Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Cultural metaphor

Earlier this week, on the first of Robert McCrum's Shakespeare and the American Dream  (well worth a listen), the presenter allowed through a reference that didn't work, at first sight (hmm... on first hearing), on radio but was repaired by the context (eventually). But I didn't need that contextual clue, as I know Robert. He was interviewing James Shapiro about the importance of Shakespeare to the USA, and Shapiro described a temporary army posting in the 1840s, where to  maintain morale in a hole (I think that was the word Shapiro used) ...
in Corpus Christi, Texas (which shares its name, coincidentally, with the place where I met (and was directed by in a stage version of Alice in Wonderland) the aforementioned interviewer
... the army diverted themselves by putting on a production of Othello (a fairly bold choice, in Texas at  that time). The original casting of the soldier playing Desdemona was obviously ridiculous, said Shapiro. "He was your size – too big to play Desdemona." The replacement for the part was a young Ulysses S. Grant.

Viva Verdi
I made a note of this, meaning at some stage to write about this sort of cultural metaphor, but the only other example that came to mind at the time was Verdi's Nabucco, with its Hebrew Slaves chafing at their subjugation  – famously echoing the feeling of the Italian peoples (there being no country of that name at the time, except when used as "a geographical expression"  [Metternich, I think: Wikipedia would know]). Instead of Va pensiero sull' alle dorati (that chorus) the Italian nationalists could proclaim Viva VERDI (privately [and subversively] knowing that the composer's name was an acronym for Vittorio Emanuele, Rei D' Italia). (This is covered in the English Wikipedia entry for the composer; but in the Italian version there is a whole article (admittedly not a  long one) dedicated just to this phrase: Viva Verdi.)

But the very next day, on Midweek, I heard Daniel Evans talking about how his work on The Full Monty in Sheffield (losing its steel-based industries with associated unemployment and social disruption) was  redolent of what happened to the Rhondda when he was a boy. His latest venture, Showboat is itself a piece that opened people's eyes to an issue that at the time (of its first performance) was not discussed in polite society. And it went straight for the jugular, in the first word. It's a word that is one of the last taboos, timorously hiding behind its initial. In later versions it was attenuated (to "Darkies all work on the Mississippi" I think) and when Francis Albert covered it he sang "HERE we all work...". Oscar Hammerstein, someone mentioned on this morning's programme, was using Showboat to investigate his own feelings about racial tensions and miscegenation.

I seem to remember, from background information picked up during my A-level exposure to L'Etranger, that Camus'  La Peste was really about Vichy France, the body politic being infected by Nazism. In fact it's generally true that opposition to repressive/totalitarian regimes is not infrequently expressed through works of art that use this sort of cultural metaphor. And the more I think about it the more examples spring to mind. But it's late and I must get this Out There while it's still hot (and before I think of any more).

PS Here are a couple more clues:

Six-footers and over involving last of many quantity surveyors (8)

Rival bench in turmoil following leader of opposition's sign of peace. (5,6)

Update 2016.04.22.16:45 – Added PPS:

PS A striking part of the McCrum programme was the statement that American  readers regarded Shakespeare as belonging in some way to them, whereas over here we think he's ours  – though I should tread carefully here, given these Blogger stats for visits to this blog: the lower extract shows all-time visits, and the one on the right shows visits in the last month – suggesting a pretty constant 3:1 bias:

This is a point that David Crystal makes in his Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation:

The forms of English spoken around the world often include traces of regional and/or dialectal morphology, phonology, lexis – all that good stuff – of the British-born speakers who emigrated hundreds of years ago.  As the note to that Crystal extract says:
This PPS has been for the most part a digression, so I'll wrench it back to my main point (about cultural  metaphors). It's not just Othello and race that is particularly relevant in the USA. Internecine conflict (that's Civil War in Newspeak) make all the "Wars of the Roses" plays apt. Besides, we are talking about  myriad-minded man (Coleridge I think, but showing off his Greek) so all Shakespeare's output is relevant. But OP makes it more so.

Update 2016.04.23.15:30 – Shakespearean PPPS

PPPS It is ironic that an article in today's Times, dealing with misattribution conspiracies, participated – in an off-hand and unknowing way – in a related misattribution. A caption to two pictures of people who've had Shakespeare's works attributed to them referred to THAT portrait of "Marlowe" (cropped so as to hide the writing that points the finger of blame).

The Pseudo-Marlowe portrait: 
a wish fulfilled

In an article with that title , published posthumously in The Letter (published annually by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge – No. 93) the late Professor Oliver Rackham wrote:

I'm tempted to observe, in the words of some Elizabethan hack

Oh what a tangled web we weave...

Update 2016.11.22.14:05 –  Added PPS


Sunday, 10 April 2016

Tonic sulphur

Today's  area of interest is stress,  which I've looked at several times already – here and here, for example, but the word cloud in the right margin will guide you to others. This time, though I want to look in particular at stress as it relates to tone.

When a linguist hears the word tone they automatically think of Chinese (or, if they have some background in more exotic languages, some other language that uses tones to make semantic distinctions). I (like most Eurocentric linguists, I imagine) think of Mandarin Chinese, because that's the most widely-spoken tonal language.

