Burgess on Ambiguity.

Stan Cary quotes Anthony Burgess on Joyce and dream-literature; all of it is worth reading, but I especially loved this paragraph:

Our educational tradition, both in Britain and America, has conditioned us to look on words as mere counters which, given a particular context, mean one thing and one thing only. This tradition, needless to say, is geared to the legalistic and commercial rather than to the aesthetic. When a word is ambiguous we are uneasy, and we are right to be uneasy when that word is set in a contract or official directive. But the exploitation of the ambiguity of a word is, as Professor Empson has been pointing out for the long time, one of the joys of the literary art. […] When life is freed from the restrictions of time and space, as it is in dreams, the mind makes less effort to sort out contradictions, or gentler ambiguities, and a word may ring freely, sounding all its harmonies. This free ringing, in a zone of psychological experience which has all the doors open, may well set jangling all the phonetic and etymological associations which the mind is capable of accommodating – foreign languages not taught in public schools, songs little known in the great world of singing, scraps of conversation almost forgotten, dead slogans, posters long torn from their walls. Joyce was psychologically right in refusing to limit the associations of dream-words to what some abstract image of a reader or critic could most easily take in. In throwing vocables of great, though arbitrary, complexity at us he was being true to his principle of artistic communication. Paradoxically, when an essential word or phrase in a book about a dream is least intelligible, then it may be most intelligible.

Clarity is a fine thing, of course. In its place.

Addendum. I just happened on a paragraph from Dmitry Bykov’s literary biography of Pasternak that seems to resonate well enough with the Burgess passage that I thought I’d quote it here:

Его стихи оставались той самой «последней соломинкой» потому, что в каждой строке сияет фантастическая, забытая полнота переживания жизни: эти тексты не описывают природу — они становятся ее продолжением. Вот почему смешно требовать от них логической связности: они налетают порывами, как дождь, шумят, как ветки. Слово перестало быть средством для описания мира и стало инструментом его воссоздания.

His poems remained that final straw [that desperate people such as Gulag prisoners could use to cling to life, unlike—according to Varlam Shalamov—the poetry of Pushkin and Mayakovsky] because in each line shines the fantastic, forgotten fullness of the experience of life; these texts do not describe nature, they become a continuation of it. That is why it is ridiculous to demand logical coherence of them: they swoop on you like rain, they make a noise like branches. The word has ceased being a means for the description of the world and has become an instrument of its re-creation.

Further Addendum. I’m in the middle of David Mitchell’s wonderful Cloud Atlas, and this sentence asked to be included here: “I don’t say that yarn’s got a hole sack o’ sense, but I always mem’ried it, an’ times are less sense is more sense.” (N.b.: “hole” = “whole,” “times are” = “sometimes.”)

‘Nother ‘Dendum. From Andrew Michael Field, “The Aesthetics of Nostalgia: Ashbery’s Cornell-like Poems“:

Reading Ashbery, like the experience of living, is constantly analogous to this notion of a game being played, although with rules we are not intended to wholly understand. And this experience breeds not only frustration, but also, in a way, a new strategy of and for reading. For in reading an Ashbery poem, like looking at a Cornell box, the goal is not mastery. The goal is, rather, enchantment and absorption. And enchantment or absorption do not work in a linear or logical way, but instead catch us unawares, compelling us to open our eyes to moments we’d never dreamed possible.

Comments

  1. Ken Miner says:

    There is much truth in the quoted paragraph. On the other hand, an iconoclast named Tim Parks, a British novelist, translator and author, writing in the NYRB (“Stifled by Success”, March 12, 2015), concentrates on the manipulative side:

    “Joyce relentlessly made things more and more difficult for readers, as if success actually prevented him from producing more of the same, so determined was he to be nobody’s servant. Hence the lucid and fluent Dubliners becomes the more difficult Portrait of an [sic] Artist as a Young Man, then the far more difficult Ulysses, packed with passages that many felt were obscene, and finally, when that brought even more success, the completely indigestible Finnegans Wake. Joyce would read sections of his “Work in Progress” to friends to see how they responded; when he felt they had understood too easily, he would go make it more difficult… These are games one can only play when one’s previous work has created a certain notoriety.”

    I believe that last sentence embodies what is now called “cumulative advantage”. Is Parks just some negligible reactionary or is he describing what Joyce actually did?

  2. ‘But the exploitation of the ambiguity of a word is, as Professor Empson has been pointing out for the long time, one of the joys of the literary art.’

    True, of course — and nowhere more true than in poetry. But, as Roland Barthes would no doubt point out, meaning comes from the word being associated with the preceding and following word or space or signifier, with the sentence — with the whole textual structure.

    Octavio Paz, whom I’m reading at the moment, has many interesting things to say about this in some of his essays, and much of his poetry exploits this ambiguity, and ‘interrogates the restrictions of time and space’ — but, from this pluralism and instability, and from the combined verbal associations in the poem, the clarity of a complex and mysterious reality (life) does emerge. An obscure meaning or an obscure clarity is meaning or clarity nonetheless.

  3. Parks could be both or neither.

    How would you go about finding an answer to your question of what Joyce “actually did” ? With the expression “actually did” are you asking whether he made things more difficult deliberately, when friends who had read work in progress “had unterstood too easily” ?

    And would deliberateness have to be bloody-minded, or could it be a case of “being true”, as Burgess suggests: “In throwing vocables of great, though arbitrary, complexity at us he was being true to his principle of artistic communication” ?

    I have no special views on “artistic communication”, but I do as regards communication in the sciences.

    The German sociologist Luhmann was occasionally accused of writing works that were hard or impossible to understand. Yesterday I read an article by him from 1979 that adresses just this point: Unverständliche Wissenschaft (Unintelligible Science), reproduced in Soziologische Aufklärung, vol. 3.

    A the WiPe says, referring to the article: Luhmann himself described his theory as “labyrinth-like” or “non-linear” and claimed he was deliberately keeping his prose enigmatic to prevent it from being understood “too quickly”, which would only produce simplistic misunderstandings.

  4. Ken Miner says:

    How would you go about finding an answer to your question of what Joyce “actually did” ?

    Well, for Parks, the evidence is the very progression he outlined.

    he was deliberately keeping his prose enigmatic to prevent it from being understood “too quickly”, which would only produce simplistic misunderstandings.

    There is a recent and somewhat controversial book by Arthur Melzer, Philosophy Between the Lines: the Lost History of Esoteric Writing (U. of Chicago Press, 2014) which claims deliberate obfuscation through the ages due to such motives.

    The whole Joyce phenomenon is quite amazing. There was a rather notorious discovery, some years ago, that the then current editions of Ulysses contained, as Wikipedia puts it, “over two thousand errors … As each subsequent edition attempted to correct these mistakes [sic], it incorporated more of its own, a task made more difficult by deliberate errors … devised by Joyce to challenge the reader.” Sounds pretty bloody-minded to me.

  5. To my Anglo-American mind, that is a fine justification for using carefully defined technical terms. But it is, it seems, often used to justify tortured syntax and deliberate self-contradiction for its own sake. To such authors, I say “Be obscure in a way we can understand!”

  6. Is Parks just some negligible reactionary or is he describing what Joyce actually did?

    Parks is a smart man and a good writer—I haven’t read his books, but I’ve enjoyed his essays when I’ve encountered them—but there isn’t only one truth about anything, and certainly not about Joyce. The thing is that this particular “truth,” that Joyce deliberately made his stuff harder to understand because [fill in your favorite putdown here: sadistic enjoyment, market-goosing, whatever], is a boring truth, however much truth there may or may not be in it. It’s an easy way to dismiss the Wake (and Ulysses, depending on how lazy the complainer is), and it’s essentially irrelevant: Joyce’s motives have nothing to do with the success of the work. Maybe Homer composed in order to impress the ladies, after all, and Dostoevsky certainly cranked out masterpieces in order to pay his debts. Burgess’s truth, on the other hand, is an interesting and fruitful truth, and gets us to give difficult writing a second look rather than dismiss it.

  7. deliberate obfuscation through the ages due to such motives.

    I have read that alchemists deliberately obfuscated their published writings, and even their unpublished notes, so that the substances they used, and their procedures, would not be “used for the wrong purposes” – something like that.

    Be that as it may, it sounds more like a case of what we might now call protecting trade secrets. The motive was to hide something, however, not to prevent misunderstandings.

    In his article Luhmann sets out very clearly the difficulties that confront a writer in any given scientific field.

    It’s a pity that I can’t find it in the internet, not even in German.

  8. Thanks for the link, Hat. I agree with the claim that Joyce made things “more and more difficult for readers”, but I disagree with Parks’s suppositions about why. One very interesting item in Burgess’s book is a short passage from Finnegans Wake at four different stages: in its first published draft from 1925, in transition two years later, one year later still, and then in the final version. Each is more obscure yet richer than the preceding. Joyce wanted to write a language of the dreaming mind, so it makes sense that he would strive to reduce the text’s surface intelligibility (along with realising other aims for it).

  9. Someone should really write a history of thinking about ambiguity. . .

  10. “Give me the fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself.” —Vilfredo Pareto (attr.)

