Friday, 24 January 2014

Doublets and pairs

A recent tweet alerted me to this post, which looks at tautologies.

<digression theme="How many angels fit on the head of a pin?">
The tweet wondered whether pleonasm was the word. This is a word close to my heart, and one that – every now and then – I think I understand. 'This is both a square, and a two-dimensional plane figure having four equal sides and one right-angle'. That is a tautology: it says τα άυτα [='the same thing'] in two different ways.

But this slight change makes it pleonastic: 'This is both a square, and a two-dimensional plane figure having four equal sides and four right-angles'. If a plane figure has four equal sides and one right-angle, the other angles will be the same. A pleonasm says more than is necessary. But saying the same thing is 'more than is necessary' (and I think the is there is pleonastic; sorry.)

So there's a good deal of overlap, and often when I try to work out which applies in a particular case my brain starts to hurt. Beatus vir qui ... says 'A pleonasm is a tautology'. It's not, but I wish I didn't care.
One of these was 'null and void' , which rang a bell whose tinkle led me to The Stories of English.
But Amazon's Read Inside feature didn't cover the relevant section (which is on pages 152-3)

<digression theme="pipe-dream" likelihood="0">
Penguin missed a trick (or more likely decided that the trick wasn't worth the outlay) with this book. It was written like a coffee-table book, with two or three sorts of text and standalone features, quite like Words: An Illustrated History of Western Language (which I had a small part in publishing – but a bigger part than I wanted [and that's a whole 'nother story] ).But Penguin just squeezed it all together with tiny margins and no kind of visual clues to what sort of text was which. The reader's never sure whether the current text is part of the main argument or part of an illustrative aside. It needs changes in line-length or font or shade of paper to make it a smooth reading experience.
In fact, the writing so obviously has this sort of treatment in mind that I suspect it was written to order for another publisher but that the contract fell through. The typescript then got bought by another publisher whose needs were at odds with the book as written. Maybe not though – who knows...?

My fantasy – though I haven't discussed this with the good Professor – is to win a large amount of money and become a proper publisher. My Rights department would negotiate with Allen Lane to acquire the rights for a properly designed book, and my Design department would make this book CanDo Publishing's lead title.

So I turned to The Story of English in 100 Words as there's only so much new stuff you can say on this subject, and from time to time the paths trodden by one author in separate books cross. Sure enough, in the section dealing with Chattels, Crystal says this:

Back in the earlier book, in one of those asides (which  interrupt the flow but wouldn't if the book was designed properly) Crystal explains that they didn't choose; they went with both. Here are some of his examples (from p. 153):

Breaking and entering  (sources English/French)
Final and conclusive (sources French/Latin)
Fit and proper (sources English/French)
Will and testament  (sources English/Latin)
... etc
But both null and void are from French: null '"void of legal force," 1560s, from Middle French nul' and void 'late 13c.†, "unoccupied, vacant," from Anglo-French and Old French voide...' So why the tautology?

Crystal (of course!) answers this:
It was not long before the habit of doubling became extended to pairs of words [I think that 'pairs' is pleonastic, by the way ] regardless of their language of origin. In such pairings as null and void [knew I'd seen it somewhere]... we see French words together....
That'd better be all for now. I meant to lay into the Indendent's top ten, but as the proofs were delayed I started on the Index (for #WVGTbook for the Kindle version only). This threw up a fair few corrections‡ that I need to make in the proofs. Which'll make the proof stage more onerous than I had planned for. And I want to reach a breathing space in the Index work before I get stuck into the proofs, so I really have to go.


Update 2014.01.25 18.20 – Added this note:
Maybe this is the clue: void had been around for nearly two centuries, and users felt that it needed to be given added emphasis by adding the trendy new null.

Update 2014.01.26 20.20 – Added this note:
‡Not just corrections. I'm also finding improvements I can make. One of these is an addition to the notes to the UO  notes section, to include a word that I've only ever met in one context: third-form biology (that's 'year 10' to all you young whipper-snappers). Here's the full Notes section:

UO Notes
  1. Words spelt '-uous'
    The apparent randomness might be explained in this way: at first two researchers were working on these words (words spelt with an initial a-f were shared equally between /juə/ (2 a-s. 3 d-s, 1 f-) and /jʊə/ (1 a-, 4 c-s, 1 e-) . One oddity resulting from this division of work was that discontinuous is transcribed one way and continuous another. For the 17 words with initials from i-to-  the researcher preferring /juə/ was working alone. For the last 6 words, tu-v the researcher preferring /jʊə/ was working alone.
    But my use of was and were in this tale of backroom staff management  is entirely speculative; the distinctive transcriptions may have fallen either way completely by chance. In any case, the student may safely ignore the distinction.
  2. fluorescent
    Macmillan English Dictionary uses the transcription /flɔ:'resənt/, but the audio sample has a similar diphthong to the one in the word transcribed as /'flʊərəʊkɑ:bən/. Meanwhile, as further evidence of the variable pronunciation of this vowel sound, the words fluoride and fluorine are transcribed with /ʊə/ but have an audio sample with a monophthong that is not unlike /ɔ:/.
  3. duodenum
    The Macmillan English Dictionary gives the transcription /dju:əʊ'di:nəm/, but the audio sample gives both unstressed vowels as /ə/. Again, the student may safely ignore the distinction. Full enunciation of the diphthong is reserved for very careful speech.
  4. vacuole
    The  Macmillan English Dictionary does not include this word. The definition comes from the Collins English Dictionary, which does  – as a matter of purely academic interest – use the transcription /ju:əʊ/ (with /u:/ rather than /ʊ/) for the word duo. Once again, the student may safely ignore the distinction

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: just over 44,100 views  and well over 6,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 2,250 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment