Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Lies, damned lies, and intonation

A few months ago I discussed (here) the strange way that reported speech not only attenuates the intonation of direct speech but actually misrepresents it.  On a train more recently I noticed a case that is just totally artificial – lying in wait for the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) student just when they are at their most vulnerable, and providing a model of inaccurate intonation. A recording comes over the Tannoy:

We will shortly be arriving at <station-name> 

If one said this in the course of normal conversation (in a rather Ionesco-esque surreal universe?) the intonation would be something like this:
But instead of recording We will shortly be arriving at Iver, We will shortly be arriving at Langley, We will shortly be arriving at Slough ... etc etc ad nauseam, and running up enormous recording bills, they have recorded just We will shortly be arriving at ... (note the "...", what happens when there‘s nothing to be said is ironically quite significant) ...

...and separate recordings  of individual station names.

So what the disembodied voice says is

There are two problems with this, both having to do with the way a native speaker strings sounds together, one of which works in the student's favour:
  1. Pro
    There is no assimilation – the squidging of sounds together to make connected speech. For example, the /æt/ (or, more probably, /ət/) can (and often does) change in sympathy with whatever follows. If the next station is Maidenhead, for example, starting with the bilabial /m/, a native speaker saying the whole sentence might say /əp 'meɪdənhed/ (with the dental /t/ becoming the equivalent bilabial stop /p/).
    <festive_note theme="point of articulation">
    In Rutter‘s Shepherd's Pipe Carol the refrain starts 
    Angels in the sky
    Came down from on high.... 
    ... a bit of a tongue-twister I find (nearly every Christmas). Musing on points of articulation, I recently realized why; although clarity of enunciation isn't my forte, anyone might find the second line a bit of a trouble-maker (aided and abetted by the context established in the first). The consonants in came are the velar /k/ and the bilabial nasal /m/; down starts with a /d/ (dental) and ends with another dental (but this time it's the nasal /n/); from starts with a consonant pair – but the first is the labio-dental /f/, and at the end there's another bilabial nasal. 
    So the points of articulation (places where sounds are made, but in this case [beginnings and ends] articulation also works in  the same way as it does in an articulated lorry):

    CAME                                                      Velar (back of mouth) 
                                                                            last: Bilabial (front of mouth)
    DOWN                                                     Dental (halfway back) 
                                                            last: Dental (again) 
    FROM                                                   Labio-dental (not quite  
                                                                                   the front, but pretty near)
                                                  last: Bilabial 
    Just considering the first consonant in these three words (marked in bold), there is no problem: 
     Came down from... 
    Velar => Dental => Labio-dental the point of articulation is moving steadily forwards. But factoring in the ends of the words, the peaceful (pastoral?) picture is disrupted. After the bilabial nasal at the end of Came there is the temptation to take the path of least resistance...
    The path of least resistance is often significant in the way speech sounds develop, but... Update, maybe.
    ...and say from; besides, came from is a temptingly Christmassy collocation  came from afar/the East/Nazareth... 
    So I often find myself singing Came from down... and it's not until I bump  into the down/high paradox that my voice peters out.
  2. Con
    When the component bits of recording are spliced together, the intonation is totally wrong. There are two components: the first ends in an upward flick, a sort of auditory serif, that  has the meaning  "..." (in conversation  this rising tone warns: I HAVEN'T FINISHED YET, SO DON'T INTERRUPT); the second starts the place-name with a rising tone, which again gives the wrong message (as a rising tone often signifies HERE COMES A NEW TOPIC).
On the homeward journey I listened again to the Tannoy. And surprisingly (not to say inefficiently, on the same service run by the same company, but just in the opposite direction) the intonation pattern was different: it still wasn't right, but at least the first bit didn't have the misleading upward flick at the end; and the intonation at the beginning of each place-name at least did not start by rising.
Still unnatural, with the tone leaping up to mark the splice, but not so bad.

But ESOL students arriving from their home countries certainly have their work cut out. 


PS And here's a clue:

Sat up 60% of the way through loud passage, but too late for this. (9)

Update 2016.02.11.14:15 Fixed a few typos, deleted old footer and added PPS.