  11. Very good idea. I trust that you will not insist that such a history be unambiguous …

  12. I would say that any serious work in the area of history of ideas (in philosophy, ethics, mathematics etc) must deal explicitly with terminological ambiguity, at the very least. German library shelves are a-bursting with such works (by Koselleck, for instance: Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland)

  13. Koselleck is editor and contributor.

  14. Any relation to Tomselleck?

  15. A unidirectional relation, maybe. Reinhart may have known of Tom, but the reverse is unlikely.

  16. Any relation to Tomselleck?
    More likely that he’s descended from a Slavic buck.

  17. Ken Miner says:

    One last Parks quote, though not about Joyce specifically, which makes it pretty clear where he’s coming from: The New York Review of Books (November 10, 2015) “I live under the constant impression that other people, other readers, are allowing themselves to be hoodwinked… Is it really possible that so many people I respect have got it wrong?”

  18. See, my answer to that question, when self-posed, is pretty much always “No” (now that I have fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf); when I was young I was frequently sure I was right and the multitude was wrong, but now I just accept that we all have blind spots.

  19. J. W. Brewer says:

    I think the answer comes in two parts: a) yes it is possible, even plausible, that lots of people you respect have gotten a certain issue wrong due to herd mentality or whatever; and b) the odds are good this will be on an issue where you yourself have fallen prey to the same commonly-held error, so you won’t actually notice it because it won’t be an issue where you are aware of having a different view than they do.

  20. Parks also wrote last fall specifically about Seven Types of Ambiguity, praising Empson’s precision and accusing lesser critics of using ambiguous to mean clever. If not literature, then perhaps he wants at least literary criticism to be Frege’s beweisenden Wissenschaft with its vollkommene Sprache.

  21. I became aware of Tim Parks last year via Facebook shares of Jeremy Hawker (AJP Crown here) and Nicolas Buchele. The excellent essay MMcM refers to is Clearing Up Ambiguity.

    After quoting an example of Empson’s kind of analysis, Parks writes:

    That is, contrary to the drift of Janet Solberg’s remarks [see the review], language in general actually tends to the simplistic, offering a reductive account of what it seeks to represent—it could hardly be otherwise. Hence we prize someone who has managed to put into language, with its relentless and crude semantic segmentation of experience, some of the density and indeed perplexity we feel as we try to get a grip on what is going on around us.

    He goes on with this:

    In a previous piece I discussed the anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s comments on art and painting in Bali. Alarmed by the modern world’s tendency to privilege the conscious, purposeful, “problem-solving” mind, at the expense of less conscious practices and traditions, Bateson suggested that one of the purposes of ambiguity in art might be its capacity to confound and undermine this hubristic, hands-on impulse to be forever sorting the world out.

    MMcM’s mention of Frege is explained here. However, the “beweisende Wissenschaft” is just Aristotle’s “scientia demonstrativa”, and the “vollkommene Sprache” is the old, old pre-Frege idea of lingua adamica, the “perfect language”.

  22. > Aristotle’s “scientia demonstrativa”

    Funny, I didn’t know Aristotle wrote Latin!

    To make matters worse, I am in the middle of writing a history of thinking about ambiguity.

  23. Maybe Stu was thinking of Aquinas?

  24. I refer to the Latin version: Analytica Posteriora

  25. Aristotle wrote about ἐπιστήμη ἀποδεικτική, which I guess is sort of the same thing?

  26. Ah, having seen Stu’s latest comment, I see it’s a translation.

  27. Conrad, please enter me on the list of subscribers to your book on the history of ambiguity.

  28. Alon Lischinsky says:

    To such authors, I say “Be obscure in a way we can understand!”

    That’s a fine regulatory idea in the Kantian sense, but any possible operationalisation is at best tentative: the writer never knows who that ‘we’ may end up being.

    Adorno’s aphorism ‘Memento’ (¶51 of Minima Moralia) puts it beautifully, but I don’t have my German original at hand and the English translations are uniformly execrable.

  29. I too am greatly looking forward to Conrad’s ἔργον/opus.

  30. Here‘s an English translation, however execrable, of the Adorno for those of us who (like myself) don’t read German with enough facility to understand the original, and here‘s the original (scroll down to/search on “51 Hinter den Spiegel”).

  31. The translation is not bad on the whole. One nigglement grabbed me: Die Platitüden Lockes rechtfertigen nicht Hamanns Kryptik becomes “Locke’s platitudes do not justify Hamann’s cryptology”. Should be “Hamann’s cryptic prose”.

  32. For a look at ambiguity in mathematics, here is a new post on the Lipton/Regan mathematics-of-computation blog that parses the differences between ‘random’, ‘arbitrary’, and ‘generic’.

  33. They should have suppressed all the absurd speculation about “what could Euclid have meant”, “what could Euclid have intimated through a glass darkly”.

    In online Greek editions such as this the phrase hos etuchen meaning “at random” is set off with commas. Euclid reiterates this phrase in the first line of his proof. However, the result is actually true for any cut of the line, which is more than saying “at random.” So why does Euclid say “random”?

    They are trying to read modern notions back into the past. That is a reliable strategy for the factitious manufacture of ambiguity.

  34. Or do I mean “manufacture of factitious ambiguity” ?

  35. They are trying to read modern notions back into the past.

    Exactly. And ὡς ἔτυχεν doesn’t mean “at random,” it means “as it happens (by chance)”; it’s a perfectly ordinary Greek phrase that they used promiscuously, and even if Euclid was using it in a more restricted sense, to try to pin it down this way in terms of the modern concept of randomness is absurd.

  36. Thanks, Stu, I’ll let you know when it’s done. (About a year, I expect.)

    > Hamann’s cryptic prose

    I have a chapter on that!

  37. Also they are hell-bent on replicating syntax. Where ὡς ἔτυχεν appears, they think they must find an equivalent adverbial phrase, bacause ὡς. But the sentence merely means “If a straight line be cut anywhere, …”

  38. > arbitrary

    is also a word which has come to mean the opposite of what it used to (‘produced by judgement, deliberate, decisive’ — not ‘random’) which can lead to confusion when reading early modern books.

  39. Amusingly, the Sgarbi book which Stu linked to about Aristotle was edited by … me!

  40. I have a chapter on that! [Hamann’s cryptic prose]

    I can think of dozens of chapters I would like to find as well: on Böhme, Cantor, trans/consubstantiation, Hegel, freedom …

  41. Hamann at LH (a surprisingly long thread in which, unsurprisingly, both Stu — still Grumbly back then — and Conrad took part).

  42. > Böhme, Cantor, trans/consubstantiation, Hegel, freedom

    I hate it when people say this, as I feel that I’m inevitably going to disappoint them. None of the above make the cut. I did toy with Boehme but he was too unintelligible even for me, and the literature on him is baffling. The others have probably been done to death in their own fields, but at any rate it is a book about words.

  43. > Hamann thread.

    Now being rather more versed in Hamann scholarship, I can elucidate some points of that thread. The reviewer of Kreuzzuege who was so exasperated with it was Johann David Michaelis (whom H had insulted in person in his earlier work), and Hamann republished the review (with two others) and his own footnotes reviewing the review. What a joker!

  44. Notice I said “I would like to find”. I take what is on offer. In any book I have ever read, I have never been “disappointed” at the content, but only (at most) at the way it is handled.

    I myself get extremely annoyed at otherwise helpful reviews in the TLS that end up with preening remarks along the lines of: “Unfortunately, the author missed a trick by not going more deeply into aspect X”.

  45. I don’t agree — sometimes scholars make poor choices about what material (or aspect of a topic) to include and what to leave out, producing a weaker or even misleading argument, and I have pointed this out in more than one review. I don’t think it need be ‘preening’, and it’s not the same as writing “This should have been a different book”, a type of review to which I do take exception.

    That said, it would be impossible to satisfy all desires in this current book, and I anticipate plenty of “you should have included X” reviews that have not paid attention to my stringent explanations of inclusion criteria.

  46. the Sgarbi book which Stu linked to about Aristotle was edited by … me!

    That is The Aristotelian Tradition and the Rise of British Empiricism: Logic and Epistemology in the British Isles (1570-1689). Hardcover £69.27, paperback £135.00. Springer.

  47. I called it preening, in certain reviews I remember (but not all), because it struck me as a version of 1) “I can do anything you can do, better” and 2) “I see something you don’t see”.

    An author can’t cover, in one book, everything that can be usefully said about the subject. I find it unfair and unrealistic to say “he failed to deal with aspect X”. The reviewer should instead put his money where his mouth is (most do this), by telling us where to read a more thorough coverage of aspect X. “A more thorough coverage of X can be found in A, by B”.

  48. any possible operationalisation is at best tentative: the writer never knows who that ‘we’ may end up being

    Well, it can be and has been operationalized in a related verbal discipline. As Brian Kernighan (one of the G.O.M.s of computer programming says): “Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. So if you’re as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it?” Here debugging can be mapped onto understanding, though it includes more than understanding (specifically, “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will”, though that is another story).

