David adds that Slovene has mleko. Now I'm totally stumped! Oh, well. Back to the drawing board...]

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2004-07-01 samwidge (utc+1)

Syllables and Sadnesses

I'm not up-to-date on the linguistique literature on syllables, but the last I heard of the state of the art is that while no one knows how to detect syllables in a lab, there are some dazzlingly elaborate theoretical models of them. (Hey, linguisticians! Why not let's make syllables 10 dimensional and be as rigorously scientic as string theoristes!) In the quote below I have IPA'ed up the transcription from its original ("native") Americaniste:

[Syllables in some languages] show quite complex structures, even allowing sentences without vowels, such as Bella Coola (Salishan)
begin{IPA}
xtextbeltl p'Xsuper{w}textbeltl ttextbeltl
ptextbeltltextbeltl sksuper{w}t{ts}'
end{IPA}
`then he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant' (Bagemihl 1991a:16). Bagemihl notes that there are no epenthetic vowels in such sequences.

These structures raise interesting questions about syllabic structures. A word like
begin{IPA}
t{ts}'ktsksuper{w}t{ts}'
end{IPA}
`he arrived' could be analyzed as having no syllables (since it has no vowels), or up to 5 or 6, depending on whether obstruents are considered syllabic and whether all consonants are analyzed as part of the syllable.

The Languages of North America, Mithun (CUP, 1999)

A more pressing question, to my mind, is this: when you've analysed it into zero (0) or six (6) syllables, what have you accomplished that is distinguishable from not having accomplished anything?

Syllables are important, partly because they are suspected to account for much of the "missing matter" of the universe, and partly because they are part of the intuitive sense persons have of their language, as evidenced in poetry and other such word-play.

Personally I'd much rather someone told me how Bella Coola (Salishan) poetry and word games are organised than listen to them explain the analytical foundations of their syllable-counting strategy.

And (as with all phonological questions) I feel compelled to ask what the alleged accounts of syllables currently circulating (without consulting the literature, I predict with certainty that there are several rival theories whose proponents engage in bitter polemics with each other) make of sign languages.

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2004-07-01 morning (utc+1)

A Little Fishy-Wishy

Wouldn't it be nice if there were tasty fishes also in the future? There will be in Norway:

Norway is another place in Europe where fishing has long played a vital role in the economy and the way of life. Norway polices its exclusive 200-mile zone with vigour.

It single-handedly saved the cod in the northern waters of the Barents Sea with an uncompromising fishing ban. It has done the same with another key stock, the herring, which spawns along its west coast.

The country's fishermen paid a heavy price in the 70s, when the herring ban was in place and they simply had to go after other species or go out of business.

One of the core constituency's for the coalition of the wretched that is the UK "Independence" party is fisherpersons, in Cornwall and elsewhere. Fisherpersons, in Cornwall and elsewhere, are invariably vigorous proponents of the theory that the reason that fish stocks are declining is the perfidious over-fishing of yer dastardly foreigner, what can't be trusted.

The UK "Conservative" party is forever stomping around saying it would renogociate fishing treaties to safeguard "our" fish.

It would be a very good thing if the EU's act became sufficiently together on the fishy-wishies that these such slimy sjöodjur (sea-monsters) of nationalisme could no longer make political capital out of the issue.

Now is good.

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2004-06-30 hometime (utc+1)

Incentive me harder!

The EU's Commission's General Direktorate for Training and Culture's magazine "Magasinet. Utbildning och kultur. Europa får folk att tala" (Swedish pdf. Change "sv" to "en", "dk" or whatever else you fancy) has much to say about the merits of speaking two (2) foreign langwidges in addition to one's mother tongue.

But the things they say are in it for me have not especially been in it for me to date. What they need to do, I feel, is offer an incentive scheme using cold hard cash, focusing with laser precision on native speakers of langwidges which traditionally lag behind the average on this: there's clearly no point encouraging Danishes to learn Swedish or English, since they all already know both - and don't get me started on the Luxembourgians - so their share of the incentive gravy can reasonably be splashed into my charmingly Engleesh gravy-boat. (Eurocrats are cordially invited to contact me for details of my off-shore banking arrangements.)

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2004-06-30 13:18

Tuesday gloating about stuff

A brand new feature! I have a copy of Miss Freda White's West of the Rhone: Languedoc, Roussillon, the Massif Central (Mr Faber Mr Faber, 1964); do you have, Varied Reader, a copy of Miss Freda White's West of the Rhone: Languedoc, Roussillon, the Massif Central (Mr Faber Mr Faber, 1964)?