PPS The possible update mentioned in the digression from the festive note (which itself was something of a digression) has taken the form of a new post. And here's another clue:

Beseech Barnaby (fat chance!)  (8)

Update 2016.02.12.10:30 Added PPPS

PPPS A further thought on the subject of point of articulation, that arose last summer and may be of interest to choral singers. My choir was singing a setting of these words (from The Merry Wives of Windsor):
Pinch him, and burn him, and turn him about,
Till candles and star-light and moonshine be out.
These are the last words of the piece, with very quick notes and an extreme diminuendo, so it's important to watch the conductor. It seemed to me that the only way to do this was to learn it by heart. So far so unsurprising. The three nouns in the last line were a problem; how to remember the order?

Then I realized how clever (intuitive?, lucky?) Shakespeare had been. The points of articulation of the initial consonants move from the back of the mouth to the front:
/k/ (velar) > /s/ (alveolar ridge) > /m/ (bilabial)
So, as the music dwindles away to nothing (or a niente, as the Italians have it) the choir can whisper more and more with the point of articulation moving closer and closer to the audience and maintaining clarity.

Update 2016.03.12.17:50 – Supplied crossword answers:


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Tying up

A while ago I saw this tweet:

This evoked a charming picture of competitive laundry between washerwomen on a riverbank. But it also led me to reflect on other words for arrive (Fr arriver, It arrivare... etc obviously derive from one root, Sp llegar Pg chegar... etc from another, while Provençal (predictably) has a foot in both camps with both arribá and plegar (I expect there's a story behind those differing inflexions, but there are things to do)
Catalan often straddles the French/Spanish camps, so I expected a pair like the Provençal ones. But Cat. plegar has a different metaphorical use: stop work, knock off  – reminiscent of primary school teachers' instructions: When you've finished, FOLD your arms on the desk in front of you.
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. The older of these, which prevailed in Spain, was PLĬCARE, first used with reference to the folding of sails (cf Port. chegar, Sicilian chicari). In Rumanian a pleca means inversely 'to go, to depart'; this is because the metaphor there was military, and referred to the folding up of tents  (cf. Eng. 'to decamp').  AD-RIPARE, 'to  come to shore', was a somewhat later creation which found favour in Gaul (cf Prov. arribá [HD: Elcock does not mention plegar here, but he has already mentioned it in another context]. 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.)
Other nautical metaphors have found there their(!) way to the meaning arrive. My Subject line gives one; another, from a more  obviously nautical source, is to be heard in the sea shanty Fire Marengo:

When I get back to Liverpool town
I'll cast a line to little Sally Brown

I'll draw a veil over the other things he plans to do to Sally Brown, although it is already cloaked in more nautical metaphors: 'Sally is a pretty little craft/ Sharp to the fore and a rounded aft'.

In preparation for my family's visit to Rome in 1961 (BCE  – Before Considerable Education, as I was not yet 10) I collected a few useful words.
Incidentally, this reminds me of another Roman reminiscence I recounted here, in which I referred to ‘a sophisticated and improbable mistake for a 9-year-old, but I was there'. On a re-reading, I realize that this was ambiguous and could be thought insufferably conceited. What I meant by those last four words was not to imply ‘... so you could expect some linguistic fireworks' but simply ‘...so I know what happened' (not that any memory is especially reliable).
One of these was arrivederci, which I broke down into ‘arrive' (natch) and ‘backwards' (partly under the influence of another foreign der- word discussed here). It seemed to me at the time that ‘arrive backwards' was quite a plausible take on the idea of  leave-taking. The truth is much more simple: apart from the -ci (=‘you') it breaks down into much the same components as au revoir  (or, for that matter, Auf Wiedershehen).
Time for bed...  No, I'll do some checking, and add a bit about Catalan before I Publish.


PS Next morning: There.  And here's another clue:

Wide boy's feet embracing current exercise fad.

2015.12.23.10:20 – Added esprit d'escalier in blue.

2016.01.01.16:30 – Added PS

PS And, while we‘re on the subject of river-based metaphors, I'm reminded of a word I come across often in France, which until recently I tried in vain to guess from the context (dictionaries being for me a last  resort – while being of course, an essential resource)  It's a word that I don't believe I've seen in any other context – road signs that specify restrictions on parking or access, for example Accès interdit...sauf riverains.

