Sunday, 30 March 2014

What do you mean, 'Hard to learn'?

HMM... – it's† all about context. That piece says:
After all, what makes a language easy or hard?  Is it the writing system? Grammar rules like adjective agreement? The arbitrary use of genders for nouns? Don’t even get me started on cases and declension! I would argue that it is none of those things (or perhaps all of those things!) More important than any one facet of a language is the perspective from which you look at the language. What is your native language? How many languages have you learned? How old are you? In what environment are you learning the language? All of these factors play a role in how challenging we may find a specific language.
More here
That is, it all depends on the learner.  Well yes, selbstverstehenlich. {Isn't German great? It 'understands itelf'.} If your language uses tones phonemically, for example, you'll find it easier to acquire another language that does the same  – unlike English, which uses tone only for paralinguistic features. But we are where we are; I speak usually to users of a few Indo-European languages, and for my typical speech community it makes sense to say something like 'Learning Chinese is difficult' (for reasons adumbrated here).

But this has got to be a quickie, and I'll just give an example of the way context influences things. The example may seem a bit of a stretch, but that's context for you: it makes sense for me, because I'm the sort of person it makes sense for – DUH.
<autobiographical_note date_range="early 70s">
This morning I was listening to a recently rediscovered Letter from America.  That context recalled for me the last days of Nixon. I wondered whether it would mention that judge ... what was his name?...

At this moment a totally irrelevant memory cut in. Before Douglas Adams became a confirmed Footlighter he wrote and played in an ensemble called Adams, Smith, Adams. The 'Space, the final frontier .... to boldly split infinitives no man has split before' passage that ultimately appeared in print in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy first saw the light of day in a monologue that, as I remember, opened an Adams, Smith, Adams revue in 1972[??? Early 70s anyway.]. Another gem from that revue was the line 'the Mercedes-Benz, that Rolls Royce of motor cars'.

But the relevant memory was  sung to the tune of Maria:
Sirica. I've just met a judge called Sirica
...[etc]
The most scrupulous judge I ever heard  – Sirica.
So I got to that name before Alastair Cooke confirmed it.
</autobiographical_note>

I'm not sure how this is relevant to the issue of context , except in that expectations ["'Chinese is hard' versus 'AC will mention Sirica'"] are influenced by everything that one has seen and done to date. Of course.

b

PS Now for another bash at That Door (with my new toy, a proper plane not the Surform thing I've been using [sponsored, presumably, by the makers of Band-Aid]). And then I'll make more than one inroad into that #WVGTbook (V5.<next>) Index.

† Update 2014.03.31.10:15 – Fix typo. (One of these days I'll get that darn apostrophe right. I know the rule, but still....)

Update 2014.05.02.14:15 – Updated footer:


 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, 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: over 40.300 views  and well over 5,600 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 well over 2,000 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.




Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune

Apologies for the recent bloggopause. It's over a week since my last post (though I've done a few guerrilla updates to an old post). The reasons are the visit to Leeds mentioned in my last post, the concert that that old post mentions (not the Christmas 2012 one, CLEVERCLOGS) and a DIY project (that the weather is making impossible at the moment – if this rain holds, I might be able to hit the Publish button!)

Two things caught my attention in the brief bursts of radio noise that made it to my ears (between various bangs, whirrs, buzzes, and BOTHERS).
<autobiographical_note> 
The air is not blue when I am doing DIY, but a gentle azure. In my childhood, there were no arses or backsides... or even bottoms. My parents, and Auntie Katy, cloaked references to the fundament in the gentility of a foreign language. For many years – well into my teens – I wondered why Danny Boy was sung to the tune of  'The London Derrière'.
</autobiographical_note>  
The first was a man reporting from Theresienstadt, referring to the fate of recaptured escapees. There are two euphemisms that share a lot both syntactically and with respect to their sound (not to mention, of course, their meaning): pay the ultimate price and make the ultimate sacrifice. The common factors are
monosyllabic verb with the vowel sound /eɪ/
+ 'the ultimate'
+ noun ending /aɪs/.
They are therefore easily confused with each other, especially in the simple past (which compounds the similarity, by ending the verb with /d/).

David Crystal has discussed elsewhere syntactic blends, where – usually in speech, but also in unedited prose a sentence starts with one syntactic structure in mind but gets 'derailed' and ends up with another structure. Elsewhere still he discusses other sorts of blend – where, like that syntax, a word starts out one way and changes horse in mid-stream: brunch, cheeseburger, mizzle... Often, though not always, these are intentional neologisms; but a malapropism could also be described as a blend.

