Monday, 2 September 2019

The naked flesh forecast for inshore waters

Sanditon – Fair – Buttocks – Mostly firm –  
Male – Mid-to-late 20s with occasional 30s 

In March 1817 Jane Austen stopped working on her novel Sanditon (previously entitled...
<GLOSSARY PC-value="0">
I know, I know, the trendy thing to say is "titled", but I use British English, and the social environment that that language evolved in is not the same as that of late 20th-early-21st-century United States, home of American English (and consequently of the style guides that seem to govern  most current academic writing). I've discussed this before, in a note to this.
<rant>
And 'Spare us, O Lord' , from the gruesome 'titled'. ...  
...There is no question of ambiguity; if a person is entitled  it's a question of entitlement, but if a document is entitled it's a question of nomenclature. American English., with its egalitarian background, just doesn't feel it necessary to recognize 3 [designations of social rank]Two words/two meanings => one word for each is the AE rule. Fine: just don't force it (and thus your cultural background) on me.
</rant> 
</GLOSSARY>
... The Brothers). She had completed only eleven chapters, and died later in that year. But those eleven chapters mostly set the scene (fairly exhaustively), which made the uncompleted work attract much attention from potential (diachronic) collaborators...
<DIGRESSION>
if you'll permit me to rescue the word from our tinpot dictator, Bozo the Clown, more prrecisely Alexander Boris de Pfeffel the Clown  To be fair, I should admit that he – with his expensive education – knows perfectly well what the word means. But – with his expensive (right wing) education – he knows perfectly well the word's value as a dog whistle.

In Anglo-French matters collaborator has a nasty secondary meaning. One of the earliest  instances I met of this word as a term of abuse was in Marcel Pagnol's La Gloire de mon père; one of the characters was referred to as  "le fils du collabo" – with the abbreviation adding to the implication of contempt. 

</DIGRESSION>
.. .that is, they worked with her on the same artefact ,  though centuries apart.
<JUSTIFICATION word-choice="artefact">
I say artefact; I considered enterprise, but I don't feel that's quite right; they didn't have the same aim. Jane Austen's aim was to write a work of literature or perhaps primarily to exercise her wit (as, in her day, women of her social standing weren't expected [or even allowed] to do  much else in the way of self-fulfilment). On the other hand, Andrew Davies' aim was less literary
</JUSTIFICATION>
Which is not to suggest any kind of disapproval on my part. Sexing stuff up is his schtick, and good luck to him. As James Jackson wrote in The Times recently.
So far at least [HD: after one episode] it can't really be faulted  for giving an unchallenging whirl through Austen's world of love and money, marriage and class. It is a truth universally acknowledged that, being Davies, there'll be a bit of sex too. Perhaps, by now, it's in the old goat's contract to provide some sauce for pre-publicity purposes
But (I wish people wouldn't try to suggest that the whole sexing-up thing had a higher purpose. In the Radio Times Kris Marshall (Tom Parker in this version) is quoted as saying:
"The simple fact was female nudity was a lot more hidden away in those days, and male nudity was kind of natural. So it's completely accurate [HD:  it's not clear whether this IT is the nude bathing scene or the whole series] and Andrew Davies isn't sexing Austen up at all."
No. This doesn't follow. Davies is (without question, predictably, unashamedly, and admittedly) sexing Austen up; he's just using historically accurate material to do it.

But  now the second episode has been and gone without ruffling the waters of the Knowles consciousness, I have better things to be doing.

b




Thursday, 22 August 2019

Rules run amuck

I‘ve mentioned before the way that people learning a language (particularly people acquiring their mother tongue) tend to take a newly-learnt rule and test it to destruction:
It's fairly obvious to a  native speaker that the most common way [of forming a plural] is to add an s. In fact, this rule becomes apparent whenever a young language learner mistakenly adds an s to an irregular plural – sheep becomes sheepS rather than sheep, for example; and when an adult corrects mouseS to mice, the compulsion to keep faith in the add-an-s rule is so strong that the next attempt is quite often miceS.

More here
But a similar source of error is frequently met, particularly in a singer's life, with respect to the rules of foreign languages, and particularly (as in that add-an-s case) the rules of phonology.