As that Larousse entry shows, the toes of a riverain/e can be either wet or dry:
2016.01.02.16:40 – Added PPS
PPS Next day...  And here's another clue:

Wanting to embrace father, but sure of failure. (10)

Update  2016.03.12.17:30 – Added PPPS and removed footer.

Crossword answers:  PILATES and DESPAIRING

2017.05.12.17:35 – Added P4S

P4S A recent visit to a museum in Rye (covered here) has added to my stock of river words. The museum was adorned with an embroidery/tapestry depicting various local characters. One of these is a rippier. An 1825 glossary with the snappy title 

A Glossary, Or, Collection of Words, Phrases, Names and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs &c. which Have Been Thought to Require Illustration, in the Works of English Authors, Particularly Shakespeare, and His Comtemporaries

 explains the word thus:

The word doesn't seem to be in current use (see the Collins Frequency Graph included below), but according to Onelook it is included in two more recently published dictionaries.

Extract Collins page

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The War Against Error, Take 2

Not too much of note happened in the last week of November 2015. Infoplease defines it with its two termini : the downing of the Russian aircraft in Turkey on the 24th  and the beginning of the Climate Talks on the 30th (both of which may come to generate much of import in the future (the latter for good and the former for ill) – but in between  the world news cupboard was bare. So the Independent published a strange filler:

The 58 most commonly misused words and phrases

(58; not a solecism more, not a solecism FEWER, as Jeffrey Archer might have observed.)

The piece starts out promising to be a review of  Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style:
The book is like a modern version of Strunk and White's classic "The Elements of Style," but one based on linguistics and updated for the 21st century.
Hmm. I'm not convinced by this use of linguistics as if it were some kind of magic added ingredient – Now with added Linguistics, they say, much as the makers of Pedigree Chum used to say Enriched with nourishing marrow-bone jelly in the '60s ad (not sure why that illustration swam up from the mental depths). Writing a style guide using insights provided by a study of modern linguistics (not "based on linguistics" whatever that means) is a good idea. I don‘t think "like ...Strunk and White..., but ... based on linguistics" quite does justice to the idea.

But the last six words of this sentence (a paragraph later) let the cat out of the bag (revealing it to be a pig in a poke...? a mixed metaphor too far, perhaps):
We've highlighted the most common mistakes according to Pinker using examples directly from his book along with some of our own.
As a result, it's impossible to identify the source of some of the slips (many of which I suspect aren't Pinker's, although I detect in some of his preferences that linguistic conservatism common in countries with a history of British colonialism: Canada, USA, Australia, India...).
You might be shocked by how many words you've been very slightly misusing.
it warns in the sub-headline. Well, no and no. I first discussed such nostrums here. More recently I wrote this. But this topic seemed worth yet another visit.

There is, in this list, a clutch of the Usual Suspects disinterested/uninterested, hung/hanged...
which I can never read without hearing, in my mind's ear,  Rex Harrison's
By rights he should be taken out and hung

For the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue
in the soundtrack recording of My Fair Lady. Oh how we larfed.
... depreciate/deprecate, flaunt/flout, irregardless, practical/practicable, proscribe/prescribe, protagonist/proponent, unexceptional/unexceptionable, effect/affect (which I looked at a couple of years ago in a post entitled "Enother old favourite"}, lie/lay...   AHA
<eureka certainty="iffy">
Perhaps alphabetization/lack thereof in  the Independent's list is a clue to the provenance of different items: Pinker's are alphabetical and the Indy threw in a few at the end to make it up to a round ... hmm, not so much...58.
But there are odd omissions and strange choices, identifying a problem area but citing an uncommon  symptom credulous, for example, rather than credible whereas the chief solecism I've met is incredulous/incredible (which aren't mentioned). BNC finds 35 cases of credulous and 428 of credible but 171 of incredulous and 1174 of incredible. OK, a total of 1345 instances of incredulous/incredible don't imply that many instances of confusion, but they far outweigh those for credulous/credible (3:1)  that's three times more occasions of sin (as my RE teacher would have said).

The fatal inter/intern confusion
And has anyone ever used urban myth to refer to someone like Al Capone,  confused meretricious with meritorious, or used New Age to mean futuristic? Does anyone confuse averse/adverse, inter/intern...? Maybe they do in Canada.