  49. Kernighan is one of the two authors (along with Ritchie) of the C programming language. At least they together wrote the book “The C Programming Language”, which every C programmer read (when I was a lad). I now find that Kernighan gives Ritchie all the credit for creating the language.

  50. I was curious about the name Kernighan, so I looked it up; it’s Irish, and according to this site, the original form of the name is O Cearnachain, derived from cearnach ‘victorious.’

  51. Indeed. What I do not know is whether bwk [sic; it is a login name] calls himself Kernigan or Kernihan. Most people I know who have heard of him make it Kernigan. He is not the inventor of C, but was a major inventor of awk, a programming language that is an acronym for its three inventors. He is also principal author of “K & P”, a lesser-known book mundanely called The Elements of Programming Style, though far superior in every way to the book it is named for.

    Behold the random definitions of random from The Hacker’s Dictionary:

    random: adj.

    1. Unpredictable (closest to mathematical definition); weird. “The system’s been behaving pretty randomly.”

    2. Assorted; undistinguished. “Who was at the conference?” “Just a bunch of random business types.”

    3. (pejorative) Frivolous; unproductive; undirected. “He’s just a random loser.”

    4. Incoherent or inelegant; poorly chosen; not well organized. “The program has a random set of misfeatures.” “That’s a random name for that function.” “Well, all the names were chosen pretty randomly.”

    5. In no particular order, though deterministic. “The I/O channels are in a pool, and when a file is opened one is chosen randomly.”

    6. Arbitrary. “It generates a random name for the scratch file.”

    7. Gratuitously wrong, i.e., poorly done and for no good apparent reason. For example, a program that handles file name defaulting in a particularly useless way, or an assembler routine that could easily have been coded using only three registers, but redundantly uses seven for values with non-overlapping lifetimes, so that no one else can invoke it without first saving four extra registers. What randomness!

    8. n. A random hacker; used particularly of high-school students who soak up computer time and generally get in the way.

    9. n. Anyone who is not a hacker (or, sometimes, anyone not known to the hacker speaking); the noun form of sense 2. “I went to the talk, but the audience was full of randoms asking bogus questions”.

    10. n. (occasional MIT usage) One who lives at Random Hall. See also J. Random, some random X.

    11. [UK] Conversationally, a non sequitur or something similarly out-of-the-blue. As in: “Stop being so random!” This sense equates to ‘hatstand’, taken from the Viz comic character “Roger Irrelevant – He’s completely Hatstand.”

  52. Back to ambiguity. If we think of an ambiguous text as one which “can be understood in different ways”, there is a kind of ambiguity in certain mathematical topics that I don’t think was picked up in Seven Types (which is about ambiguity in poetry, after all).

    I have to admit that I *may* have read part of Seven Types long ago, but I can’t really remember. These types are summarized (I know not how accurately) in the English WiPe article on the book (I am not linking in order to avoid the purgatory of “awaiting moderation”):


    1. The first type of ambiguity is the metaphor, that is, when two things are said to be alike which have different properties. This concept is similar to that of metaphysical conceit.
    2. Two or more meanings are resolved into one. Empson characterizes this as using two different metaphors at once.
    3. Two ideas that are connected through context can be given in one word simultaneously.
    4. Two or more meanings that do not agree but combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author.
    5. When the author discovers his idea in the act of writing. Empson describes a simile that lies halfway between two statements made by the author.
    6. When a statement says nothing and the readers are forced to invent a statement of their own, most likely in conflict with that of the author.
    7. Two words that within context are opposites that expose a fundamental division in the author’s mind.[2]

    Consider Boolean algebra, which along with de Morgan’s law can be “understood” in terms of set theory. This was illustrated by John Venn in 1880 with his now-familiar diagrams (later called Venn diagrams, he called them “Eulerian circles”).

    Now what is Boolean algebra “about” ? Logic, or set theory, or both ? It can be “understood” in all these ways. But does this make it ambiguous ? It doesn’t seem to fall under any of [1]-[3] in the type list, the only items that even superficially seem to be applicable. I suppose it depends on whether you are accustomed to the idea that a notational system need not have only one meaning – in which case you shy away from “meaning”, and speak instead of “interpretation”.

    By the way, the kind of problem Luhmann discusses in “Unverständliche Wissenschaft”, the one where he wants to prevent “premature understanding”, is precisely item [4].

    I conclude provisionally that the word “understand” is itself pretty ambiguous, and therefore so is the definition of ambiguity that I proposes at the beginning of this comment. I suspect that anyone treating of ambiguity will have to tread softly around that word.

    Anecdote by way of explanation how I came to make the above remarks about Boolean algebra and ambiguity:
    I’m reading Dirk Baecker’s Beobachter unter sich, which undertakes in Chapter 1 to explain, in the confused way of sociologists trying to come to terms with mathematics, the “Laws of Form” of one George Spencer-Brown. Baecker is a clever-clogs sociologist and former student of the sedate Luhmann, who took great inspiration from Spencer-Brown. Most people, including myself, can make little sense out of the “Laws of Form”, but hey – who cares where Luhmann’s inspirations came from, if you get a lot out of his own words ?

    Anyway, in Baecker’s book I ran up against this sentence: Booles Algebra besteht aus zwei Zeichen, 1 für Universe und 0 für Nothing. My reaction: 1 for Universe and 0 for Nothing ??? What does the man mean ? Only later, while cooking dinner, did it occur to me that Baecker is referring, completely out of proper context, to the set-theoretical interpretation – where, however, there is more going on than the universe and the empty set. Instead of fruitful multiplication of meanings, we have proliferating confusion.

  53. John: meanings 8 and 2 are pretty much the same, don’t you think ?

  54. In that “Assorted; undistinguished” is the common feature, and no reason is given why it should make any difference whether businessmen or highschool students are meant.

  55. 1-7 are definitions of the adjective (which is the base form) and 8-11 are definitions of nouns. I would say that 8 corresponds to 3 in the same way that 9 corresponds to 2.

  56. I am not linking in order to avoid the purgatory of “awaiting moderation”

    Try to think of it as a thrilling (or, if you prefer, meditative) state of anticipation.

  57. I am not linking in order to avoid the purgatory of “awaiting moderation”

    Try to think of it as a thrilling (or, if you prefer, meditative) state of anticipation.

    A bit like Purgatory, then? But less painful.

  58. I think it’s two links that sets it off.

  59. “can be understood in different ways”

    Philosophically it’s problematic, in that it is impossible to legislate how many meanings, or what meanings any utterance “can” have. Is something ambiguous only when it *has* been understood in different ways?

    Empson was a mathematician by background, and occasionally it shows through in Seven Types — more in his later ‘Structure of Complex Words’ where he revisits the ambiguity problem by considering the different relations sets of meanings can have to one another in a single word or utterance, using mathematical notation. He’s also aware of the (somewhat superficial) parallels in contemporary physics (wave-particle duality and so on).

  60. Stu Clayton says:

    # Is something ambiguous only when it *has* been understood in different ways? #

    I would say yes – understood in at least two different ways. If it has been understood in only one way up to now, the question of ambiguity arises only when it is raised – by someone who offers a second, different way of understanding it.

    If something has never been understood in any way, then it counts as merely unintelligible.

  61. Stu Clayton says:

    “Awaiting moderation” may be thrilling – but that does not compensate for the fate of obsolescence. By the time it is allowed to enter the fray of very active, long comment threads, it has the chronological position of its posting – now way back up the thread, where no one notices its appearance.

    That still rankles with me, from the heady days of those long, turbulent threads back in 2009-2011.

  62. Stu Clayton says:

    # I think it’s two links that sets it off. #

    I know. That’s why I don’t link immediately. I hold on to my one link chance until the end, even if I don’t need it any more by then, having constructed my comment without it.

  63. “the question of ambiguity arises only when it is raised”

    One corollary of this position is that ambiguity is not an intrinsic property of text, but only an extrinsic property of its relation to readers. This makes some uncomfortable, e.g. the Israeli critic Shlomith Rimmon, who wrote her Ph.D. under Frank Kermode in the 70s, on ambiguity in Henry James. (I privately enjoy the fact that her surname means ‘pomegranate’, a favourite symbol among mediaeval rabbis for the richness and multiplicity of meaning in the Torah.)

    A second and interesting corollary is that ambiguity is a one-way road: the texts of the world are slowly becoming more and more ambiguous as people discover new meanings in them, a sort of hermeneutic second law of thermodynamics.

    Empson does point out somewhere that a text can become less ambiguous as the additional meanings of words are forgotten (he has an example from Chaucer) but it is a slim counterweight to the process described above.

  64. J. W. Brewer says:

    Maybe it makes sense to think of “ambiguity” as a very specific subset of polysemy, but at least for a broad sense of polysemy the countervailing trend a la Empson’s Chaucer example seems like it might be pretty strong. E.g., Shakespeare is full of puns and other wordplay often totally lost on a modern audience unless they get some annotated edition with footnotes explaining it (and if you need a scholarly footnote to explain the joke, you’re less likely to bust out laughing …), and similar loss of richness/nuance/etc seems likely to be ubiquitous for all sorts of works as time passes and context is lost.

