Friday, 20 June 2014

Moving heaven and earth

On Saturday week I shall, ojalá, deo volente, weather permitting, etc, be singing Verdi's Requiem [details of the concert here or, after the 29 June 2014, here], and in preparation for the concert I was browsing the text the other day. Here and there in the Latin, despite various teachers' efforts, there is a word or words that I don't understand; and I thought I would wile away [see here if you think that's a typo – the footnote, and the Update arising from it ] the time on a bus journey going through the translation.

But it turned out that that word (translation) calls for a pair of quotation marks (or perhaps that should be QUOTATION MARKS...? " "...? ) The publisher prints a note at the beginning:
...Permission must be obtained from the publishers if it is wished to perform the work in this new English translation..
Can any choir have wished this fate on themselves? And I imagine the publishers had (realistic?) visions of money changing hands; why else would they require formal written permission? The mind boggles.

Most such works have the self-awareness to call themselves 'singing versions' or something of the kind. The problems are obvious. Take the first word, 'Requiem'; three syllables. Most singing versions just have 'Re/qui/em' – good enough. But our man at Ricordi, Geoffrey Dunn, it says here, knows better: 'Rest and peace'. Hmm.
Rest and peace eternal give them, Lord Our God; and light for evermore shine down upon them. 

'...and light for evermore shine down...' Why, for heaven's sake? The Latin is a straightforward noun phrase: lux perpetua. Most singing versions (and indeed prose translations, as I remember from a misspent childhood) content themselves with 'perpetual light'. But not Mr Dunn; 'change for change's sake' is the order of the day; I imagine he would translate that as Ars gratia artis, though I'm not convinced that ars is the same thing as 'change'. Not content with a simple adjective for perpetua he contorts the original prayer into an inverted monstrosity featuring an adverbial phrase. Besides, he has removed the prayerful mystery of that perpetual light. Dunn's could be a torch powered by a nuclear reactor.

Elsewhere I have asked 'Why can't translators just GET OUT OF THE FRIGGING WAY ?' Moving on to the Sanctus, not having time for a detailed critique:
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua

Easy enough: 'Heaven and earth are full of your glory', right? (Or, if you must, 'Full are heaven and earth...') . But Mr Dunn needs something more. Another idea perhaps?
Earth and heaven are full of echoes to Thy glory

Once again, this meddlesome 'translator' has removed the prayerful mystery of the original. Gloria tua is an ablative – 'with your glory'. Mr Dunn has asked himself  'But what's making the noise?' Echoes of course!

But having got his teeth into a device (introducing new ideas‡‡), he won't put it down. The second time those words appear, he goes one better:

Earth and heaven are full of echoes praising Thy glory

And what can have been his reason for swapping 'heaven' and 'earth' around? 'Heaven and earth' is what corpus linguists call a strong collocation... a very strong one. The British National Corpus has 66 cases of 'heaven and earth' and only 3 of the inverted form. The Corpus of Contemporary American shows slightly more tolerance for the inverted form (340 plays 26 in a much bigger corpus) but 'heaven and earth' is normal.

There are things native speakers just know about ordering words: native speakers of English just don't say 'the red big bus'. ESOL students learn a rule about this sort of thing, but native speakers don't have to. Most of them don't know it. Teachers of ESOL know it (or in some cases  [] know where to find it). But when you change the order you are consciously doing something different: 'No, not the green one, the RED big bus'. (Even there it sounds pretty odd; I think I'd say '... the big RED bus'; but contrastive stress can change otherwise fixed word orders.)

So rather than dismiss Dunn's order out of hand, we should perhaps consider what sort of exception he's trying to make. Is the music involved, perhaps? Looking at the music introduces yet another variant (on pp. 143-4 of the Ricordi edition):

Heaven and earth fill with echoes,  praising Thy glory

And perhaps the music explains the change back to 'heaven and earth'. A lot is happening in the music here, and the 2nd choir don't have the words at all. But the sopranos in the 1st choir are singing a descending scale; for them  to sing 'Earth and heaven' would be plain contrary.

