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2004-01-16 ham samwidge, yum yum (utc)

Lacunafilla, slightly abundant

Via a Language Log post on phonology, which seeks to refine the distinction between two opposing proposals for modelling cognitive aspects of phonological processes by means of sympathetic magic neural networks, comes this summary (by Bruce E Nevin, for it is he!) of Halle's argument against the phonemic layer, as first advanced in The Sound Pattern of Russian.

If, like me, you have yearned for such a thing for no inconsiderable time you will need no further prompting. And no further prompting from me is exactly what you will get even if you haven't, because this sort of thing is a taste you really need to have acquired beforehand.


2004-01-16 samwidge (utc)

Say it say it say it say it!

There's certainly sn in the USA:

Fine, powdery snow made the roads treacherous, and in Massachusetts school buses were halted as their fuel congealed.

And it does sound just a leeetle bit kaotique:

Ferries taking commuters from New Jersey to New York City were iced in. Two New York airports, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty, reported more than 200 flights cancelled.

But none of the Scandewegian papers seems to care, sadly. VG does have a story on what Kronprinsess Mette-Merits immanent sprog might be named. (We're in the final week of things if they go to schedule, which babies often don't of course.) Sofie or Christian seem to be favourite, rather boringly, but this bladet will continue to root for Sigurd, (som skihopparen) if it's a boy.


2004-01-16 mornin' (utc)

Of rhymes and reasons

In Swedish class the regular teacher was unavailable, and Deputy Teacher K. was in effect. If you are Fiona, you will know that this meant that we were worked very hard, for this is Deputy Teacher K's way. As a bonus, there was an odd number of students, so when forming pairs for the purpose of working in pairs, I got paired with DTK herself, so my brain hurts very much today. The focus of the lesson was essentially domesticity. At home I have no TV, no 'phone, no iron and no freezer. I don't listen to the radio, I don't vacuum, I wash up only when there are no clean plates to eat off, I find cooking tedious, and I wash all textiles together on setting number 5. Domesticity, you might say, is not exactly my core strength, but these are certainly things one would wish to discuss at great length in Forren, especially if you are not me.

Also, the book we use is in the habit of including little poems (by real, if not necessarily little) poets on the theme of the chapter, and not once - not once! - have I seen what it is about them that makes them poems rather than prose with eccentric line breaks. It could be that they are masterpieces of prosody and diction but my limited Swedish means that I miss out on these many but subtle excellences, but in that case what are they doing in a book for not all that advanced Forreners? Swedish, I found out via other means, is by no means a language ill-equipped for rhyming and stealing scanning (see yesterday's post, for example).

Which brings us, if inelegantly, to a post by Alex(ei), Russian dilettante extraordinaire, contrasting the considerable importance of rhyme in Russian with its limited use in serious modern Engleesh verse. This goes some way towards explaining why I have so little time for serious modern Engleesh verse, of course. The (hlas) hiated C Bloggerfeller remarks in the comments there that the English word for the mock-preposterous rhyme is hudibrastic, and cites some excellent examples from Byron's Don Juan, but not my old favourite from the opening stanza:

Bob Southey! You're a poet -- Poet-laureate,
And representative of all the race;
Although 'tis true that you turn'd out a Tory at
Last -- yours has lately been a common case;

(Bob Southey was, as you will have gathered, poet laureate at the time. He is remembered almost exclusively for having been ridiculed and abused by Byron.)

And I quoted, also, in the comments, the Rogers and Hart song "Manhatten" which opens, brilliantly,

Summer journeys to Niagra,
and to other places aggra-
vate all our cares;
we'll save our fares.

I've a little cosy flat in
what is known as old Manhattan;
We'll settle down
Right here in town...

I almost wish it were the 1920s so that I could jot down a manifesto and found the school of Hudibrasticisme...


2004-01-15 det var en mrk och regnig kvll

On looking back through a notebook after a holiday

In this blank:
  1. name and surname must be filled in with block letters of Latin alfabeth;
  2. transcription of name and surname must be the same as in Your identity document.

[Lithuanian railways border-crossing form.]

l och vin dricker vi grna
Litet ljus i vr stjrna
Mycket pengar i vr pung
Litet snus t vr svart kung

(Ale we'll gladly drink, and wine
As the stars above us shine
In our purses coins enough
And tribute to our black king snuff)

lbrygden r ett av de viktigaste arbeten under de nrmaste dagarna fre jul.

Ale-brewing was one of the most important chores in the days before Twinkletree.

