BATUMAN’S POSSESSED.

As I wrote here, I’ve been reading Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, and now that I’ve finished I thought I’d try to sum up my feelings. It’s not easy, though, because they changed considerably as I progressed through the book—which is not surprising, because the book is not a consistent piece of writing but a mishmosh of articles (almost all previously published) strung together on the thread of Batuman’s sensibility. The last chapter, which gives the book its title, is the weakest (and the only previously unpublished one) and left me feeling irritated, so I’ll get that off my chest before proceeding.
The chapter starts with a potted history of the circumstances surrounding the composition of Dostoevsky’s novel Besy, variously translated The Possessed and The Devils; proceeds to a plot summary and a discussion of whether it is a “flawed novel” (bringing in Joseph Frank for the prosecution and René Girard for the defense); and finally gets to what she really wants to talk about, the group of people she knew in grad school, which she compares unconvincingly to the circle of young Stavrogin-worshippers in the novel. This part reads like a higher-toned version of a True Confessions story (…so this incredibly charismatic guy hadn’t slept with a woman in seven years, and then we got drunk and went to bed, and then he started acting weird towards me…). She finishes up, for unclear reasons, with a summary of Chekhov’s story “The Black Monk.” It’s more like a series of blog posts than a coherent part of a book, and I think it would have been better omitted.
But that’s a small part of the book, given undue prominence by being the last. The rest, while not necessarily more coherent, is better written and more interesting. As I said here, she has excellent taste in Russian literature, and I’m perfectly happy to listen to her talk about it, even if it’s not part of a consistent narrative or argument. Indeed, the main narrative of the book is an account (broken into three parts—it was originally published in n+1) of a summer she spent in Samarkand studying Uzbek. Around this are interspersed “Babel in California” (also published in n+1 and focusing on an international Babel conference held at Stanford which included the translator Peter Constantine, whose translations she criticizes and whom, possibly for that reason, she renames “Michael”—indeed, she’s curiously reticent about names throughout, for some reason disguising a “well-known twentieth-centuryist” as “Boris Zalevsky” on p. 61 and leaving the director He Ping unnamed on page 74), “Who Killed Tolstoy?” (originally published in Harper’s; you can read it here), and “The House of Ice” (about the ice palace built for Empress Anna; this was published in the New Yorker in somewhat different form, which you can read here). Like I said, a mishmosh; it’s a combination of My Thoughts about Russian Lit with My Cultural Adventures Abroad, both things I tend to enjoy.
I guess what bothers me about her, even as I enjoy her lively writing and keen eye, is her focus on the exotic, a category I think should be eliminated as far as possible, since we are not exotic to ourselves, only to those who do not care to get to know us well enough to get past the surface strangeness. In this, of course, she does not differ from most travel writers; there is an inexhaustible appetite for the odd, the fantastic, the unexpected, and it’s quixotic to wish away such a basic part of human nature. But both Russia and Central Asia have suffered unduly from the exoticizing regard of foreigners, and her account of Uzbekistan makes the place too bizarre and inexplicable. If you’re interested in an account by someone who grew up in the region and describes it with affection and understanding, I cannot recommend too strongly Marat Akchurin’s Red Odyssey: A Journey Through the Soviet Republics. You’ll learn a lot about both the places he visits and the last days of the Soviet Union, from a clear-eyed and believable traveler.

Comments

  1. Mr Bojangles says:

    Mishmosh? Did I see right?

  2. Quoth the OED3:

    Brit. /mɪʃmaʃ/, U.S. /mɪʃmæʃ/, /mɪʃmɑʃ/
    Forms: late ME myssemasche, 15- mishmash, 16 mishmass, 18 mishmarsh (Eng. regional (south-west.)), 18- mischmasch, 19- mishmosh, 19- mishmush; Sc. 18 meeshmash, 18- mishmash.
    [Reduplication (with vowel variation) of MASH n.1
    Compare with similar reduplication and vowel variation later MIZMAZE n. Compare also German Mischmasch (16th cent.; a reduplication with vowel variation of mischen MIX v.; compare German regional (Low German: East Friesland) miskmask); compare also Dutch mismas (18th cent.), Swedish mischmasch (1711; 1675 as miskmask), Danish miskmask, probably all < German.
    The forms mischmasch, mishmosh, and mishmush, and the U.S. pronunciation /mɪʃmɑʃ/ suggest that the English word has been identified by some speakers with German Mischmasch or Yiddish mish-mash.]