The idea of a tune influencing the words suggested to me the bass line on p. 207 of the Ricordi edition. Heaven and earth are involved here too, but not in the Pleni sunt coeli... context; it is the cosmic disaster (a pleasingly apt word, given the derivation from the Latin astrum [='star']) that strikes on the Dies irae. From coeli starting on a G (and flirting for a bar with notes as high as C) the basses drop down an octave for the word terra. And what does Mr Dunn's 'translation' do here?

When the high heav'n and all the earth are ... (all on the top note) and  
shaken (on the lower G)

This really is contrary. You've got a high word ('heaven') and a low word ('earth') simply  crying out to be reflected in the music. Verdi showed the way. But Mr Dunn knew better.

An observation about Fauré's word painting is at the back of my mind, but it'll have to stay there for the time being – an update, perhaps...? But for now I must get back to learning the music. Don't miss the concert!

Update 2014.06.22.16:45 – Added this note:
When Shakespeare called Romeo and Juliet 'star-crossed', I wonder whether he was tipping the wink to the more erudite in his audience: 'Here comes a disaster'.  The word désastre was only borrowed from French in the late-sixteenth century, so if so it was a pretty trendy bit of wordplay.

Update 2014.06.23.11:15 – Added this  PS:
PS to footnote: But maybe I'm overestimating the relevance of erudition in this context. At the time, probably the lowliest of the groundlings knew that astrology and disaster went hand in hand. The existence of the new borrowing  is not relevant (silly me).

Update 2014.06.25.15:00  – Added  this PPS:

On the subject of word painting (which I think is the expression for writing musically suggestive settings), as a foil to Verdi's setting of the words 'heaven and earth', this observation about Fauré's setting of those words occurred to me.

The going rate for the (musical) difference between heaven and earth  seems to be about an octave. (This is an open goal for musicologists – my theoretical knowledge of music is minimal. Please comment if this needs another update.) Verdi, as I said, drops an octave from coeli to terra (after a bar containing higher notes).

Fauré, an enfant terrible who was nick-named Robespierre during his Directorship of the Paris Conservatoire because of his reforming zeal, toys with expectations in his setting of  Libera me.
Quando coeli movendi sunt
Quando coeli movendi sunt
Et terra ...
The words are describing the Day of Judgment. Quando coeli movendi sunt – 'not too scary; a clap or two of thunder. But hang on terra. Not just thunder, that felt to me like an earthquake I've got a REALLY BAD feeling about this.'

But the drop isn't quite an octave. This minor seventh coincides approximately with the 'that felt to me like an earthquake' in my imaginary commentary. What coincides with the words 'I've got a REALLY BAD feeling about this' is the octave drop at '...Dum veneris' {='when you [will††] come'}. Taking the music along with the text you get an even more intensely growing feeling of impending doom.

Well over a year ago I wrote  a piece about prescriptive grammars (the ones that say you're doing everything wrong and tell you how you should oughter).

In it I wrote a longish digression about what I was singing at the time. It seems rather (indeed, more...:-?) apt here, so here it is:
My choice of 'listen out' as an example [of a phrasal verb – see the full context here] is not entirely accidental. I'm singing this season Fauré's Requiem [and THIS season, Verdi's], which includes the prayer Exaudi orationem meam. This phrase is preceded by a soprano solo tune marked both piano and dolce: a very gentle and not-very-down-to-earth (in fact angelic)  'It is fitting that a hymn should be offered to you in Sion, O God'. Here the human penitent breaks in,  fortissimo: Exaudi – as if they were saying 'Enough of this airy-fairy stuff  "it is fitting that..." my Aunt Fanny! This really matters to a human soul. Among all the millions of prayers addressed to you throughout Christendom not to mention that bl**dy  'hymnus' listen out for mine.' The rather limp translation 'Hear my prayer' doesn't do justice to the word.

Then the speaker thinks better of this impertinent fortissimo interruption, and repeats Exaudi  but piano. The id then reasserts itself with the next word fortissimo: 'No I'm  not going to be quiet and reverential.' The internal dialogue between the super-ego and the id is reminiscent of Gollum's arguments with himself. 