Returning to that reporter in Theresienstadt, he said '... they paid the ultimate sacrifice'. Oh well, we're none of us human .

b
PS The other snatch of comment I caught on the radio was Robert Peston getting it right: 'I think he might pay the ultimate price' (that's not verbatim – but I don't have time to trawl through iPlayer at the moment, with the only clue being 'he was talking about Arsen Wenger, round about when I was halfway through sawing off the bottom of the door'). And I didn't put it in the main text, because it would dilute the bon mot, or rain on its parade, or something equally damp.

PPS

Report from the Word Face

The postman has just brought what we knew in my OUP days as 'advance copies'; but in these days of demand  printing they are yesterday's news – as they've been on sale at Amazon for about three weeks. Anyway,  Le WVGTbook nouveau est arrivé!
Update 2014.05.02.14:15 – Updated footer:



 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, 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: over 40.300 views  and well over 5,600 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 well over 2,000 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.




Saturday, 15 March 2014

HOW many candles?

It is Bruges, 1944. A British soldier runs between shadows to the doors of the Cathedral. He opens one, and the piercing light of a hundred candles‡ pierces the gloom.  There is nobody in the vestibule, but the candles glare out nonetheless. In wartime Belgium candles were presumably not rationed. And it must have been one of the first takes, because most of the candles are nearly full length. For this is not Bruges, Belgium; it is Bruges, Hollywood.

Home-made  still, REWOP from IMDB trailer

This excerpt from The Monuments Men reminded me of the expression not to be worth the candleIn 1611, Randle Cotgrave published A dictionarie of the French and English tongues, where the expression appears in the form Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle†, but its first appearance in English
was ca. 1690 in Sir William Temple's Works:
"Perhaps the Play is not worth the Candle."
Maybe Sir William was making a bilingual pun on jeu , as I believe he may have been talking about lighting a theatre; he didn't make enough in ticket receipts to pay for the lighting.  Lighting a theatre, like lighting a cathedral, required a significant outlay.
<autobiographical_note date_range="1969-1970">
I have first-hand experience of  naked flames in a  theatre – but gaslight rather than candles. The Watford Palace Theatre must have been one of the last to use gaslight. I was queueing for interval drinks (in a slow-moving queue on a spiral staircase) and the first I knew of anything being amiss was when my companion turned and said 'Bob, your hair's on fire'. Happy days...
</autobiographical_note>
I mean to investigate this further, but I'm preparing for a jaunt to Leeds, so am not, as they say. 'time-rich'. And I have more to say about candle-based metaphors.

This is what Etymonline has to say about candle:
Old English candel "lamp, lantern, candle," an early ecclesiastical borrowing from Latin candela "a light, torch, candle made of tallow or wax," from candere "to shine," from PIE root *kand- "to glow, to shine, to shoot out light" (cf. Sanskrit cand- "to give light, shine," candra- "shining, glowing, moon;" Greek kandaros "coal;" Welsh cann "white;" Middle Irish condud "fuel").

Candles were unknown in ancient Greece (where oil lamps sufficed), but common from early times among Romans and Etruscans. Candles on birthday cakes seems to have been originally a German custom. To hold a candle to originally meant "to help in a subordinate capacity," from the notion of an assistant or apprentice holding a candle for light while the master works (cf. Old English taporberend "acolyte"). To burn the candle at both ends is recorded from 1730.
<autobiographical_note date_range="late-1950s">
In my days as an altar-boy I was from time-to-time called upon to be, to use that Old English word, a taporberend – 'taper-bearer', geddit? (The only person I held a candle to was the Abbot of St Benedict's.)
</autobiographical_note>

b

Update 2014.03.15.21:55 – Added  bits in blue.
Update 2014.03.18.11:15 – Added this note:
† This is the entry, which I didn't have time to track down at the time of writing:

Cotgrave entry
Update 2014.04.04.10:45 – Added this note:
‡ Perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit here. The scene was quite short, and I don't  have the lightning reflexes of a Wordsworth ("Ten thousand saw I at a glance". Chan Canasta has got nothing on this guy.) But there were dozens of  those candles.

Update 2014.05.02.14:15 – Updated footer

Update 2014.05.30.14:55 –  Added this note:

 †† According to a televised version of the candle-lit Duchess of Malfi, the candles cost about £400 per night.


Update 2015.05.07.16:15 –  Added photo (for Pinterest).

 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 represntations of 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: over 40.300 views  and well over 5,600 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 well over 2,000 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, 10 March 2014

Smile when you say-that.

Why... is there a hyphen in the middle of the title of Liam Neeson’s new movie?
When I saw this I imagined it was a joke. There's a hyphen because either the scriptwriter or some publicist put it there. To quote President Bartlet, 'What's next?'