    (In the spelling section, “18″ means the 1800s, not the 18th century, and “18-” means 1800 and later.)
    And quoth Leo Rosten in The New Joys of Yiddish:

    No Jew pronounces this “mish-mash”. In fact, when a congressman on one of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life television shows did say “mish-mash”, Groucho gave him a startled stare and remarked: “You’ll never get votes in the Bronx if you go on saying ‘mish-mash’ instead of ‘mish-mosh’. (Mr. Marx then wrote the same advice to Governor Scranton of Pennsylvania.)

  3. a Pilates instructor
    Sounds like a promising career. Sez here: “The demand for Pilates instructors is increasing due to the hike in popularity”.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    I wasn’t the first to think of this.

  5. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the pieces having been previously published as articles (not that you said there was, exactly); if they weren’t presented as The Possessed I’d never have read them, probably.
    The whole point of reading her, it seems to me and as you said, is to see these events through her eyes. That’s not True Confessions — I only read it for the crossword, you understand — it’s life and gossip (“this incredibly charismatic guy hadn’t slept with a woman in seven years”) as a grad student, which sounds authentic to me. It’s the same with the exotic: this is definitely not a travel guide, there’s no reason for her to write “responsibly” about her first visit to central Asia. I’d be delighted to read a book by someone who grew up there, but that’s a book by a different author; you’re saying fruit is okay, but I’d rather eat meat. I don’t think Uzbekistan is too bizarre in her book, it’s just reasonably bizarre — as if a central Asian were to describe the taxi ride down the BQE from Kennedy airport (and NY has certainly had its fair share of “bizarre” stories, songs and films). This criticism underestimates the judgment of the reader: you weren’t fooled into thinking that Uzbekistan & Russia are any more peculiar than Kansas, so why should I be?

  6. This criticism underestimates the judgment of the reader: you weren’t fooled into thinking that Uzbekistan & Russia are any more peculiar than Kansas, so why should I be?
    Ah, AJPGC, that is a dangerous road to drive on – beware the rearview mirrors ! It appears that you were fooled into thinking that Hat is doing more than expressing his opinion as just another reader. But I wasn’t. (Actually, I was, but it sounds better this way.)

  7. It was what bothers him about her, he said. I just want to put his mind at rest.

  8. And Language said “travel writers” not “travel guide”: I was thinking of The Lonely Planet & he of Rose Macauley. Sorry about that.

  9. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the pieces having been previously published as articles (not that you said there was, exactly)
    No, I don’t either, except that the book is not presented as a collection of essays but as a normal sort of book, with a demure acknowledgment on the copyright page that some of the material had appeared previously, etc. etc. So I went into it with the expectation of its being more unified than it turned out to be.
    The whole point of reading her, it seems to me and as you said, is to see these events through her eyes. … it’s life and gossip … as a grad student, which sounds authentic to me.
    Oh, sure, and again, there’s nothing wrong with that; I guess I’m far enough removed from twentysomething angst and romance that it doesn’t interest me the way it would have a couple of decades back. Not that I’m accusing you of being an angsty twentysomething—you simply haven’t gotten as jaded as I. (Why, just the other day I said to my wife: “As for living: Our cats will do that for us!”)

  10. (I hasten to add that I have never read Axël; everything I know about Villiers de L’Isle-Adam I got, like any self-respecting dilettante, from Edmund Wilson.)

  11. Elif Batuman lives on Twin Peaks, somewhere between Rootless Cosmo and August Kleinzahler, in San Francisco.

  12. I hasten to add that I have never read Axël; everything I know about Villiers de L’Isle-Adam I got, like any self-respecting dilettante, from Edmund Wilson
    I read quite a bit of Villiers de L’Isle-Adam about ten years ago and really enjoyed his prose fiction, which is kind of a Decadent mixture of Poe, Swift and proto sci-fi. I’d give his drama a miss though. I persevered through Axël and the quip “Living? Our servants will do that for us” is the best thing in it. Villiers was quite a character. He once planned to give a poetry reading in a cage full of tigers.

  13. He once planned to give a poetry reading in a cage full of tigers.
    He lived too soon; he would have been a hit on reality TV.

  14. I persevered through Axël and the quip “Living? Our servants will do that for us” is the best thing in it.
    To be fair, a lot of authors would give their eyeteeth for a quote as unforgettable as that.