Also, there are assertions of "mistakes" that aren't mistaken, as for example:
Cliché  is a noun and is not an adjective
OK, some people believe that; British English dictionaries assert it. But Merriam-Websters, for example, accepts it as either a noun or an adjective. I suspect the Indy's simple (and simplistic...
Incidentally, this is how these once-decried (first deprecated, then depreciated, and ultimately accepted as standard) confusions commonly bear fruit. Cases arise where either is acceptable; and the process grinds on. And not just with words; also with grammatical forms. Guy Deutscher, recounts in The Unfolding of Language how the 'going to' future arose from usages that referred to both travel and futurity:  'they are going to see him'. More of this in an update...
 ...) "A not B" does not reflect Pinker's careful academic aloofness. I suspect that the careful avoidance of etyma (who could define "meretricious" without referring to ladies of the night?) derives from Pinker's studious avoidance of the Etymological Fallacy discussed in several Harmless Drudgery posts. This "A not B" approach reflects that of the Reichenau Glossary, discussed hereVESPERTILIONES was right; CALVAS SORICES wrong. But, irregardless, a French bat is a chauve-souris. 

So I must read Pinker's book; surely the Indy's howler-ridden piece can't do justice to it?  Who knows what Santa may bring?


PS And here are a couple of clues:

Profoundly disappointing: baby's male – begone! (7)
Parental – sort of care before parturition. (8)

Update 2015.  – Added afterthought in blue.

Update 2015.  – Added picture; really must get an artist 

Update 2016.  – Added answer to 2nd clue (still working on the first...anyone?) and removed footer.


Update 2016.  – A couple of typo fixes. I STILL can't get that first clue. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The last post


just the last I make before the end of  (my) singing term

Last year I had a very festive 14 December. I sang at the Wokingham Choral Society's service at Sindlesham, then high-tailed it to Bearwood College theatre in time for the last number in the first half of Trinity Concert Band's Christmas Cracker (and all of the second half, I'm not so stupid as to...) to hear my daughter.

But this year the gods (or the elves perhaps?) haven't been so kind. The two concerts do coincide temporally, but not spatially. So tonight's rehearsal will have to be my last, before this:↴

You don't have to miss it*  though, and if I were you I wouldn't (except I will...).

Tales from the word-face

Progress with the new book is glacial. I'm having to rethink my modus imprimanditurae,  as Cloud Convert (which I use to get from XLS to HTML) used not to do anything sensible with Comments in an XLS file, but now it does. So whereas I was writing my Comments including HTML markup, so that I could cut&paste them into an HTML file, I'm now having to strip out all the markup, and repunctuate them. Cloud Convert now collects them in a separate image file, which I can then <include>.

This is still not ideal. I'd rather have them in HTML. But maybe Cloud Convert would too. Keeping text in image files is, as they say in the trade, 'a bit smelly' (that is, sub-optimally elegant), so  the goal-posts may be about to move again – so I need to get a hot line into their future plans. In which case, maybe I won't have to strip out all the markup.   I am going out [to read the Help], and  I may be some time. They're pretty helpful, though.


A clue to keep you going:

Loud,  by rote (sort of):  that's  what I said! (5)

Update 2015.12.11.10:10 – Added this footnote:

* My feelings are mixed about missing the concert. It includes one of my Top Ten carols, "The Shepherds‘ Farewell". But the acciacatura**  in the first bar, which Berlioz – presumably – scored for an oboe or a cor anglais (something reedy anyway).... It seems to me that in a church the obvious replacement is the organ.

But I have never, even when an organ was available, sung this piece without a piano accompaniment. On a percussive instrument like a piano this acciacatura sounds to me like something out of Zorba the Greek.