And I imagine everyone who learns to cite Mandarin Chinese as a tonal language also learns the same word as an example (four words, actually): ma. There are many MANY others though.  I learnt ma, but I was not surprised to see that Wikipedia used it as well. It‘s certainly worth a visit to the original, as it has an accompanying audio example; that‘s what I call "exempli gratia".

The four different MAmean four different things: mother, hemp, horse and scold, respectively.

As that article says,
Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning – that is, to distinguish or to inflect words.[1] All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called intonation, but not all languages use tones to distinguish words or their inflections, analogously to consonants and vowels. Languages that do have this feature are called tonal languages...
I suspect, as the order of the tone/meaning relations is the same, that Wikipedia‘s source for this example was this. But maybe I'm doing them an injustice; the voices in the two examples are different, and there might for all I know be some technical or just traditional reason for observing that order.

Anyway, that's not the sort of tone that concerns me here.  In discussions of stress, it's common to use the word tonic to refer to the stressed syllable, and a family of related words – atonic, oxytone, paroxytone.... Etymologically, these all refer back to the Greek τονος:
..."vocal pitch, raising of voice, accent, key in music," originally "a stretching, tightening, taut string," related to teinein "to stretch" (see tenet)
Arma virumque cano. CANO  ("I sing)".  I remember coming across a speculation once about what the diacritics in Homer signify: just stress, just tone (musical pitch, frequency), a mixture of the two...? It may have been in one of the first books I edited  – The Greeks and Their Heritages, published very posthumously as Arnold J. Toynbee died 6 years before it was published; so unless he was writing it on his deathbed the typescript had been knocking around at OUP for longer than that, waiting for someone to get stuck in.
In  the one and only (nope, make that two and only. although the technique was the same the second time around) seminar I led, I marked up my script with "diacritics" as a guide to ensure my meaning got across.
There is, in Spanish, a usefully self-referential word for a proparoxytone (as I'm afraid linguists call a word stressed on the last syllable but two  –  or, to use another $10 word antepenult. The word is  esdrújula; and esdrújula itself is an example, geddit? – so it's a lot easier to remember than proparoxytone. So is proparoxytone of course;  but so also is paroxytone, and so is oxytone, which spoils the party rather.

So I'll stick with esdrújula. Esdrújulas cause problems in language transmission (to a learner, that is). In languages that are predominantly, as regards words of more than one syllable,  paroxytonic (dah-dee) there is a tendency for the esdrújula stress pattern to be ironed out.

Take, for example, the esdrújula (Latin) word cathedra, which referred originally to a sort of chair (the sort a bishop sits on – we still refer to a bishop's seat [and in Portuguese a cathedral  is uma sé]. When the Pope makes an important  pronouncement, he delivers it from the papal chair – ex cathedra. But this is commonly rendered mis-stressed as ex cathedra. The choir of that name is often (almost always, on Classic FM) referred to in that way. In fact, they may have taken the pragmatic decision to go with the flow – as did Vladimir Horovitz in another case of mispronunciation.
<digression theme="Horovitz">
Until he started performing in the West the legendary pianist kept his native initial /g/PS – written "H" in Cyrillic script. But, when Western agents and promoters started pronouncing his name with an /h/, he effectively changed his name.
suspect Einaudi may have taken a similar course; this needs further attention.
Ex machina is another esdrújula often mistreated (ex machina), and  – a frequently suffered trial  in the life of a choir member  – Carmina Burana (Carmina).
And another thing, while I'm on the subject. That tenor/conductor's name is Plácido  Domingo ("peaceful Sunday" [what I'm hoping for now the grass is all mown]) – that's why the accent's there. Think of the English "placid". It isn't the (metrical) twin of "placebo".

Underlay, the relation between notes and words (mentioned here), is often a guide (when the composer speaks the language). Here are two examples from a piece I'm singing in June:
Ove_olezzano tepide_e molli

That Verdi bloke would've absolutely aced  his Grade V Theory (setting a text): the stressed syllables, including two esdrújulas , fall on the stressed beats in the bar. In fact, if Verdi had written it – boringly  (he didn't) – in ¾ time, they would each have fallen on the first beat of a new bar. And in that uninteresting ¾ version, although both the te- and the pi- of tepide start a new bar, it's clear that te- is the more stressed syllable because its note is longer and pitched higher.

But any more on this topic will have to wait. I'm outta here.


PS A clue:

Adverse camber, a cause for apprehension? (6)

Update: 2016.04.29.15:20 – Explanatory typo fix in blue parens [sorry about that – took me a while to work out what I meant], and added PPS:

PPS On the subject of stress and tone, another song we're singing in our forthcoming concert is It ain't necessarily so – which includes the words "He made his home in that fish's abdomen". The underlay forces stress on the second syllable, which – on a first hearing many years ago – I put down to American English. But many dictionaries give both (though always, in my experience, with abdomen having pride of place). I had previously assumed that the British English stress was the one given unequivocally in the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

No option given there,  whichever side of the Pond you're on.