  15. the quip “Living? Our servants will do that for us” is the best thing in it.
    I suspect there are more Famous Writings like that than many a student of literature would care to admit – I mean works that are a total waste of time, except possibly for a teeny-tiny sentence or two. My own example is Les Cent Vingt Journées de Sodom, which I slogged through in French in the early ’70s. (How youth misspends its days !) There is exactly one quotable quote in the whole book, uttered by the bishop. To make it intelligible, I unfortunately need to give this background from the WiPe:

    The Bishop (l’Évêque) – Blangis’ brother. He is forty-five, a scrawny and weak man, “with a nasty mouth.” He is passionate about anal sex and, even when having sex with women and girls, he refuses to have vaginal intercourse with them.

    Now here’s the bishop’s quip. At one point, exhausted and in a fit of pique, he says words to this effect: “I can happily go for days at a time without ever seeing a pussy”. … Well, I thought it was funny. But it didn’t repay the effort.
    Having read The 120 Days and Justine turned out to be very useful in an indirect way, though – because Sade’s work now serves me as a Universal Diagnostic Tool. Whenever any writer waxes ponderous about Sade, I know for certain he/she is a phony twit. I am overjoyed at the knowledge that I will miss nothing by never reading another word that person has written, on whatever subject.
    Sorry to be so explicit, but an effective warning can’t mince words.

  16. Yes, I slogged through more Sade than I really needed to because of writers waxing ponderous. Learn from our example, O Youth! Trust not the twits!

  17. rootlesscosmo says:

    Has anyone in these parts read Tess Slesinger’s 1934 novel The Unpossessed? I’m reading her story collection, On Being Told That Her Second Husband Had Taken His First Lover–a title almost too ingenious to live up to, but the stories are very good. (If Elif Batuman–or August Kleinzahler, for the matter of that–would like to borrow it when I’m done, let me know.)

  18. Axël
    Can anyone indicate to me the French pronunciation of that, i.e. using analogous words (no IPA, please) ?

  19. I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced the same as if it didn’t have the dots, but I can’t find a clear source to back me up. (I also can’t imagine how else it could be pronounced.) The Gazette anecdotique of 1890 says “L’œuvre en question à pour titre Axël, avec un tréma sur l’e, ce qui lui donne tout de suite une saveur particulière,” which seems to imply it doesn’t actually change the sound. A 1960 edition of the play says “dans ses divers manuscrits, ainsi que dans la correction des épreuves, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam surmonte constamment l’e d’Axel d’un tréma. Or, ce graphisme ne correspond à aucune orthographe allemande.” And a 1980 edition of his letters says “Dans ses premières lettres sur Axël Huysmans écrit ce prénom à la française, c’est-à-dire sans tréma.” So there you have it, sort of.

  20. Thanks. So probably just a bit of orthographic frippery, like Foucault’s epistémè, or the technicality responsible for aiguë. Aren’t the French a playful lot ?!??!
    I had been obsessing on the idea that it was mock-Russian (ax-YOl), although I also knew that was unlikely.

  21. When the Académie asked me, my advice was to place the diaeresis over the “u” in aigüe, to indicate that it has an independent phonetic status there, instead of being the mere handmaiden to a hard “g” as in gueule. But they wouldn’t listen, and we all have to live with the consequences.

  22. A precursor of the heavy-metal umlaut.

  23. Correction: “Foucault’s épistémè”. Wenn schon, denn schon.

  24. I like this bit:
    German punk band Die Ärzte have been using three dots over the “A” in Ärzte since their 2003 album Geräusch.
    A three-dot “umlaut” has also been seen in artwork for King Creosote, over the “i”.

    The latter one would be a logical improvement to the French diaeresic lower-case I.

  25. A two-dot umlaut is for punk.
    A three-dot umlaut is for junk.
    And I am sure that somewhere some lout
    Is bringing forth a four-dot umlaut.
    [Apologies to Ogden Nash and people who insist on the correct pronunciation of umlaut. You try rhyming it that way.]

