Flawed Approximation.

Elisa Wouk Almino describes a fascinating installation:

In 2015, Asuka Goto began translating her father’s novel, Elizabeth, from Japanese to English. Over the course of three years, Goto annotated the book’s 200-plus pages and translated the words by hand. Rather than complete a separate manuscript, she left her rendition alongside her father’s, revealing the thought and labor that goes into a translation. These pages are now spread from floor to ceiling at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Bushwick, the walls vibrating with so much writing. As a translator myself, I found the project profoundly satisfying and at times anxiety-inducing.

Any translator will likely identify with Goto’s torrent of notes: the repeated question marks next to words; the multiple phrasings to express the same thing (“to reach; to amount to; to befall; to happen to; to extend”); the flying lines across the page. A translator’s annotations are like that of an obsessive, deep reader. That is, after all, what we are doing.

Among literary translators, there are two main camps: those who wish to revise a canonical text and those who want to introduce something entirely new. Goto, however, happens to be the kind of translator I identify with the most: one who translates to gain a deeper understanding of the language spoken at home.

Goto has titled her project lost in translation and calls it a “flawed approximation” of her father’s novel. As we shuttle between the Japanese and English words, connected by asterisks, arrows, and circles, we begin to grasp how bewildered, uncertain, and insecure Goto was while translating. There is this sense she will never be content with her rendition, that there is no exact equivalent to the original Japanese words.

The images are striking, and if I were still in NYC I’d definitely have a look. If you’re in the vicinity, you’ve got a week before it closes. Thanks, Trevor!

(While we’re on the topic of translation, I can’t resist mentioning that Google Translate renders “Почки и сережки дерев” [‘Buds and catkins of trees’] as “Kidneys and earrings of trees.”)

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    Hat, do you happen to know this Katrina Dodson person…?

    ロスでの悔しさをボストンでというわけだ。

    The meaning on the surface is “It was a case of (missing verb) the frustration in Los Angeles in Boston”.

    Her mother says: “His translation doesn’t make sense to me so he’s thinking of another way to say it”

    The context is that someone Japanese was showing off his white girlfriend to his Japanese friends in Boston because (it appears) he wanted to make up for some kind of humiliation in Los Angeles. 悔しさ is a hard word to translate — it’s shown in her notes as meaning “bitterness, frustration, vexation, mortification”.

    But if you don’t know exactly what happened in Los Angeles it’s hard to know how to translate the sentence.

  2. Hat, do you happen to know this Katrina Dodson person…?

    Heh, I was wondering if anyone would catch that. Never met her, no relation as far as I know!

  3. Quick googling discovered that her father’s name is Stephen Dodson.

    Hmm…

  4. My mistake. Stephen Dodson is her brother, her father is [a different] guy

    [link removed by request — LH]

  5. I don’t know if I’d like to have my family details discussed on an open web forum.

  6. Haven’t thought about that. Please remove the link.

  7. Done!

  8. A kindred spirit! I would have loved to be able to go to this exhibit. I took a very similar approach (both stylistically and in the apparent brute-force nature) to translating Kazakh pop songs. (links are to the texts, not the audio versions). I even had one or two “Mom” text moments!

  9. Bathrobe says:

    Le flaneur is fascinating, especially the potted grammars, which accurately and succinctly convey the gist (generally better than how most textbooks explain it). I liked Tagalog. (Incidentally, ‘It’s a bit far’ in Japanese should be sukoshi tōi desu.)

  10. The Russian is full of errors, though, so take it all with a grain of salt. E.g.:

    Phrases like “I want (lit. will be)” take the ACC. Ex. Я буду рыбу (fish.NOM is рыба).

    That’s so messed up I don’t even know where to start correcting it.

  11. Indonesian, according to Le flaneur, consists entirely of singular personal pronouns, which at least confirms the received wisdom that Indonesian is a simple language to learn.

  12. I’m glad I linked to it, I knew there’d be errors, but not ones that elicited such a reaction from the Hat himself! Callooh! Callay!

    @Bathrobe – Thank you! What’s the difference between 遠い and 遠く? I found a post on Yahoo, but my Japanese/Google translate isn’t up to the task (nor have I really looked at adjectives/adverbs in Japanese yet).

    @Hat – What is wrong with that statement? If I’m remembering correctly, that particular bit comes from the Babbel lesson on ordering food, if context matters. I found a passage in a book that seems to reflect that usage:

    Рыбу или мясо? – Я буду рыбу. – Тогда и я буду рыбу.

    @Ian – And Greenlandic consists of only two letters 😉

  13. @Hat – What is wrong with that statement? If I’m remembering correctly, that particular bit comes from the Babbel lesson on ordering food, if context matters. I found a passage in a book that seems to reflect that usage:

    Ah, I see what’s gone wrong. That exchange you cited is in a very colloquial register in which a verb like ‘have,’ ‘eat,’ etc. is elided, so you have simply “I will […] fish.” Я буду is not “I want (lit. will be),” it’s just ‘I will’; ‘I want’ is (я) хочу. It’s as if you were to see “Me? Fish” in an English text and conclude that “Me?” means ‘I want’ in English.

  14. Bathrobe says:

    Just like you can say “Watashi wa sakana desu” in Japanese — literally ‘I am a fish’.

    Tōi is the normal form of the adjective. Tōku is the -ku form, which is used adjectivally but also in other contexts, such as negation and linking sentences (‘This is far and that is near’). Not a European language.

  15. Thank you both for your answers! I will keep on keepin’ on.

  16. On that Russian grammar site there is a thing much funnier than “буду рыбу” . They have the paradigm for the verb быть in present tense!

  17. With exception of est’, all other forms listed (esmy, esm’, esi, este, sut’) became obsolete in Russian since 15th century, IIRC

  18. Ah, I see what’s gone wrong. That exchange you cited is in a very colloquial register in which a verb like ‘have,’ ‘eat,’ etc. is elided, so you have simply “I will […] fish.” Я буду is not “I want (lit. will be),” it’s just ‘I will’; ‘I want’ is (я) хочу. It’s as if you were to see “Me? Fish” in an English text and conclude that “Me?” means ‘I want’ in English.
    One could argue that it’s pragmatically correct – it’s the usual way to express your preferences when ordering food or drinks or for asking about those preferences (Кто будет чай?) and pragmatically corresponds to English want in that specific situation (or rather to “I’d like” – my impression is that буду is more polite than хочу in that situation). But as you say, it’s limited to that situation and doesn’t correspond to English “want” outside of that situation.

  19. SFReader says:

    English equivalent to “я буду кофе”

    -Would you like coffee or tea?
    -I’ll have coffee.

  20. “Watashi wa sakana desu”
    Or, more (in)famously, Boku wa unagi da.

  21. Rodger C says:

    “Myself, it’s eel.”

  22. Trond Engen says:

    As for me, it’s fish.

  23. Interestingly enough “буду рыбу” is not a very good example of accusative because depending on the object noun one can use genitive or partitive (a minor, not one of the “school” cases) in this construction.

  24. @D.O.: Are there people using the partitive (чаю, меду) in everyday speech? I can’t remember ever having encountered it outside of books. FWIW, my exposure to speakers of Russian is mostly to speakers from Central Asia (including ethnic Russians) and to Russian speakers living in Germany (many of them with an ethnic German background), so that may skew my impressions.

  25. Ya vypil by vodki seem quite unmarked to me. (Personally, i’d rather have ch’ach’a.)

  26. Hans, I think you have to ask a linguist about that. There is some change under way on the borderline between genitive and accusative and maybe partitive is caught up in that too, but that is the extent of my knowledge. My everyday experience with Russian is greatly skewed toward educated city speech and there is not much partitive in there… On the other hand, even educated Russians use sometimes diminutive to make their speech more relaxed and partitive might be more natural there (in other words сахарку/сахарок might be greater than сахару/сахар, but it just a guess on my part).

  27. @Juha: I didn’t ask about the partitive use of the genitive – that is indeed unremarkable. I was asking about the special partitive forms in -у / -ю besides the usual genitive in -а / -я like in чашка чаю “a cup of tea”.
    @D.O.: Thanks! So your everyday experience seems to be similar to mine as to the rarity of the partitive. And now that you mention it, I remember now hearing the partitive used with diminutives, the word basically always чайку, the diminutive of чай (but as far as I remember, not after words for measures or containers like чашка “cup”, but after verbs meaning “like” or “want”.)

  28. David Marjanović says:

    Good to know. I was still taught чашка чаю as the only option in the late 90s.

  29. When the food arrives and the waiter seems confused about who gets what, you can say I’m the ice cream in English or Wǒ shi bīngqílín, its exact parallel, in Mandarin. Even more elliptical, Tā yě shi yíge Měiguo zhàngfu can mean either ‘He is also an American husband’ or in proper context ‘She is also [a case of being married to] an American husband’.

  30. SFReader says:

    Tā yě shi yíge Měiguo zhàngfu
    ‘She is also [a case of being married to] an American husband’.

    I don’t remember this mentioned in grammar books I’ve read (and I can’t recall ever seeing such constructions in Chinese)

    Are you sure this is legit Mandarin grammar?

  31. Bathrobe says:

    The example is from Yuen Ren Chao’s 中國話的文法 (Section 2.4). So I think it’s pretty legit. That is a rather old book and he does use a character for ‘she’ that would now only be used for males, but I don’t think Chinese has changed that much.

  32. SFReader says:

    Yes, googled it and indeed it says exactly that.

    Sometimes, ellipsis results in a looseness of subject-predicate relation which would be ungrammatical in another language. A very common form consists of the use of a substantive when its possessive followed by another substantive would be the fuller form, as “he is a Japanese woman” when the speaker mean “his servant is…”.
    他是一個美國丈夫 “She is (a case of being married to) an American husband”

    Thankfully, author then notes that this is bad grammar and a purist (especially if he knows some Occidental language) would correct such usage by his children, but then will go on and use it himself.

  33. SFReader says:

    “He is a Japanese woman” ought to be a meme…

  34. Here are YRC’s other examples:

    You(r shoes) are also worn through.

    I have — my meatball has — fallen into your spoon.

    I am (my pencil is) sharper than you(rs).

    If you(r little pine tree) should die, look me up.

    (The language of) this coal stoker is not the language of a workman.

    The next section, on the directionality of transitive verbs, is almost as interesting: in Chinese one can say either “Ten people eat two pounds of meat” or “Two pounds of meat eat (i.e. feed) ten people.” (In English, a bed can be said to sleep two, but only a few verbs are neutral in this sense.)

  35. “Chunky Soup: The soup that eats like a meal.”

  36. That’s an intransitive use of eat. YRC gives this anecdote in English showing that infinitives are neutral for voice:

    “Is a trout big enough to eat when it’s three inches long?”

    “No.”

    “Then how does it grow up?”

  37. Bathrobe says:

    a purist (especially if he knows some Occidental language)

    Banishing such constructions on the basis that they are not found in Occidental languages is a strange kind of “purism”.

  38. No stranger than an Englishman banishing constructions on the basis that they are not found in Latin.

  39. David Marjanović says:

    The next section, on the directionality of transitive verbs, is almost as interesting: in Chinese one can say either “Ten people eat two pounds of meat” or “Two pounds of meat eat (i.e. feed) ten people.” (In English, a bed can be said to sleep two, but only a few verbs are neutral in this sense.)

    Or we could interpret this as showing that, even though there’s no inflectional morphology, word order in Chinese is no more restricted than in German, and the object has been fronted in the second version because…

    …because it’s the topic. Perhaps thinking about Chinese word order in terms of subject or object is altogether wrong, and the true word order of Chinese (well, Mandarin at least) is topic-verb-comment, just like how comment-topic-verb the true word order of Yodaspeak is.

    Hey, just to stay within Sino-Tibetan, Japhug rGyalrong isn’t nominative/accusative or ergative/absolutive either. It’s direct/inverse, which is about as scary as it sounds.