  65. Stu Clayton says:

    Gotthard Günther coined the term “polycontexturality” for the ever-developing state of affairs that you describe. It’s a philosophical and sociological finding that sorta recommends the old hippie maxim: “go with the flow”.

    Primarily the intrinsec/extrinsic crowd have difficulties with this, of course for different reasons. Luhmann sez: neither one nor the other, but also not complete randomness.

  66. Stu Clayton says:

    My last comment was addressed to Conrad.

  67. One corollary of this position is that ambiguity is not an intrinsic property of text, but only an extrinsic property of its relation to readers. This makes some uncomfortable

    Everything makes some [scholars] uncomfortable — being uncomfortable and making others uncomfortable is half of what scholarship is about these days, seems to me. (Not that that’s a bad thing.)

    (I privately enjoy the fact that her surname means ‘pomegranate’, a favourite symbol among mediaeval rabbis for the richness and multiplicity of meaning in the Torah.)

    Thanks for that delightful tidbit!

  68. JWB: Yes, but for an individual, ambiguity will always go up. (Unless he forgets a meaning!)

    Stu: thanks, I haven’t come across his work.

    LH: Yes, and I suppose that is half the pleasure, too.

  69. ə de vivre says:

    “I live under the constant impression that other people, other readers, are allowing themselves to be hoodwinked… Is it really possible that so many people I respect have got it wrong?”

    The thing that bothers me most about this quote is that is presupposes that there is some part of literature that doesn’t involve hoodwinking.

  70. David Marjanović says:

    and if you need a scholarly footnote to explain the joke, you’re less likely to bust out laughing …

    I don’t know. That’s what I do every time I’m reading this comment and get to Ultraman.

  71. La Horde Listener says:

    “Joyce wanted to write a language of the dreaming mind…” Anybody here believe he succeeded?

  72. Stu Clayton says:

    It’s polyseemy, at any rate.

  73. Conrad: what I had in mind with my remark “the question of ambiguity arises only when it is raised” was one of Schleiermacher’s* capital maxims: if there is no difficulty about the reading, don’t go looking for one.

    * Hermeneutik und Kritik [aus dem Nachlaß], 1977 stw edition

  74. Yes, but you don’t have to go looking for one. You only have to show it to a roomful of people. (Preferably lawyers.)

    I’ve read the Schleiermacher but I haven’t yet decided what to do with him. It’s a very interesting period. Before him, Chladenius is also very provocative on interpretation, blundering boldly into an untrodden field of nettles and not quite managing to grasp them.

  75. It seems there is considerable ambiguity in ambiguity, as there is anarchy in anarchy”.

  76. The name Chladenius seemed vaguely familiar. A search in the net suggests that I probably encountered it in Wahrheit und Methode. I’m rather cavalier about the history of ideas: I snarf up Spinoza and Schleiermacher, and leave Chladenius for the dog. In the 80s my motto was: let Gadamer be your guide ! He it was who put me onto Schleiermacher.

  77. It’s been a long time, and now a long distance, but I take the noun senses of random to be more specific than just people with one of the adjective senses. For example, #8 relates to a phenomenon that later led to policies for tourists. “Randoms running MACSYMA in the middle of the day” refers to a more specific class than “randoms on the Red Line,” and I’m not even sure I’d say the second, as opposed to “random people.”

  78. I think that’s generally true of derived nouns. I’ve run from time to time in the course of my life, but I’ll never be a runner. There’s a joke about this phenomenon and its exceptions, whose frame is “My name is X. I built a bridge, but nobody calls me ‘X the bridge-builder’. Then I built a ship, but nobody calls me ‘X the ship-builder’. But I suck one little cock …”

    I saw a poster ad for Oscar Health Insurance the other day that referred to “randos on the Internet” and thought it was a typo for “randoms”, but apparently it’s a thing. Lusers, it seems, have to make up their own slang instead of adopting ours. 🙂

  79. David Marjanović says:

    I was waiting for a good opportunity to bring up rando. 🙂 How is that called? Negative derivation?

    (Analogy to Rambo is no doubt involved, although rando does not necessarily imply violence.)

  80. ə de vivre says:

    How is that called? Negative derivation?

    Templatic morphology? Bi-syllabic forms often ending in ‘o’ or containing as many ‘o’-vowels as possible are a sort-of productive hypocoristic in English that seems to be able to apply to regular nouns for certain speakers (cf. Scarlett Johansson > Scar-Jo, Jennifer Lopez > J-Lo, Jennifer Lawrence > J-Law, definitely > defo, the magazine formerly known as ‘Mother Jones’ now re-branded as ‘MoJo’). Just another weird place where a bi-syllabic requirement shows up.

  81. George Gibbard says:

    Replacement, or truncation plus suffixation. If we pronounced the letter o as /o/ in random it would just be truncation, but we don’t.

  82. Hmm. There’s definitely a preference for /oʊ/ in hypocoristics, but I’m not sure that those celebrity examples are part of it. I mean, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lopez just happen to have /oʊ/ in the first syllable of their surnames – J-Law has got a totally different phoneme, and there have been other ones like K-Stew for Kristen Stewart or K-Fed for Kevin Federline.

  83. ə de vivre says:

    I suspect there are a couple different phenomena at play here. Of the truncating first-last name hypocoristics J-Lo was the first to gain widespread currency (her album ‘J.Lo’ came out in 2001). Then there’s an older pseudo-hypocoristic pattern that takes the first letter of someones name and affixes it to another word: Tracy Marrow > Ice-T, Faheem ‘Tallahasse’ Najm > T-Pain, ‘Q-Tip’ , and J-Lo’s erstwhile beau Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs > Puff Daddy > P-Diddy. It wouldn’t surprise me if the ability of ‘J-Lo’ to serve as a template for a new bi-syllabic hypocoristic was reinforced by the existence of words like ‘defo’ and ‘rando’ (themselves influenced by non-truncating ‘neat-o’?), which may or may not be related to other truncating derivation-games like totally > toats, legitimate > legit.

    I remember reading a paper in 2008 or 2009 about an experiment done with o-hypocoristics, but I can’t find it in any of my easy to check places. The take-away, as I recall, was that it was hard to get strong acceptability judgements them, unlike bi-syllabic hypocoristics in Spanish, for example.

  84. Witness New York’s SoHo (“South of Houston Street”) and Hong Kong’s SoHo (“South of Hollywood Road”), which originate as acronyms containing non-initial letters where the Os are reinterpreted as /oʊ/ despite representing different phonemes in the original words. These examples are obviously based on London’s Soho, but similar principles apply to Nolita (“North of Little Italy”) as well as to Nabisco (“National Biscuit Company”) and similar -co names for companies.

    It’s a pretty popular template. I’ve seen SoKo for South Korea and NoKo for North Korea; I remember that we said HoSo and HoNo for residential entryways named Hollis South and Hollis North back at university.

  85. ə de vivre says:

    Good call on the SoHo/NoKo examples. There’s also a language game called ‘Oppish’ which involves infixing [ɔp] into English words.

  86. Flo-Jo (Florence Griffith Joyner) in the 1980s is an earlier example. There’s also A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) from the 1990s, later applied to others with similar names such as Andy Roddick.

    Jacko for Michael Jackson is a somewhat different case.

  87. George Gibbard says:

    What’s it called when you drop the beginning of a word, as in Margarita > Rita?

  88. ə de vivre says:

    Ah well, there goes my neat chronology for J-Lo, I should have remembered that. Still, my impression is that Flo-Jo hypos became more common with Scar-Jo and J-Lo, but I don’t have any evidence to back that up.

  89. George Gibbard says:

    Wikipedia thinks it’s also “clipping”/”truncation”/”shortening”, I just hadn’t encountered a discussion of that.

  90. George Gibbard says:

    In languages like Estonian or Classical Armenian, one usually forms the nominative singular by dropping the last vowel of the stem. I don’t know of a language that does similar things with the beginning of a word.

  91. J. W. Brewer says:

    “HoJo” for the once-massively-popular Howard Johnson’s chain (same thing where the vowel shifts although the orthography doesn’t) goes way back before Flo-Jo’s celebrity. I almost immediately found via google books a usage in a 1970 article in Life magazine (not a publication given to obscure or avant-garde turns of phrase, I should think) and I expect I could antedate that if I spent a little more time on the question. Wikipedia says the jocosely-titled NRBQ song “Howard Johnson’s Got His Ho-Jo Working” was released in 1972, but probably recorded a year or two before that. (NB for those to whom it’s not obvious, the title is a play on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Got_My_Mojo_Working, which in turn dates to circa 1956; the etymology of “mojo” seems a bit obscure but it’s almost certainly not this sort of hypocoristic.)

  92. I’m pretty sure I remember “Ho-Jo” from the ’60s, but of course one can’t trust one’s own memories about such things.

  93. I can’t pin it down exactly, but Hojo seems to have definitely been in place when (or perhaps before) the first Howard Johnson’s motor lodge opened in 1954. I ate at Howard Johnson’s restaurants on occasion as a child, particularly the fried clams, but we never called it Hojo, always Howard Johnson’s.

  94. marie-lucie says:

    definitely > defo etc.