On the steep road up from Royat to the Dôme my car gave up the ghost. A local garagist got it to go, but I thought that here, in the metropolis of automobilism, I might find real help, and went to a big motor-works. The foreman's face might have belonged to a Jesuit missionary, or to the secretary of a communist branch - or to the foreman of a motor-works; in fact, a dedicated man. He gave my car one look and said, "There is only one thing to do with that car." "What?" I asked. "Put it in the garbage-can - la poubelle," said he. "I know; I had it myself." "Monsier," I said, "I must drive this car 3,000 miles; and you must enable me to do so, if you please." "Well, I can help you. Go and buy a small sponge." I meekly obeyed and returned with a small blue spontex sponge. The foreman wired this to the top of the petrol-cambre. "You will take a thermos of cold water," he commanded. "From time to time on an ascent, you will endue the sponge with water. Thus you may arrive." The effect was comic but it worked. I scaled the Puy-de-Dôme and many another Puy successfully. But I did not forgive the lunatic who designed that engine, putting the petrol feed tube alongside the exhaust.

The conversations throughout have been Engleeshed in this style, which meets with my firm approval.

But 1964! After the end of the Chatterly ban and the Beatles' first LP!

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2004-06-30 morning (utc+1)

Prinsessgossipround-up: Kronprinsess special issue

§1. Prinsess Peekaboo!

You have to make your own entertainment in Ockelbo:

När hon under middagen fick syn på Aftonbladets fotograf glimtade det till i hennes ögon. Kronprinsessan viskade skämtsamt något i sin väninna Josephine Genetays öra. Sekunderna senare satte tjejerna sin plan i verket.
- Plötsligt hade Victoria en servett på huvudet. Hon såg ut som en riktig påskkärring, berättar P-O Sännås som tog en bild. Väninnorna tjöt av skratt när de såg den paffe fotografens reaktion.

When she caught sight of Aftonbladet's fotografer there was a glint in her eye. The kronprinsess playfully whispered something in her friend Josephin Genetay's ear. Seconds later the wimmins put their plan in effect.
"Suddenly Vickan had a serviette on her head", recounts P-O Sännås, who took the picture. How they laughed to see the flabberghasted fotografer's reaction!

§2. Peekaboo Prinsess 2!

Kronprinsess Mette-Marit of Norway is in Iceland on an official visit. Kronprinsess Mette-Marit has a five-month old daughter, kronkronprinsess Ingrid Alexandra. The li'l prinsess is in Iceland with her mummy, for sure, but she is not on a state visit; she has come purely in a private and unofficial capacity as a baby:

Den fem måneder gamle arveprinsessen er ikke en del av det offisielle norske følget - og er formelt med fordi kronprinsesse Mette-Marit ammer henne.
- Prinsessen inngår ikke i noen av de offisielle delene i programmet, bekrefter informasjonsrådgiver Sven Gj. Gjeruldsen på Slottet overfor VG.

The five month hold kronkronprinsess is not a part of the official Norwegish entourage - and is formally there because kronprinsess Mette-Marit is nursing her.
"The prinsess will not participate in the official parts of the programme," exposterated Sven Gj. Gjeruldsen for the palace to VG.

There but not officially there! A lifetimes ligging begins with a magnificently paradoxical manoeuvre, and this blog salutes - unofficially! - the tiny freeloading bundle.

§3. Gunting, with dogs

Knudella's wrapped up in a nice sealskin and gone for a gunting, with dogs and the Kronprinsfred:

Mary lignede mest af alt en snedronning, som hun sad dér smilende,

Knudella looked most of all like a snöqueen, as she sat there smiling.

And skiing, and the kronprinsess, disguised in her knitted cap, sizes up a hundehvalp or puppy. It's not a yummy seal, Knudella, it's an innocent little furry thing! Have mercy!

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2004-06-29 14:40

Monday so very review of stuff!

Quelqu'un m'a dit, Carla Bruni.

The zeroth thing to know about Carla Bruni, by journalistique consensus, is that she is very beautiful. Beautiful enough to have had a career as a supermodel, which indeed she has had. (If Google images is to be believed she specialises particularly in nouveau-imperial couture, but that may just be sample bias - those googlebots!)

We will get to the music in due course, for sure, but not just yet, not just quite yet. Come! Let us instead mock journalistes some more!

With hindsight, the clue was there all along in track eight, in which Carla admits to be being the prettiest girl on the block: 'Regardez-moi. Je suis le plus beau du quartier.'