[From one of Finland national museum's "Christmas through the ages" exhibits. There were Engleesh captions, but the verse didn't rhyme, so the above is my translation of the Swedish.]


2004-01-15 sulk o'clock (utc)

Buried Treasure!

A warm welcome, please, for today's phrasebook; the Newnes Italian Phrase Book (1979). Selected highlights:

Will you please stamp my passport? It will be a souvenir of my holiday.
Pu timbrarmi il passaporto, per favore? Sar un ricordo della mia vacanza.

I want a seat from which I can see the pianist's hands.
Vorrei un posto da dove posse vedere le mani del pianista.

This lettuce is rather limp.
Questa lattuga un po' appassita.

I'd like to borrow a 12-bore shotgun.
Vorrei prendere in prestito un fucile da caccia calibro dodici.

Built-in cupboards make a room seem larger.
Gli armadi a muro fanno sembrare le camere pi spaziose.

Indispensible as these surely are to the sophisticated globetrotter of our times, the prize for the thing I had not previously realised I have always wanted to be able to say in Forren can only go to one item:

Is there a bar on the other side of the customs barrier?
C' un bar dall'altra parte della dogana?

I hope, Varied Reader, that you will admit without further delay that that is a question of true genius. There is a bar at Vilnius airport, incidentally, but only just: the S^vyturys is in bottles in a self-service cooler along with the coke.


2004-01-15 mornin' (utc)

It, slightly ungot

From the BBC's indispensable daily round-up of Yoorpean papers:

In an article headlined "Death to Harry Potter!", Russian newspaper Izvestiya reports that the country's education ministry wants to wean children off reading Harry Potter books and onto reading Russian books.

It seems, the paper says, that Russia's children "read the imported Harry Potter, or don't read at all."

In an effort to magic a way out of Hogwarts' school for wizards and charm some life into the local book market, Education Minister Vladimir Filippov plans to meet Russian children's writers for talks.

The Beeb don't do the linky-link, though, because, well, just because, probably, and I can't even cyrillic my way through Izvestiya faster than a crawl, so I'm not going to either.

I will note, though, that in Baltiwegia the allegedly too close for legal comfort Russian equivalent Tanya Grotter books were all over the local book market (in translation, of course). And Lithuania had clearly decided that it had a local competitor which was all about pirates, hoorarrr!, and stacked deep on tables for the holiday season.

Personally, I am very much looking forward to reading the German 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear in the original Tssky-Tsk at some point (which is unlikely to be soon) but that's because I am a snob of no little incorrigibility. (This year is also the Year of Translations, I have declared in an attempt to break the cycle of one-up-personship.)

Maybe that's the future, though, and just as Glorious National Empires gave way to Glorious National Air-Carriers and Glorious National Hydroelectic Boondoggles, these in turn will give way to Glorious National Childrens' Epics, which are after all cheaper to produce and significantly less likely to lay waste to ecologically sensitive areas so maybe it's not such a stupid idea, at that.

UPDATE: The mysterious mustachioed Merkin PF reports from the Siberian permafrost (via the guestbladet) that:

The Izvestia version is a bit more paranoid-nationalistic: The Fatherland's literature is "the core of governmental patriotism and the traditional national spiritual value," quoth Fillipov. And that's not all: the native language is "the source of the spiritual strength and health of the nation" [well, people, in the sense of the Russian people, that is the ethnos, maybe].

Garry Gotter and the Lickspittle Lapdogs of Western Imperialism, just think how jolly it will be!

"And now," said Gumblegore as he began the third hour of his traditional speech of welcome, "we turn to the relationship between the Fatherland's language and the traditional natural spiritual values of which it is both the source and emblem."

"Hurrah!" cheered the delighted childrens, for whom the hours had seemed but minutes, "and hurrah again!" Even Garvinda Gatel, the pretty Chechen girl whose eye Garry just then happened to catch, blushing, proudly joined the throng in giving voice to her approval - no separatiste, she!


2004-01-14 gathering gloom (utc)

Sophus Lie and the Infinitesimal Generators

The celebrated Scandiwegian mathematician, with a Bunch o' Stuff named after him:

It was during the winter of 1873-74 that Lie began to develop systematically what became his theory of continuous transformation groups, later called Lie groups leaving behind his original intention of examining partial differential equations.

It is now, during the winter of 2003-4, that Lie groups are in turn uppermost on my mind, although I'm at the bottom of the learning curve trudging slowly upwards. The big problem, as always, is that I still come out in a nasty rash anytime anyone uses the word "infinitesimal", so I'm likely to be sulking for at least the rest of the week.