  26. What’s wrong with “umlout” ? That’s how Umlaut is pronounced.

  27. Remains only to demonstrate that “lout” is related to “loud” and Laut. But that is unfortunately not the case.

  28. To be fair, a lot of authors would give their eyeteeth for a quote as unforgettable as that.
    Well, he’s not the only prose fiction writer to have failed at drama. Can anybody remember a single line from the plays of Flaubert, Henry James or James Joyce?
    Whenever any writer waxes ponderous about Sade, I know for certain he/she is a phony twit.
    I never got very far with Sade and now I don’t care. I don’t even have any plans to “cheat” by watching Pasolini’s movie version. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the “phony twits”, although there’s a certain amount of comedy to be had from watching alleged radical leftists and feminists stick up for the right of a decadent, ancien régime aristo to abuse and exploit his servants. Villiers is a miles better writer and I think his famous short story about the Spanish Inquisition, La torture par l’espérance shows more insight into psychological cruelty than anything the marquis came up with (but, of course, I don’t get it – Sade was so trangressive, man…). Plus, Villiers is considerably less long-winded. He mostly wrote short stories so you can read a handful of them to see if he’s for you without feeling too much of your time has been wasted if he isn’t.
    He lived too soon; he would have been a hit on reality TV.
    I think Villiers would have regarded reality TV with horrified fascination. I suspect he was being tongue-in-cheek about the tiger-cage poetry reading. He had a nice line in scathing satire of what he regarded as modern stupidity and he was very astute about PR, “spin” and media campaigns. His story La machine à gloire (1874) is about a literal “publicity machine” to drum up success for the latest plays, in which the theatre itself is turned into a huge mechanism to control the audience’s response (clapping androids, recordings of favourable conversations secretly broadcast from strategically located apertures around the auditorium, laughing gas pumped in likewise). The story even anticipates “canned laughter”. Another story, L’affichage céleste, proposes using the night sky as a giant billboard to advertise corsets.

  29. Or are you aiming for an internal rhyme between “punk” and “ummm-laut” ?? Shame ! But is “ummm-laut” really how it is pronounced in the US ?

  30. JCass, you have succeeded in interesting me greatly in Villiers. I see that I can get most of his works in paperback through amazon.fr for a jingle – around 9 Euros each.

  31. Contes cruels is the collection to go for. It contains La machine à gloire and L’affichage céleste. Villiers was basically a Romantic who was deeply disillusioned by the modern world. Some of his stories (such as Véra, about a man who keeps his beloved alive through pure willpower) reflect his idealism, others (such as the two mentioned above) are full of cynical satire about “progress”. He wrote horror stories with a twist in the vein of Poe as well. I also like the gentler spookery of L’intersigne, about a Breton superstition (Villers came from Brittany).

  32. I read a few of Batuman’s pieces in periodicals, and then launched into the book. I only read the first two “chapters.” I found them annoying. I agree, Hat — when she talks about Russian literature, it’s sometimes quite interesting. And the Babel conference immediately conjured up every conference I’ve ever been to, with someone in the hall muttering condemnations sotto voce but just loud enough to be heard by the speaker, and scholars you expect to be demigods turning out to be boring little people, and always one professor trying to smooth over the awkward moments. And you are absolutely right that the book is strung together on her sensibility. But I don’t think I like that sensibility. I keep thinking she’s setting up whole passages just for a zingy one-liner she’s thought up.
    I see what you mean by exoticising people, but it’s not just that. She has tunnel vision for the quirky and the weird. No, that’s not it; I like quirky and weird. This is different. It’s is as she has stripped every experience and person of everything but one or two odd, funny moments or characteristics. In her first chapter she writes about being at a camp in Hungary and then paddling a canoe back to Budapest on the Danube for 7 hours. Amazing, right? What was it like? What towns and cities did they pass through? Was it exhausting? Did she and Valya talk? About what? Where did they stop to eat? Did they stop in the woods to pee? Did people wave at them? Was it quiet, noisy, rough, placid, sunny, raining? What did Budapest look like from a canoe at dusk? Was it a comical voyage, a lyrical voyage, a heartbreaking voyage, a beautiful voyage?
    But she doesn’t tell you any of that. She just tells you that it was 7 hours, that there were trucks on barges, and that the dock was full up so they had to pull the canoe up in a swamp. Isn’t that strange? Seven hours paddling a canoe with a man she was in love with, along the Danube into Budapest, and all we find out is that trucks are hauled on barges and they ended up in a swamp.
    It’s worse with people, like the Babel daughters. They’re reduced to cartoons; they’re just there for comic relief. Even if they were crotchety and demented old ladies, think of the lives they led, how astonishing to find themselves in Stanford at a conference about their father! It’s not very nice, is it? To use people and experiences just for their comic value? For one of her jokes? I have the feeling that the whole collection is really about her, and the people and places she writes about are just foils for talking about herself or showing off her humor and sensibility. I’ll probably eventually read it to the end – I almost always read everything to the end – and maybe I’ll moderate my opinion. But for now – I just don’t just like her narrative voice very much.
    Crankily yours

  33. But is “ummm-laut” really how it is pronounced in the US ?
    No, no, at least I hope not! I just did it for the sake of the rhyme. I say OOM-laut.
    mab, I should just replace my post with your comment. I was nodding along with everything you said, and I think you’ve pinned down how I felt much better than I did.