The two that spring most readily to mind (I was going to call them "my favorites", but  favorite is not quite the word) occur in French and in German (both languages that I have studied). And although my O-level German knowledge,  as I have admitted before, is Best Before November 1969 [or whenever it was in that winter], I had to resurrect it in order to study Romance philology...
<EXAMPLES type="German scholars of Romance languages" need-to-know="0">
  • Grimm (of Grimm's Fairy Tales fame); the brothers made a crucial observation, known as Grimm's Law.
  • Meyer-Lübke, compiler of Romanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch
    the bible of all students of this area – the one necessary reference
  • Gerhard Rohlfs, editor of Sermo Vulgaris Latinus
    a collection of very early texts – including, for example, graffiti from Pompeii
  • and many others
</EXAMPLES>

1 Thirteen waters

This error is so common that I have given it a name. The rule here is

When there's a written s at the end of a word, it isn't sounded 
unless the following word starts with a vowel.

There are provisos and exceptions, but that's the gist.

This is the rule that gets out of hand in the Thirteen Waters Error. One of the exceptions applies to a word that starts h+<vowel> (but not just any old h).  There is, in French, the hache aspiré, which the LawlessFrench site explains thus:



This error often  occurs in the first line of the sublime Cantique de Jean Racine, composed by Gabriel Faur
é when...
<PROGRAMME_NOTE>
(as programme notes insist on saying he entered it for a "school prize". Sometimes they even say 'when he was only a schoolboy!!!' [if you'll pardon the screamer-orrhea]. But he was not a schoolboy in the Just William sense; he was nineteen, studying at the 
École Niedermeyer de Paris,)
</PROGRAMME_NOTE>
....which has the basses alone – as exposed as a choral singer can be. And this howler occurs between the fourth and fifth words:


Verbe égal aux très haut

I'm not sure about the transcription in that  LawlessFrench excerpt. (Note: that's my way of saying I am sure and am not impressed.) But it makes the point clearly enough :
 Some hs don't block elision
when they precede a vowel, so the s isn't sounded:
the h in haut is one such: so /trɛ.ɔ/ not /trɛzɔ/.
<DIGRESSION>
(and Les Halles, while we're at it: /le.al/)
</DIGRESSION>
There is no rule for remembering which hs are aspirés and which are muets.  Dictionaries* mark it in some way, but that's no help for regular speech. You can't carry a dictionary around everywhere you go.
<AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL_EXCEPTION>
As a matter of fact, my brother did during an exchange visit, in his early teens. He was not a great linguist, but he was always very keen on communication.
</AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL_EXCEPTION>
You just have to know which is which. Just over a hundred words start with  an hache aspiré, so it‘s not a huge undertaking  to just learn them – which is all very well for people who hate hammocks; personally, I prefer a more humane approach to language learning.

I complained about this to a native speaker of French once, but he was not sympathetic  – particular as people learning English have to grapple with a not dissimilar rule, telling honest with initial /ɒ/ from honk with initial /hɒ/.

But, returning to the Cantique, "aux treize eaux" (which the rule over-appliers seem to be singing) makes it sound as though the Cantique is being addressed to someone with thirteen waters (with the aux analogous to the aux in La dame aux Caméllias), or perhaps to a  Native American called 'Thirteen Waters'.

2 Sturm und wrong

The errant rule here, in German now, is this:

In some cases an s that precedes
another consonant becomes /ʃ/

(or "sh" if you must, but for more on my feelings about sounds-like transcriptions, see here; regular readers will already be accustomed to this fad.)

An obvious case is a word like Sturm (as the st occurs at the  start of a word – habitual home of examples of this phonological rule); but the /ʃ/ remains even in mid-word, as in the derived word Regensturm

But often  this change is not applied . And in the musical world a common habitat for the misapplication of this rule is Liebestraum, Liebestod or Liebesliede (any word, I now realize, that starts with Liebes- – not to suggest that it doesn't happen after similar-possessivesl it's just that all the examples that spring to mind use that word,). In a week of not unusually dedicated monitoring of the airways, I've noticed two cases: the first was on Desert Island Discs (no names, no pack-drill; but it was the guest – young Lauren got it right after the excerpt from Liebestod).