  40. SFReader says:

    Thinking of Chinese ellipsis realized that it’s simply an omission of 的 after 他.

    So the examples above become

    His is a Japanese woman.

    Hers is an American husband.

    Mine is in your soup.

    Still awkward, but meaning is perfectly clear given context provided in previous conversation.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    a strange kind of “purism”

    You just mentioned “a character for ‘she’ that would now only be used for males”. The idea of having separate characters for “he” and “she”, a distinction no Sinitic spoken language has ever made, was copied from Occidental languages in the explicit hope of importing some “progress” that way.

  42. Bathrobe says:

    No stranger than an Englishman banishing constructions on the basis that they are not found in Latin.

    Yes, I had that in mind when I wrote that.

    Yuen Ren Chao was the linguist who famously proposed that the subject in Chinese is the first noun in the sentence, or something to that effect. No, not the topic, the subject. If what many would consider the semantic object of the verb is preposed, YRC would regard it as the subject of the sentence. People have been trying to get to grips with that ever since.

    This treatment is totally unintuitive to speakers of Western languages, including linguists, who feel that such “subjects” only get to where they are through grammatical processes such as topicalisation. (SFReader suggests that the YRC’s sentences can all be explained as the elision of 的.) The problem is that, while this works fine in theory, it gets fuzzier if you start looking at raw linguistic material. As David pointed out, rigid structures like “Subject Verb Object” might not be totally applicable to Chinese, where the processes are much more fluid.

    Randy LaPolla’s paper On categorization: Stick to the facts of the languages, which Hat admitted threw him for a loop when he featured at On Categorisation, is about precisely this aspect of Chinese. Perhaps it’s time to revisit it.

  43. dainichi says:

    > 他是一個美國丈夫“She is (a case of being married to) an American husband”

    Can this only be parsed as 一個 modifying the husband? I would have thought it modified… well… the case. So more like “She is a (case of being married to an) American husband”.

    @Trond: As for me, it’s fish.

    At first glance, “Boku wa unagi da” seems explainable by calling “boku” a topic because of the “wa”, not a subject. But the construction is possible with “ga” (traditionally the “subject marker”) in non-matrix sentences too:

    > Kimi ga unagi nara, boku mo unagi da. (“If you’re having eel, so am I” or “If you’re an eel, so am I”)

    So the topic/subject distinction is a red herring. In fact, even at matrix level

    > Boku ga unagi da

    works, meaning something like “I’m the one who’s having the eel”.

  44. SFReader says:

    Tā shì yīgè měiguó zhàngfū [de nǚrén]

  45. When the food arrives and the waiter seems confused about who gets what, you can say I’m the ice cream in English
    Works in German as well, although one would rather use the past tense (Wer war das Eis? – Response: (Das Eis war) ich.).

  46. While we’re on the topic of translation, I can’t resist mentioning that Google Translate renders “Почки и сережки дерев” [‘Buds and catkins of trees’] as “Kidneys and earrings of trees.

    Had to come back and dig up this thread, as I just came across сережки translated in a similar way by the very formidable Yuri Slezkine on p. 236 of The House of Government (which I’m very much enjoying): “…it is like a young birch covered with tender leaves and adorned with little earrings; it is the most powerful and beckoning of springs.” So, can we blame Google Translate for the boo-boo when even the truly bilingual are not immune? (Speaking of…genitive plural should be деревьев, no?)

  47. David Marjanović says:

    No, neuters like feminines have endingless g.pl; and there’s no way to get ь into the declension of дерево.

  48. *whacks David Marjanović with ruler*

    Yes, деревьев is the modern gen. pl. (nom. деревья); дерев is from the obsolete plural дерева (with stressed final -a).

  49. with ruler
    A poleno will do just as well.

  50. Heh. (For DM’s benefit: the plural of полено ‘log (for fire)’ is поленья.)

  51. Yes, деревьев is the modern gen. pl. (nom. деревья); дерев is from the obsolete plural дерева (with stressed final -a).

    The modern plural is contaminated with the Old Russian collective деревиѥ (which would have given modern *деревьё, had it remained singular). Another de-collective plural is листья ‘leaves’.

    Proto-Slavic formed such collectives with the suffix *-ьje. In Polish, the suppletive plural of człowiek ‘human being’ is ludzie ‘people’ < *ljudьje, an ex-collective of lud ‘a people’, coopted as a plural. The word for ‘leaf’ used to be list. When the collective liście < *listьje replaced the original plural, a new singular, liść, was back-formed from it. Śmieć ‘piece of rubbish’ is likewise back-fromed from śmiecie (collective), which coexists with the variant śmieci ‘rubbish’ (both gramatically plural). The expected nom.pl. of the old singular śmiot would be *śmioty in the modern language, since the nom.pl. of non-“virile” masculines has merged with the acc.pl. in -y. Śmieci is therefore a relic form reflecting the Old Polish plural in -i, now orphaned and synchronically irregular (morphologically opaque).

    Other Slavic languages also show a lot of confusion between the *-ьje collectives and “genuine” plurals.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    Filler text to escape the spam filter. More filler text to escape the spam filter.

    деревья

    Oh. Like братья? Looks like it was swept under the carpet when I was in school. We did learn the города́, директора́, профессора́ pattern, and endingless gen. pl. all the way to озёр, before you despair completely.

  53. DM, you are confusing me. город-а́, директор-а́ are masc. nom. pl. and their gen. pl. are город-ов, директор-ов. озер-о (sg.) is neut. it’s plural nom. is озёр-а and gen. pl. is озёр as you are saying. Because masc. with consonant ending (or, more precisely, with 0 ending) and neuter have almost the same declension patterns in singular they are combined into single 2nd declension, but it seems to be more confusing then enlightening. I am too lazy to research the history of the 2nd declension, but my default hypothesis is that before yer (ъ) was dropped at the end of nom. masculine, the two patterns looked more similar and then “grade-school grammarians” forgot to change the definitions of declensions.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    We weren’t taught to number the declensions, but were taught four: one per gender (plus some irregular plurals like -а́, plus complications of spelling for -ь and -й of course) and the one for feminine words in ь plus the masculine путь.

    Historically, ъ is the gen. pl. ending of the now endingless gen. pl.; it descended directly from PIE ones. That was quite the revelation for me when I found out.

  55. ktschwarz says:

    can we blame Google Translate for the boo-boo when even the truly bilingual are not immune?

    I guess he didn’t know the word “catkins” in English. I didn’t, until this thread — though I should have, considering how they’ve been all over the sidewalks and car windshields and doormats for the last few weeks.

    Google Translate does a surprisingly good job on slawkenbergius’s Russian story about the Israeli army psychologist, the young immigrant recruit, and the learned cat that walks around an oak tree on a chain. Its translation is not only good enough to show why the original was funny, it’s good enough to be funny itself. And this is a tricky translation, since it contains a few Hebrew words transliterated into Cyrillic: the machine recognizes all but one of them as non-Russian and therefore transliterates them into the Latin alphabet.

  56. It’s not that it recognizes them as non-Russian, but that it does not recognize them at all, and therefore transliterates them. Sufficiently obscure echt-Russian words are treated the same way.

  57. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    There’s a new online machine translator in town, https://www.deepl.com/translator . It doesn’t do Russian (yet?), but it does Polish. I’m finding the results more idiomatic sounding than Google translate.

  58. I put in the first paragraph of Die Leiden des jungen Werther and got:

    I’m so glad I’m gone! Best friend, what is the heart of man! To leave you, whom I love so much, of whom I was inseparable, and to be happy! I know you’ll forgive me. Weren’t my other connections chosen by fate to scare a heart like mine? Poor Leonore! And yet I was innocent. Could I do that while her sister’s obstinate charms provided me with a pleasant conversation, that a passion formed in the poor heart? And yet – am I completely innocent? Didn’t I nurture their sensations? Did I not be annoyed by the very true expressions of nature, which so often made us laugh, so little ridiculous they were? I have not – what is man that he may complain about himself! I want to, dear friend, I promise you, I want to do better, I don’t want to chew a little evil that fate presents to us again, as I have always done; I want to enjoy the present, and the past shall be gone from me. Surely you are right, Bester, the pain would be less among men if they were not – God knows why they are so made! with so much eagerness of the imagination to recall the memories of the past evil, rather than to endure an indifferent present.

    Which is mostly fairly impressive but is studded with bits of terrible (“of whom I was inseparable,” “Did I not be annoyed,” “so little ridiculous they were”).

  59. Surely you are right, Bester
    Ouch. That really sticks out.

  60. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Nice test. Here’s the Google Translate attempt:

    How happy I am that I am gone! Best friend, what is the heart of man! To leave you, whom I love so much, of whom I was inseparable, and to be glad! I know you forgive me. Were not my other connections rightly chosen by fate to frighten a heart like mine? Poor Leonore! And yet I was innocent. Could I, that while the stubborn charms of her sister gave me a pleasant amusement, that a passion formed in the poor heart? And yet – am I completely innocent? Did not I nourish her sensations? Have I not taken pleasure in the very true expressions of nature that so often made us laugh, no matter how ridiculous they were? I have not – oh, what is man, that he may complain of himself! I want, dear friend, I promise you, I want to get better, do not want to ruminate, as I have always done, a little evil that destiny presents to us; I want to enjoy the present, and the past must have passed me by. Certainly, you are right, dearest, the pain would be less among the people, if they do not – God knows why they are so made! – occupied with so much lethargy of imagination, recalling the memories of the past evil, rather than enduring an indifferent presence.

  61. Of course in extremely modern English it would be bestie.

  62. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Or in Swedish bästis, which IKEA reappropriated to name a lint roller.

  63. ktschwarz says:

    More about catkins, which are no longer on the trees or even the sidewalks, having all blown or washed away: here is a little tour through the Wikipedias. Many languages call them a diminutive of “cat” since they look like cat tails, including all Germanic languages as well as French chaton = “kitten” and Occitan caton, Polish kotka, Belarusian каташок, Turkish kedicik = “kitten”, Slovenian mačica, and Arabic عسيل = “pussy”. Persian شاتون is pronounced ‘shatton’ so I’m guessing it was borrowed from French.

    Other languages using words for animals or tails:
    Czech: jehněda, I’m guessing from jehně = “lamb”
    Vietnamese: hoa đuôi sóc = “squirrel tail flower”
    Japanese: 尾状花序 “bijōkajo” = “tail flower”

    All other Romance languages use amento from Latin amentum = “thong”, “strap”; does this mean it goes back to Romans writing about botany using that word?

    Besides Russian, the other language using the same word for tree-catkins and earrings is Hebrew (עָגִיל). Coincidence or loan-translation?

    The Scandinavian languages seem to just describe the shape: Danish and Norwegian rakle = “long, thin” ? and Swedish hänge = “hanging” ? Is that right?

    Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Serbian have реса, which also means fringe, tuft, or tassel.

    Finally, these languages are opaque to me; anyone know the etymology?
    Lithuanian: žirginys Is it related to zirgs “horse”? A horse tail?
    Finnish: norkko
    Estonian: urb

    Let me know if I got anything wrong, thanks!

  64. marie-lucie says:

    catkins

    * English: Does anyone know why the nouns in “pussy willows” are in that order?

    * Occitan: caton : in most of the Oc area the pronunciation is likely [katu] (stress on last syllable).

    * Nisqa’a (Tsimshianic language, Canadian West Coast, next to Alaska):

    usa w’aasan lit. ‘willow dog’ (?us ‘dog’, -a LINK, w’a:san ‘willow’ – stress on last syllable)

  65. Lithuanian: žirginys Is it related to zirgs “horse”? A horse tail?

    Presumably, but the Lithuanian word for ‘horse’ is žirgas (zirgs is Latvian).

    Finnish: norkko
    Estonian: urb

    Don’t know the etymology of either, but the usual Finnish word appears to be urpu, an obvious cognate of the Estonian word.