But I'm regularly struck by my Tai Chi teacher's (her mother tongue not being English) pronunciation of "abdomen". And I think I may have found a clue (though not an explanation). Various editions of, for example, the Free Dictionary have foreign voices carefully pronouncing examples with all vowels given their canonical sound (as though stressed): the Netherlands one gives clear stress to the second syllable; these two are less clear, as both vowels are as if stressed – French and Spanish. But it seems as though languages with the same spelling for the word abdomen don't change their stress when they speak English*, so end up with the abdomen stress, as given in the English Language Free Dictionary audio example.

Hmm... But time's a-wasting.


And here are a  couple more clues;

Be present, finally – about time! (6)

Parrot, that is, instead of a clown. (7)

And time's up on the first one (set nearly three weeks ago): MACABRE

Update 2016.05.16.10:40 – Added footnote:

* Come to think  of it, you can bet your life that Moishe and Rose Gershovitz's native language had stress on the -do-, so naturally their son Ira pronounced it that way.

 Update 2016.11.22.14:00 – Added PS

PS The answer to the second clue: PIERROT. Sorry, the first (of the last two) has me beat :-)

Update 2017.04.13.23:15 – Added PPS

PPS: ¡En fin! The answer I couldn't fathom has come to me: ATTEND.

Update 2017.05.07.15:30– Added PPPS/footnote

PPPS This is rubbish, though nearly right in a sort of way. I got letters and phonemes the wrong way round (the info had been dormant since 1982 [when I was editing a book on Horowitz]). The sound is [x] and the Cyrillic is G. He didn't change his name, but he changed his spelling to stop (non-Russian) people calling him Gorovitz. I had been worrying about this for some time, but a Russian interviewee on the news this morning, saying the Eurovision Song Contest was a modern-day "Sodom and Χomorrah" alerted me to the error.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Long time no screed

See what I did there?

I was thinking last week about Maundy Money, and of course its derivation – the derivation not just of the word Maundy but of the ceremony itself (the distribution of largesse [well, not that LARGE]). What was given  out at the ur-ceremony was not so much largesse as a service.

The One True Church commemorates this in The Washing of the Feet.
    <autobiographical_note theme="Been there, done that">

    At the service on Maundy Thurday
    THINKS: must look up the other day names: I can do Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday, Good Friday, Maundy Thursday OK, and I think it's Spy Wednesday (ridiculous, really, as if Judas was a Fifth Columnist rather than a flawed bloke – as was Peter in the same story); but I have a feeling there are epithets for Monday and Tuesday too.
    The celebrant (priest numero uno, in my case Father Abbot) re-enacts Christ‘s emblematic washing of the apostles' feet – except that they were really dirty after a typical dusty Palestinian...
    Always with the dust,  already. In Saturday‘s concert we sing, in Laudate Pueri, about the Lord de stercore erigens pauperem, "translated" as "raising up the poor from the dust". But dust was the least of your worries in ancient Palestine; stercus means something a lot more organic than dust: dung, says Etymonline under scatology. (And if you think you've detected metathesis there, Letters playing leapfrog [and elsewhere], you're learning)
    ... day in sandals, rather than still smarting from Auntie Katy‘s attentions with nail brush and pumice stone (as the part of the apostles was played by a dozen altar boys).

Mandatum novum do vobis, ("I give you a new commandment...") said Christ (according to the Vulgate).

French made this order mandé, and that nasalized a became in English aun.* At least, that was the story we were given at the time. In later years I have to admit that I suspected a trace of pious folk etymology – as with the Doomsday Book (which I long believed came from Domus Dei, an inventory of newly Christianized Britain (not that Christianity hadn't been around for several centuries – it's just that William was a True Believer): the House of God. Plausible, but rubbish).

So I did a bit of checking, and found that Maundy is related to  mandé:
          Maundy Thursday Look up Maundy Thursday at
Thursday before Easter, mid-15c., from Middle English maunde "the Last Supper," also "ceremony of washing the feet," from Old French mandé, from Latin mandatum "commandment" (see mandate)...
(Courtesy of Etymonline as usual, with no apology for recourse to the usual source; I can't afford an OED subscription. But in case you want another reference, they're easy enough to find. Here's one, for example or  here, or ...)
And while we're on the subject of the etymology of Easter words, try this. Fancy simnel cake being related to semolina (spot the phonological change process: hint – look at the consonants in simnel/semolina).

But I must go and prepare for the Big Day.


PS: a couple more clues:
  • Nothing but going over the same ground again and againdull as ditch-water,
    for example.
  • Onset of season after climate change makes a climber. (8)
Update 2016.04.04.17:35 – Added link to review.

PPS – And here's a review of last Saturday's concert.

Update 2016.04.19.11:00 – Added footnote:

* Looking for something else (as ever) I just saw this confirmation of the "French -an => English -aun" spelling oDavid Crystal's blog:
 ...France is usually spelled France in the First Folio, but it is spelled Fraunce when the French are speaking (suggesting a pronunciation of 'frawnce'). Henry is also given this spelling when he is trying to speak French to Kate - and he has it just once when he is speaking English. 

Update 2016.05.16.10:25 – Crossword answers: ALLITERATION and CLEMATIS