    I am not familiar with this sort of formation, but I live in a very conservative English-speaking region. Shortening + addition of -o seems to be extremely popular in Australia, dating from quite a while ago.

    Initial truncation seems to be well-established in some Germanic languages, but only for first names, eg Rasmus from Erasmus, Lotte from Charlotte. I wonder if Tricia from Patricia and Tilda from Matilda are borrowings from Dutch or other North Germanic languages. Rita from Margarita is more likely to be from Spanish or Italian.

  95. ML: notice that in all your examples (and in English generally) initial truncation of names involves elimination of all syllables before the accented one.

  96. marie-lucie says:

    Gary: All my English/Germanic examples are of trisyllabic words with stress on the second syllable, so there is only one syllable before the accented one. (That is why “Lotte” is not English as far as I know, but German). “Rita” is not Germanic but Romance. I have not tried to research the topic, so I don’t know how general the truncation rule would be.

  97. According to the OED, the earliest example of the addition of the -o suffix to a truncated word is probably beano, from printers’ slang in the second half of 19th century, followed by salvo, in its Australian sense of a member of the Salvation Army. As marie-lucie noted, this seems to be particularly popular in Australia. Some words seem to be exclusively Australian, like arvo or bizzo. Others are shared or have spread, like ammo, journo or preso.

    The progression seems to have been from shortening of words with an o, memo, hypo, typo to adding to monosyllables, boyo, kiddo, weirdo, to such truncation.

  98. In the film “Precious” (2009), the young illiterate protagonist had a little daughter who suffered from Down Syndrome. She called her “mongo” (short for “mongoloid”).

  99. @Ariadne: That use of “mongo” is pretty old, although obviously heavily disfavored now. It’s not clear to me whether it predates the use of the name “Mongo” for the planet of Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon though. (Clearly the name “Mongo” for the planet is related to the Yellow Peril nature of the villain.)

  100. (Clearly the name “Mongo” for the planet is related to the Yellow Peril nature of the villain.)

    Good lord, that never occurred to me, and I read a lot of Flash Gordon when I were a wee lad!

  101. Of course, I knew nothing about Mongolia or the Mongols at the time, and I haven’t thought of Mongo in the intervening decades, so I guess it’s not surprising.

  102. This conflation of the Yuan and Ming dynasties is an outrage!

  103. marie-lucie says:

    I was surprised when I discovered that Mungo was a Scottish name and that there were genuine living people who were actually called that.

  104. ə de vivre says:

    Just another epenthetic ‘o’ environment: “turco-persian”, “greco-roman”. I guess /o/ is the default vowel to top up words into the prosodically required number of syllables?

  105. Isn’t that taken over from Greek?

  106. I assume that usage comes from Latin, where /o/ is just the bare stem ending of most adectives (going back to Proto-Indo-European).

  107. Greek and Latin, then. Not an English invention.

  108. ə de vivre says:

    That is why “Lotte” is not English as far as I know, but German

    Apparently it exists in British English with the spelling ‘Lottie’. I’d never encountered it until a character with the name in one of my favourite comics on the web. The character’s full name is Charlotte Grote, and the comic in the link refers to her as ‘Lottie’ and ‘Potty Grote’ which taught me the hypocoristic ‘Lottie’, the British slang word ‘potty’ and that I’d been pronouncing her last name in my head incorrectly.

    There’s a paper (generativist linguistics trigger warning) on a similar phenomenon in Spanish which has two patterns of bi-syllabic hypocoristics, one that aligns with the left edge of the word, and one with the original accented syllable: Jesús > xé.su(s) , čú.čo ; Elvíra > él.βi, bí.la ; Joséfa > xó.se, čé.pa. The claim there is that binary trochees are unmarked minimal word forms, so one form preserves the left edge of the word while the other preserves the accented syllable. The pattern shows up in Hebrew as well, where hypocoristics can be formed with suffixation alone (in which case accent doesn’t move) or with truncation and suffixation (in which case accent moves to form a binary trochee).

  109. ə de vivre says:

    Turco-persian is a Latin word? Regardless of where it came from it’s productive in English among people who don’t speak Greek or Latin.

  110. I don’t think the prefix Turco- is particularly tied to a hypothetical hypocoristic Turko, as in *There are a lot of Greekos and Turkos living around here. The former is learned, the latter most defo not.

  111. Turco-persian is a Latin word?

    No, of course not, but I assumed you were just using it as a random example of the -o- connector, which is Greco-Latin.

  112. ə de vivre says:

    Er, sorry, I didn’t mean ‘turco’ is by itself a hypocoristic, just that ‘o’ shows up as an epenthetic vowel in ‘technical’ or ‘learned’ compounds. My hunch is that the thing that makes *turc-persian or *grec-roman ungrammatical as a compound is the same prosodic requirement that makes *def or *rand ungrammatical as a diminutive.

  113. In Korean, Chekoseulobakia 체코슬로바키아 “Czechoslovakia” was often shortened to just Cheko 체코. After the Velvet Divorce, Cheko became the standard name for the Czech Republic, which bothers me because Czecho- with the epenthetic vowel -o- was reinterpreted as a standalone name. I would have preferred Chekia 체키아 “Czechia” or even Cheseuko 체스코 “Česko”.

  114. Oops, that should have been Chekoseullobakia 체코슬로바키아 with two l’s.

  115. Yeah, “Czechia” has sadly failed to catch on in English either.

  116. My hunch is that the thing that makes *turc-persian or *grec-roman ungrammatical as a compound is the same prosodic requirement that makes *def or *rand ungrammatical as a diminutive.

    But “def” does exist as an alternative shortening of “definitely” or “definitive”. There is, for example, the moniker Mos Def (“most definitely”). So I don’t think the -o ending is always necessary to mark it as a diminutive.

  117. Both pseud and pseudo are in use, so I don’t think it’s a requirement, at most a tendency. And psych ‘psychology’ or ‘psychologist’ and psycho ‘psychotic’ (n.) actually mean two different things

  118. J. W. Brewer says:

    Lotte/Lottie as a nickname for Charlotte does exist in the U.S. (as evidenced by one of my nieces, who uses the “German” spelling with the “British” pronunciation) although I couldn’t tell you how common it is. There are other examples in AmEng of common nicknames that truncate initial syllables even when those syllables are stressed in the full name. Drew and Topher (as known but less-common alternatives to Andy and Chris — the latter uses the unreduced GOAT vowel where “Christopher” is typically pronounced with a schwa) are good examples, and then of course there’s Beth/Betty/Betsy/etc as alternatives (equally or more common? not sure if anyone has good data?) to Liz/Lizzie/etc.

  119. Elizabeth has a great number of hypocoristics – Liz, Lizzy, Lizzie, Libby, Libbie, Beth, Betty, Bettie, Bessy, Bessie, Betsy – as well as derived names like Liza and Eliza. Oddly, even though Elizabeth could be thought of as the canonical English spelling, what with the queens and all, it’s Elisabeth which is used in the KJV.

  120. Oh, and Lisa of course.

  121. Such multiplicities are routine in Russian; Ivan can be Ivanka, Ivanya, Ivanyukha, Ivanyusha, Ivasya, Ivasik, Ivakha, Ivasha, Isha, Ishuta, Vanya, Vanyukha, Vanyusha, Vanyura, Vanyusya, Vanyuta, Vanyata, or Iva. There are even more for Aleksandr, and yet more for Mariya.

  122. ə de vivre says:

    Oh yeah, there’s defo more than one pattern of compounding and templatic diminutive formation in English. All I’m saying is that one of them (from each category) involves truncation (if necessary) and -o, and that they both may involve similar prosodic structures. I’m also not saying that any 1st element in an o-compound must also be acceptable as a templatic-o diminutive.

    From my provincial North American English perspective, the most productive templatic diminutives I’ve encountered are
    Mono-syllabic : totally > toats, definitely > def
    CVCVC iambs : terrific > teríf, legitimate > legít
    CVCV trochees with a standard second vowel : definitely > défo, neat > néato, hand-job > hándy

    I don’t know what (if any) the semantic differences are between the groups, but again in my own experience I’ve encountered and used ‘defo’ on its own as an affirmative (“Are you going to the party?” “Defo!”), but don’t recall ever hearing or using ‘def’ outside of names like Mos Def or Def Jams (this is probably a reflection of how white an environment I grew up in).

    The exact phonological/prosodic requirements for o-compounds are less clear. For example Gérman(y) > germáno- could also be germánic > germáno-, but Róman > románo- ; Cúba/Cúban > cubáno- (probably unrelated to the sandwich). Then there are words like phámacy > phármaco- or medical > médico-, while I go back and forth on Canádian|Cánada > cánado-/canádo-.

    @JC:
    I don’t think most English speakers have a clear semantic distinction between ‘psycho-‘ and ‘psych-‘. Specifically, words like ‘psychology’, ‘psychologist’, and ‘psychotic’ were invented by people who knew at least ‘medical’ Greek and Latin. Whereas the second element in an o-compounds is an English word on its own; A medico-tourist is still a tourist, but a psychologist is not a ‘logist’.