  66. January First-of-May says:

    I always thought that they look a lot like caterpillars. I wonder if any language made that metaphor…

    (…Just in case, I decided to check, and yes, apparently, the “cat” part of the word “caterpillar” does, in fact, come from similarity to cats – and the etymology given by Google mentions catkins [as a similar example] explicitly.)

  67. Da rakle does not really feel like it means or is derived from anything besides ‘catkin’ — there is ranglet = ‘long and thin’ of a person, but that’s more like sound symbolism and not one being derived from the other.

    One special term is gæsling = ‘gosling’ for immature willow catkins at the stage that looks like little tufts of down emerging from a covering bud. It’s a tradition to cut willow branches before the buds break and have them in a vase indoors as harbingers of spring– they will emerge early because of the warmth but as far as I remember they don’t grow to be full length catkins. Example.

  68. marie-lucie says:

    The fuzzy willow catkins get a little bigger or look that way when the yellow pollen emerges, but they don’t get to be long and pendant like those of hazel and a few other trees.

  69. marie-lucie says:

    January: “Caterpillar” is supposed to comme from Old French “chatte pelue” ‘furry (female) cat’, or rather its Norman equivalent “catte pelue” (Norman French did not undergo the change k > ch as did the rest of Northern French).

  70. Japanese 尾状花序 bijōkajo is a highly technical (scientific) term meaning “caudate inflorescence”. It doesn’t quite count for this exercise.

    Chinese uses 柳絮 liǔxù ‘willow floss/cotton’, which I find much more explanatory.

  71. @marie-lucie: I always thought the ordering of pussy willow was transparent; willow is approximately what they are (being plants, after all), and that they are cat-like is a modifier, so pussy goes first.

  72. willow catkins […] don’t get to be long and pendant — true, partly because they sit directly on the branch and don’t have a stalk to hang from. But when the branch is cut and kept indoors they don’t even get to the pollen stage, they stay small and downy.

  73. David Marjanović says:

    @marie-lucie: I always thought the ordering of pussy willow was transparent; willow is approximately what they are (being plants, after all), and that they are cat-like is a modifier, so pussy goes first.

    But the willow is the whole tree. The fluffy part looks like a kitten (doublet of catkin), not like a tree.

    Pretty much only willow catkins are called Kätzchen in German. In fact, they end up as Palmkätzchen, because willow branches with catkins are associated with Palm Sunday (right before Easter) as a substitute for palm fronds which tend not to be available in German-speaking latitudes.

  74. the usual Finnish word appears to be urpu

    pajunkissa

  75. Thanks! So what’s the relationship between norkko, urpu, and
    pajunkissa?

  76. David Marjanović says:

    Palmusunnuntai! ^_^

  77. marie-lucie says:

    pussy willow : Indeed this order suggests a description of the tree, not of the catkins.

  78. marie-lucie says:

    David M: Palmkätzchen, because willow branches with catkins are associated with Palm Sunday (right before Easter) as a substitute for palm fronds which tend not to be available in German-speaking latitudes

    France is approximately at the same latitudes as Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, but the substitute for the palm fronds is boxwood (le buis), a small shrub with tiny evergreen leaves much used for (low) garden hedges. Palm Sunday is le jour des Rameaux, the last word referring to small branches with leaves. Another common use of this word is in le rameau d’olivier ‘the olive branch’.

  79. David Marjanović says:

    A one-time use of that word referred to metaphorical branches without leaves, Charles Depéret’s (1907) rameaux phylétiques that stood at the beginning of biology’s descent into phylopessimism: Depéret wanted to “see” tiny parts of the phylogenetic tree “directly” in the fossil record where it was good enough to (presumably) preserve all intermediate forms, but paid little attention to the big picture. A bit like the Americanist tradition in historical linguistics.

  80. @David Marjanović, marie-lucie: In English, the name of a tree is always also the name for pieces of material cut from that tree (unlike meat, where there is sometimes a difference, as in pig versus pork). Nowadays (and maybe historically; I don’t really know) this almost always means a reference to the lignacious (a word not in the OED!) wood of a plant. Sometimes the materials meaning is primary; tiger oak, for example, refers to oak cut in a particular crosscut fashion, not to a particular species of tree.

    Willow, however, since the tree’s massive wood is rarely used in crafting or construction, can refer to cuttings taken from a willow tree. I associate this usage particularly with the stories of Robin Hood. Among the merry men, archery contests did not use the usual bullseye targets; instead, an archer was supposed to split a “willow” or a “wand of willow” from thirty paces. The OED recognizes this usage with the definition 1.b. for the noun willow: “The wood or osiers of any tree of this genus.” Unfortunately, the definition of osiers only includes the relevant sense as “(also) a flexible branch of any of these willows,” rather than as a primary sense.

  81. marie-lucie says:

    Brett, if I understand correctly, pussy willow could mean a willow branch that has catkins on it, rather than the catkins themselves.

    About the animal/meat situation, the difference is not a usual one in most languages. It has long been observed that the “animal” words are of Germanic origin, the “meat” ones of French origin, dating back from a time when the servants who looked after the animals spoke English, but the lords who ate the meat spoke French (as explained in one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels, and confirmed by historians of the English language). The “meat” words are based on the French names referring to both the animals and their meat.

  82. @marie-lucie: Yes, I should have mentioned that pussy willow should refer to a branch/osier with catkins on it, not to the catkins themselves.

    And of course, you are right that the English distinction between food words and meat words is derived from the fact that in the centuries following the Normal conquest, a meat-heavy diet was associated with the French-speaking nobility. When Richard II was coming home from his crusade, he and his retainers disguised themselves as monks. However, they were found out and the king was held for ransom in Austria, because one night when they were sheltering with some locals, Richard insisted on a roast chicken for dinner.

  83. Pussy willow can mean the individual ament (catkin), the branch, or the whole tree, but clearly the last meaning is the basic one, with pussy modifying the basic Germanic term willow.

  84. It seems norkko is the usual term in botany (hedenorkko ‘male /stamen catkin,’ eminorkko ‘female /pistil catkin’):

    http://tieteentermipankki.fi/wiki/Kasvitiede:norkko

  85. David Marjanović says:

    the Normal conquest

    Ha, autocorrect!

  86. That was the autocorrect in my brain, this time.

  87. Trond Engen says:

    No. gåsunger “goose kids”, but also kattelabber “cat paws”, puselabber “pussycat paws”, and, presumably by cross-contamination, kattunger “kittens”. These are used for aments of Salix species like sallow and willow. Rakle is used as the Norwegian technical term for ament, hence encompassing gåsunger. In non-technical use, rakler and gåsunger are distinct concepts.

  88. So what’s the relationship between norkko, urpu, and pajunkissa?

    A norkko is the general term for flower clusters of this sort, while pajunkissa only applies to the small fluffy ones on willows. Urpu is, in my usage at least, the term for catkins in the winter, before they bloom. (They are at this time fed on by a bird called urpiainen, which, now that I check, is in English called a redpoll.)

    I think there’s been some broken-telephone transmission at some point in here on what exactly is the relationship between cats and catkins, already between English and German I would guess. I had always assumed this term refers to the soft fluffy “fur” on the ones on willows, instead of having anything to do with the shape of the ones on other tree species such as birches.

    The fuzzy willow catkins get a little bigger or look that way when the yellow pollen emerges, but they don’t get to be long and pendant like those of hazel and a few other trees.

    There are many species of willows, including some that do end up on the droopy side. The bay willow (Salix pentandra) is a prominent example in my mind.

  89. Thanks!

  90. The OED says that catkin was specifically calqued from Dutch by Henry Lyte for his translation of Rembert Dodoens’ Cruijdeboeck, and moreover that the fuzziness of the flowers, rather than their drooping posture is their primary identifying characteristic:

    Etymology: Taken by Lyte from Dutch katteken ‘kitten’ and ‘catkin’ of hazel, willow, etc. (in Dodoens), diminutive of katte cat. The 16th cent. Latin catulus, French chaton (< chat ), and German kätzchen , have the same two senses; the catkin being named from its soft downy appearance….

    Bot. A unisexual inflorescence, consisting of rows of apetalous flowers ranged in circles along a slender stalk; the whole forming a cylindrical, downy-looking, and generally pendant part, which falls off in a single piece after flowering or ripening; as in the willow, birch, poplar, pine, hazel, etc.; a deciduous spike; an amentum. (Called by Turner 1568 tagge, and by various 16–17th c. writers aglet.)

    1578 H. Lyte tr. R. Dodoens Niewe Herball vi. lviii. 733 Leaues spring foorth after the Catkins, agglettes, or blowinges.
    1578 H. Lyte tr. R. Dodoens Niewe Herball vi. lxvii. 743 Withy..his flower or blossom is lyke a fine throm or thicke set veluet heaped vp togither about a little stemme, the which when it openeth is soft in handling, and lyke downe or Cotton, and therefore the whole flower is called a Chatton, Kitekin or Catteken.

  91. David Marjanović says:

    That was the autocorrect in my brain, this time.

    Ha, dissimilation like in Hittite lāman “name”!

    🙂

  92. The Chechen for a ‘(kind of) flat earring; catkin; (bird’s) wattle’ is ḥalqa (pl. ḥalqanash):

    http://www.chechnyafree.ru/old/html/Dic/18.htm

  93. Which is, most likely, from Arabic ḥalqa:

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/halka

  94. >and German katzchen

    Is diminutive -kin cognate with German-chen?

  95. David Marjanović says:

    Yes, of course. It’s just not very noticeable because English almost never uses diminutives.

  96. I question that assertion, Davy.

  97. Almost never with common nouns, then. That’s a striking difference from languages like German or Russian.

  98. How much is that doggie in the window? I trust you’re right it’s more prevalent elsewhere, but it remains productive here. The trick is that it generally sounds childish. I have a friend who sometimes says he needs a nappy (when he’s tired), and I find it jarring. The British usage for diaper is not within range for me. It’s the diminutive itself that’s off-putting. Maybe childish or intimate is more accurate. It’s not quite that he sounds like a kid. And I wouldn’t mind hearing he needs a nap. But nappy is TMI.

  99. The trick is that it generally sounds childish.

    Well, yes. Amend my statement to “almost never in normal adult speech,” then. I realize you can report examples of use, but trust me, compared to languages with actual functioning diminutive suffixes it’s practically nonexistent.

  100. Laddie, birdy, kiddy, girly, sonny, whitey, darkie, daddy, mummy, granny, drinkie, bunny, walkies, sweeties, titchy, footie, footsie… off the top of my heady-weddy. No biggie.

    I never realised nappy was a diminutive of napkin (my daughter was born in New York, we’ve always said diaper).

  101. …prezzie, sicky, piggy, barbie (bbq, not the doll), piggly-wiggly, arty-farty

  102. Laddie, birdy, kiddy, girly, sonny, whitey, darkie, daddy, mummy, granny, drinkie, bunny, walkies, sweeties, titchy, footie, footsie… off the top of my heady-weddy.

    Do you actually use those in speech? Do you see them often in writing? Be honest, now.

  103. Stu Clayton says:

    Have a care ! Lots of British expressions in there, and a few Ozzisms too I think, in current use. “Walkies” is what you take the dog on. Footie is soccer. Playing footsie under the table has not gone away. “Sweeties” is Brit for candy of some sort. And so on .

  104. AJP Crown says:

    Yes, what Stu said. And the point with this kind of expression is that it has special uses. Some as Stu says are Aussie -oops, another – like barbie, prezzie, footie, and uni for university (now all used in Britain). Obviously I don’t use “darkie” or “whitey” but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I saw Piggly Wiggly on a map of Louisiana yesterday as the name of a seemingly enormous butcher’s shop in the town of Plain Dealer. Louisiana also has the small town of Uncertain, so named because no one was sure what to call it when it was first registered in 1950-something and it stuck.

  105. Stu Clayton says:

    Many of these words might not be familiar to an American who looks only occasionally into the Guardian, but never the Daily Mail and its like. I have always been exposed to trash beneath my station, due to my taste in horseflesh. A great leveller, that. I could easily run for precedent nowadays.