  34. BTW, here’s the note on Axël from the Pléiade edition of Villiers: “Le tréma est un signe pour lequel Villiers avait une affection particulière. Appliqué à la seconde voyelle d’Axel, il n’a aucun sens.” Villiers also wrote a work called Elën, to give another example.

  35. “Véra”, about a man who keeps his beloved alive through pure willpower) reflect his idealism.
    That story is of a fairly common type (there are others by Nerval, Gautier, and Merimee) and the idealism seems to be the preference for the perfect, the ideal, the imaginary, and the wish-projection over any actual or possible woman.

  36. Oh good. I thought the heat — YET ANOTHER RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURE AS THE PEAT BOGS BURN AROUND RUSSIA’S CAPITAL — was making me unduly cranky.

  37. There are combining three- and four-dot accents in Unicode. But unfortunately, no fonts that I know of have them precombined and most rendering engines’ dynamic combining behavior is not very good, as Mark Liberman has pointed out many times.
    A⃛i⃛o⃜

  38. Appliqué à la seconde voyelle d’Axel, il n’a aucun sens.
    Exactly my argument about the fourth “vowel” in aiguë. It makes no sense to highlight a “vowel” that is not pronounced.
    I can afford to continue whining about this, because the Académie is never going to invite me to join anyway. I wouldn’t want to, of course, for Marxist reasons.

  39. In the society of the future umlauts and diæresis will be marked differently and misuse of either mark will be severely punished, and the ash will be used only and always when appropriate.

  40. As, for example, for baseball bats.

  41. And the aluminum bat will be naught but a bad memory. And the lion will lie down with the lamb.

  42. Yes, I tried writing something quite elaborate (the mac menu “special characters” has a figure called “COMBINING DIÆRESIS” that lets you put dots on anything you like), but when I previewed it here it was all #signs.
    As for Elif, I don’t have the time or energy to defend her or The Possessed. I liked it, and there’s much more to it than has been discussed here. I think you both expected it to be something it isn’t (not your fault, perhaps).

  43. Thanks for channeling Nash, Hat! He is always such fun.

  44. Don’t feel bad, AJP S-S. I enjoyed a lot of things about the book and am glad I read it. But mab and I clearly found her persona less winning than you did.

  45. Shammai said: When playing the base ball, only the wooden bat is kosher. Hillel said: When playing the base ball, the wooden bat is not kosher, only the aluminum bat is kosher. R. Channa said: The word is “aluminium”, with five syllables. Rav said: When playing the base ball, only the wooden bat is kosher in the majors, for fast balls hit with an aluminum bat travel too fast to be safe, and it is written, You shall not endanger the lives of the players, though you may bruise them when the umpire is not looking. But in the lesser games, the aluminium bat is entirely kosher, for the game would be boring for the lack of hits without it, and it is likewise written, The man who pays the bills, keep him happy. In addition, the ash bat breaks too easily, and minors would not be able to play the base ball with the ash bat, for their parents could not afford to keep buying more bats. Babe Bathra 23:17r
    I haven’t read Sade extensively, but he seems (at least in English translation) to write perfectly satisfactory BSDM porn, if a little too much on the physical side for some modern tastes.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    Villiers de l’Isle-Adam
    Even though I studied a fair amount of French literature in my youth, the only thing I knew about this author was his name and approximate period. He sounds quite interesting! But the ë of Axël is simply a way to make the name look even more exotic than it is in French. In Elën the ë does have more of a function, indicating that the vowel is pronounced separately from the n (as in “Ellen”), not as the French sequence en in bien or examen.
    aiguë:
    Grumbly, the Académie did not tell you that the use of the tréma over the final e indicates that this e can actually be pronounced (at least in some contexts), so ai-gu-e, as opposed to words like “gigue” (jig) where the u indicates a “hard g” and does not have a sound in Modern French. The same logic also applies in ambiguë (the feminine of the adjective ambigu) and ciguë (poison hemlock, what Socrates had to drink). But I think that one of the spelling reforms introduced by the Ministry of Education places the tréma on the u, so aigüe, etc.
    One can actually disambiguate some words in speaking by pronouncing the final e if it exists as a possibility, eg “my friend” can translate as mon ami (masculine) or mon amie (feminine), which normally sound the same, but to stress that the friend is female you can say mon ami-ë, insisting on the final e (that is/was the idea in aigu-ë). (For a male friend you can say mon ami-i).