In the second case there was no error – my life, like that of many another survivor of an RC education, is plagued by an eternal vigilance for what the Penny Catechism ...
<GLOSSARY further-info="autobiographical">
(the RC equivalent of Mao's Little Red Book. [If you're interested I can still reel off "The Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost" or "The Twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost"])
 </GLOSSARY>
... used to call "occasions of sin" (situations that invite misbehaviour). But the presenter of the same piece at the Proms (a supporting piece in the Mozart's Requiem concert) knew her stuff.

But this has gone on too long. There's an urgent bio-mass crisis in the front garden.

b


Update: 2019.08.23.10:20  – Typo fix

Update: 2019.08.26.20:20  – More typo fixes, and a couple of clarifications in blue.

Update: 2019.09.06.16:10  – Added footnote:

*A dictionary is of  limited (usually no) use with names.  Often (in  English-language news broadcasts) the French politician François Hollande was the unwilling recipient of trans-gender treatment (Françoise).  In such cases the best advice is to listen to a native speaker: if there‘s no liaison  before it, the h is aspiré.









Monday, 19 August 2019

Zero dark thingy

The Times last week published a crossword that – self-referentially – aroused cross words. The clue (a somewhat feeble one...
<WHOOPS>
I was misled by the angry correspondent's writing, or at least implying by its context, "the Times crossword". It must have been the Quick Crossword, which is a whole 'nother thing. So my "feeble" was undeserved, except to the extent that all such clues are feeble.
</WHOOPS>
....whichever side of The Great am/pm Debate you come down on)   was "12 a.m." and the answer was "midnight".  Aware of the  Great Debate,  their style guide says "Use noon/midnight".

But there is no need for the Debate; it depends on a simple misapprehension. 12 noon is not before or after anything; it is noon on the dot; it is just m.

And the m in "a.m./p.m." does not stand for meridian as many people seem to think...
<DESCRIPTIVIST_CAVEAT>
(except in the sense that all's fair in language use, so that "what people mistakenly think" becomes The Truth.)  But I  know what I know.
</DESCRIPTIVIST_CAVEAT>
... and as I was told at primary school. I lacked the theoretical meta-language to voice my objection (but meridian is an adjective, how can you have BEFORE or AFTER an adjective. Holy Category Error, Batman), but I knew enough to raise an eyebrow. One of the letters to The Times added to the corpus of the poisoned fruits of this widespread misapprehension:
"Surely 12 am follows 11 am, so is noon; any time after 12.00 is post meridian [sic], up to 12 pm."
I'm not sure why Rose Wild (writer of the article in The Times) calls this "logical". By simply swapping a few values, you arrive at the opposite conclusion: "Surely 12 am precedes 01 am, so is midnight".
<CASUISTICAL_EXCURSUS status="dead end">
I suppose it would be possible to argue that – like 'the Orthopedic'  meaning hospital, or 'Local' meaning pub (which itself is an adjective-made-noun, being an abbreviation of  'public house') – meridian is, in the contest of expressions of time, a noun (standing for 'meridian great circle'). The sun has passed that imaginary line. 
That's all very well, but the fact remains that the sun has not passed the line at noon. It is dead on it.
</CASUISTICAL_EXCURSUS>
That m stands for meridiem (the middle of the day). As it happens there is an adjective postmeridian. Most dictionaries carefully define it as of or about something that happens in the afternoon. Onelook will point you to a number of examples. One such (the AHD) is admirably specific:


On the other hand there are some whose obeisance to the God of Usage, though they would presumably argue that that obeisance reflects the fact that they simply OBEY the trends. But I fear that the obeisance is more a matter of craven idolatry. One such is Collins:


(in which there is only a word space [between after and noon] and one little "in" to emphasize the adjectivity By not emphasizing the "of or relating to" bit, they are holding the door open to illiteracy.

It would be helpful – for those of us who crave such systemic balance – if there were  a Latin word *merinoctis to balance the scales; and although the 'word' does exist in some twilight/fictional/pseudo-gothic/'fanfic' sense (that I don't want to pollute my browsing history by researching any further) it is not mainstream enough to pass muster. If it were, we could have md for noon and mn for midnight., each followed respectively by pmd/pmn times. 