    When I see Mayor Pete’s name, it’s hard for me not to think of Arschgeig, a quaintly disobliging term in these parts.

  106. David Marjanović says:

    I question that assertion, Davy.

    That’s not a diminutive. It’s a nickname.

    German distinguishes between the diminutive suffixes -chen/-lein and the nickname suffix -i (which is extended to common nouns when talking to babies). AFAIK, so does Hungarian, with diminutive -k/-c and nickname -i.

    Russian, and Slavic generally, mostly uses diminutives (or double diminutives) as nicknames, but the feminine-looking -a used in a lot of men’s nicknames is not easily explainable as diminutive.

  107. Many of these words might not be familiar to an American who looks only occasionally into the Guardian

    Guilty! And fair enough; I’m certainly willing to accept that non-US English is more diminutive-ridden.

  108. AJP Crown says:

    Luvvy (between actors, both m. & f.) and ducky (for anyone) are gay useage. My mother & grandmother also used both of them for anyone; Noel Coward may be the crossover point for that.

    Those Scottish ones are great, Michael. Hoodie and woodie both appear elsewhere though perhaps not in America.

    David, isn’t a nickname something supposedly humourous rather than a shortening? I’d say “Four-eyes” or “big-foot” is a nickname while Davy is more like a diminutive of David.

  109. For what it’s worth, I would call Davy a nickname.

  110. @AJP Crown: In American English, one meaning of woodie (it can probably also be spelled with a –y) is a car with fake (or, in the very distant past, real) wood paneling in the sides. Here is one that was apparently owned by Frank Sinatra. They are less common these days, but woodie trim editions of some cars are still sometimes made. Traditionally, the woodie style was primarily associated with station wagons (like Sinatra’s example). You can find a fair number of mentions of piling into woodies to go surfing in early Beach Boys songs. Last week, I actually saw a classic woodie wagon that looked like it was from the late 1950s while I was out getting food with my sons. Among classic automobiles, station wagons are not that common; like pickup trucks (and I am a particular admirer of classic pickups, especially ones with wood rails on the beds), wagons tended to get heavily used and to wear out before they could become collectors’ items.

  111. Woody. Woodie. The Woodies, nickname for longtime Australian tennis doubles partners Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde

  112. David Marjanović says:

    isn’t a nickname something supposedly humourous rather than a shortening?

    Not necessarily. I mean, we may be running into the issue of what exactly the term nickname means, but Spitzname in German includes not only the mocking ones (spitz means “pointed”, so probably the term was once restricted like that!), but also shortenings and lengthenings in -i. Indeed, is Davy a shortening of David or a lengthening of the shortening Dave?

    Also, while generally rare, the use of diminutives as nicknames (in the wider sense) for children isn’t wholly unknown in German. I would place Paulchen in literature set in early-20th-c Berlin, but its connotations are exactly the same as those of a Pauli of late-20th-c Vienna.

  113. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Well, etymologically the n-ekename is an additional name, innit. Danish has øgenavn which is never used for hypocoristics (and those are not nearly as common as in Swedish, by the way).

    Of course that doesn’t determine what it means now.

  114. AJP Crown says:

    Davy a lengthening of the shortening Dave

    Right. Davey, Dave, Dai are all names for David which can be messed about with and Davey is no shorter than David, so not much diminution. And if Language too says Davy is a nickname, I defer to both of your superior whatsits.

    Brett, we didn’t use the name woody for wood-paneled or wood-framed stationwagons – known in Britain as “estate cars”, because we mostly used them on our estates – but the concept did exist. The minute (by US standards) Morris Minor was one of the nicest looking IMO, (if a tad pretentious, but what is car ownership if it’s not about appearances). I vaguely remember my great-uncle had a shooting brake; and whatever else that meant, it was a woodie.

  115. Luvvy (between actors, both m. & f.) and ducky (for anyone) are gay useage

    One of my aunts, who died only a few years ago, used ‘ducky’ (or ‘ducks’) for pretty much anyone. She was from Nottingham — I think of it as a Midlands thing. I don’t know if it’s still used by younger people in those parts.

  116. Of course it’s a nickname. It’s a nickname formed by adding the common English diminutive suffix. Americans now seem to consciously avoid giving girls names that can be suffixed that way precisely because of the diminishing effect on a generation of Shelleys, Jennys, Amys and Julies, so my daughter’s circle of friends are Hazel, Etta, Tabitha, Eloise, Nora and Eliza. And Lizzie though her parents tried very hard to hold the line at Elizabeth.

    Hoodie is perfectly common in the US, at least since Trayvon Martin. And while I’ve certainly heard woodie, as has every American male, if someone mentioned one in reference to his great-uncle, mandatory reporters would have to call the authorities. Undies in a bundle,, pasties is a little archaic, as are beanies. Loosey-goosey. As a soccer player I’ve heard footie and think it gross, rather like my reaction to nappy, and I used to peevishly attack it on an American soccer discussion board. Going to 7-11 for an Icee. Playing hooky.

    It’s possible the diminutive is more productive elsewhere, but you haven’t convinced me, homies. If you don’t hear it in the mainstream, maybe it’s too indie. I’d make a bet on it if I knew a bookie.

  117. Hooky? Bookie?? Come on, nobody thinks of those as diminutives. Or do you call a small book a bookie?

  118. Stu Clayton says:

    A small cake is a cookie. Nookie is not a small nook, however, I think. Or is it ? A little warm corner of the body.

  119. Roberto Batisti says:

    It seems to me that English ‘diminutives’ in -y/-ie are mostly shortenings of longer, often compound, words, rather than nouns referring to small entities: football > footie, self-portrait > selfie, moving picture > movie, etc.
    Also, they’re mostly lexicalized. What English really lacks as opposed to, say, Italian (or Russian, I guess), is the possibility to create an offhand diminituve of any noun X literally meaning ‘a small X’.

  120. I think the diminutive attaches to the social stature of the occupation, yes, just as a Jenny may in fact be 5′ 11″, but the name still makes people somewhat less apt to accept her as a leader or boss. Slick Willy wasn’t a nickname to make Clinton seem childish, or less tall, but to lower his social stature. The image sugggested by bookie is not a tall or average-sized man, but a stoop-shouldered man with a little notebook in his jacket, in which he writes in cribbed script.

    One can easily imagine either of these formations in doggerel or a Warner Brother’s cartoon: I ain’t a truant. I was just playing hooky. And, Playing hooky? I, sir, am a truant. But they have opposite valence in part because diminishment is built into the ending.

    I think the question of nicknames is instructive. They function not unlike tu vis a vis vous, reducing formality and danger to familiarity and comfort. Thats why nicknames form diminutives in so many languages. That Johnny = Juanito is not just a linguistic coincidence. In the absence of direct experience, i find the figure of a mountie or bobbie more approachable thana cop, not because they sound physically smaller, but because the diminutive brings them from the threatening realm of strange men to the comforting realm of familiar men.

    Note that to use tu with someone you’re not expecred to is an effort to diminish them.

    I would assume -chen works the same. My neighbor called her big, vicious dog liebchen not because he seemed small to her, nor because her love for him was small, but because to her he was tame and within the family.

  121. What English really lacks as opposed to, say, Italian (or Russian, I guess), is the possibility to create an offhand diminituve of any noun X literally meaning ‘a small X’.

    Yes, exactly. Not that it actually means ‘a small X’ (in Russian, anyway); it can, but it’s more a means of conveying affection or some other emotion. But the point is that while “booklet” and “bookie” may be formally describable as diminutives of “book,” they cannot be applied to an actual book in the way that Russian книжка can.

  122. the use of diminutives as nicknames (in the wider sense) for children isn’t wholly unknown in German.

    Well, Hänsel and Gretel immediately spring to mind. The Hänschen and Gretchen forms are also hardly unknown. Just obsolete. German used to be very productive using diminutives as nicknames for children (Fritzlein, Märichen, Annalein, Dölfchen, and the diminutive of Ernest – Nestle*), but that usage seems to have stopped in the mid 20th century.

    *Ok, that I made up

  123. I would further say that bookie is the side of the mob they want everyone to feel comfortable coming to. Hoodlum would never reduce to hoodie, nor thug to thuggie. You can’t make sense of the word.

    And there are other potential suffixes. Booker didn’t catch on, for a reason. The desired connotation called for -ie. Other possible words didn’t thrive. They weren’t adaptive.

    We have rookies–little beginners, but no starries, Guys you can’t ignore might be big dogs, but never big doggies.

    I just don’t think you can make sense of English if you haven’t internalized that -y/-ie is an extremely productive suffix, with inherent diminutive meaning. It’s not just something to abbreviate the word, or to make it into a noun. It almost always has some diminishing purpose. The nouns created may be lexicalized, but the diminutive aspect remains part of the meaning.

    Would you accept that we have an extremely active and productive diminutive suffix, but one that is more abstract than that of other languages?

  124. Somewhat, but I think you’re exaggerating the activity and productivity. Don’t think in terms of diminutive nouns you can list, which gives a false impression; go down a list of nouns in the dictionary and see what percentage of them have diminutive forms in use. In Russian, it’s the vast majority (of common everyday nouns, not long abstract words); in fact, Ozhegov (a standard Russian-Russian dictionary) automatically gives diminutive forms at the end of noun entries.

  125. Ha! It’s quite an assignment! Search a dictionary for the common, everyday nouns. Can I have a little time?

    But I concede the point. I think we’re settling in the middle here — English does have a common and productive diminutive suffix that everyone understands and internalizes, but “extremely productive” was an overstatement. Its usage is different, in particular less physical and more restricted to metaphorical meanings, and that restriction inhibits its usage in many contexts where it is more common in other languages.

  126. We’ve finally reached agreement!

  127. I’m curious whether people believe AF was/is lexicalized and heard as “ay-eff”. My guess is that everyone hears it in their head in full — “as fuck.” That’s mostly because of my sense that ay-eff isn’t mellifluous or easy to say. It’s in fact harder to say than as fuck.

    Also, though I’m neither young enough to know, nor cray-cray enough to attempt to find out, it would be interesting to know how many of these actually survive two years later. Checking a few for recent usage on twitter, trill seems to survive only in the relict handles of those who joined in its brief heyday, and hundo p looks to be in an extinction spiral, with insufficient prominence to attract new users.

    Are they really words if they only pop up for 6 or 8 weeks in a small group? Perhaps they are. Here was my take on a related issue, where a word came to symbolize a single month, and that month completely circumscribed the usefulness of the word.:
    https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/the-good-old-days-3

  128. Whoops. That last comment was supposed to be in Viral Words. How’d it get here?

    (Well, because I posted it here. Sorry. Possible to move it? Do you mind if I re-post?

  129. I don’t mind at all! This way, it will get twice as many eyeballs, and it’s a good comment.

  130. David Marjanović says:

    I think we’re settling in the middle here — English does have a common and productive diminutive suffix

    I maintain it’s a nickname suffix, not a diminutive suffix, despite the obvious overlap of those functions.

    Like… in my experience as the oldest of 4, a baby bottle is let’s-spell-it Flascherl (diminutive), except when actually talking to the baby, in which case it becomes Flaschi (nickname).

  131. I forgot to mention that Russian adjectives also regularly have diminutive forms, which are used in the same way as diminutive nouns; thus синенький from синий ‘(dark) blue.’

  132. Given that in Russian, English, German and Spanish, we have examples with different etymologies in the thread of the overlap of diminutives with a putative independent nickname formation, can you suggest language groups where this isn’t permissible, to help make the case that it’s coincidental that these formations happen to use the same suffixes in so many Indo-European languages. The idea that nicknames, normally bestowed on people when they’re small, would routinely use the diminutive seemed so basic to me that it wasn’t worth questioning. Maybe I’m missing something.