Is there an annual award for most egregious "Romanes eunt domum" moment in a serious national newspaper? There should be. And this would be a candidate. Wimmins, you see, are not "le" in the Frenchy-French, and they are not "beau", so even the title is a give away. It is a song from the perspective of a someone who loves themselves very much, for sure, but said someone is a someone of maleness, who exults in his status as object of desire for all the wimmins and also - oh, those naughty Frenchy-French! - their husbands:

Mais prenez garde à ma beauté
A mon exquise ambiguïté
Je suis le roi ["king"]
Du désirable
Et je suis l'indéshabillable
Observez-moi, hum, hum, hum
Observez-moi de haut en bas
Vous n'en verrez pas deux comme ça
J'suis l'favori
Le bel ami
De toutes ces dames
Et d'leurs maris
Regardez-moi

Anyway. She sings in a studiedly seductive just-above-whisper, and her songs are for the most part constructed around rhythmique vamps - students also of Swedish pop are likely to be put in mind of Lisa Eckdahl - and it is really all very pleasant, even if the two (2) songs that have proper tunes are written by others; "La noyée" by Lucien (=Serge) Gainsbourg is by far the stand-out track.

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2004-06-29 samwidge (utc+1)

Det var en gång ("Once upon a time")

Will the beautiful Cinderalla of Croatian cheese 'n' cream go to the EU ball? Or will the ugly step-sisters of bureaucratique red-tape thwart true love?

Many generations of Croats have grown up on cream and cheese, a homemade delicacy from the north of the country. They despise its factory-made commercial equivalents and would rather stick to the fatty full-bodied cream and light fresh-made cheese they call "the real thing".

("The real thing"? Have Mr Coca Mr Cola's lawyers been alerted?)

More strict EU hygiene controls on farms would add to an existing bureaucracy with which farmers are already struggling. The government has done little to explain future reforms, leaving farmers perplexed.

Bad fairy god-mother ("government" - they are cognate, you know!)!

"We regularly check our cows and have been producing cream and cheese for decades," says Marija Ivankovic. "Nobody has died of it. This is healthy stuff and we don't understand why we would need to adopt any new regulations."

Neither will you, because the Beeb is in rampant - rampant! - human-interest mode and is therefore quite entitled to engage in scurrilous scaremongering at the expense of any facts.

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2004-06-29 09:16

Monday Review of Stuff

Hjelmslev's Le langage is a funny sort of book. Written in the 40's, but not published until the 60's, it opens with a treatment of historical linguistics that operates in terms of cross-language correlations (which he calls functions) of "éléments d'expression" and doesn't mention phonemes at all. This, it later turns out, is quite deliberate:

On constate les fonctions des éléments, nous l'avons vu, sans égard à la façon dont les éléments sont nommés ou désignés dans les langues considérées (par exemple par des lettres ou par les sons); les formules d'éléments seront donc d'un charactère également abstrait.
[...]
Les hypothèses qu'on peut former possèdent un degré plus ou moins grand de probabilité, mais il ne s'agit toujours que de probabilité, jamais de certitude; que i-e *m ait été prononcé à peu près comme notre m, possède un degré très fort de probabilité; que i-e *A ait été prononcé à peu près comme le premier e de proprement (ainsi qu'on l'a supposé entre autre chose), possède un degré minime de probabilité. En consequence il est fâcheux que la languistique classique ait désigné les fonctions des éléments commes les lois phonétiques et ait par exempel désigné les fonctions des consonnes pour le germanique et pour le haut-allemand trouvées par Rask, comme le mutation consonantique respectivement germanique et haut allemande (Rask lui-même les a appelées mutations des lettres, ce qui est une désignation bien plus honnête et plus sobre.)

[We state the functions of the elements, as we have seen, without regard for the way elements are named or designated within the languages considered (for example by letters or sounds); the formulas of elements will thus be of an equally abstract character.
...
The hypotheses one can form have a greater or lesser degree of probability, but it is always a question of probability, never of certainty; that I-E [Indo-European] *m was pronounced like our m is highly probable; that I-E *A was pronounced like the e in absent (which has been proposed among other things) has a low degree of probability. As a result it is regrettable that classical linguistiques termed the functions of elements phonetic laws and gave the functions Rask discovered for the consonants for Germanic and High German the names Germanic and High German consonant mutation respectively (Rask himself called them letter mutations which is a much more honest and sobre term.)

Hjelmslev, Le Langage

Since I collect opinions of Golden Age linguists on the ontological status of phonemes, I very much enjoyed the celebrated glossematician's robust "we don't need no stinkin' phonemes" routine.

Besides, in historical linguistics we often don't know how words where pronounced, and claiming reconstructions deal with phonological but not phonetic information doesn't entirely get us off the hook: it is not guaranteed a priori that scripts are reliably phonological (English and Danish, ho ho ho) and the claim that they were surely phonological when they were invented is open to question. It isn't hard to have a sneaking sympathy with Hjelmslev's view that it is an unnecessary dogma.

To celebrate, I am currently trying to reconstruct proto-Slavic from the Lonely Planet Eastern Europe Phrasebook. I've been wanting to have a go for a while, but concern that it didn't really include phonological information had prevented me. (The less said about the pronunciation guides, the better. I will say, by way of proving so, this: the Czech section observes that Czech stress is regular, and invariably falls on the first syllable of the word, and the bogophonetic "transcription" duly marks it there, every single time. The Slovenian section observes that stress is irregular and needs to be learned on a case by case basis; the corresponding bogotranscription duly leaves it out. Gah!)

As a book on linguistics in general, this is nowhere near the mainstream, and I can't really recommend it for the casual reader. My agenda being what it is, which it certainly is, I'm glad I read it.

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2004-06-28 post-samwidge (utc+1)

Zloty-be-gone!

I've spent Estonian kroons ("zloties") like water, and burned holes in my pockets with Lithuanian litas ("zloties"), although I am not acquainted first-hand with the local zloties of Slovenia.

And now look at them:

Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia have fixed the value of their currencies against the euro as the first step in adopting the single currency.

Man! Way back when the Tories were in power and I was looking for an escape hatch, one of my key goals was adopting the International Eurozloty as my own personal zloty. And then, seduced by the rugged beauty of the tall, blonde Norwegish fjords, I opted to learn Swedish*.

Since then, the Swedishes and the Danishes have referended their continued abstention from the Interzloty in favour of their various krone, kronor and crowns ("zlotys"); the UK hasn't even bothered to put to itself the question since the deep love and reverence the silly UKish have for the zloty sterling is well known; and now that upstart Central Yoorpean sliver Slovenia is ahead of us in the queue!

Portugal has the Interzloty, as do Spain, Italy and France, but I am constitutionally indisposed to talking as much or as loudly as their ancient and noble civilisations require. (Also I am allergic to ostentatiously patterned trousers.)

And yet I yearn if anything more than ever to conduct my many currencings in the glorious Interzloty! Is it nice in Åbo ("Turku"), does anyone know?

* There was a time when this made sense, if only to me.

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2004-06-28 samwidge (utc+1)

Chanson Bleue

Tu feras pleurer les anges
En leur racontant tes souffrances.

You'll make the angels cry
To hear what you've been through

"Chanson Bleue", Edith Piaf

Bad Bleus! No biscuit!

L'échec de la France est celui d'une équipe qui n'a jamais vraiment joué "ensemble", tiraillée entre les différents niveaux de forme et de jeu de ses individualités.

No teamwork! No unity! No cohesion! Bad, bad, bad Bleus!

And now Swederlund and Denmerlund out also as well! Bah! Foopball is a silly game!

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2004-06-28 11:12

J'ai fait un shopping

My nice belt broke weeks ago and the only other belt I could find at home was some random horrible one that probably came as a freebie with some trousers, because it was cheap and vair vair nasty.

So I wore the horrible one until Thursday when that broke too. Having become persuaded, during Friday, that beltlessness was not an acceptable alternative, I set out on Saturday to get a new belt.

But I went belt-shopping with a friend, on his behalf, a while back and I can tell you that in the UK the belt situation is a mess. Belts have splintered so that each covers a teensy fragment of the waistage spectrum, and they all have like three (3) holes and leave no tail. I hate that.

I grew up when belts were more-or-less one size fits all and I was skinny, and my belts used to always wrap half-way round again, and that was the way I like it and I still do. And belts are mostly sold in clothes shops, into which I prefer not to go if I can avoid it, and I'm pretty good at avoiding it if I say so myself.

So I went to a charity shop, and they had a proper belt, even if it is browner than I really like them and not quite as long as I'd like. (In the belt's defence, I'm not quite as skinny as I'd like, either.)

Then on the way back I may have called into the Amnesty bookshop, and it's possible they may have been having a sale, and conceivable that they had in this sale a three (3) volume set of Montaigne's essays in the original Frenchy-French, and if they did, and the three of them were going for a marked price of 0.50 GBP each, which comes to 0.75 GBP for the whole set at sale price, then I don't think anyone could really reproach me for being unable to resist.

I tell you what, though, that Montaigne couldn't spell for toffee. I'm not surprised they couldn't shift his stuff. Get an editor, mate!

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