But this is getting rather silly; duty calls. We may as well stick with that style guide, and just say noon/midnight; or use the 24 hour clock. And accept, while we're at it, that crossword compilers cock a snook at style guides.

b

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Magellan not gelling

The starting point for today's rambling is the qincentennial celebrations of the circumnavigation of the globe, in a voyage that took nearly three years – from 20 September 1519 to 6 September 1522.

The course of the Magellan/Elcano circumnavigation
as depicted in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Magellan_Elcano_Circumnavigation-en.svg

The BusinessMirror reported recently on the circumnavigation ...
<REALLY status="query">
People say things like "Magellan circumnavigated the globe". Well, he only made it (alive) for the first half of  the circumnavigation. Maybe his stand-in Juan Sebastián Elcano  who took over captaincy of  the one ship that completed the journey, brought Magellan's corpse with him for the last bit (not unlike Nelson's body on the trip back from Trafalgar) crossing the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, just so he could get the record.
</REALLY>
...of the Earth:
THE arrival of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan to our shores [the shores of the Philippines] in 1521 was a watershed in Philippine history because, although he was slain by Mactan chieftain Lapu-Lapu, the Spaniards came back decades later to Christianize and unify the country.
I feel there there may be a non sequitur of stupendous proportions here. The arrival wasn't the watershed; the discovery by the Western world of the islands was – or, rather, it represented one.
<OH_YEAH query="appropriateness of water-based metaphor">
Hmm. Interesting metaphor, watershed.  A watershed, for a map-maker, is where water chooses to go either one way or another; if there's a mountain range, and rivers go eastwards on one side and westwards on the other, that's a watershed. The water, in the Philippines' case, is economic development. After the "discovery" it certainly did flow westwards (eventually). (So fast did it flow, in fact, that global-warming threatens the very existence of the Philippines; a mixed blessing.)
Another watery metaphor is bailout. I see in the paper that our tinpot dictator, wished on us by a handful of ...[ no, I must count to ten and keep taking the tablets {as Jahweh said to Moses <boo-boom>}] The "Brexit war cabinet'  is planning a 'bailout fund' for key businesses brought low by a no-deal Brexit.  Two punning meanings of  bail out are involved here. One meaning of "bailing <someone> out" is "getting them released temporarily"; no water there. This meaning has a long history in print, discussed in the Phrase Finder. Shakespeare ( as so often) used it in Titus Andronicus ("Thou shalt not baile them, see thou follow me"). I imagine this idea of temporary financial assistance was in the mind  of the Brexiteers who planned the fund. 
But there are other possible meanings of "bail out". The first that comes to mind is what you do in a sinking ship, deriving from a word for a small bucket. To quote Etymonline
Both sorts of "bail out" seem to have got mixed together in the parachutist's emergency move (later adopted by anyone in difficulty, from surfers to party-goers) – both a temporary fix for a little local difficulty (standing as guarantor to avoid imprisonment), and a last-ditch attempt to stave off disaster. In the Brexit case, I favour the latter interpretation.
</OH_YEAH>
But this is only the first eyebrow-raiser in an article [HD: keep up: I mean that BusinessMirror article] full of them. the last "sentence" is a masterful demonstration of how not to write:
If Spain and Portugal view these extraordinary feats as their country’s contribution to mankind, it is thereby hoped by mankind that these ‘Circumnavigation’ nations will be in the forefront to foster peace and address the challenges confronting mankind in the 21st century, such as threats to world security and environmental problems, to name a few.
Fifty-five words and only a couple of commas to lighten the cognitive load; oh, and quotation marks to highlight the meaninglessness of "'Circumnavigation' nations". It deserves a FOGGY, (first introduced here).

But, returning to Magellan (or, in the grandiloquent phraseology of  BusinessMirror  "THIS writer referenced Wikipedia"). Wikipedia, in its first line on Magellan, offers two possible pronunciations, citing two dictionaries: "(/məˈɡɛlən/[1] or /məˈɛlən/;[2]" Now, as regular readers will know, I'm not a fan of prescriptions about language use. But a chap's name is his name, and it seems to me that pronouncing it some other way is just plain wrong.