    @JW, Lazar
    The explanation I’ve heard for cases like Christopher and Elizabeth is that the names are both common and old enough that they’ve acquired layers of hypocoristics as pronunciations and productive hypocoristic formation patterns have changed. Don’t know how much there is to it, but it at least sounds like it could be true.

  123. @ə de vivre: English speakers may not interpret much difference between “psych” and “psycho” as prefixes, but they are both free-standing words as well—with utterly different meanings.

  124. marie-lucie says:

    Lotte, Lottie

    The examples I had given earlier were of trisyllabic names that lost the first syllable but otherwise stayed unchanged, as in Tricia from Patricia. Charlotte is trisyllabic in German. and when it loses its first syllable the rest of the word is still the same. In England right now you have a new baby princess called Charlotte. You can google “Charlotte pronunciation” and hear the name pronounced by a number of English speakers. I listened to the first 10 or 12 speakers and although there is some variability in the “o”, all of them pronounce the name with only two syllables, not three as in German. So while there is Lottie in English, this name does not follow the pattern of the the others, since it adds a suffix to a monosyllabic (because truncated) word. Adding a suffix, especially one consisting of the phoneme /i/, to a short or shortened name is extremely common in English, but that is not the pattern that was discussed earlier.

  125. David Marjanović says:

    In the film “Precious” (2009), the young illiterate protagonist had a little daughter who suffered from Down Syndrome. She called her “mongo” (short for “mongoloid”).

    A quite common insult in German, at least within living memory.

    Charlotte is trisyllabic in German

    Well, northern German, but that’s where the name was actually used (starting with a bunch of Prussian princesses).

  126. George Gibbard says:

    English linking -o- really is originally Greek and not Latin, since in Latin, PIE *-o- at the end of a non-final element of a compound normally was reduced to i by regular sound change: Bōs longifrōns ‘the long-foreheaded cow’, maybe an obsolete name for a fossil species? (David M?); centipēs, centipedis ‘100-footed, centipede’ from o-stem centum ‘100’. On the other hand what is probably a borrowing of the Greek -o- seems to exist in the family name Domitius Ahēnobarbus ‘bronze-beard’, where the h is also anomalous and apparently a hypercorrection; Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus is attested in the early 2nd century B.C.

  127. marie-lucie says:

    David: Charlotte is originally French: the diminutive suffix -ot, -otte is a less common (probably dialectal) variant of -et, -ette. See for instance Bernadotte vs. Bernadette. Perhaps Charlotte came to Northern Germany with the Huguenots? Then it went on to England, probably with a North German princess as you suppose. The Western Canadian archipelago Haida Gwaai (its traditional pre-European name) used to be known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

  128. marie-lucie says:

    There is a town called Charlotte in Vermont, but according to Wikipedia its name sounds quite different from the princesses’ name: /ʃɑrˈlɒt/, which suggests an adaptation from the French pronunciation (since there used to be many French speakers in Vermont).

    Wiki goes on: The town was named for Sofia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Streliz, Queen of England and wife of King George III. Which part of Germany is Mecklenburg-Streliz?

  129. It was a small duchy (later grand duchy) in what’s now the southern part of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

    There’s an interesting sprinkling of Hanoverian names in northeastern North America: for example, Lunenburg in Massachusetts (from Lüneburg, a city in the Electorate of Hanover) and New Brunswick in Canada and New Jersey (from Braunschweig, ancestral home of the Hanoverians).

  130. marie-lucie says:

    There is also a Lunenburg in Nova Scotia (Canada).

  131. Which is unusual, being the only non-rhotic locality on the Canadian mainland, though probably from Eastern New England influence rather than German influence, since it was settled in the 18C when German was still consistently rhotic. Lunenburg English.

  132. marie-lucie, the German WiPe has an article on Mecklenburg-StreliTz showing its location.

  133. David Marjanović says:

    I just inserted the missing t in the article on Charlotte, Vermont. The link, interestingly, was already spelled correctly.

    Bōs longifrōns ‘the long-foreheaded cow’, maybe an obsolete name for a fossil species? (David M?);

    Apparently an obsolete name for various wild and domestic cattle of western Europe, today all included in Bos primigenius.

    You could also have brought up Compsognathus longipes… 🙂

    Charlotte is originally French:

    Yes, of course! It may indeed have reached Prussia with the Huguenots; certainly around the same time.

  134. ə de vivre says:

    “psych” and “psycho”

    Yeah, that was a brain-fart on my part. Sometime I’m not even sure myself if I’m being wilfully obtuse or just the regular kind.

    Lotte, Lottie

    I wonder if English ‘Lottie’ for ‘Charlotte’ was borrowed directly from German rather than independently derived. Changing the final vowel from [-ə] to [-i] would bring it in line with English pronunciation, keep the desirable 2-syllable hypocoristic form, and make it look like the familiar left-aligning English hypocoristic forms (Patty < Patricia, Johnny < John[athan]).

  135. marie-lucie says:

    Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

    Apart from linguistic peculiarities which are disappearing, Lunenburg also has its own architectural character which caused it to be added to the Unesco list of interesting places. Unfortunately, that has contributed to much increased tourism, with new shops and restaurants sprouting up everywhere in the old part of town. It is still worth visiting though, preferably on foot if you don’t mind steep streets. The Unesco designation prevents the destruction of old buildings or the addition of new ones inside the historical zone.

  136. marie-lucie says:

    ə de vivre: Lottie

    I think that the English diminutive was formed from the English adopted name Charlotte rather than borrowed from German. Since the name is originally French, and does not have a French diminutive (it is itself a feminine form of the “diminutive” of “Charles”), the English one cannot be borrowed from French. German Lotte would sound to an English ear more like something written as *Lotta”.

    Oh, in French a little girl named Charlotte could be addressed as Lolotte within her family, but this diminutive (a form of baby talk) would hardly be used once she entered primary school at the latest.

  137. Well, German and Yiddish -e has been adapted as both /ǝ/ and /i/ in American English; final schwa in English tends to be realized as a low vowel like [ʌ] or [ɐ], whereas in German it can even be higher than true [ǝ].

  138. ə de vivre says:

    German Lotte would sound to an English ear more like something written as *Lotta”.

    What do you mean by that? My knowledge of German is pretty limited, but the online Collins dictionary gives the pronunciation of ‘Schallote’ as [ʃaˈlɔtə] and ‘Flotte’ as [ˈflɔtə]. Wikipedia also suggests that the last vowel in ‘Lotte’ would be a schwa. I don’t think it’s that unreasonable for [ˈlɔ.tə] to be reinterpreted as [ˈlɔ.ɾi] under the influence of other CV́Ci hypocoristics, especially if this was before syllable-final ‘r’ had disappeared completely and [‘lɔ.ɾər] still contrasted with [‘lɔ.ɾə] which I’m not sure is a possible noun in rhotic English. I think I’m partial to this interpretation based on the completely anachronistic impression that lots of US English speakers seem to have trouble with words ending in open syllables with mid-vowels (my mother for example pronounces the burrito chain Chipotle as [ʧə.’poʊt.li]).

    It’s possible ‘Charlotte’ was borrowed from French, but acquired the nick-name ‘Lottie’ from German. That would probably be testable with a little bit of Googling for first attestations.

  139. Hanks and Hodges’ Dictionary of First Names says:

    English and French: feminine diminutive of Charles, used in England since the 17th century, but most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, in part due to the influence of first, Queen Charlotte (1744–1818), wife of George III, and secondly, the novelist Charlotte Brontë (1816–55). In the Scottish Highlands this name has been used as an Anglicized form of Teàrlag (see Teàrlach). Cognates: Irish: Sérlait. Italian: Carlotta. German: Karlotte. Scandinavian: Charlotta.
    Pet forms: English: Lottie, Tottie, Charlie.

  140. marie-lucie says:

    ə de vivre: (ml) German Lotte would sound to an English ear more like something written as *Lotta”.

    You are right that final written e is interpreted by most English speakers as /i/ rather than schwa, hence the pronunciations of the final “e” in Brontë, Monte and <coyote, for instance, but by sound to an English ear I was referring to pronunciation (hearing) not writing (reading). In my experience (20 plus years of teaching French to English undergraduates) it is extremely difficult for most English speakers to hear the difference between schwa and unstressed a (they have a lot of trouble differentiating le and la, for instance, and never try to use /i/ instead of schwa).

    LH: German: Karlotte

    Is this a common version (spoken and written) of the name? perhaps in order to make it look more Germanic? or less Franco-English? The earlier version is Charlotte, obviously a French borrowing from the 18th century which is the time of the German-born Queen baptized as Sophie-Charlotte.

  141. marie-lucie says:

    Karlotte is the German version of the name according to English Wikipedia, though not the name of the Queen in Deutsch Wikipedia.

  142. Charlotte was borrowed into German much earlier. The wife of Louis XIV’s brother was known in German as Liselotte von der Pfaltz and in French as Elisabeth Charlotte. Liselotte is a merger of Elizabeth and Charlotte.

  143. Liselotte von der Pfalz. Not “Pfaltz”, which is a surname but not hers.

  144. marie-lucie says:

    Gary: The wife of Louis XIV’s brother was known in German as Liselotte von der Pfaltz and in French as Elisabeth Charlotte

    Thank you. Actually she was not well known in France under her name but as la Princesse Palatine.