But no, the terrier-like writer had got her teeth into this non-issue (is that a nonissue?) and was intent on worrying it to death: she devoted to it another 500-600 words. Her penultimate paragraph was a gem (or maybe an antigem):

... I would make the argument that, regardless of its international pedigree, the movie should be called Nonstop. Non-Stop’s screenwriters are three Americans, one of its headliners (Julianne Moore) is American, and the film was shot primarily in New York (according to IMDb). Universal Pictures, the film’s wealthiest production company, is of course based in the States. Surely the country that pours the most money into a movie should get to determine how that movie’s title is spelled.

More here

(Make that spenlt....?And in her view the  answer to that rhetorical question is so unarguable that she doesn't even grace it with a "?" Well I don't find it that unarguable, but it occurs to me that someone could usefully read The Cherry Orchard on the subject of the value of culture and the matter of just what can be bought and sold.

There were two other posts that I wanted to comment on in this connexion (and I suspect this spelling may provoke an international incident; but MY house style requires it). I can't find them though, and didn't take notes. But I must get on..... Before which:

Notes from the word-face

I have the first tranche of the index (to #WVGTbook) ready to transfer to Sigil (as part of the process described here. But there is a good deal to be done before it sees the light of day. Broadly, I am using shades/colours to show half-a-dozen degrees of commonness, and I need to set up a <STYLE> for each one. This will make changing them a breeze (it says here – #readsUserGuide). I also need to link them to the rest of the text, something that I couldn't do with HoTMetaL Pro (my WYSIWYG HTML tool of choice). So don't hold your breath, but be assured that progress is being made.

b
Update 2014.03.10.21:20 – Typo fix. Spent passed muster a few hours ago, as it's just as annoying for some readers.

Update 2014.03.11.17:20 – Found one of those posts here
and I'll say more tomorrow.
<autobiographical_note>
I was reminded by Matt Damon saying the crucial word in the Monuments Men – which is why I have other things to be getting on with.
</autobiographical_note>
Update 2014.03.12.13:55 – Found the other one too, in spirit (no link):

The croissant post ends

Fowler... says that it’s alright to acknowledge "indebtedness to the French language" through "some approach in some part of the word to the foreign sound." He means by this that English-speakers can allow themselves just a touch of Gaul: Belle-lett-ruh not belle-letters.
<rant theme="They just don't get it">
[NO NO NO  – Fowler didn't mean just that. You say it that way because the 'r' comes immediately after the 't'. To say Belle letters would just be WRONG. 'Bell letters' are things like C and G (if bells are named after musical notes)
</rant>
[But I interrupted.] ...Perhaps, then, Fowler would condone kruh-san: no final T.

Although I suppose that’s an acceptable compromise, it’s one that—it must be said—doesn’t live up to New World ideals. This is America. This is a melting pot.
<rant theme="Cultural insensitivity">
[Huh. That old canard. It usually means something like 'Place where everybody coalesces into something that fits in with  MY culture.' Which reminds me of the other post I meant to write about. I still can't find it. But it was the story of a Redneck complaining at a foreign language-speaker (who had been on the phone, speaking unintelligibly): 'If you want to speak Mexican, go home to Mexico.' The reply was: 'I was speaking Navajo. If you want to speak English go home to England.'
</rant>

[There, I've done it again
] ...In this country we aim to fully integrate our immigrants instead of creating a permanent alienated class. Let’s not ghettoize pastries of French origin, let’s Americanize them. We accepted the restaurant with open arms. We should give croissants the same treatment.

More here
'We' accepted restaurant with open arms in the late 18th/early 19th century. We accepted croissant a century later.
<autobiographical_note>
Until MrsK put her foot down, I used to keep old editions of dictionaries, so that I could keep an eye on usages like hyphens in composite words (like 'non-stop') and the italicization (etc) of foreign borrowings. Misleadingly for the hen, which is brown, the word 'blackbird' started life as 'black bird' and then became 'black-bird' before becoming completely agglutinated into one word.

From memory, the 5th edition of COED dropped the italicization of 'rôle' but kept the circumflex. The circumflex was an optional variant in the 6th edition. but has now disappeared without  trace. I haven't checked (but will) – and I expect to find that 'restaurant' has lost its italics but croissant hasn't yet†.
And on the subject of croissants, I think it was my late lamented mentor Joe Cremona (see this blog, passim) who attributed its invention to a Parisian patissier, in celebration of a French victory over the Ottomans. I believe some spoilsport has since disproved this story, but se non è vero, è ben trovato.
</autobiographical_note>
It takes time for foreign borrowings to assimilate. Stick around.