When it comes to foreign names, there's a problem. Often one language's phonemes just don't fit; and there are things like stress that interfere. Ask a French national who /'vɪktə 'hju:gəʊ/ was and they probably won't recognize Victor Hugo (/vik'tɔɹy'gɔ/). And I'm not suggesting that the English should have to grapple with the original pronunciation (I doubt if a modern native speaker  of Portuguese would know how the language sounded 500 years ago). But the Portuguese name Magalhães has (and always has had) a /g/ in it (I've stopped using the term 'hard' for that sort of g since trying to make sense of the requirements of a Musical Director who used it to mean the precise opposite). So my view is that the affricate (/ʤ/) pronunciation (as in "jello") is simply mistaken. Webster's is accurate in reporting its existence (this is one of the few flaws in the makeup of Sir David Attenborough, for example), but that doesn't make it right.

b

Thursday, 1 August 2019

On the road (river?)

See the 6 August update for thoughts
about the "upon"
This coming weekend representatives of the Wokingham Choral Society (not quite half) will be taking to the road with Songs of Travel and I thought I'd write a word or two about the places we're going.

In the phrase "Taking to the road" though, perhaps river would be better than road, as both our concert venues have names that, at one time, referred to rivers.

We arrive ...
<DIGRESSION>
(appropriately enough, as the word ARRIVE itself derives from the Vulgar Latin phrase AD-RIPAM [VENIRE] [and RIPA means river-bank])*
</DIGRESSION>
...first in Stratford on† Avon, which the University of Nottingham's Key to English Place-names (awarded a TEZZY here).
<GLOSSARY item="TEZZY>
Time-wasting Site of the Year.
</GLOSSARY>
explains like this:
The Key to Place-names output for Stratford on Avon.
(Ignore the 'Refs' button in the top right-hand corner
which of course is not live in this screen capture.)


The first syllable is related to the Modern English "street", the Italian strada and German Strasse. The second syllable is self-explanatory*. The last word is rather unsatisfactorily explained. OK, the origin may be unknown, but it‘s  not just a "River-name"; it means river – at least, Welsh afon means river. And even if the origin is unknown (as the Key says) I think  it‘s reasonable to imagine afon is related in some way (as a single f written in Welsh represents a /v/ sound [which explains the ff in names like "Ffion" – as a written ff is used to represent an /f/ sound]. )

Our second port of call (to use a suitably watery metaphor) is Warwick, which the .Key to English Place-names explains like this:

The Key to Place-names output for Warwick.
(Ignore the 'Refs' button in the top right-hand corner
which of course is not live in this screen capture.)

There; told you it was a time-waster. But I have words/notes  to learn, so that's all for now.

b

Update:2019.08.01.14:50 – Added footnote on AD-RIPARE

This assertion could do with some support.

In an earlier post I wrote:
Elcock explains:
While VENĪRE remained everywhere the usual verb for 'to come', two new terms conveying a more visual image were  borrowed from maritime language. ... [HD: The first is well worth looking at,  but not here.]  AD-RIPARE, 'to come to shore', was a somewhat later creation which found favour in Gaul (cf Prov. arribá ).... From Provence it spread to Catalonia, and during the Middle Ages was carried thence to Sardinia, as arribare.   
The Romance Language (I've given this source more than once, but make no apology for that: it's very good.)

Update:2019.08.02.10:30 – Clarified numbers going.

Update:2019.08.06.15:40 – Added footnote

†The Key goes for plain "on", but elsewhere it is "upon" or "Upon". I noticed this at the time of first writing, and on Saturday afternoon saw that the embroiderers of the kneelers in Holy Trinity Church (in Stratford) preferred "upon".
<COINCIDENCE>
I didn't know when I saw the embroiderer's "upon", but it turns out that the unnamed embroiderer was the godmother of the choir's chairman; so my inclination is to favour "upon" (but I have no principled objection to the minimalist view, if that's what floats your boat).
</COINCIDENCE>

Monday, 29 July 2019

Titanic silliness

In an early post that dealt with Michael Gove and Nevile Gwynne (guilty of, among other things, Gwynne's Grammar...
<HMMM>
[a  helpfully specific title, that makes it clear that this "Grammar" is not that of any language, but a hotch-potch of shibboleths peculiar to one misguided individual]
</HMMM>
...)