  145. Karlotte is the German version of the name according to English Wikipedia
    “German Version” probably only in the sense of “somebody remembered that “Charles = Karl” and decided that the German equivalent of Charlotte therefore must be Karlotte. Before I googled the name just now, I’d never heard of anyone called that name, while Charlotte (or Lotte) used to be quite frequent (nowadays, it has the image of a grandmother / great aunt kind of name). I found a few instances of Karlotte, but most German naming sites either don’t have it, redirect to Carlotta (Italian version) or actually call it a “Nordic loan” (don’t know about that, naming sites are notoriously unreliable in their etymologies).

  146. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, the reduced vowel of Standard German… geographic variation strikes again. Down south (…well, up south…) it is kept as unreduced [ɛ], which may qualify as a spelling pronunciation.* Elsewhere I’ve encountered what seem to be [ɘ]** and especially the rounded [ɵ], which I’d classify as ö rather than e; some go in the other direction and use [ɐ], to everyone else’s great confusion.*** I’m not sure if I’ve actually heard [ə], but it probably exists somewhere…

    English completely lacks word-final [ɛ], unless you count meh. This is hardly ever taught to learners.

    * In the underlying dialects final -e is usually subject to apocope. It survives in some functions, though, and there it’s generally [ɛ].
    ** That would be the most common pronunciation of Polish y (independently of stress).
    *** Not to their own, because these accents merge unstressed -er, which is pronounced [ɐ] elsewhere, into /aː/! See here for a blog post in German where it takes a linguist and his commenters 25 comments to notice this; it really doesn’t seem to be common.

    Changing the final vowel from [-ə] to [-i] would bring it in line with English pronunciation

    It would also add a nickname suffix that English and German (and Hungarian…) share.

    Before I googled the name just now, I’d never heard of anyone called that name

    Me neither. Carola and Karla have been spotted in the wild, however.

  147. Elsewhere I’ve encountered what seem to be [ɘ]** and especially the rounded [ɵ], which I’d classify as ö rather than e

    Checking my own pronunciation, I give final -e the same roundedness as the vowel of the previous syllable, so Charlotte, *Charlette, *Charlötte come out [-lɔtʷɵ], [-lɛtɘ], [-lœtʷɵ] in fairly narrow transcription. This certainly isn’t something I was taught, so I had to have picked it up from my mother.

    these accents merge unstressed -er, which is pronounced [ɐ] elsewhere, into /aː/.

    Wow. I always assumed writing -a for final -er was just a kind of eye dialect or (in place names like Schwarza) a stabilized misspelling.

  148. That I can confirm. I’ve known personally at least one Carola and one Karla, and I wouldn’t count these names as unusual.
    [ə] for unstressed “e” is quite unremarkable here up North. What I’ve seen being discussed is whether -el, -en are actually [-əl], [-ən] or syllabic resonants, and whether this distinction even makes sense.

  149. Just in order to avoid confusion, my previous comment was a response to David.
    I always assumed writing -a for final -er was just a kind of eye dialect
    No, it isn’t; while the /a:/ quoted by David is quite extreme, [ɐ] for unstressed er (not only final, but also in unstressed prefixes lie er-, ver-, zer-) is widesspread. I have that feature myself.

  150. Sure, we write the vowel of -er as an upside-down a in IPA, but that doesn’t make it collide with actual German a, so writing it -a is a kind of illiteracy. Unless, as seems to be the case (and this is what surprises me), there are people who actually would pronounce Pizza and *Pizzer identically with the possible exception of vowel length.

  151. Sure, we write the vowel of -er as an upside-down a in IPA, but that doesn’t make it collide with actual German a, so writing it -a is a kind of illiteracy. Unless, as seems to be the case (and this is what surprises me), there are people who actually would pronounce Pizza and *Pizzer identically with the possible exception of vowel length.

    That would be a big number of Northern and Central Germans. For them, as for me, both the short a and the er in, say, Alter “Age; Old man” are the same, namely [ɐ], except for the difference due to stress. In the variants of German I know, there is not only a length distinction, but also an audible quality distinction between long a [a:] and short a [ɐ]. So there would be a difference between “Pizza” and “*Pizzer” for those who have a long a in “Pizza”. There are Germans for whom Oper “opera” and Opa “grampa” are homonyms.

  152. David Marjanović says:

    [-lɔtʷɵ], [-lɛtɘ], [-lœtʷɵ]

    That’s a lot of exolabial rounding, but plausible.

    Wow. I always assumed writing -a for final -er was just a kind of eye dialect

    Often it is.

    or (in place names like Schwarza) a stabilized misspelling.

    Masculine adjectives as place names wouldn’t make sense, though.

    Some of these names are river names, and every such river name is feminine. They must be compounds with a very eroded second member; I’m guessing Ache as in Tiroler Ache or… Schwarzach.

    What I’ve seen being discussed is whether -el>, -en are actually [-əl], [-ən] or syllabic resonants, and whether this distinction even makes sense.

    Phonetically it seems to vary, but syllabic resonants are widespread; they’re the only option for me. On the phonemic level, assuming /əl/, /ən/, /əm/ may be the better option for those who have an independent /ə/ in the first place; that would mean Karl is /ˈkaːəl/.

    That would be a big number of Northern and Central Germans. For them, as for me, both the short a>/i> and the er in, say, Alter “Age; Old man” are the same, namely [ɐ], except for the difference due to stress.

    Not for me. Unstressed /a/ is rare, but does not quite merge into [ɐ].

    In the variants of German I lnow, there is not only a length distinction, but also an audible quality distinction between long a [a:] and short a [ɐ].

    Stressed short /a/ is [ɐ] for you, too? That would surprise me. A quality distinction between /a/ and /a:/ is pretty common, though; variably one or the other is front and the other central or so. (Both are by default almost as front as the French /a/ for me, with some free variation in both directions.)

    those who have a long a in “Pizza”

    I didn’t know such people existed.

  153. The notation [tʷ], as what’s-his-name said about the word blackmail, might be too strong, but any other notation (or word) would not be strong enough.

    The Schwarza I had in mind is in Thuringia (it seems there’s another in Austria), and it is indeed a river. WP.de says about its name: “Ihren Namen hat die Schwarza (schwarzer Fluss) von der schwarzbraunen Farbe ihres dunklen Bodengrundes im Oberlauf oder durch die Beschattung ihrer Ufer durch die ursprünglich sehr dichte und fast undurchdringliche Vegetation im engen Schwarzatal.” (Is that unnaturally fussy, germanophones, or is it just me?) But you’re right, the gender tells us that it can’t represent a shortening of schwartzer Fluss at all.

  154. One data point on US assumptions about open final wovels:

    My cousin Line (/li:nə/ in broad Danish IPA), when she moved to California, found it very hard to stop people from saying /laɪnɪ/. So she started writing Lina and got /li:nə/ (in broad CA IPA). Which was close enough.

  155. Liney is one of several American nicknames for Caroline, which may also be an influence.

  156. Stressed short /a/ is [ɐ] for you, too? That would surprise me.
    Well, or near enough that I can’t hear a difference when I listen to myself pronouncing them; in any case it’s much nearerer to [ɐ] than to the [a] in long a.

    those who have a long a in “Pizza”

    I didn’t know such people existed.
    What I meant is that what I see frequently is that unstressed vowels in word-final open syllables have the quality of the long version of the vowel, even if they don’t pronounce a full-length long vowel. What vowel do you have in Kino or Auto, the o of Ofen or of offen?? I have [o], i.e. the closed o of the long vowel, and in Pizza I have the [a] of the long a. Having the short version is something I associate with some regional varieties, e.g. the Ruhrgebiet.

  157. And I guess Lina could be short for Angelina and similar, pulling towards a ‘Spanish’ value for the i (and precluding a final /ɪ/).

  158. For John Cowan: for People like me who distinguish final -a ([a(:)]) and -er [ɐ], but for whom short -a is also [ɐ], there is no better way to indicate their pronunciation of -er using German ortography than writing a. German has no way to unambiguously indicate a short a in a final open syllable (while you could unambiguously indicate length by writing -aa or -ah.

  159. Actually, Line in Danish originally is hypocoristic for Karoline and similar names. But unlike the Anglo-Saxon system, Danes these days don’t have a ‘real’ full-form first name with a short form for daily use.

    (Swedes assume they can call me Lasse because every Swedish Lars is called that in most registers. But they can’t — if my parents had wanted me to be called Lasse, I would have been baptized with that name).

  160. Alon Lischinsky says:

    if my parents had wanted me to be called Lasse, I would have been baptized with that name

    Happens in Sweden too, though I’m sure most people who go by Lasse are actually named Lars.

  161. marie-lucie says:

    (Caro)line

    Years ago as a student in the US I had an English roommate called Caroline. She said she liked it when someone called her /laɪn/ but hated to be called /laɪnɪ/ as some Americans called her.