  133. David Eddyshaw says:

    can you suggest language groups where this isn’t permissible

    Kusaal and its close relatives don’t really do either thing.
    The closest thing to a diminutive is to use a compound with the adjective bil “little”, but this usually specifically means “young of …”, as with baa “dog”. babil “puppy”, nua “hen”, nɔbil “chick” (though also nu’ug “hand”, nu’ubil “finger”, nɔbir “leg”, nɔbbil “toe.”)

    Bil does very often turn up in personal names, but it has the specific meaning “junior same-sex sibling of somebody with the same sigir “spiritual guardian”: so someone called Awin “Awini”, meaning that he inherits the win “spiritual individuality” of a male forebear as his guardian, may have a younger brother called Awimbil “Awimbillah” if his parents felt that they were on to a winner with the elder son’s sigir and wanted to carry on with the same one. You couldn’t possibly call Awini himself “Awimbillah.”

    You do get people actually just named Mbil “Mbillah” (“Little”), but that’s just the name, not a nickname or a diminutive. Unimaginative parents, I suppose …

    Hausa nicknames are something you could write a whole treatise about, but they don’t overlap with diminutives. (Many of them seem to have been invented to get round the fact that practically everybody is really called Muhammad or Khadija.)

  134. Stu Clayton says:

    The Kusaasi lack the linguistic means to be cutesy about stuff in general ? Surely they must have a functional equivalent of ootchy-gootchy widdums ? Or Papas Schatzemann, said to the puppydog ?

  135. David Eddyshaw says:

    Further research is needed. My own enquiries took place in low-cutesiness contexts for the most part.

  136. Stu Clayton says:

    Sorry, for an instant I forgot what I have gathered over the years about your work there.

  137. David Eddyshaw says:

    Hausa ɗan “son of …” can be used to make diminutives, but as far as I can make out they’re literally “diminutive” rather than affective. You can get affective senses with ideophones (in Kusaal too) but I don’t think there’s any way of (as it were) attaching an ideophone to a person’s name specifically; moreover the “affective” senses seem to be more often pejorative than affectionate: “wretched little” rather than “dear little.”

    You do come across papers on “baby talk” in less familiar languages from time to time. I don’t know of any even for Hausa offhand (but then I’ve never previously thought to look.)

    Apparently in Yupik you pronounce all the uvulars as velars to be cutesy.

  138. David Eddyshaw says:

    Child Language Acquisition in Relation to Reduplication: A Case Study of 6 (Six) Two-Year-Old Hausa Children has some baby-talk hypocoristic forms of personal names in Hausa, with partial reduplication:

    Ramlah -> Ramlolo
    Sale -> Salele
    Ladi -> Ladidi
    Hafsa -> Hafsoso.

    So evidently, such things are, at least in Hausa. I should have taken the advice of a Kusaasi colleague and taken a Kusaasi wife to improve my Kusaal. Then I would have known.

  139. David Eddyshaw says:

    And a paper by experts: Hypocoristic Names In Hausa.

  140. David Eddyshaw says:

    Arnott’s altogether wonderful Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula says of the ŋgel noun class: “every noun refers to a small person or thing, or a person or thing which the speaker wishes to belittle or disparage, or regards with affection.” There is a separate ŋgum class where “every noun refers to a person or thing regarded as puny, or treated with supercilious or pitying disdain.” There’s another class for little bits of liquid. You can never have too many noun classes.

  141. Stu Clayton says:

    But no noun class for little bits of liquid that the speaker wishes to disparage ? How then do you complain to the barkeeper that your shot of vodka contains chartreuse instead ??

    Is it possible that this exuberance of “noun classes” is a stoopid pedantic illusion, as in the old grammars that claimed the Latin ablative had thirty different “senses” ?

  142. No, it isn’t.

  143. Stu Clayton says:

    Are there no Sapir-Whorfoid implications in claiming that things (the designators of things) in Kusaal are divided up into “noun classes” by semantics, not merely of morphology – as if at the natural joints of the world ? Does this discourage people from complaining to the barkeeper, or do they have other resources ?

    I’m not saying there are no such “noun classes”. I’m asking whether that way of talking about them might be seen as suggesting more than is needed. The Kusaasi seem to do quite well on their own.

  144. J.W. Brewer says:

    Interesting to see that the notion that the same noun morphology can equally well be affectionate or insulting, depending on context, travels cross-culturally to West Africa.

  145. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is it possible that this exuberance of “noun classes” is a stoopid pedantic illusion

    They all actually require grammatical agreement in Fulfulde. There are about 25 of them, depending on dialect.

    I wanted to say “you can never have too many genders“, but thought that sounded a bit too woke.

    That’s Fulfulde, by the way, not Kusaal. Kusaal used to have grammatical agreement based on its puny seven noun classes, but has given up all of that stuff in favour of natural gender. Or Natural Gender, as Gwyneth Paltrow would say.

    I’m not saying there are no such “noun classes”. I’m asking whether that way of talking about them might be seen as suggesting more than is needed.

    The three “diminutive” classes in Fulfulde are a bit atypical even in that language in having quite such a close correlation with semantics. In more respectable languages, like those belonging to the Volta-Congo family, such as Swahili or Gurmanche, correlations with meaning tend to to be vaguer, except for the “human” class, which is usually just for people (though people can belong to other classes too. Freedom!)

    Kilimanjaro belongs to the Swahili “diminutive” class …

  146. Stu Clayton says:

    If they all require grammatical agreement, then there’s no point in talking about gender, of which there used to be only two in real life, and at all in language only by convention. You sure don’t want the woking dead to come down on your case (case, geddit ?? Haha).

  147. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think “noun class” and “gender” are perfect synonyms when it comes to talking about the morphosyntactic phenomenon. Viewing “gender” as primarily about masc v. fem, with maybe some neuter or “non-binary” whatnot thrown in, is a very IE-centric perspective. Maybe the Bantu specialists thought that having a dozen or two “genders” was ungainly, but there are plenty of language families around the world where four to six is pretty common, which ought to be enough to get away from thinking that the limiting M/F/?

    I note that the “category” sense of “gender” comes through plain and clear in the doublet “genre,” whose semantics have remained blissfully unaffected by all the sex stuff of recent decades.

  148. Stu Clayton says:

    Nobody needs cis- and transre genres, that’s for sure.

    I think “noun class” and “gender” are perfect synonyms

    How about “nounders”, to ‘scape any further whipping ?

  149. ə de vivre says:

    divided up into “noun classes” by semantics, not merely of morphology
    Aren’t Indo-European languages kind of the odd ones out in not doing this? That is, the best way to predict noun gender is by semantics rather than the characteristics of the noun itself? In North East Caucasian languages , there’s very little about the way a noun sounds to predict which of the 5 or so classes a noun falls into, but there are culturally specific semantic principles that sort them out.

    To be fair, the grammatical sense of “gender” predates the “category that male and female are part of” sense—not sure what that means for your peeving though.

  150. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Niger-Congo linguistics there is unfortunately no consensus on how to use the words “noun class” and “gender.” Bantuists seem pretty much always to talk about “noun classes”; they count singular and plural classes separately (by which metric, Kusaal actually has twelve, not a mere seven.)

    This makes sense for Bantu, because although there are some extremely common regular pairings of particular singular and particular plural classes, there are generally a good many exceptions.

    In Kusaal, on the other hand, there are five very solid pairs among the twelve, and the exceptions are mostly for fairly transparent reasons to do with avoiding ambiguous forms and the like.

    When Africanists gather together to complain softly among themselves, they tend to use “gender” (if they use the word at all) to refer to particular pairings of singular and plural “classes”; accordingly, this makes more sense for some languages (like Kusaal or Gurmanche, in which the pairings are pretty regular) than for others (like Fulfulde, in which there is much less regularity, and also many more singular than plural classes.)

    This is all quite orthogonal to the question of semantic correlations between classes and genders and any real-world phenomena. Actually, one constant throughout “Niger-Congo” is that the system never has anything to do with sex.

  151. >If they all require grammatical agreement, then there’s no point in talking about gender, of which there used to be only two in real life,

    C’mon now. There were three till the inbred barbarians lost a recessive gene, no?

    The Illiniwek had three.

  152. Stu Clayton says:

    To be fair, the grammatical sense of “gender” predates the “category that male and female are part of” sense—not sure what that means for your peeving though.

    Nothing at all. Apart from that, your notion of predating doesn’t appear to accord closely with what is known:

    OED
    [The Eng. use in this sense follows the Lat. use of genus, which in its turn is a rendering of the equivalent Gr. γένος. The formulation of the three grammatical genders (τὰ γένη τῶν ὀνοµάτων, ἄρρενα καὶ θήλεα καὶ σκεύη) is ascribed by Aristotle Rhet. iii. v. to Protagoras.]

    Then in Nominal Classification:

    # … Regardless of his aims, it is clear that Protagoras was aware of both semantic and syntactic aspects of gender, as exemplified by the correlation between gender and sex as well as the agreement between nouns and adjectives. #

  153. Stu Clayton says:

    This is all quite orthogonal to the question of semantic correlations between classes and genders and any real-world phenomena. Actually, one constant throughout “Niger-Congo” is that the system never has anything to do with sex.

    What a refreshing state of affairs !

  154. David Eddyshaw says:

    Aren’t Indo-European languages kind of the odd ones out in not doing this?

    Phew. Just in time to delete my previous reply when I noticed you had actually said the exact opposite of what I thought. Poor reading skills …

    Okay: no, I don’t think that’s right. Yimas, for example, has umpteen noun classes with agreement; two are human-male and human-female, but most of the rest are primarily determined by the phonology of the noun in question.

    Sasha Aikhenvald has written a whole book about this. Mind you, I haven’t actually read it.

  155. David Marjanović says:

    nicknames, normally bestowed on people when they’re small

    Russian comes up with diminutives of nicknames to take all this into account: Aleksandr(a), nickname Sasha, diminutive of nickname Sashinka for example.

    (The closest German gets to this is the most cutesy way to say “bye”: tschüssili.)

    Papas Schatzemann

    *facepalm* The Austrian default unimaginative address for one’s spouse is Schatzi, i.e. Schatz “treasure” with the nickname suffix. Schwarzenegger used to call Shriver that.

  156. ə de vivre says:

    Apart from that, your notion of predating doesn’t appear to accord closely with what is known
    Sorry for the lack of specificity, I meant in English the grammatical sense was dominant until the later half of the 20th century. Though I’m not quite sure what your quotes are trying to express. Both seem to be talking about how grammatical gender maps onto male-female in Ancient Greek.

    Yimas is a cool example. I was probably too strong in singling out IE languages. I was thinking of other big noun class families like NE Caucasian, Bantu, and does anyone have a good explanation of how Algonquian languages decide on animate versus inanimate?

  157. Stu Clayton says:

    It’s a Rheinland thing, at least. Even a son can be called Schatzemann. Ralf calls the dog that when he’s roughhousing with him, it’s more affectionate than cutesy. I blush to reveal that when I am out walking with Sparky for his ablutions, I call him Sparky-wark or Sparkle-woggle. It’s atavistic, I guess.

  158. Stu Clayton says:

    Both seem to be talking about how grammatical gender maps onto male-female in Ancient Greek.

    No mapping. Discussions of how all the aspects were jumbled together When The West Was Young, just as one would expect. No predating by pristine prototypes.

    Do you know anything about this-here ἄρρενα καὶ θήλεα καὶ σκεύη ? I found only the last word in my Greek-German dictionary, meaning Rüstung, Gerät.

  159. David Eddyshaw says:

    In the even-cooler-than-Yimas language Lavukaleve, there are three grammatical genders, masculine/feminine/neuter. Most words have predictable gender based on form, e.g nouns ending in -io or -f are feminine, nouns ending in -m or -n are masculine, nouns ending in -ae or -r are neuter; most exceptions to phonological gender assignment are loanwords. A large minority of words have gender assigned on semantic grounds, but apart from male/masculine and female/feminine the associations are less robust than the phonological ones. And ruima “old man” is feminine for no better reason than to annoy visiting linguists.