I quoted an Oliver Kamm review of Gwynne's book:
And while we're on that subject, I heartily recommend Oliver Kamm's piece in this Saturday's copy of The Times, in which he calls Gove's guidance 'well-intentioned and largely either futile or destructive' and says of Gwynne's Grammar
It is a work of titanic silliness, and it's alarming that the Education Secretary doesn't see this.
And the phrase "titanic silliness" struck me as an apt title for a reflection on Jacob Rees-Mogg's latest folie de grandeur (or should that be grondeur, to suggest the tone of implied reprimand?)

Mr Rees-Mogg, MP, PC, Esq., <whatever-the-hell-else-he-wants>, in common with many people taking over a new empire (Churchill did, as that post said, Gove did at the Department for Education [see Gove's Golden Rules] among many others; as Dr Johnson said, "Hell is paved with roll-your-own style guides" – or something of the sort).

The BBC summarized his rules thus:
(??? I might be wronging him here, the "summary" is so risible; can he really have written it? It is a shining example of lack of parallelism
<EXPLANATION SUBJECT="parallelism">
  • sometimes "What I want" {eg 'Double space after fullstops'}, 
  • sometimes "What you must do" {eg 'CHECK your work' – with its echoes of the school-room}, 
  • sometimes statements of opinion {eg 'Organisations are SINGULAR' – golly, bold and caps}...
</EXPLANATION>


And there is a list of words to avoid:
Here he has taken the lazy teacher's easy way out of identifying a word that tends to provoke unwanted behaviour in some cases (eg "yourself" to mean "you", parenthetical "hopefully" to modify a statement ...
<digression>
(in the terminology of Mr Rees-Mogg's beloved Latin grammar it might be called 'the "hopefully" absolute' [which incidentally has an impeccable pedigree, but OK the dude doesn't like it and I understand his conc... ooo-er])
</digression>
... "got" as an all-purpose verb of acquisition, understanding, becoming...
<digression>
(on the analogy of pronoun, I suppose it might be called a pro-verb, but that'd be silly)
</digression>
...   as I was saying, identifying a word that tends to provoke unwanted behaviour in some cases, and banning it completely. I am sure Mr Rees-Mogg would have no principled objection to the assertion that "it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive" but it does have that word. And what's wrong with investing in schools, anyway?

As is always the way when glass-house-dwellers throw stones, they break their own rules:. That BBC  report goes on
This is something Mr Rees-Mogg discovered for himself on Wednesday as he made his despatch box debut in the House of Commons. 
In one exchange, he said: "Mr Speaker, we have got perambulators and nannies into this session, which I think must be a first for questions to the Leader of the House."
According to the Guardian, the official transcript of parliamentary proceedings, Hansard, recorded more than 700 instances of Mr Rees-Mogg using one or other of the banned words or phrases. 
The man satirizes himself (and he knows it). He is a freakish side-show designed to distract attention from the more insidious chicanery going on in the name of democracy.
<UK_CONTEXT DESTINATION="Hell" CONVEYANCE="Handcart">
In late July the UK suffered what, in the words of the Prime Minister (speaking at the time of Gordon Brown's not dissimilar undemocratic anointment as PM in the unelected wake of Tony Blair), called "a palace coup".

Strictly speaking, there was an election of sorts. Theoretically, the few tens of thousands who voted for a new leader of their party weren't voting for a PM. But they knew what their preference entailed. Less than 1% of the UK population voted for certain economic meltdown.
<JINGLE>
Before the final vote I mused, to the tune of Little Weed's oft-repeated question (see here at 13'08"):

Is it Hunt or is it Boz
Wants to cut of Britain's schnozz
Just to spite its own figgoz [a poetically licensed version of "fizzog"]
Is it Hunt or is it Boz.?

And, as the Little Weed might have said, "It was Boz! – it was Boz!" [I'm sure she'd' approve of the punctuation.]