...Fauré made the elementary mistake of not making this a solo though it is a sweet and angelic-sounding tune sung by the sopranos. Apologies for this lapse ( he was only young! [not so young, I was thinking of his Cantique de Jean Racine, written while he was still at school])
Update 2014.06.26.09:50 – Added gloss to Dum veneris, and typo fix.

Update 2014.06.27.11:25 – Added this note:
 ††This is not to suggest that the original writer had any choice about using the future (if he [almost certainly a he] used a finite verb, that is). Latin, like many languages, just does this; ESOL students in fact, find it very difficult to buy in to the English way (and even when they've 'bought in', a pretty reliable bear-trap remains – a potential error that few manage to avoid!) I only insert the 'will' as a way of underlining the fact that the Latin makes it very clear that THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN. A common way of dealing with this in English is the addition of an expression like '... And it's a question of WHEN rather than IF'.

Update 2014.06.29.19:45 – Added this PPPS:
PPPS One last Geoffrey Dunn horror, but I don't have the text any more. Having written above about Exaudi (the bit in red) I was listening out (!) for the treatment of this verb. As I said, I don't have the text to hand, so I'm not sure of his word for latronem [= Sp: ladrón] in
Et latronem exaudisti
I'd've said something like 'and who heeded [see above for why it's not just 'heard'] the thief'. But our Geoffrey turns the syntax inside out and makes it 'and the robber won Thy pity'. Oh dear...

Update 2014. – Added this note:
 ‡‡ On re-reading I see that he has form for this: in the first line of the piece he does it twice – Requiem → 'Rest and peace'; Domine → 'Lord Our God.

Update 2014.08.10.16:15 – Added this PPPPS:
I've run out of handy footnote symbols, so you'll have to do a bit of DIY to place this. It's 2 or 3  screens down (but YMMV), where I talk about 'the red big bus'. A recent Slate post addressed this point, in what it announces as

A long fascinating article—or is it a fascinating long article?

I  expect it is, though I confess I haven't read it carefully.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Not invented here

The Mysterious Origins of 10 Popular Sayings

Gosh. Mysterious. I can't wait.  
It was allegedly written (but obviously not proof-read) by 'the same expert linguists who edit the Webster’s Dictionary', so it should be pretty reliable. Unfortunately, the web-page grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shouts 'HAVE YOU HEARD OF US?'. I suspect that if you admit ignorance they put you through several more hoops. So my advice is to cross your fingers and say "OF COURSE – how could anyone not have '.   

The first of the ten is 'You are what you eat'. This was an easy one – it's a German pun: Der Mensch ist, was er iβt. It's attributed to Ludwig Feuerbach, according to my The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations - third edition - 1980 (my source of choice for this sort of information, for reasons discussed here). But the pun is such an obvious one that I'd be surprised if Feuerbach really got there first (in 1850 says ODQ3). 1826, say those 'expert linguists who edit the Webster’s Dictionary'. Maybe they meant 1825; this was the date of publication of Brillat-Savarin's Physiologie du Goût. In that he wrote Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce qu tu es. Maybe this, with the help of Google Translate,  is behind the experts'  bland and meaningless

“show a man what he eats and I will show you who he is”

which they attribute to 'French and German intellectuals'. Show a man...? I will show you who he is? What rubbish these French and German intellectuals talk! Tell me when an AMERICAN first used it....
Moving on to the piece on 'a piece of cake' this site says the fons et origo was Ogden Nash. Frankly, I 'hae ma doots'; but as someone memorably said recently (just not memorably enough for me to remember the exact words) 'the effort involved in disproving bullsh*t is an order of magnitude greater than the effort required to produce it'. A fair amount of what that site says about origins is neither bovine nor fecal. But some of it is demonstrably wrong and the rest has editorial standards that don't inspire confidence. Here's one example:
....Nash isn’t the first person to use deserts as a symbol for simplicity and ease. Other phrases exist in the American lexicon such as “easy as pie” and “it’s a cake walk”. Deserts like that are easy to eat, too.
But don't you just hate that gritty feeling when the sand gets in your teeth? And those yucky scarab beetles – gross!