  47. Henri Murger’s first publisher had him umlaut the “u” of his name, though that didn’t stick. A fair proportion of 19th c. French authors medievalized or exoticised their names, and many ennobled themselves.

  48. I think that one of the spelling reforms introduced by the Ministry of Education places the tréma on the u, so aigüe, etc.
    And about time, too – just what I suggested ! Thanks, marie-lucie.
    I haven’t read Sade extensively, but he seems (at least in English translation) to write perfectly satisfactory BSDM porn, if a little too much on the physical side for some modern tastes
    I agree, John – the physicality and the porn are just part of the genre. My problem is with the phonies, not Sade. They claim to find subtle, “transgressive” musings about politics, violence, gender etc. etc. – and are cool as a cucumber about the actual hard stuff. But there ain’t no cognitive content there worth a bean. Sade scholars play the male adolescent game of who can get through the grossest things without turning a hair. The field is an academic precursor of Jackass: The Film.

  49. Historically Sade probably is important. The first generations of free citizens of Republics had no idea what to do with themselves in their new free status, and weird forms of libertinism were the outcome . Sade was a pioneer of that.

  50. Okay.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    the male adolescent game of who can get through the grossest things without turning a hair
    Just a few days ago I alluded to the Nazi preoccupation with witnessing or performing horrible things and “still being human”, in response to a quotation or at least mention of something similar in German literature or history. Were such problematic attitudes indicative of personalities fixated in adolescence, their immaturity reinforced by military discipline absolving them of responsibility?
    About Sade, I read a couple of his works a long time ago, I think Justine and Les Cent Vingt Journées de Sodome, which if I remember rightly is unfinished – he had planned 4 months of 30 days, each month more horrible and disgusting than the previous one, but it seems to me that he ran out of steam at some point in the third month – and even before that the activities of the days were just barely sketched. It sounded like he got tired of the whole concept – perhaps he got it out of his system?

  52. One thing that people say about Sade is that he was a twisted philosophe, so that a 4 x 30 presentation would seem about right.
    The utopian Charles Fourier was another twisted philosophe, much more peculiar than you’d expect from a boring old socialist, wrote a detailed typology of cuckoldry: “Hierarchie du cocuage”. (He was an opponent of marriage. )

  53. Bathrobe says:

    Could someone put down the pronunciation of ‘umlaut’ in some kind of phonetic alphabet. I still can’t figure out which one Hat is apologising for, and which one is ‘right’.
    I say /ʊmlaʊt/ (unreleased t). Hope I’ve got the IPA right…

  54. I say /uwmlaʊt/ and was apologizing for /ʌmlaʊt/ (rhyming with “some lout”).

  55. Bathrobe says:

    I’ve never heard anyone say /ʌmlaʊt/

  56. What is this “ʌ” ?? Does it occur in an American English word ? Or in other German or French words as well ? Which ones ? The more, the merrier, as far as examples go.

  57. I’ve never heard anyone say /ʌmlaʊt/
    14yr old (I imagine from screen name arithmetic) reviews Johnny Napalm and Lars Umlaut toys.

  58. Bathrobe says:

    OK. I guess what I meant was nobody who uses the word ‘umlaut’ in a German-learning context. (MMcM, how do you find these things?)

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: the way you have it sounds like how every linguist of my acquaintance (mostly English-speaking) says “umlaut”.
    Grumbly: What is this “ʌ” ?? Does it occur in an American English word ?
    This is the sound of the letter “u” or “o” in words like but, bum, stuff, skull, sun/son, sum/some, love/”luv”, lung, sudden and hundreds or at least dozens of others, in most types of English. This is how an English speaker not knowing German would probably say the “um” in “umlaut”.