2004-01-14 samwidge (utc)

Here are there nun two viewpoints, which have herausgestellt sich more forcefully as the only possible ones.

(The post title is post-German, of course, but taken from the same page of my notebook as also quotes the following, which is most pleasing. To me, at least.)

Den antiker teorin kaller talets inledning fr exordium. Dess uppgift r frmst som sagt vinnandet av vhrarnas vlvilja, captatio benevolentiae. Man rkner ibland med tv metoder fr att uppn detta, den rttframma, principio, och den subtila, insinuatio.

The ancient theory [of rhetorik] calls a speech's introduction exordium. This is primarily an exercise in winning the audiences goodwill, captatio benevolentiae. Sometimes two methods are of achieving this are given, the straightforward, principio and the subtle insinuatio.

Gran Hgg, Praktisk Retorik, p. 22

I'm not very far into the book, and I'm mostly enjoying it, but what on earth is the deal with all the Harry Potter phonus balonus Latin stuff in that quote? I did Latin at school, and it's not just a question of the old makus uppus, it's an actual language in which you can say things like "O table! The handmaiden of the Carthagians takes or carries an amphora." or (if you did the trendy Cambridge course) "We are merchants. We vote for our candidate. He is a merchant," so don't be giving me all this captivatius benevolenciae rubbish, 'cos you're fooling no one.

In any case, in the wake of JL Austin's influential theory of speech acts the last two would now usually be termed getonwithitive and digressitive.

(Hgg fans will also rejoice that he's currently doing over history textbooks for Aftonbladet's kultur page.)


2004-01-14 10:28

Our regularly scheduled prinsessgossip: slight return

This year, Varied Reader, is going to be a truly magnificent year for the conaisseur of prinsessnonsense, and you can take that to the bank.

Exhibit A:

To F'er og et M udgr det flles monogram, som Dronning Margrethe har tegnet til Kronprinseparret i anledning af brylluppet den 14. maj.

Two F's and an M make up this joint monogram, which Queen Margrethe has designed for the Kronprinscouple in the lead up to the wedding on the 14th of Maj.

Royal weddings (as conducted in Forren) are brilliant, isn't it? The single most potent source of inane twaddle in whichever language that mankind has yet devised, and I do not exclude Britney Spears. Remember the hectares ("acres") of newsprint devoted to the colour scheme for Mrtha-Louise and Ari's do? And that's going to be nothing compared to this one, for very sure indeed.

[via Birgitte, tack]


2004-01-13 fikapaus (utc)

Language me harder!

[The 'bladet is greatly indebted to John Thacker, who has found the link, and (even more usefully) summarised its contents. In ascending categories of difficulty for Engleesh speakers, as assessed by the Defense Language Institute, we have: Category I language (French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish) Category II language (German) Category III language (Greek, Hebrew, Moro, Persian-Farsi, Persian-Afghan, Pushtu-Afghan, Russian, Serbian/Croatian, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Uzbek, and Vietnamese) Category IV language (Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean)]

The burning question in the guestbladet lately is whether native speakers of (say) an Indo-Yoorpean language find it significantly easier to learn another Indo-Yoorpean language as opposed to a language from another family. I have extensive reservoirs of anecdotal evidence to suggest that they do but I also have a long-standing disbelief in the usefulness of anecdotal evidence, which leaves me in the slightly awkward position of wishing to defend beliefs for which I have no convincing evidence.

One interesting data point comes from the FDRUSAian Defense Language Institute (this is not their own page* but it seems more than passingly acquainted with its onions) is widely regarded as very good indeed at what it does, and what it does is second language teaching by (classroom-based) immersion. We may also assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that students enrolling in its various programmes are on average likely to be equally motivated and able regardless of the language they are studying, which cuts out a lot of the noise found in the wild, and that the assessments of difficulty have arisen from extensive teaching experience.

With a faculty of about 750, most of them civilians and native speakers of the language they instruct, the DLI, as it is commonly referred to, today offers courses in two dozen languages plus dialects. Basic course lengths are from 25 to 63 weeks, depending upon the difficulty of the language taught. While a basic Romance language program lasts 25 weeks, language instruction in Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Arabic lasts more than a year.

Some of the difficulty of Chinese and Japanese will be that of the writing systems, for sure, and one wonders where Slavic fits (if anyone can find* a fuller and unclassified classification I'd love to see it, of course) but this is surely more for than against the hypothesis, so far as it goes.