And in the final piece:
Quitting smoking? Are you going cold turkey? The phrase has become almost exclusively associated with withdrawal from drugs or suddenly stoping anything at all. [What, I wonder, is stoping? Dispensing family-planning information, perhaps...]
It’s origin goes back as early as [the sort of horrid solecism that doesn't inspire confidence] American colonists [of course, silly of me to imagine that anything didn't originate in the land of the free] and the role the turkey played as both a food source and symbol. In America, it went on to mean “talking the plain truth”. In 1921, when the newspaper The Daily Colonist said that drug addicts were getting the “cold turkey treatment”, it became a popular usage to define withdrawal from a substance. Something to think about the next time you’re battling an addition. [Me, I have trouble with long division. Addition's a piece of cake though.]

I'm sure this blog (my own, I mean) suffers from its fair share of typographical gremlins. But I have to admit to finding it irksome that such lazy, Americo-centric, and slapdash writing and editing  gets favorited and RTd so widely by teachers I respect.

PS Perhaps I should have tagged this as a rant.
PPS Stick at home, immersed in red wine (8)
Update 2014.06.23.10:30 – Added this footnote:
  A perhaps imperfect memory suggests to me that Kant had used it the previous century. But again, his 'er iβt nicht' seems unlikely to have been the first use of this pun.

Update 2014.08.02.15:50 – Added this PPPS (as though it were needed)
PPPS: The answer to the PPS clue: CLARINET

 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.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Hoist with his own PÉTARADE

My text today is The English language is state of in demise. (Does that really need a 'sic'? If so, look again.)
Let's take the charitable course, and assume that a rogue grammar checker has 'corrected' the 'in' to 'is', not understanding the conventions of newspaper headlines. It was then, in this charitable world, left with 'in state of demise'. But demise isn't a state; so the rogue grammar checker threw in another 'in', thinking (mistakenly) that this would  turn 'demise' into a state.

The less charitable explanation is that the 'writer' (I use the term loosely in the sense 'bozo with a keyboard and a thesaurus') used 'demise' as a fancy variant for 'decline' or 'degeneration', believing that 'in demise' was an acceptable collocation; it's not, even in American English (where my instincts are less than sure-footed [if you'll excuse the oddly mixed metaphor, which seems to cast instincts as some kind of mountain goat]). The Corpus of Contemporary American English notes a single instance of the phrase, used in just this sense, in a Rolling Stone article dated 1992. Rolling Stone is famously trend-setting; but in this case, after 22 years with the collocation not recurring, I think we can conclude that no trend has been set.

Anyway, you have to savour the irony. A language Nazi in St George, Utah (I note that only for information; far be it from me to deploy the 'argumentum ad provenantiem', tempting though that may be in some cases) writes an article arguing that the language is going to hell in a handcart, and a sub-editorial gremlin adorns his work with an illiterate headline.

But the gremlin has not finished yet.  In his fifth paragraph the writer throws in what seems to be a logical hand-grenade: 'I wax hyperbole'. What can this possibly mean? On first reading, I thought that perhaps in American English the verb wax could be followed by a noun (without that noun ending up with a showroom sheen). But this search (ignoring obvious exceptions like 'wax paper-lined') confirms the suspicion prompted by this search – that in phrases that have 'wax' followed by a noun, 'wax' doesn't mean 'grow'.

So what has happened? Even my fertile imagination is at a loss. But I'm not inclined to overtax my brain. The next sentence involves an example of that most odious of solecisms – the abuse of  'such that' in a device lamentably popular among science graduates...
(an observation sadly but unavoidably due to my 20 years in the IT business.
          <rant intensity="the heat of a million Suns">
The problem is that a typical science question might (quite rightly) take the form
'ABCD is a quadrilateral such that AB = CD = n metres.'
Fine. 'ABCD is a quadrilateral of such a kind that...'. If your meaning is adjectival, use 'such'. But our 'state of in demise' writer says:
I learned the English language and learned it well. I wax hyperbole. It is indelibly etched in my mind and heart, such that I will never forget. I have learned that proper terminology opens doors.
This 'such that' tries to mean 'in such a way that'. And there's a word for 'in such a way': SO . If your meaning is adverbial, use 'so that'.
.  So I'm afraid I lost it at that point, and didn't enjoy any further pearls of wisdom (or indeed purlers of inanity).