    In Hausa nearly all feminine nouns end in -aa, and nouns that don’t end in -aa are nearly all masculine. However, lots of nouns that end in -aa are also masculine, and unless they refer to something distinctly male, you just have to know.

    Mind you, this fairly transparent state of affairs in Hausa is apparently a secondary development from amalgamation of pronouns with preceding nouns and pervasive analogy starting from adjective agreement; the Chadic system seems not to have had any nice way of predicting gender from the form of a noun.

    On the other hand, that is the synchronic position in Hausa; and you could argue that in quite a few systems where form predicts gender this has arisen secondarily (including Indo-European, I think.)

    In Proto-Algonquian you could tell the gender of a noun by looking at it, as you still can in languages which haven’t lost their original final vowels; but again, that’s due to gluing of gender-marking suffixes to the preceding stems.

    Wolof is in a sort of transitional state: in principle, gender/noun/class/whatever is not discoverable by looking at a noun, but in practice an awful lot of nouns have evidently got fused initial class prefixes:

    gone gii “this child”
    jigéen jii “this woman”
    suuf si “the earth”
    weer wi “the moon”

  160. David Eddyshaw says:

    Just noticed that you mentioned Bantu (what can I say, poor reading skills):

    You can always tell the noun class of a Bantu noun from its form, except when phonological changes have led to erosion of the class prefix; in Swahili, for example, the prefix n is lost before most initial consonants (though the orthography conceals some remaining distinctions) and the original prefixes *bu- and *lu- have fallen together as u- via regular sound changes.

    In Gurmanche, where the noun class suffix system is pretty much intact, along with a full-dress eight-gender agreement system, nouns which are referential and not possessed have a preceding “article” which agrees in gender and number with the noun: kì bíga “a/the child” (cf Kusaal biig “child”); in Konkomba, which belongs to the same subgroup as Gurmanche, phonetic changes have reduced most original class suffixes to mush, and the “articles” have taken up the slack by becoming obligatory fused flexional class prefixes. Because Gender Must Go On.

    Johanna Nichols actually points out very strong correlations between the initial consonants of Ingush nouns and their agreement genders.

  161. David Marjanović says:

    Prefixes for the four genders/classes (two of which are human-male and human-female) are reconstructed for Proto-Caucasian and Proto-East-Caucasian, and functional in a lot of the modern languages.

    including Indo-European, I think

    Oh yes. The animate nominative singular *-s and the inanimate pronominal nom./acc. singular *-d are suspiciously similar to the suppletive pronoun animate *so, inanimate *tod (? < *to-to; after all, PIE had word-final voicing, see section 3 of this). And the feminine gender in the non-Anatolian branch seems to be a fascinating story of several suffixes getting confused: individualizing *-h₂ and set-plural *-h₂ for nouns, plus appurtenance *-ih₂ for adjectives… likely reinterpreted on a Caucasian-like substrate.

    and the “articles” have taken up the slack

    As they have for gender, number and case in German. But instead of becoming noun prefixes, they’re becoming preposition suffixes, har har.

  162. Stu Clayton says:

    As they have for gender, number and case in German. But instead of becoming noun prefixes, they’re becoming preposition suffixes, har har.

    Har har. Might as well say prepositions are becoming article prefixes. The traditional explanation is not so esoteric: preposition and article are contracted together when it’s easier to say.

    That saves a little utterance time. Nothing fancy about that, although you could make it sound that way by calling it an application of the linear speed-up theorem for Turing machines in computational complexity theory.

    # given any real c > 0 and any k-tape Turing machine solving a problem in time f(n), there is another k-tape machine that solves the same problem in time at most f(n)/c + 2n + 3, where k>1 #

    The WiPe proof starts like this, showing the mind-blowing triviality of the theorem:

    # The construction is based on packing several tape symbols of the original machine M into one tape symbol of the new machine N. It has a similar effect as using longer words and commands in processors: It speeds up the computations but increases the machine size. How many old symbols are packed into a new symbol depends on the desired speed-up. #

    Least said, soonest mended. “Only connect” said Forster, “only contract” say linguists. The implicit tendency seems to be towards high-speed bafflegab.

  163. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Fars nuttegris. I refuse to unpack. The marvel is that numerous men are still alive after decades of calling their wives that.

  164. Stu Clayton says:

    Vaters süßes Schwein. I love it ! Maybe it could be contracted in such a way as to perplex linguists and avoid offending wives.

  165. David Eddyshaw says:

    Semitic, of course, too. You can tell most feminine nouns from their endings (which rarely occur in masculine nouns) and then there’s the residuum of presumably-semantically-motivated feminines like paired body parts etc.

    The tidy-minded Akkadians regularised it even more by adding feminine endings to the semantic group; and the even more sensible Ethiopians evidently felt that doing gender agreement pretty much at random for sexless things was just fine.

  166. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @Stu: More like ‘piglet,’ usable (with an optional lille) also for babies and Möpse (vel sim). Not that it makes it better.

  167. David Eddyshaw says:

    (Actually I have some dim memory of the Semitic feminine for paired body parts thing being originally something to do with the morphology of the dual in Proto-Semitic, but I’d need to look it up.)

  168. Stu Clayton says:

    the residuum of presumably-semantically-motivated feminines like paired body parts

    What ? Statistically, all male and female individuals are axially symmetric. Where there is no axial symmetry, each individual has the same kind of asymmetry. Statistically, all body parts are paired, except for those that aren’t (heart, liver), but each individual of either kind has the same number of unpaired parts in the same positions.

    If “feminines for paired body parts” are semantically motivated, somebody’s semantics were not up to speed. Or they were blinded by boobs and buttocks. But that’s a question of size, not symmetry or pairing.

  169. Sparky-wark or Sparkle-woggle. It’s atavistic, I guess.
    The y-w must be English-speaking baby talk. Topsy was Topsy-wops. Jack, Jackie-wack.

    the most cutesy way to say “bye”: tschüssili
    My Swiss colleague used to say tschüssi, when she left the office. She called her mother “Mummyschatz” on the phone (she & her mother spoke English with an English accent).

  170. Lars Mathiesen says:

    All sorts of protolanguages seem to have had dual numbers, with much attrition in modern ones. Are there any theories about how grammatical number arises that would explain this one-two-many tendency, or is it just a historical accident? (A trial number exists in select Austronesian languages, but not for nouns, WP tells me).

  171. David Marjanović says:

    Har har. Might as well say prepositions are becoming article prefixes. The traditional explanation is not so esoteric: preposition and article are contracted together when it’s easier to say.

    Linguist: I have this rash around my mouth.
    Doctor: Looks like perioral dermatitis.
    Linguist: …That’s what I said…?

    The interesting part is what gets contracted and what does not. That is where languages differ – for all sorts of interesting reasons.

  172. Stu Clayton says:

    I figured that was what you meant. What you said sounded like “perioral dermatitis”, thus my rash response.

    The interesting part is what gets contracted and what does not. That is where languages differ – for all sorts of interesting reasons.

    I bet. German zu dem -> zum must be comparatively uninteresting – as long as it’s not called “prepositional suffixing” in order to charge more for the same plate of bread soup.

  173. Somewhat, but I think you’re exaggerating the activity and productivity.

    As an American, I’m sure you’d say that. In Australia they are more productive than in your dialect, and they keep popping up all the time.

    The other day I saw a Japanese on Facebook refer to the coronavirus as コロナちゃん korona-chan. I don’t think this is quite in the same league as Russian diminutives…

  174. Lars Mathiesen says:

    korona-chan — please link anime-style personification, or it didn’t happen.

    Of course it did.

  175. In Australia they are more productive than in your dialect, and they keep popping up all the time.

    So In Australia every common noun has a universally known and commonly used standard diminutive? Plate, knife, spoon, rain, mud, hair, everything? And the adjectives have diminutives? And if you’re going to say “That’s not what I’m claiming,” I’m going to say if you’re saying you’re not exaggerating the activity and productivity, then that’s what you seem to be claiming.

  176. David Eddyshaw says:

    All sorts of protolanguages seem to have had dual numbers, with much attrition in modern ones. Are there any theories about how grammatical number arises that would explain this one-two-many tendency, or is it just a historical accident?

    No duals in Volta-Congo, nor (AFAIK) in Niger-Congo (if you believe in such a thing.)

    I suppose there’s only so much bandwidth available. If you’ve got a dozen genders all with different markers for number, and you try to make it anything more complex than straight singular versus plural, your brain seizes up.

    On the other hand, it hasn’t stopped the Yimas. Three numbers in nouns, four in verbs. No wonder the kids all speak Tok Pisin nowadays.

  177. If your point is that English is not like Russian, that’s fine.

    But they are common and productive in English, especially in Australia. Yes, lexicalised, but productive nevertheless. The newest one I heard, which I’d never heard before, was ‘fiery’ for ‘volunteer firefighter’ (fighting the bushfires). It just popped up.

    I understand that -chen in German is also heavily favoured by children. The only animal you can’t take the -chen off is Kaninchen. “Davy” might be able to comment on this.

    Corona-chan is not used to be cutesy. It’s a diminutive used with a slightly pejorative, or belittling, undertone. The actual sentence relating to (physical) mail deliveries was:

    コロナちゃんの影響で、海外(中国以外も)↔️日本、の郵便物が大渋滞、通常の倍くらいの期間を見積もってくださいとのこと。

    Very literally translated, this is:

    “Under the influence of corona-chan, there is great congestion in overseas (also countries other than China) ↔️ Japan mail, please estimate roughly double the normal time.”

    Corona-chan could be interpreted as ‘sweet little corona’; it could also be understood as ‘damned corona’.

  178. it would be interesting to know how many of these actually survive two years later

    Sweet FA seems to have survived quite well.

    AKA Sweet Fanny Adams.

  179. Stu Clayton says:

    The only animal you can’t take the -chen off is Kaninchen.

    Not quite true. You can’t remove it when it is part of the name in such a way that it is no longer felt to be an added-on diminutive or affectionative, if it ever was felt to be such. In addition to Kaninchen there are Frettchen, Eichhörnchen, Glühwürmchen and probably others. Only those occur to me at the moment.

    Edit: Rochen is another one.

  180. the diminutive of Ernest – Nestle*) […] *Ok, that I made up

    It is a diminutive, though. Heinrich Nestle was born in Frankfurt and moved to the francophone canton of Vaud and changed his name to Henri Nestlé. But his family was from Swabia, where Nestle is indeed the diminutive of Nest ‘bird’s nest’; some variants of the surname (per WP.en) are Nästlin, Nästlen, Nestlin, Nestlen, Niestle. The company is still headquartered in Vevey, about 20 km from Lausanne.

    I’m curious whether people believe AF was/is lexicalized and heard as “ay-eff”. My guess is that everyone hears it in their head in full — “as fuck.”

    For me af is strictly a written abbreviation like i.e. I have had one clueless piglet ask me if I knew what it meant.

    but thought that sounded a bit too woke

    Excessive wokeness may be a symptom of campaine addiction.

    Schwarzenegger used to call Shriver that.

    Shriver, by the way, is not one who shrives (a priest) but rather one who scribes.

    ἄρρενα καὶ θήλεα καὶ σκεύη

    The first means ‘male person, boy or man’, which I was able to find because it has been borrowed into Modern Greek.

    in quite a few systems where form predicts gender this has arisen secondarily (including Indo-European, I think.)

    Is the total lack of correlation in Germanic the primal state, or is it a tertiary loss of correlation? In Celtic it’s surely the latter, because decay of final vowels.

    preposition suffixes

    Already true of del (and van der).

  181. Stu Clayton says:

    Is the total lack of correlation in Germanic the primal state, or is it a tertiary loss of correlation?

    It’s not total in German. Words ending in -ung, -heit or -keit are always feminine gender. And then there’s. .. um … well, there are several endings that tell me the word must be masculine or neuter when I’ve forgotten or never knew.