  162. But unlike the Anglo-Saxon system

    It’s by no means a unified system: individual variation is immense. A John I knew always called himself by that name when I knew him, but was called Jack by his older friends and Johnny by his more recent ones. I myself have never tolerated either hypocoristic; my parents had an unrelated nickname for me, which no one else has ever used (fortunately). Other people have hypocoristic names which are used by family alone, but never by friends or others.

    At the other end of the spectrum, James Earl Carter is Jimmy for all purposes except the most formally legal. He even got permission to use Jimmy Carter on his presidential ballots, on the grounds that nobody would recognize him by his legal name and it would cost him votes. Other Southerners actually have hypocoristics as their legal names.

  163. David Marjanović says:

    There are a few Germans and Austrians legally named Willi, although the vast majority are officially Wilhelm, Wilfried or Willibald.

    Is that unnaturally fussy, germanophones, or is it just me?

    I’m not sure what you mean: the question of whether the bottom of the shade is black? That’s natural. But the attempt to wax poetic by repeating everything (the bottom-ground is both black-brown and dark… well… Hard to see the dark side is.) is not.

    (I’ve never encountered Bodengrund before. That’s just two synonyms in a row! 😀 )

    What I meant is that what I see frequently is that unstressed vowels in word-final open syllables have the quality of the long version of the vowel, even if they don’t pronounce a full-length long vowel.

    Oh, I see.

    What vowel do you have in Kino or Auto, the o of Ofen or of offen?

    Hard to say. Probably free variation across the whole spectrum (not just the two extremes).

    I might even have a preference for [o] in Kino and [ɔ] in Auto – tongue-root harmony? 😉

  164. Bodengrund seems to be the technical term for the soil at the bottom of an aquarium, and I suppose the soil at the bottom of a natural stream too. But I was really talking about the “durch … durch … undurchdringliche” pattern, which looks to me more like poetic prose (along the lines of “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole”) than what I’d expect to see in a technical work. The analogous WP.en statement is simply “Its name, meaning ‘black river’, comes from its dark colour in its upper course and the thick forest which originally overshadowed the narrow valley.” But you would be well entitled to say that I am talking nonsense, to paraphrase one of Trond’s frequent self-comments.

  165. I’m sure there’s no attempt at poetry. The first occurrence of the preposition durch is just unthinking application of active verb -> abstract noun conversion, dislocating the subject as an instrumental marked by another durch — doubly infelicitous because the same morpheme occurs in the verb.

    “Because the dense and nearly impenetrable vegetation puts its banks in shadow” in German Sachprosa-style becomes “through the shadowing of its banks through the dense and nearly impenetrable vegetation”.

    Note that even before abstractification, this takes care to spell out the exact relations: the name is from the shadows, the shadows are from the forest. The English version formally blames the forest directly, just noting that it overshadows the river — we are left to conclude on our own that the shadowing licensed the ‘black’ designation, not for instance the denseness.

    There’s more than one reason why German prose can take up more space than English.

  166. David Marjanović says:

    The repetition in von der schwarzbraunen Farbe ihres dunklen Bodengrundes does sound like an attempt at poetic imagery to me; a prosaic alternative would be von ihrem schwarzbraunen Grund. But I didn’t even notice durch … durch … undurchdringlich; skilled wordsmithing would instead be required to avoid such accidental repetitions.

  167. David Marjanović says:

    Yes. This doesn’t necessarily extend to detecting durch in undurchdringlich (stressed on the first syllable).

  168. George Gibbard says:

    Does anybody know rules for when German un- is stressed?

  169. George Gibbard says:

    Is the answer ‘always’ as my preliminary research is suggesting? I’m embarrassed, I’m apparently guilty of assuming a parallelism with unstressed un- in English.

  170. George Gibbard says:

    But now on Wiktionary I’ve found two possible stressings for unsagbar.

  171. George Gibbard says:

    Likewise unvorstellbar ‘unimaginable’.

  172. George Gibbard says:

    And unglaublich ‘unbelievable’.

  173. But now on Wiktionary I’ve found two possible stressings for unsagbar … Likewise unvorstellbar … And unglaublich”

    Words can be collected, dried, stuffed and displayed on the wall. Such displays are called dictionaries. It is easy to forget that the words originally lived in the wild, and live only there, and not in isolation. Given a little familiarity with Mother Nature, you can partially reconstruct in the imagination, from the preserved forms, how words actually behave in their populations. But it is misguided to imagine that you can restore them to life from the wsll.

    Consider these live specimens:

    1. Ich bin unSAGbar müde. I am unSPEAKably tired. [melodramatic]
    2. Ich bin UNsagbar müde. I am unspeakably tired. [less melodramatic]
    3. Das ist unsagbar kompliziert. That is unspeakably difficult.[equal stress, neutral]

    4. Ich bin unvorSTELLbar müde. I am uniMAGinably tired. [melodramatic]
    5. Ich bin UNvollstellbar müde. I am unimaginably tired. [less melodramatic]
    6. Das ist UNvollstellbar kompliziert. That is unimaginably difficult. [neutral]
    8. Das ist UNvorSTELLbar kompliziert. That is unimaginably difficult. [neutral]
    9. Das ist unvorstellbar kompliziert. That is unimaginably difficult. [equal stress, neutral]

    The only “rule” I can cobble together on the fly covers many case of two-syllable words to which “un” is prefixed.

    When “un” is prefixed to a disyllabic item (say a past participle, or any word beginning with “ge”), “un” becomes the only syllable stressed when the original word was *not* stressed on the first syllable. UNgeschickt, UNbedacht, UNgemach, as compared to geSCHICKT, beDACHT, GeMACH. When the original word was stressed on the first syllable, the stress moves to “un”: UNfähig, UNfertig, UNablässig, UNabsichtlich, UNanständig.

    With three and more syllables “un” gets stressed in additional to what is stressed without it: UNbeLEHRbar, UNEINsichtig etc.

    That’s a “rule” for you, but it’s ungeNIESSbar. I merely cooked down a bunch of examples into a paste.

  174. In Danish we have the nice near-doublet for’fald = G Verfall / ‘forfald = G Vorfall. Except that young people these days don’t realize that it’s two different words, and pronounce both with second-syllable stress.

  175. marie-lucie says:

    Stu: Words can be collected, dried, stuffed and displayed on the wall. Such displays are called dictionaries. It is easy to forget that the words originally lived in the wild, and live only there, and not in isolation.

    I love this.

  176. Yes, Stu can be an eloquent chap.

  177. ’fald = G Verfall / ‘forfald = G Vorfall … young people these days … pronounce both with second-syllable stress

    That would even make sense in German, in the case of Bandscheibenvorfall (slipped disk). The ‘Vorfall (prolapse) is due to Ver’fall (deterioration).

  178. But a prolapse is when something falls forward — the ‘forfald in Danish is when something falls before you, i.e., you are prevented from keeping an appointment. (Prolapse if danified would probably be ‘fremfald — but we use ‘diskuspro,laps as the common term).

  179. Trond Engen says:

    Both types are ‘forfall in Norwegian. This goes against the general tendency to prefer foreign stress over nativized first syllable stress and with a general tendency to place contrastive stress on the prefix. A prolapse would be a ‘framfall in Norwegian too.

    Verbs are different. Both a bill and a body for’faller.

  180. ‘forfald = G Vorfall .. the ‘forfald in Danish is when something falls before you, i.e., you are prevented from keeping an appointment.

    But German Vorfall can only mean 1) incident, or 2) prolapse, not something that prevents you from keeping an appointment. That is a Hinderungsgrund.

  181. Trond Engen says:

    Forfall is not what prevents you from keeping an appointment, it’s the mere (non-)act of not fullfilling an appointment for whatever reason. Secondary it’s the date at which an appointment is not fullfilled, e.g. payment of rent or morgage.

  182. Clearly the semantics got skewed a bit between German and Danish. Få ‘forfald is to be excusably prevented, by things like illness, funerals, civic duties or force majeure. Oversleeping in the morning doesn’t count.

    And strike the probably for ‘fremfaldlivmoderfremfald is the standard term for uterine prolapse.

  183. And payments for’falder or are invoiced til for’fald on a certain date — it’s an action noun, something that happens on a date, not the date itself. In Danish, that is.

  184. the mere (non-)act of not fullfilling an appointment for whatever reason.

    That is Ger. versäumen: einen Termin / eine Verabredung versäumen. Bills verfallen, as do bodies. Verfallsdatum = best-before-date.

  185. Trond Engen says:

    I was unclear on agency here. To be clear, the subject of forfall is not the (non-)agent but the patient, i.e. the body or the bill. Forsømme is like its German model. You can forsømme your bills or your body. That leads to forfall.

  186. David Marjanović says:

    Yeah, pretty much what Stu said. Un- is stressed in German much more often than in English, but contrastive stress and the effect of the sheer length of some words make it hard to say general things that cover all specifics.

  187. I was a bit mnisleading with the gemach example, where gemach ! = “gently, gently !”. This is a used-only-in-this-admonition adverb, but there is no adverb *ungemach. There is a noun Ungemach = adversity, and a noun Gemach = well-appointed room. All of these items are cognate, deriving from the OHG adjective gimah = comfortable, suitable, which was in cahoots with machen.

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