By contrast, the 'hell in a handcart' school can't have enjoyed this bit of news from the BBC: Texting 'can boost children's spelling and grammar'. Tee hee . I have more to say about this, but it'll have to wait for an update.


Update 2014.06.16.15:25 – Added this PS:
PS Re my subject line: a pétarade, in this usage, is  'a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing'. Originally it meant 'a flurry of farts'. What a marvellous language, to have a word like that.

Update 2018.06.08.10:40 – Added this note:
=An argument based on where the other guy came from; as far as I know, this special case of the argumentum ad hominem is my own invention.

Thursday, 12 June 2014


The next few weeks will be characterized by English mouths struggling, with varying degrees of success, with Brazilian names. I am not God's gift to Brazilian Portuguese, preferring the Continental sort   
[to the extent of resenting the fact that Brazilians seldom if ever bother with the 'Brazilian' bit, just like their northern cousins who refer to 'football' as if anyone with any goddam nous would know they meant the 'Murrican sort whaddayou crazy if I meant SOCCER that's what I'd say.]
<autobiographical_note date_range="1973">
In Lisbon just before the revolution I was once taken to be a Brazilian. This is not a testament to my fluency in Portuguese, but rather to my height – that and the fact that my grasp of the language was good but tainted with a tendency to give vowels the sounds of their Spanish analogues.
I was tempted to reinforce this with reference to Wikipedia's comparative chart of national average heights. But I did a bit of digging and found that the apparently magisterial overview hides some pitifully small sample sizes. And of course the dates were relatively recent. What interested me was average heights of young adult males in the early 1970s, and I could find no online source of that sort of observation.
... but there's one among these grapplings with  'problem sounds' that I find particularly irksome: the many and various attempts at the diphthong ão. Gone are the days of Falcão, who dominated the mid-field in the '80s and '90‡‡; but São Paulo will always be with us. And what's a British commentator to do with this outlandish sound. 'I mean, really, we have nothing like it in English!'

Of course we do, although if you're hung up on orthography – or 'spelling' as we used to say – you're unlikely to notice it. Nasalized vowels are not phonemic in English; that is, you can't change the meaning of a syllable by making the vowel nasal (diverting the air so that instead of coming out of the mouth [or buccal tract] it comes out of the nose). This doesn't mean that no part of any vowel in English can be nasalized; and when a nasal consonant (/n/, /m/, or /ŋ/) follows a vowel it is not humanly possible to avoid adding some nasality to itthat vowel.

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 nasalization of the previous vowel.

Returning at last to our football commentators, they have no need to regard that ão as outlandish. Granted, the vowel sound itself,  before nasalization, is not exactly the same; but it's close enough. We can make a passable attempt at that Brazilian ão without straying from known English sounds: take a word like downtime and say the first syllable only (taking care not to release the /n/). [This is reminiscent of my zloty-story, I've just realized. 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).]


Update 2014.06.12.22:45 – Small tweak to clarify 'it'.

Update 2014.06.13.09:45 – Added this note:
Last night in Brazil there was a TV interview that provided a good example of this difference between Continental and Brazilian Portuguese. A demonstrator was reporting something that had happened to a professor – with three clear vowels. In Continental Portuguese this would have only two syllables, and the first would not have an [o].

Update 2014.06.14.22:25 – Added this note:
I have used this example in the past to help students to get to grips with name of the wine Dão. In the context provided by São Paulo, a word like 'sounding' would be more appropriate. The argument is, mutatis mutandis, the same.

Update 2014.06.27.17:05 – Added this note:
‡‡My mind's ear is dogged by a horribly persistent memory of someone (David Coleman?) calling him /fæl'keɪəʊ/. Oh horror.