    -tum for instance. I’m pretty sure that, except for der Reichtum, all words in -tum are neuter. Words ending in -mut are feminine or masculine, except for Mammut (This set is a bit of a cheat, since the words derive from Mut.) And so it goes, and so it goes.

    These are possibly accidental correlations, but they are useful. 2/3 is better than 1/3.

  182. Stu Clayton says:

    I meant that, except for Mammut, many of the words derive from Mut. Wermut is masculine too, but also has nothing to do with Mut.

  183. Lest anyone thought I was limiting my comment to linguistic gender, I believe the Illiniwek actually had a culturally constructed 3rd gender. But it’s been decades since I read that, and it could have been another Midwestern Algonquian speaking tribe.

  184. >For me af is strictly a written abbreviation like i.e.

    So you see i.e. and always read id est, or am I misunderstanding?

    I.e. is definitely its own word for me, and I would rarely if ever think id est, except to contrast with exemplum gratia when I try to nail down eg, because it’s less natural for me and I often have to make sure it’s not ie before using it.

    That doesn’t make sense, of course. It’s a habit from before the time when i.e. had fixed itself in my mind.

  185. I would guess he sees i.e. and reads “that is.” But what do I know? I’ll let him explicate for himself.

  186. I myself see i.e. and read “eye ee.” Same for e.g. and “ee gee.”

  187. >Arnott’s altogether wonderful Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula says of the ŋgel noun class: “every noun refers to a small person or thing, or a person or thing which the speaker wishes to belittle or disparage, or regards with affection.”

    >Interesting to see that the notion that the same noun morphology can equally well be affectionate or insulting, depending on context, travels cross-culturally to West Africa.

    Is there really a question that these values are inherently linked in the human mind — small, tame, less respected, less needing of formality, friendly, part of the home/family, with potentially positive or negative valence? Neither my experience nor my reading of sociology is wide enough to be sure, but I would have thought that was universal, arguably starting with any animal that raises its own young — small is deserving of tenderness (my offspring) or disrespect (my weak enemy).

    This is why I found it boggling to suggest that there could even be a consistent nicknaming suffix that might not be diminutive. If it began as just a nickname suffix, I believe it would inevitably take on a diminutive sense. The concepts seem inseparable. The Venn diagrams may be slightly different in some cultures, but surely the overlap is everywhere, no?

  188. Is the total lack of correlation in Germanic the primal state, or is it a tertiary loss of correlation? In Celtic it’s surely the latter, because decay of final vowels.
    Stu already has shown that the lack of correlation is not total, as certain suffixes have fixed gender. As for the situation in PIE, that depends on whether you reconstruct it with three genders (the traditional model, to which a significant number of scholars still adhere), or with two genders (common vs. neuter, as in Anatolian). The neuter vs. non-neuter distinction is clearly marked by morphology: non-neuters have a nom. sg. in -s or in long vowel plus resonant (going back to *-VRs#), while neuters generally end in a short vowel, in a short vowel plus consonant, or in a syllabic resonant. Plus for neuter, nom., acc. and vocative are identical. Male and female gender, OTOH, are not distinguished morphologically, except that nouns ending in *-(i/e)-H2# (a big class) are mostly female. Some IE language families developed in the direction of more systematically distinguishing male and female gender morphologically, e.g. Balto-Slavic, but also Germanic before it reduced away its endings.

  189. >I would guess he sees i.e. and reads “that is.”

    That’s very possible. But I’d be about as apt to do that as to see the word jaundiced, think of the French, back-translate in my head, and read it aloud as yellowed.

  190. David Eddyshaw says:

    The matter of how I voice i.e. e.g. etc in my head when reading by myself doesn’t really arise, as I don’t hear any internal voice at all when reading (only when meditating in the desert on my pillar); but in reading aloud I say “that is” “for example” “and so on.”

    Other practices are Just Wrong. I’m sorry, but certain standards have to be maintained. It is the only way to avoid the Zombie Apocalypse. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

    (Of course, the UNIX directory is “etsy.” I contain multitudes.)

  191. everything?

    everythingie

  192. So you read it directly, as a kanji that happens to take the form of letters? Or are you translating to spit out ‘that is’?

    I wonder if there is anything I read that way. Not that I’m constantly, rapidly sounding things out. I certainly process words as words, and put on my pants both legs at once, like everyone else. But I don’t immediately come up with words whose pronunciation has nothing at all to do with their spelling. Numbers, being actual ideograms, are something different.

  193. Ryan, how do you read “100 lb”?

  194. I know at least one person who I have seen read “AF” aloud as “as fuck”; yet she also sometimes pronounces it “ay eff” in spontaneous discourse. My daughter only ever uses “ay eff,” at least around me.

    As for other abbreviations, “aye we” and “ee gee” are just lexicalized, and I hear them as initialisms in my head. However, if reading them aloud, I also would say “that is” and “for example” (most of the time). On the other hand, “etc.” is “et cetera” in all occurences.

  195. Good call, Keith. Pounds. I probably knew id est from Latin before I ever ran into i.e. But lb. long before I ever ran into librae.

  196. David Marjanović says:

    “aye we”

    Is that a typo, or are you really getting a [w] from somewhere?

    I understand that -chen in German is also heavily favoured by children. […] “Davy” might be able to comment on this.

    Not really, because -chen isn’t native in Austria.

    I’ve never noticed children using diminutives more. Adults use the nickname suffix a lot when talking to small children, but diminutives not that much.

    There are also lexicalized diminutives: “spoon” > “teaspoon” (though that one, funnily, usually gets combined with the word “little”), “sack” > “plastic or paper bag half the size of a laptop” (…is that an Australian baggie?), “bag” (as in “handbag”) > “folded dough sheet with non-sweet filling”…

    BTW, Rochen “ray/skate” (the ‘fishes’) is not a diminutive, and isn’t pronounced like one any more than Kuchen “cake” or Wochen “weeks”.

    Is the total lack of correlation in Germanic the primal state, or is it a tertiary loss of correlation? In Celtic it’s surely the latter, because decay of final vowels.

    In Germanic, too, it’s the merger and ongoing loss of final vowels. There’s nothing left to indicate that Schicht “layer” and Stirn “forehead” are feminine, except the fact that the forms Schichte and Stirne aren’t quite extinct just yet, and their -e is a feminine ending – except it’s also several other endings, merged 1000 years ago. In Gothic, AFAIK, it was all a lot more obvious.

    So you read it directly, as a kanji that happens to take the form of letters?

    I don’t even read kanji that way. If I happen to be able to read them at all, I imagine the – Mandarin – pronunciation with them, not just the meaning.

    (That’s probably also why I have so many opinions about punctuation. I imagine an intonation with everything I read.)

    I am able to retype text I see without routing it through language processing – straight from letter recognition to finger movement. (Indeed that’s the fastest way by far.) But when I do that, I don’t understand or remember the text; I have to go back and read it afterwards. I do read faster than probably anyone speaks, though.

  197. David Marjanović says:

    Diminutives of adjectives, BTW, occur in Slavic and Spanish, but are wholly unknown in German if I’m not overlooking something glaringly obvious.

    Some formerly frequentative verbs in -eln have been reinterpreted as diminutive, though, and a small number of new ones that never were frequentatives have been created; otherwise I know diminutive verbs only from Mandarin (where they’re reduplicated: xiūxixiuxi “let’s have a little break”).

  198. Stu Clayton says:

    BTW, Rochen “ray/skate” (the ‘fishes’) is not a diminutive, and isn’t pronounced like one any more than Kuchen “cake” or Wochen “weeks”.

    I was relying on you or a Kollega to defuse my naughty little joke ! Pity I didn’t think of Kuchen. It’s not an animal, unfortunately, although Küchenschabe is. A Kuchenschabe is an animal, but not a type of animal. A cakeroach.

  199. @David Marjanović: Not a typo but the related phenomenon of autocorrect. I.e., the pronunciation should be “aye ee.” (My phone changed it that time too, but I caught it.)

  200. John Cowan says:

    It’s not total in German. Words ending in -ung, -heit or -keit are always feminine gender.

    So they are, but the last morpheme in a compound noun determines its gender, even when that morpheme is a suffix.

    I would guess he sees i.e. and reads [and thinks] “that is.”

    Just so.

    I am able to retype text I see without routing it through language processing – straight from letter recognition to finger movement.

    I can’t do that; I have to know what the word is before I can type it. Everything I type passes through my brain as a word, whatever its source (which is why I wrote “it’s source” and immediately corrected it). It’s odd that I never (AFAIK) make the other error of omitting the apostrophe.

  201. Stu Clayton says:

    Diminutives of adjectives, BTW, occur in Slavic and Spanish, but are wholly unknown in German if I’m not overlooking something glaringly obvious.

    Frühchen 🙂

  202. Jonathan D says:

    Bathrobe, I agree that they are productive in Australian more than some other Englishes, but would you agree that as a result the connotations of using a diminutive are much less significant? I found it very hard to follow Ryan’s argument that “bookie” needed to have the connotations he suggested, since to me it would be the unremarkable obvious shortform of bookmaker.

    Apart from that, “firie” for any sort of firefighter, volunteer or not, has been standard for me as long as I remember.

  203. Stu Clayton says:

    So they are, but the last morpheme in a compound noun determines its gender, even when that morpheme is a suffix.

    Beg to differ: die Großmut, der Hochmut, die Anmut, der Edelmut, der Kleinmut. That was the point of my ramblings about -mut words that are either masculine or feminine. Except for hairy elephants long of tooth.

  204. John Cowan says:

    Wikt.de says about the latter: “mittelhochdeutsch „anemuot“, ursprünglich Maskulinum: „was in den Sinn kommt, Verlangen“, aus der Perspektive des Subjekts, später Eigenschaft des betrachteten Objekts; genaue Etymologie unklar. Belegt seit dem 14. Jahrhundert” and cites Kluge.

  205. Stu Clayton says:

    So ? Things are as they are, regardless of how they came to be are. First principles applied to second-hand knowledge often yield third-rate results.

    Fact: the last morpheme in a compound German noun does not determine its gender, even when that morpheme is a suffix.

    Zizka used to complain bitterly about that.

  206. Stu Clayton says:

    Further examples at random: die Erkenntnis, das Bekenntnis. Der Reichtum, das Wachstum. Der Bauer, das Bauer (Vogelkäfig). Der Stift, das Stift.

  207. I wonder what’s the standard Australian diminutive for a “monk”.

  208. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm
    Is it possible that some adjectives in -lich are reanalysed diminutive, eg zierlich, manierlich, herzlich, mütterlich, gemütlich? These have an emotional or caressing feel to me but maybe this is down to semantics or my personal associations.

  209. Stu Clayton says:

    “Emotional or caressing feel” is not dependent on a “diminutive” feel. The words you list have not an iota of diminutive feel for me, except maybe half an iota for zierlich – and that is due to what it means, not what I feel. A zierlicher Wal has to be smallish for a whale. Of course you can get all paradoxical and metaphorical about a giant whale – ein zierlicher, gigantischer Orca – but that’s why it would be called paradoxical and metaphorical.

    There’s another aspect to this “diminutive” business that someone somewhere upstream mentioned, that hasn’t received due attention: people often use “diminutive” forms to make something seem cute that they are a bit afraid of. See “dainty giant orca”.

  210. PlasticPaddy says:

    @stu
    That is true. The sort of thing I am trying to get at is that some of these words in lich have a different force (either contemptuous or minimising or sentimental). Compare zornig, gehässig and hässlich.

  211. Stu Clayton says:

    Peeve alarm !!! It is common for hässlich (ugly) to be used in the sense of gehässig (hateful). It’s very like the English “he’s ugly” and “he’s being ugly to her”. But if you want to get into the heaven of people who do things like they should oughta be done, you won’t use hässlich that way. Nor “ugly”.

    If you don’t care that much, that’s only more leg room for me in that heaven.

  212. @Jonathan D

    I’ve been away for a long time so I only learn these words later, even if they’ve been around for years.