Update 2014.03.12.16:55 – Added afterthought in blue.

Update 2014.03.13.15:55 – Added  this note:

†The actual story is rather different. The latest edition of COED doesn't use italics to indicate the degrees of relative  naturalization of the two words. It uses IPA symbols (which I wish some other dictionaries did: what does kruh-san MEAN FFS  – apart, of course from 'You know, like all proper Americans say, duh!)? 'Restaurant' has /rɒnt/, fully anglicized, without a nasalized 'o', but with a t (not present, according to the article, in American English).  'Croissant' has the French vowel [ɔ̃] [excuse the transcription: it was either that or  'ɔ with a ~' NOW FIXED], and no t.




Update 2014.05.01.14:15 – Added  this PS to that note  (), and updated footer:
PS I've just remembered my first introduction to the IPA in a second-year French lesson: 'ɔ with a ~' would be wrong anyway. The crucial mnemonic is sans son sang: they aren't homophones – and croissant uses the sound used in the 1st and 3rd word (not the 'ɔ with a ~ ɔ̃' proposed by COED, but ã).

Update 2014.10.10.10:35 – Added  this PPS:
PPS
In further hyphen-related news, I've just found this undeveloped stub of a blogpost, started and discarded many moons ago:
My 2011 Christmas stocking contained a DVD  that I imagine the donors will be aghast to learn had the damning endorsement 'laugh-out [sic] loud'. What can  the copy-writer have had in mind with that hyphen? Maybe it was the typesetter (if such a person exists in the world of DVD covers) enforcing, mindlessly, a house style that said 'words that combine a verb with a preposition should be hyphenated'. Perhaps a 'laugh-out', in this hypothetical person's mind, was a bit like a blow-out, but with uncontained laughter rather than food.

That's a blow-out in the Grande Bouffe sense, of course a feast that led to ruptured guts (like a blow-out in the motor-tyre sense) would not be funny. Well, not so as to make one laugh, out-loud or otherwise.
Update 2014.10.10.11:55 –  Fix in green

Update 2016.08.11.12:55 –  Typo fix (and deleted outdated footer).

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

You can't judge a book...

 Judge it? Chance'd be a fine thing: you can't even FIND it!

Tales from the Word-Face


Visitors to my author page could be forgiven for being a little confused.

When I published the paperback of #WVGTbook I thought ahead. At the Author Central page an author can Add a Book. You click the button and a number of possibilities appear. You select one and then click the This is my Book button (a strangely satisfying process).

So I thought the thing to do was to call the paperback When Vowels Get Together – the Paperback. (I put the words 'the Paperback' in the CoverSubtitle field of Create Spaces's automatic cover-creation tool, and if I didn't want it to be a subtitle I'd have had to create my own jacket artwork – which I probably should have done in the first place [but it didn't fit in to my Ten-Day {hollow laugh} Plan, mentioned here). Then I could Add a Book and select the paperback one as a separate title, with a separate cover. There would then be three books on my author page:
  1. When Vowels Get Together V5.2
    This is the Kindle version
  2. When Vowels Get Together – Sampler
    This is an early release (A* and E* only). It gives more than the Look Inside feature, but not the whole picture.
  3. When Vowels Get Together – the Paperback
This was the plan, but as Thomas Aquinas so nearly said Man disposes and Amazon disposes. They've decided I don't know how  that 1 and 3 on that list are the same book (which, largely, they are at the moment). But the result is that my author page shows only 2 items (and when I visited it to Add a Book it was already there and the full Kindle version seemed to have disappeared). The items are‡:
  1. When Vowels Get Together – the Paperback
  2. When Vowels Get Together – Sampler
When you click on the first of these you get this page with a paradoxical choice of formats:


I mean to do something about this in the fulness of time, though I'm not sure what. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know.

b

Update 2014.03.06.13:40 – Typo fix (†)
Update 2014.03.07.16:30 – PS added
‡ That is, it was like this. They've sorted it out now, with the paperback as an alternative medium  (there are still only two entries,  and I feel a bit uncomfortable expanding the Kindle version without amending the paperback).

This applies particularly to the Index that I'm working on at the moment, which uses colour. And if you want to see how that works, wait a while – next month maybe. When this is available, and the paperback honestly isn't an equivalent, I'll have to change the name of one of them: perhaps Digraphs and Diphthongs...?


Update 2014.03.09.17:30 – Updated footer

Update 2014.05.02.14:15 – And again:



 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, 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: over 40.300 views  and well over 5,600 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 well over 2,000 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.