* The FAQ page on the DLI's own site is blank, and the rest seems to be slightly less useful than that.


2004-01-13 nearly samwidge (utc)

If you learn Forren, you'll end up talking to Forreners, mark my words!

The Torygraph, house rag of the nicer sort of Engleesh rightwing nutjob (and yes there is such a thing - compare the Daily Mail, which is for the other kind) has noticed that Forreners talk funny, and is wondering if we ought to do something about it. Such as even perhaps have a go at "figuring out" what in God's name they're jabbering about.

Twit A is all for it. Seoritas, eh, Squadron-Leader? Rather!

I was seduced by the world of language classes early, having started my working life teaching English in a language school in Ferrara, Italy. I was not a great teacher - I got the job because the director of the school, an English vicar in Milan, thought that I had gone to the right public school. But, having had a Classical education, I proved a good learner. Furthermore, I was aided after hours by a lovely signorina - always a wonderful educational aid - who corrected my exercises.

(This is so very perfectly Torygraph that you will now have to follow the link to check I'm not making it up, which I am not.)

On the other hand, Twit B can't see the point. Seven years of studying the Frenchy-French, but then in an impromtu field trial he promptly discovered he couldn't oh l l worth a how's yer father, dash it all. And anyway:

But assuming you do, somehow, learn a language - what have you achieved? The ability to talk to people in other countries. Now ask yourself: how often do you visit other countries? Enough times to justify all that effort and expense? More to the point, how often do you visit countries where they don't speak English, or at least enough English to make your half-baked Spanish phrases or Italian blandishments redundant?

I'll have you know, Twit B, that I have no Italian blandishments (although it is in fact my raw animal magnetism that makes them largely superfluous) but I buy a mean bus ticket. Further, persons of my acquaintance who have visited Spain assure me that Spanish is in fact to no small extent what they speak. Rootless Cosmopolitan K, for example:

Foreign languages remain a strictly furriners only thing after all, what use would a local have for them? And were not talking just English. Vronsky and I between us can make ourselves understood in 7 languages (plus English, which of course no-one speaks). But what did we have to rely on instead? Pidgin Spanish, and the wee smidgens of Italian that I still remember from the semester course I took when I was 15, and which I mangle so badly that one could almost - charitably - think that I am speaking terrible Spanish instead (and which therefore doesn't really count as a foreign language).

Of course, we can't all be as cosmopolitan as Citoyenne K. But really, the prospect of a lifetime spent, as I by no means intend to, so firmly on the touriste track as Twit B's remark proposes really ought to make it one of the Great Self-Answering Questions, like, "What do you want to be learning to drive for, our Stan? You've not been more than five miles from t'village since you were knee-high to a whippet!"

[Linkage via the Dowager Countess, tack.]


2004-01-13 mornin' (utc)


And what castle shall the prinsess use, for all her wedding parties? A hand-me-down slott from who-knows-where, for all her wedding parties.

And where shall we go, what shall we do when Friday comes around? We'll turn our backs on yesterdays' jobs, and line the streets of town.

I'm also planning to be lining the streets and bars of Shoppingharbour on this most happy occasion, and especially the bars.

Meanwhile, the Universitetetetet of Aarhus, Denmark, has hired the prinsessefar (a distinguished mathematician) on a temporary contract starting around the time of the nuptuation, but you will certainly be pleased to know that this is but a coincidence:

[D]et har faktisk ikke noget med den kongelige forlovelse at gre.

This nothing to do with the royal engagement, actually.

[Many thanks to Anna K, Birgitte the Unlinkable, and David TEFLSmiler for the linkages.]


2004-01-12 hometime (utc)

The Dialectic of Life, Death and Hilarity

Every tic, a birth -
Every toc, a death -
And wiz woiza -
Every tic, a second -
Every toc, a milyin years,
Every tic, a nothing -
Every toc, a something -
And wiza voiza -

Krazy Kat, March 15th (Sunday) 1925

If, like me, you missed Slavoj ?i?ek's article on the celebrated Swedish funster Henning "Hilarity" Mankell in the LRB, and are not a subscriber to said R of B and thus ineligible for the online version you can cock a snook, should you have one to hand, at such restrictiveness by nippping over here.

If, that is, your Danish is up to or beyond scratch. And if it isn't, well, now you have the incentive you've always longed for, isn't it?


2004-01-12 samwidge (utc)

Sapir-Whorf on Ice!