As in the Bill and Ben case, there was little to choose between  the two; but the eventual winner was the more hell-bent.
</JINGLE>
<CUNNING_PLAN ENGINE="the power of a positive attitude">
If you believe in fairies boys and girls, clap your hands.
</CUNNING_PLAN>
<SCOTTISH_VIEW>
An MP representing the Scottish Nationalist Party (who don't want Brexit, still less the lunatic/cliff-edge/no deal Brexit envisaged by the new PM and his cronies) spoke of him as "the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom". I knew the nationality of my Scottish grandfather would come in useful.
</SCOTTISH_VIEW>
</UK_CONTEXT>

But the grass won't cut itself. That's all for now.

b







Friday, 19 July 2019

Adeus, João

The name João has been causing newsreaders and sports commentators the usual problems, because of the success of Mr Sousa at Wimbledon (as far as the last 16, but no further) and the death of the father of bossa nova, João Gilberto. Radio and TV announcers see the diphthong ão, and give up before they've started: "Well that's a completely outlandish sound, I've got no hope."

But I've said before, here (and in other words passim)
Our minds are quite accustomed to instructing our vocal equipment to make 'outlandish' sounds, phonemic in other languages – it's just that we've learnt not to hear them (as a necessary part of becoming native-speakers of English)
Elsewhere, in the same post,  I discussed an example word that I used to use in Portuguese "Beginner" classes, to introduce the sound of the  word Dão:
Take a word like downtime. Because of the way it's spelt it's hard to avoid believing that it is made up of the sounds /daʊn/ and /taɪm/. But think about what happens where the two syllables meet. The airstream is directed up and through the nose. Meanwhile the tip of the tongue is resting behind the dental ridge (where it is to form an /n/). To form the /t/ it has to start in the same position. Air pressure builds up behind that closure, and then explodes forwards as the closure is released; that's why linguists call /t/ a plosive.

But before the release, the closure isn't complete. In making the /n/ the speaker  has left a way through the nose for the 'buzzing' sound. In other words, the /aʊ/ vowel is being nasalized. Normally, when pronouncing the syllable /daʊn/, the speaker releases the /n/. When it's followed immediately by a plosive that uses the same tongue position though, the release often doesn't happen. So the /n/ in downtime isn't realized as an [n]; it's realized as the nazalization of the previous vowel.
So a native-speaker of English is accustomed to making a vocalic sound not unlike the end of João.

The opening fricative is a little more challenging for a native speaker of English, as there's no English word that begins with /ʒ/; this doesn't mean  producing it calls for  a special  skill.  It occurs medially (as we say in the trade) in words like measure. And cookery programmes like The Great British Bake-off, Masterchef etc have (increasingly over the last twenty years, I would guess)  inured English ears (and mouths) to words like jus.
<epenthetic_speculation>
In an earlier post I discussed epenthetic vowels:
In The King's Speech the Geoffrey Rush character advises the king to deal with problem consonants at the beginnings of words by taking a run up: /maɪ əpi:pəl/ for 'my people'. Languages often take a similar course with outlandish phonemes or consonant clusters at the beginnings of words. Among the signs of this are changing names of places over time. Stamboul Train could have a 21st century sequel: Istanbul Plane. That 'I' is epenthetic.
Possibly (just an idea, which you don't have take as gospel) the usage "with a jus" is the result of a speaker with an English phonological background dealing with a word with initial  /ʒ/  by adding an epenthetic vowel and coining a new word /'əʒu:/ with the /ʒ/ comfortably supported by a vowel on each side.
<I_KNOW_I_KNOW theme="wrong vowel">
(I've never heard an English chef even attempt the [y], but if you want to, pretend you're whistling and with the lips pursed like that try to say /i:/ – all right, "ee" if you must, but IPA symbols are so much clearer [and unambiguous {see this old post for a fuller explanation of my feelings about "sounds-like" transcriptions}.)
</I_KNOW_I_KNOW>
</epenthetic_speculation>
So anyway, there's little excuse for the repeated João-abuse. Start with a  /ʒ/  and then say "wow" (remembering to nasalize the diphthong – as  if you were talking about a clockwork mechanism that had wound down [and don't say the "d down" bit]).

b

PS I wrote this mostly before a break in the Somerset levels (very flat), but luckily held back from hitting the Publish button until I had the leisure to fix a couple of howlers – which may well have gone unnoticed,   but would have cost me a week's sleepless nights (before I logged in again).