Update 2014.06.27.18:30 – Added  coda (in maroon).
(...Updated 2014.06.28.12:30 – Added correction in bold.)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Its easier than that

The frequent substitution of its for it's, and vice versa, which some of you will have remarked on in my subject line (and those who didn't can expect a stern look from Mrs Thistlebottom), is not unlike a similar misspelling of two common French homophones, et and est. I'm not sure how to search for the origins of this confusion, but this exercise attests to the currency of the problem. If the confusion goes back long enough...
<autobiographical_note date_range="1971-1972" theme="embarras de richesses">
When, at the end of my first year, I had to choose options for Part II of my language degree, I bore in mind the amount of linguistic data there was relating to French (my main language at the time) and its documentation. I knew I wanted to study Romance Philology, and there were also several papers called 'History of <language-name>'. But French was a huge area, with many internally contradictory records; and the lecturer on the History of French had written the one book all students would have to read. And his reputation as a lecturer was not inviting.

So in 1972 I took up Portuguese, with a view to studying the History of Portuguese in my final year, thus avoiding a field of study that would have given me some insight into the origins of the es/est confusion – central to the madcap theory I mentioned last time. For further details of that theory – which is mine – read on.
...I don't think my madcap theory is TOO mad. Unproven and undocumented, but not entirely implausible.

The royal coat of arms of Great Britain bears the motto Dieu et mon droît (a reference to the divine right of kings). Google finds well over 200,000,000 hits for the rather feeble (not to say meaningless) translation 'God and my right'.

Somewhere (when I had reading rights in the old BM reading room) I found a French bible with the words Le Seigneur est ma justesse, which appears in the AV (no refs. today, my battery's about to die, as is my brain) as 'The Lord is my righteousness'.

Jean Bodin, the French mid-late-sixteenth century jurist, first introduced the idea of the divine right of kings to govern, basing his ideas on Roman Law. It was perhaps this authority that appears (uncited) in Bossuet's "Sermons choisis de Bossuet"

                                  Image in Google Books

James VI of Scotland published his Basilikon Doron in Edinburgh in  1599, but he obviously wanted the English to understand his view of The Kingly Gift, as a London edition followed in 1603.

The Scots textbooks of the divine right of kings were written in 1597-98 by James VI of Scotland before his accession to the English throne. His Basilikon Doron, a manual on the powers of a king, was written to edify his four-year-old son Henry Frederick [sic but I imagine at least a colon is meant, if not a new sentence] king "acknowledgeth himself ordained for his people, having received from the god a burden of government, whereof he must be countable."

From Wikipedia on the Divine right of k'ings.

Cutting to the chase, let's imagine Dieu e[s]t mon droît was the translation in some French bible of the verse that appears in the AV as 'The lord is my righteousness'. The French-speaking Plantagenets would have met it. What better motto for Henry V (the first king of Great Britain to adopt the motto) to adopt as a statement of a newly defined right (Henry having picked it up from his forebear Richard I, who favoured it as a crusading battle cry [meaning, roughly, 'God's on my side'])?


Update 2014.06.0910.16:10 – Added this PS:
I must have dreamed my attribution of 'the Lord is my righteousness' to the Authorized Version: according to the searchable text provided by the University of Michigan, that exact phrase doesn't occur. A candidate for an alternative occurs at various places in the Book of Jeremiah, notably 23:6 – 'THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS'.

Update 2014.06.09.16:55 – Added this PPS:

The quote in blue explains the bit about James's view of Basilikon Doron. He was the first major contributor to the doctrine of the divine right of kings. Other blue phrases are additions that fill in other bits of the argument.

Update 2014.06.15.18:55 – Fixed typos and added editorial gloss.

Update 2014. – Added 'translation' in maroon.

Update 2018.06.04.11:00 – Various typo fuxes and deleted old footer.