[Now with link unomitted, and further glossage.]

And the unique Finnish sense of ice hockey and more!

Professor Frode J. Strmnes, Universitetet i Bergen och forskaren Antero Johansson, Universitetet i Jyvskyl, har utfrt en rad studier om sammanhanget mellan rrliga bilder och sprk. Studierna har visat att det finns bildstrukturer som korrelerar med sprket. I ljuset av dessa och andra forskares studier verkar det ytterst troligt att de bildstrukturer, som mnniskorna utnyttjar fr att kommunicera r olika fr olika sprkslkter.

Professor Frode J Strmnes of the University of Bergen and reseacher Antero Johansson, University of Jyvskyl have carried out a series of studies on the relationship between moving pictures and languages. The studies have shown that there is a picture structure that corresponds with the language. In the light of these and other researchers' studies it seems very plausible that the picture structures that persons exploit to communicate are very different for different speech families.

Representing their respective speech families are Swedish (Indo-Yoorpean) and Finnish (Finno-Ugric), and the theory (which for once is most certainly not mine) is that Swedish traffics with mental models of continuous motion in 3D space, while Finnish is more concerned with spatial patterns ("gestalter" in the original) are the relationships between them.

Vi kom efter hand att underska material som vi fick tag p utanfr laboratoriet, t.ex. underskte vi idrottsreportage. Finsksprkiga icehockeyreportage innehll mycket mer tal om grupperingar av spelare n om pucken, fr de svensksprkiga reportrarna var det tvrtom.

We gradually came to seek out material we could find outside the laboratory, e.g., we researched sportscommentary. Finnish-speaking ice-hockey commentary contains much more on groupings of players than on the puck, while the opposite is true of Swedish-speaking commentators.

(What has the puck got to do with the typical proceedings of an ice hockey match? Answers on a postcard to "Actually it is a sport of considerable sophistication and grace", Desblabet Publishing, Behind the bikesheds. We regret that the editor's indifference is final, and no correspondence can be entered into. Your statutory rights, if you had any left after the "War" on "Terror", are unaffected.)

What they mostly did, though was compare adaptations of dramas by production teams of Finnish-speakers on the one hand and Swedish- or Norwegish-speakers on the other. ("Vi valde texter som hade filmats av en finsktalande grupp och av en grupp som talade ett indoeuropeiskt sprk (norska/svenska).")

The same pattern vs. continuous motion distinction was found systematically in these, and also when the Scandewegian flavours of Indo-Yoorpean were replaced by English, and Finnish by its Finno-Ugric relatives Hungarian and Estonian ("Arbetet med andra filmmaterial frn England, Ungern och Estland har pvisat att vi hittar samma slags strukturskillnader mellan dessa som vi fann tidigare mellan nordiska produktioner. Ungerskan och estniskan r sprk frn samma sprkslkt som finskan, medan engelskan hr till de indoeuropeiska sprken.")

This stuff seems to have been originally published in 1982, but perhaps not everyone follows the Finnish Broadcasting Corporations reports series closely. For those who will now wish to mend their ways:

Strmnes, F.J., Johansson, A. and Hiltunen, E. (1982)
The externalised image. A study showing differences correlating with language structure between pictorial structure in Ural-Altaic and Indo-European filmed versions of the same plays.
Helsinki: The Finnish Broadcasting Corporation, Report No. 21/1982

[Via Birgitte, tack.]


2004-01-12 10:00

In which I am not fooled for a second

My favourite bank last year, I forgot to mention, was Hansapank (Estonia), Hansabanks (Lithuania) and Hansabankas (Latvia), "the Baltics' largest universal bank".

This form of alias disease apparently also afflicts composers of the baroque era: the chap known as GF Handel in Engleesh, as sometimes overoptimistically considered an Engleesh composer which he was not, is known as GF Haendel in French and GF Hndel in German, sometimes within the space of the same set of liner notes.

It further turns out that said master of aliases wrote some OK harpsichord music, before perpetrating Zadoc the Priest and other such oratorial unnecessities. (Gratuitous Biographical Fact: I once sang in the alto section of a school choir's performance of ZtP, unless you're going to get picky about how "singing" normally includes sound coming out of the mouth as well and in addition to the opening and shutting of same, in which case my appearance would have been more that of a prop or decoration. My dislike of oratorios in general and that one in particular may not be especially informed, of course, but neither is it unmotivated.)

I still have him in third place after Scarlatti, with JSB way out in the lead, mind.


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