  60. Bathrobe says:

    Stu, I have the impression that ʌ isn’t normally used in representing American English. In American English I think it’s usually represented as ə.
    It’s the vowel in ‘but’, ‘smut’, ‘rut’, ‘luck’, ‘love’, ‘shove’, ‘above’, ‘cut’, ‘strut’, ‘bun’, ‘jut’, ‘trouble’, ‘double’, ‘drum’, ‘rum’, ‘slum’, ‘grub’, ‘hub’, ‘muffle’, etc.

  61. Bathrobe says:

    I hope my examples weren’t too suggestive for you. This is, after all, a family blog.

  62. There ought to be a word “grum”. I claim it for my own. It means…

  63. Here’s a short video about the new rich in Moscow by the great Martin Parr, photographer.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: I have the impression that ʌ isn’t normally used in representing American English. In American English I think it’s usually represented as ə.
    I wonder where your impression comes from. ʌ (the “caret”) is certainly used in most American and Canadian textbooks on linguistics. The sound of ə (“schwa”) is similar (but not quite the same), but the symbol is normally used for an unstressed vowel (the “a” of “about” or “a boat”, spoken normally, or the “er” of hesitation, which doesn’t really have the sound r), ʌ for a stressed vowel (as in all those words you and I mentioned).

  65. I’ve never heard anyone say /ʌmlaʊt/
    I probably haven’t, either. Once again, I was using it purely for the sake of a silly rhyme. Ogden would have done the same.
    I have the impression that ʌ isn’t normally used in representing American English.
    It most definitely is, as m-l says.

  66. I wonder if the ^ is new. As I remember, when I was studying in the 70s it was always a schwa. I haven’t thought about the question since.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    I learned the ^, along with other phonetic symbols for English vowels, when I first started to learn English in 1951. My teacher referred to the sound as “l’u de but” (the English word, not the unrelated French word with the same spelling).
    There is a Wikipedia article on “caret”, which does not seem to know that the word and the thing are used in linguistics. The Wikipedia “Simple English” article on the IPA shows all the symbols for English in RP, GA (general American) and AuE (Australian), and both RP and GA use ^ for the words run, enough. The full IPA article has everything you would ever want to know about the IPA. Among other things, it shows the respective places of ^ and ə on the vowel chart.
    JE, if you encountered only ə on the English vowel chart you were presented with, it was because of a then-current interpretation which conflated it with ^ (since they do not occur in quite the same contexts), but that interpretation is no longer preferred.

  68. Bathrobe says:

    that interpretation is no longer preferred
    That explains it!

  69. Bathrobe says:

    if you encountered only ə on the English vowel chart you were presented with, it was because of a then-current interpretation which conflated it with ʌ (since they do not occur in quite the same contexts), but that interpretation is no longer preferred.
    Which reminds me of the big difference between phonology and phonetics. It’s most interesting that a change in ‘interpretation’ of this sort can come about. m-l, do you know what prompted the original ‘interpretation’, and what happened to overturn it?

  70. Bathrobe says:

    Also, m-l, I strongly suggest downloading the International Phonetic Alphabet Unicode Palette for Mac OS X, at Blugs.com. It makes it much easier to choose IPA symbols and insert them into documents.

  71. I know I should get out more and stuff but while there may be a fine tradition of calling ʌ a “caret” and writing it as one in ASCII transcriptions of IPA, it is formally known (in Unicode) as “Latin small letter turned v” and less formally in IPA as “turned v”.
    (Elsewhere on Wikipedia it is remarked that “The symbol ʌ is often also called “caret” or “wedge” for its similarity to that diacritic”, but I’ve only ever known it as “turned v” even when I wrote it as “^”).

  72. I wonder if the ^ is new.
    Sweet used it.

  73. And again here. It’s not the same sound: his ᴀ is closer to the modern usage, but it’s all playing in the general area.

  74. Technically, IPA [ʌ] is just the unrounded version of [ɔ]; English [ʌ] is rather forward of that. But such small variations can mostly be stuffed under the rug.
    As for merging it with [ə], that’s not as nutty as the proposal to merge English /h/ and /ŋ/ (since one occurs only in onsets, the other only in codas), which gave us the non-IPA letter “ꜧ”, named “heng”. Not to be confused with the IPA letter [ɧ], named “heng with hook”, which represents the weird way in which some Swedes can pronounce [s] and [x] at the same time. (Ladefoged denied this, but what did he know — he was a Dane who couldn’t even pronounce his own name properly.)

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