Monday, 2 June 2014

It's easy enough for YOU to say that

A while ago, I lazily left it to a Wikipedia link to explain my use of a $10 word here: it was epenthetic.
<autobiographical_note date_range="2006" theme="word-initial consonant clusters">
During a practice lesson I gave during my CELTA training, with a polyglot class of learners one of whom was a Pole, I told my guinea-pigs, when we were working on a text that included the word 'zloty' (to my private shame, though my academic knowledge of phonology was greater than my trainer's – and he either didn't notice or overlooked it) that the consonant cluster /zl/ 'didn't occur in English'. Of course it does: 'prize list', 'has left', 'is like', 'grizzly'.[avoiding possibly contentious examples – that call for footnotes  there are a fair few one-word examples, but they are mostly proper nouns: Breasley, Dursley, Grazeley [that's one for the Berkshire readers], Hazlitt, Isley, Paisley, Quisling, Riesling, Rizla, Tesla.... The only common noun I can think of, apart from grizzly is gosling]. What I meant was that this consonant cluster doesn't occur at the beginning of a word.
Word spaces are a fairly recent convention. Many of the houses at Pompeii sported a mosaic like the ones spattered higgledy-piggledy about this page (victims of Blogger's whimsical attitude to graphics). Not only were these signs designed to be understood by people who couldn't read; they were created by artisans who couldn't read:

'Bewar eof thed og'                

was their stentorian warning; but nobody was going to ask 'What's an og?' – there was a picture of one  – so the signs did their job.
Other such mosaics at Pompeii had the word space as one might expect:

or none at all:

<digression theme="manufactured sameness">
There are hundreds of different mosaics at Pompeii, each one – of course – unique. When, later this century, London is inundated and left to rack and ruin to be discovered by 4th millennium archaeologists, how many different 'Beware of the dog' signs will they find, I wonder... A dozen? Maybe 20...? It'd be interesting to chart civilization in terms of the metric
        'Beware of the dog' signs per unit population.

Where was I? Oh yes, word spaces. Moving on, let's consider the beginnings of words.

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.

There is a rather better-hidden epenthetic vowel in pairs of words that derive from the same Proto-Indo-European root but came to English by different routes, one of which added this sort of vowel: state, for example, and estate. The latter arrived at 13th-century English by way of a route that included languages that need a run-up before the consonant cluster. To quote that Etymonline entry:
early 13c., "rank, standing, condition," from Anglo-French astat, Old French estat "state, position, condition, health, status, legal estate"...
So far so good. But Modern French complicates the issue by hiding the 's' behind an acute accent:
...(Modern French état), from Latin status "state or condition," from PIE root *sta- "to stand"
Meanwhile, in Spanish for example, we see estado. There's an /s/ there all right., unlike French – which has no /s/ in the word as spoken, just its vestige when it's written down.

About that 'vestige' I have a madcap theory about the divine right of kings. But it has nothing to do with epenthetic vowels and I have things to be getting on with. So it'll have to wait for an update.

In the event I made it a separate post.

Update: 2014.06.03.17:45 – Added this note:

I knew I had a reason for mentioning word-breaks, though the casual reader might have wondered what I was on. My point was that, for the King, /p/ at the beginning of a word was a problem. Adding an extra run-up syllable solved that problem by inventing a new word: /maɪəpi:pəl/.

Update: 2014.06.04.11:10 – Added this note:
And I don't think this word has a syllabic L (such as occurs in words like 'drizzle', which isn't /drɪzəl/ [except if you're listening to The Goon Show – Bluebottle would say /drɪzəl/
<autobiographical_note date_range="1972-1973" theme="The Goon Show>
John Trim, to whom I am indebted for my interest in phonetics, used to say 'The Goon Show may be said to be no more than applied secondary articulation.'
 ]. A fractious infant is /grɪzĮi:/ [that's the best I can do for now: the typographical tools I know about aren't very open to the idea of syllabic consonants] but a bear is a /grɪzli:/ 

Update: 2014.06.05.10:45 – Added to /zl/ examples.

Update: 2014.06.06.10:15 – And some more.

Update: 2014.06.08.15:50 – Resisted the temptation to add some more, and added PS pointing to THAT theory.

Update: 2018.03.27.12:05 –  Lots of reformatting/replacing pictures that had got corrupted/clarifying text.