    Perhaps “the connotations of using a diminutive are much less significant” if they are highly productive. Does this work for Russian?

    “Fierie” belongs to a group of words denoting “occupations” (tradie, pollie, bookie, bikie, surfie, maybe cocky, etc.). It denotes a certain familiarity. But since it mainly occurs in restricted areas, it is obviously not generalised like Russian diminutives.

    The image sugggested by bookie is not a tall or average-sized man, but a stoop-shouldered man with a little notebook in his jacket, in which he writes in cribbed script.

    I really don’t know where this image comes from, unless, of course, he has somehow picked up a jaundiced view of bookmakers — or has been led astray by the diminutive suffix! Perhaps living in the States, where these diminutives are less common, deadens you to the ubiquity of such terms. Which might count in favour of your point above.

  213. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Da en egenskab/et selskab. In G they are die Eigenschaft/die Gesellschaft.

  214. Another suffix in English, now not used but once highly productive: the Oxford “-er/-ers”.
    Rugby becomes rugger, association football becomes soccer (or footer), indigestion becomes indijaggers, the Bodleian and Radcliffe Camera libraries become the Bodder and the Radder, people called Johnson and Godwin become Johnners and Godders, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation becomes Honkers-Shankers.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_%22-er%22

  215. David Marjanović says:

    Frühchen 🙂

    That’s a noun, derived from Frühgeburt, the non-diminutive for “premature baby”.

    die Erkenntnis

    Also das Erkenntnis for certain court decisions/findings. Rare and baffling.

    Is it possible that some adjectives in -lich are reanalysed diminutive

    Not that I’ve noticed.

    It is common for hässlich (ugly) to be used in the sense of gehässig (hateful).

    I didn’t know that.

    (In Austria nobody says hässlich in the first place. There’s a completely different dialectal word which sometimes ends up being written as schirch, though there’s apparently no etymological r in it.)

    selskab

    There is die Seilschaft, originally a team of mountaineers connected by a rope (Seil), now mostly applied to buddy networks who steer academic jobs toward each other.

  216. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Selskab = Gesellschaft (though maybe from OS/MLG selskepi already in late Norse selskapr). The Norse form looks masculine, but it’s too late for dictionaries I looked in — why it’s neuter in Danish I don’t know, the point here is that we didn’t care about consistency of words in -skab.

  217. Stu Clayton says:

    In Austria nobody says hässlich in the first place. There’s a completely different dialectal word which sometimes ends up being written as schirch.

    More wonders from the East ! Maybe Austrians don’t call an ugly person häßlich because they’re more polite than Rheinlanders ?

    I found this in an Österreichisches Wörterbuch:

    # (oba)feangern : (häßlich) herunterschneiden #

    Does this mean herunterputzen (give someone a severe dressing-down) ?? What does häßlich mean here, if not gehässig ?

  218. Stu Clayton says:

    I didn’t know that [häßlich used in the sense of gehässig]

    Gestern Abend auf der Fete war sie ziemlich häßlich gegenüber ihrem Ex. Ich hab doch gedacht, sie verstehen sich wieder einigermaßen ?

  219. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm
    Thanks. I suppose the only diminutive adjective I can think of is heimelig. Or would you derive that from *Heimel +ig?

  220. Lars Mathiesen says:

    ODS s.v. hemmelig (= ‘secret’) cites LG hemelik as parallel to Da hjemlig = ‘homely’.

    Let me advance the theory that High German heimelig is an interdialectal loan forming a doublet with native heimlich.

  221. John Cowan says:

    Things are as they are, regardless of how they came to be.

    I agree with that, but I think you have a hold of the right stick at the wrong end.

    […] Fact: the last morpheme in a compound German noun does not determine its gender, even when that morpheme is a suffix.

    The theory that the last morpheme determines gender can be tested by making up novel compounds and asking Germans what gender the results are. Of course the last morpheme has to have a gender in the first place.

    1) The fact that Anmut has become feminine is good evidence that it no longer contains the morpheme Mut, and is in fact monomorphemic. ‘

    2) -nis has never been a noun: it has no gender to impute, any more than the inflectional endings do.

    3) Similarly, it is so long since -tum was a noun (cognate with doom) that it is no longer felt as having a gender either

    4) Bauer is accidental homonymy: in der Bauer ‘farmer’ is cognate with boor; das Bauer ‘birdcage’ is cognate with bower. Each noun has its own independent gender. In neither case is -er a suffix, by the way.

    5) Stift is similar to Bauer: der Stift ‘pen, etc.’ is connected with steif ‘stiff’, whereas das Stift ‘monastery’ is a back-formation from stiften ‘donate’. They are connected only by a PIE root equation (that is, very remotely if at all).

  222. David Marjanović says:

    Selskab = Gesellschaft

    *facepalm* Of course. I couldn’t even recognize the prefix as such, because the root never appears without it.

    # (oba)feangern : (häßlich) herunterschneiden #

    I had no idea this existed. However, if you click on it, you’re shown comments that make clear it’s about literal cutting with a knife that is too blunt or otherwise unsuited, leading to a result that isn’t pretty to look at. One of the examples means “why are you messing up your fingernails with a pocket knife, get a pair of nail scissors”.

    Gestern Abend auf der Fete war sie ziemlich häßlich gegenüber ihrem Ex. Ich hab doch gedacht, sie verstehen sich wieder einigermaßen ?

    I understand this immediately, I’ve just never encountered it in the wild.

    (I’ve also encountered die Fete only in writing. If it used to be more widespread, it’s been completely replaced by Party… which would explain how Party ended up feminine.)

    Let me advance the theory that High German heimelig is an interdialectal loan forming a doublet with native heimlich.

    Sounds good to me. However, there is a word anheimelnd “enticing because it looks cozy/makes you feel nostalgic”. So probably we’re looking at the verbal frequentative again.

    1) The fact that Anmut has become feminine is good evidence that it no longer contains the morpheme Mut, and is in fact monomorphemic.

    And indeed, it contains neither the modern meaning “courage” nor the long-gone meaning “mood” of Mut. …Actually, it does contain the latter, but in a very roundabout way: it’s somehow backformed from anmuten “seem, remind of”, which contains Mut in a meaning somewhere around “emotions”. None of this is obvious if you don’t think about it for quite some time; the morpheme is not recognizable to prevent analogies to feminine abstract nouns of similar meaning like Schönheit “beauty”.

    das Stift ‘monastery’

    …might have gotten its gender from Kloster “monastery”, or even from Münster “some kind of cathedral” < monasterium.

  223. John Cowan says:

    -nis has never been a noun

    Actually, digging a little further there is a noun-making suffix hiding there. Wikt s.v. -ness:

    from Proto-Germanic *-nassuz. This suffix was formed already in Proto-Germanic by false division of the final consonant *-n- of the preceding stem + the actual suffix *-assuz. The latter was in turn derived from an earlier *-at(s)-tuz, from *-atjaną + *-þuz.

    The frequentative suffix *-atjaną is apparently responsible for the -t of grunt < *grunn-atjaną ultimately < PIE *gʰrun- ‘shout’, as well as (via Norman French) haunt < heim-atjaną. As for *-þuz, it became completely unproductive after PGmc, but it gives us pairs (some of them cross-language) like blasen ~ blast, die ~ death, draw ~ draft, graben ~ Du gracht ‘canal’, Sw jäsa ‘ferment’ ~ yeast, loose ~ lust, LG miegen ‘urinate’ ~ Mist, slay ~ Schlacht, wax ~ waist, throw ~ thread, Sw två ‘wash’ ~ tvätt ‘laundry, dirty clothes’ < ON þvá ~ þváttr ‘id.’

  224. David Marjanović says:

    Ten ancient discussions of grammatical gender in Greek and Latin, with links to sources and (where available) translations. Sextus Empiricus FTW.

    (Simply stop the loading of the page before Medium tries to force you to log in. If you waited too long, refresh and try again.)

  225. Stu Clayton says:

    The woking dead in Latin class !

    # From pronouns to choice of name and use of adjectives, it’s one thing if you identify as masculine or feminine, but Latin presents real questions for non-binary speakers. In addition, there is a chauvinism inherent in Latin grammar, like in the way that mixed-gender groups are referred to as masculine. There is a similar chauvinism in the Latin pedagogical tradition: the very ordering of adjectival forms as masculine/feminine/neuter (-us/-a/-um) presents a hierarchy of being masquerading as a lexicographical convenience.

    On top of that, I worry that our modern pedagogical practices implicitly present students a highly essentialized vision of gender: every noun has one gender exclusively, rigid and unchanging. #

    But the list of ancient discussions looks very useful. As always, there was merely a bit of initial PR to be chopped through. Some “I worry”, some “I don’t mean to claim …”, some “I also don’t mean to suggest …”

    I just noticed that the list is from that “Nominal Classification” book I linked to far up this thread.

  226. καφεδάκι • (kafedáki) n (plural καφεδάκια)
    Diminutive of καφές (kafés): a small cup of coffee.
    καφεδάκι

    -άκι • (-áki) n
    Added to nouns (chiefly neuter) to give a diminutive form, expressing small size or affection.
    ‎ποτάμι (potámi, “river”) + ‎-άκι (-áki) → ‎ποταμάκι (potamáki, “rivulet”)
    ‎άντρας (ántras, “husband”) + ‎-άκι (-áki) → ‎αντράκι (antráki)
    ‎γυναίκα (gynaíka, “wife”) + ‎-άκι (-áki) → ‎γυναικάκι (gynaikáki)
    ‎κερί (kerí, “candle”) + ‎-άκι (-áki) → ‎κεράκι (keráki, “small candle”)
    -άκι

    Greek words suffixed with -άκι

    Μια θάλασσα γαλάζια τα μάτια σου απόψε
    κι εγώ καράβι στ’ ανοιχτά,
    με φέρνεις σ’ άλλους κόσμους, αγάπη μου, απόψε
    κλαράκι εγώ κι εσύ φωτιά.
    Μια θάλασσα γαλάζια

  227. Latin grammar (unlike Greek) applied ‘genus’ both to nominal gender (masculine, feminine, neuter etc – there were often extra categories like common and ‘omne’) and to what we would call verbal voice (active, passive). As far as I can remember ancient grammarians didn’t try to link these two senses, but the medievals couldn’t resist the challenge. I remember an example – Googling just now suggests I may well have read in the works of Martinus de Dacia (a French-based Dane rather than from the Balkans) – where they tried to explain the different genders of synonyms like lapis, petra, saxum (all basically ‘stone’) with a generous helping of gender-essentialism. Lapis is ‘laedens pedem’, ‘hurting the foot’, thus active and therefore masculine, while petra is ‘pede trita’ ‘worn/trodden by the foot’, passive and therefore feminine. I forget what they did about saxum….

  228. a French-based Dane rather than from the Balkans

    Danes from the Balkans would be interesting. I devised the Diné from Fynen while explaining why language tags like “nv-DK” are valid even if not currently useful, and it was L. Sprague de Camp who came up with the Scots of Egypt and the Scythians of Greece (descendants of slaves, no doubt).

  229. David Eddyshaw says:

    I have just noticed (as one does) that the Fulfulde word for “baby”, ɓiŋgum, belongs to the allegedly “person or thing regarded as puny, or treated with supercilious or pitying disdain” class; as I am fairly sure that the Fulɓe do not in fact regard babies with supercilious or pitying disdain, I suspect that the truth may be more complex than I have been led to believe.

    I suppose they are quite puny.

  230. Stu Clayton says:

    Puny, and they mewl and puke in the nurse’s arms. That’s rather a lot for one noun class to cover. Is there one for person or thing with shining morning face ?

  231. David Marjanović says:

    There’s nothing left to indicate that Schicht “layer” and Stirn<i< “forehead” are feminine, except the fact that the forms Schichte and Stirne aren’t quite extinct just yet, and their -e is a feminine ending –

    – and quite often, actually, involved in gender reassignment surgery, on which start here.

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