Monday, 12 October 2015

Bon, Bom, Bueno, Buono...

Today's piece is the happy product of a note from the Apple of my Eye (who was only a pip 26 years ago), who alerted me to this. Before I had even listened to the examples ...
<mini_rant reason="Grumpy Old Git">
a pleasure which I may well deny myself in perpetuity, as I am still scarred by repeated hearings of that unspeakable snatch of The World in Union, which, let's face it, was pretty naff at the best of times, and must have had Elgar spinning in his grave (at 33 rpm, if not 78) even before Paloma Faith got her heinous tonsils around it – ye gods, can't a chap watch a bit of rugby without having that unholy row inflicted on him every few minutes. And I apologize to the many readers who won't have the first idea of what I'm talking about, but believe me you're better off not knowing.
...or read the linguist's comments, I was saying to myself  "Aha. Dipthongization, I bet."

The thing is, when you lean on something it distorts. This applies both to sitting on a thinnish plank, books weighing down the middle of a bookshelf, and to sounds. I referred briefly to this here, and would have left it at that had this BuzzFeed article not been brought it to my attention. I wrote in that post, about a failure to understand a non-dipthongized word,
The imperative singular of contar  was – according to the O-level grammar book I was using at the time – cuenta (the stress on the etymological o causing the diphthong). So, if I had reached the bit in the book that dealt with the position of object pronouns (doubtful), I would have expected cuéntanos in place of María Fernanda's 'Contános'.
The crucial bit is that parenthetical "(the stress on the etymological o causing the diphthong)". In the life of a language, a word such as the Vulgar Latin BONU[M], meaning "good"  can take various routes. Often the first syllable (tending to become the only syllable) is nasalized – as in French bon or Portuguese bom. But sometimes, like that bookshelf, the sound distorts when it's stressed; it changes shape and stretches, giving Spanish bueno and Italian buono. Sometimes, related words, with and without stress on the vowel, turn out with and without diphthongs, as in Spanish bueno/bonito. Still in Spanish, this happens with changing verb-endings – cuento/contamos (causing problems for the language learner, but not for the native speaker)
The young woman who said 'Contános'  that time, in Bilbao  in 1971, had the trick of using diminutive endings: her 'hasta lueguito' meant 'see you soon (but really quite soon'). Or for her, doing something early was often 'tempranito' (as temprano means "early").

I stored this away as a neat colloquial trick. But later, when I'd been formally introduced to dipthongization in my later Romance Philology studies, I did the same thing that toddlers do when overgeneralizing from a special case: "If the past of DRINK is DRUNK, the past of THINK must be THUNK"; I took the irregular bueno/bonito as a model for luego/loguito [that u doesn't affect the sound, if you were wondering; it's just there to keep the g hard]. So my advanced colloquialism pose didn't come off, and my "Hasta loguito" was met with deservedly blank stares.
This is still happening. A class-mate of mine, who had lived in O Porto, told our teacher that he had heard native speakers (of Portuguese) starting to diphthongize their home town's stressed vowel, so that it was tending towards the modern Spanish Puerto. Linguists call this early form a "labile (sic, not labial) diphthong". And it happens too in those Indie songs.

In the light of this ...
People of  the British Isles, if you mean "in the light of", it would make an old man very happy if you were to SAY it [for Pete's sake]. I'm not saying it's wrong to omit the the if that's the way your speech community behaves, but I come over all UKIPpy when I think about the reasons for this (one of which involves British English speech communities being influenced by people whose first language is not English and who have learnt ESOL from American English sources). 
Of course, that's far from being the only (or even most influential) reason. Ever quickening [that's not quite the word; still, it's better than fastening] communications ["Internet Major, I'm looking at YOU", as Mr Chips might have said], films, TV, celebrity culture... the growing villagification of the world in general make it COOL to pretend you were born in Oxford Georgia (or even Oxford, Nova Scotia) rather than Oxford Oxfordshire. And once a few people start doing it, etymological erosion takes over. I'm not saying it's wrong, I know it's a lost cause, but while yet a drop remains/ Of the lifeblood in my veins, to quote the dying Viking, it's not a form of words I'm ever going to adopt (affect?).
Here are some numbers, in support of my assertion that "We British just don't talk like that'. But they are based on the British National Corpus, which – based on usages culled from speakers and writers up to 2008 – doesn't reflect the current situation (which I suspect shows the change from in the light of  to in light of as being much less far advanced than [I regret] it is). BNC shows a strong preference for "in the light of" (meaning in view ofconsidering, having regard to) over "in light of" (with no the). It has about 14 times as many hits (1798 as against 125).
COCA meanwhile, reflecting contemporary American usage, shows a much less strong preference in the other direction – 3 times as many hits for "in light of" as for its wordier rival: 4677 as against 1474.
In both cases, figures for the version with the are inflated by usages such as in the light of the silvery moon. In fact all COCA's hits may be of this kind (NOT meaning in view of, considering, having regard to). 
Oh well, I know I should  "lie back and think of linguistic determinism", but this sort of thing bothers me more than I know it should...
Found in a park in Buenos Aires?
...derived words in languages with diphthongization can become irregular. The Jets say

Every Puerto Rican's a lousy chicken

But a native of Puerto Rican is un/a portorriqueño/a. [In fact, I have a feeling that in the original cast recording the Jets may have got it right,] And this might also explain the naming of Verbena Bonariensis. Its native land is South America; so it seems to me quite possible that the collector who first named it lived in Buenos Aires.

Time I was getting on.

PS A couple of clues:

Smart Alec, that is with a screw loose. (8)
Gin, for example, almost left a catch-phrase. (6)

Update 2015.11.22.11:20 – Added answers and updated TES stats.


Update 2017.08.15.17:40 – Removed old footer

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