** Elsewhere I have explained this word:
Another double letter in musical terminology forms one of a pair of similar-looking little notes, distinguished only by a "/" through one of them: the appoggiatura and the acciacatura. In the second of these, the "i" softens the "c", so that the word has five syllables: [a'ʧakatura]. Again, the only pronunciation I have heard (admittedly rarely) is [aki.aka'tura]; and again I'm not suggesting that anyone 'should' do anything. 
...[T]he acciacatura is a sort of sneeze squashed in before the note it precedes. And music theoreticians about to raise an eyebrow at that sneeze metaphor will be interested – though possibly not convinced – by my mnemonic for remembering which is which: acciacatura/atchoo.
Finally, a festive clue:

Noël, we hear: manic carol arrangement, In dulci jubilo, for example. (9)

Update 2015.12.11.22:40 – Corrected Dog Latin; easier and better with -andi.
Update 2015.12.16.16:15 – Corrected clue. I haven't done the usual thing, preserving records of the update (which'd make it too easy).
Update 2015.12.30.16:50 – OK, time's up: crossword clue answer: MACARONIC

Update 2016.04.06.17:050 – Removed footer.

Monday, 7 December 2015

On lines and slopes

I keep hearing, on weather reports, '... isobars close together, so high winds...'. And this reminds me of my short membership of the Meteorology Club
In 1964-65 – spanning the end of the Lower VI and the beginning of the Upper VI [the UCCA season, during which 17-18 year-olds created a cv that might interest a university admissions officer –  UCCA being the forerunner of UCAS] of the founder cum chairman cum <you-name-it> Edmund Nickless; we lesser mortals, in short trousers, were just UCCA-fodder.
One of the few things that stayed with me from that short-lived enthusiasm was the mnemonic "Winds blow from high to low" – a jingle that leads me to  reflect on a metaphor that will mean nothing to millennials (as I gather young whipper-snappers are called nowadays). Poor, deprived, benighted souls; for them, physical maps with contour lines have had their rightful place usurped by the Google Maps Satellite view and various other 3-D displays – available at the touch of a mouse/stylus/finger (in ascending order of hi-techeryO tempora, as I have said before,  O mores the pity.

For them, isobars will just be squiggly lines on weather maps, as long as they remain meaningful to a few grey-beards. Then they'll just be dropped, I shouldn't wonder, and replaced by some other graphic device with a vague meaning something to do with the roughness of the weather.

Chixculub, 261km-162m
(Is God metric? – that anagram
can't be just blind chance.)
But they're quite like inverted contours*. A depression is marked by isobars that indicate lower pressure as they approach a centre, not unlike the contour lines on a physical map that shows The Devil‘s Punchbowl or, on a larger scale, the Chixculub Crater.

In contrast. a mountain is the analogue of an anti-cyclone, with lines marking progressively higher altitudes as they approach a peak. When contours are closer on a physical map, the slope in the Real World is steeper. A marble dropped at one level will quickly roll down to ground that could be marked by a contour line that indicates a lower level; the steeper the descent, the quicker the marble.
In my school we sliced half a potato into smaller and smaller discs, and traced round them to reveal, on our exercise books, the shape of the potato (reduced to two dimensions); magic. But where is the lowly potato in today's geography classes? Maybe geography teachers still use this trick – but they were brought up with physical maps. What will happen when they retire?
Similarly, with isobars, winds blow from high to low. Air in a place marked by an isobar flows "down the hill" to a spot marked by a lower-value isobar. But that's not the whole story:  presumably because of the Earth's spin, winds blow around a pressure system. My mnemonic works only in the Northern hemisphere (but, like Newton's physics, it works for me): imagine yourself writing a capital L  –  that's for low pressure; your mental pen travels anti-clockwise, down the upright and along the "foot".
And that's another thing. What was the word for clockwise before clocks were invented? Counter-widdershins?                                                                                      </digression>
For an anti-cyclone you have to take a lower-case (and a rather florid one); you produce it with two strokes, starting the upright at the base-line and moving clockwise up to the curly top. There, with a rather strained manuscript , you have your memory aid for wind direction round a high-pressure system. (This trick will only work if as well as living in the Northern Hemisphere you remember the phenomenon of hand-writing.)

Enough of this metaphor. Time for DIY.


PS: And here's a crossword clue:

Potential victims surrounding island race - quite attractive. (6)

Update 2015.12.06.18:15 –  Added this footnote:
*Now I come to think of it, they could be called isoheights; but that would risk confusion with "isohyets" which are already A Thing.

And here‘s another clue:

Marx in reprint at the helm of a chat-show. (5)

Update 2016.01.11.17:15 – Crossword answers: PRETTY and OPRAH (respectively). I thought Oprah was pretty neat, until I saw that I was coming late to the party.