GATTO.

The wonderful Mary Beard is always worth reading; her recent TLS column “Man ist was man isst?” is about “the great horsemeat scandal,” but in the course of it she mentions parenthetically “a friend who recently reminded me that Elizabeth David referred to a celebratory dish of roast cat in Sardinia.” This caught my eye, as it did that of some of the commenters—”Gigi Santow said… Please, please, could someone provide corroborating chapter and verse for Elizabeth David’s cat feast in Sardinia?”—and Mary Beard provided the relevant quote: “An Italian friend of mine once told me that in Sardinia a peasant woman had said to her, ‘Christmas without a roast cat wouldn’t be Christmas’ (Elizabeth David’s Christmas, 2003: 133, under ‘Bread Sauce’).” In response, commenter Caroline said “Cat in Italian is ‘gatto’ but this spelling and pronunciation is used for ‘gateau’, cake in French. I believe that the cat for Christmas in Sardinia is a crunchy almond biscuit!” and Michael Bulley followed up:

Well, nearly. It isn’t to do with cats. Elizabeth David should have brought along a translator or her publishers should have used a proper proofreader. Here’s an extract from “The Sardinian Art of Pastry”:
“The most famous perhaps is the gatto. Prepared every year during the festival that honours a town’s local saint, it is basically a nougat made with sugar and almonds, and sometimes orange peel. What makes the gatto special is that it is painstakingly made to resemble in cake form the town church or religious structure in a miniature replica. During the celebrations, the gatto made especially for the occasion is made the centerpiece.”
In Sicily, however, the gatto is a cheese and potato pie.

There is further discussion of Sardinian gattò and the various ways of preparing it, which you can read at the link, but I wanted to provide the public service of reassuring everyone that Sardinians do not, in fact, eat cats for Christmas. (A tip o’ the Languagehat hat to AJP for the very entertaining link.)

Comments

  1. I enjoy the discrepancy between the British and US use of the word “cake”. As I understand it, the sort of thing that we call “cake” is called “gateau” over there (with the stress on the first syllable of course) to distinguish it from good old British baked goods of a generally denser nature.

  2. In a bookshop in Ely:
    Wife: “Would you like this book by Mary Beard?”
    Husband: “She’s not what I’d call a critical thinker.”
    Nearby witches/witnesses: glare, mutter, hate.

  3. You won’t believe it, but Americans are known to eat hot dogs!

  4. I remember reading that cats used to be known in Italy as “roof rabbits”. Back a few centuries ago when times were tough.
    Years ago I was browsing through a memoir of an officer in the Peninsular War. He describes a time when they were very short of food, when he came upon one of the regimental sergeants roasting a chicken and was invited to help himself. “Wherever did you find a chicken?” he asked between bites. “Well,” said the sergeant, “you remember that cat that was hanging around the barracks?” The officer jumped up in horror. “Young whippersnapper,” said the sergeant, “when you’ve been in the army as long as I have, you’ll be thankful for what you can get.”
    For years now I’ve been going through officers’ memoirs from the Peninsular War trying to find that book again (and it is amazing how many there are), but without success.

  5. I wonder if the original misunderstanding lies with Elizabeth David or David’s “Italian Friend”. given Italian regional prejudices and Sardinians known proclivities for eating odd things (casu marzu comes to mind), it’s possible David’s friend did confuse ‘gattò’ with ‘gatto’.

  6. As I understand it, the sort of thing that we call “cake” is called “gateau” over there (with the stress on the first syllable of course)
    No, it’s not that, though you’re right about the stress (we’re not trying to speak French). You’d never see a gâteau de Black Forest, for example; and a sponge cake is light and fluffy, not like wedding cake which is more like Christmas pud. I’ve never heard that there’s a rational sorting into cakes & gâteaus in England. It’s just a café or cafeteria game, as far as I know. And you’re much more likely to hear an Italian pastry name nowadays, as in the US.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    cat/chicken/rabbit
    No doubt the soldier story is true in general but the details must have changed in the recounting: surely a roasting cat would look quite different from a roasting chicken, and people don’t usually help themselves from a roasting piece of meat before it is taken off the fire. It is more likely that the cat meat had been cooked in a stew, which could be kept simmering for a long time, and where the meat morsels were not easily identified.
    Some of my father’s forebears lived in Paris during the Commune (just after the 1870 war with Prussia). Since the Commune was an insurrection, the capital was besieged by government troops for a couple of months, supplies were cut off and Parisians were soon starving. Eventually all the zoo animals were killed for food – they would have starved anyway for lack of their own food. One of my ancestresses killed the family cat and cooked it. No doubt many other families did the same.
    When I was a child, my grandparents in Southern France raised a few rabbits as well as chickens. When my sisters and I stayed with them in the summers we ate stewed rabbit quite regularly. One year when our cousin (about 4 or 5 years old at the time) came to join us, she was horrified to learn that the meat she was eating was from one of the rabbits (they were not pets, but we used to help feed them). But since she was used to eating chicken at home in Paris (where she never saw a live chicken), she would eat the rabbit meat if she was told it was chicken.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    gatto/gattò
    Or the importance of diacritics.

  9. I remember reading that cats used to be known in Italy as “roof rabbits”. Back a few centuries ago when times were tough.
    Not only in Italy. Dachhase meaning “cat” is known in Germany as well, and of course durin hard times, people eat a lot of things – my grandfather used to tell the story how, when he was a POW in France after WWII, some fellow prisoners caught and stewed the pet dog of one of the French overseers and he was allowed to join in the meal because he could contribute some onions that had fallen from a lorry. He said that he rarely enjoyed a meal so much in his life.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Westerners often wonder at the number of things considered by the Chinese as edible. They forget that there have been numerous famines in China, forcing desperate people to try to eat just about anything that would not break their teeth.

  11. surely a roasting cat would look quite different from a roasting chicken
    As surely as there is more than one way to skin (and butcher) a cat.

  12. Just to say that the Red Poll cattle on Midsummer Common that she mentions belong to our vet’s wife. And very beautiful beasts they are. The cattle, I mean.
    http://findavet.rcvs.org.uk/find-a-vet/clarendon-street-veterinary-surgery-cambridge-2272/

  13. “You won’t believe it, but Americans are known to eat hot dogs! ”
    read, supposedly this was a joke about Dachshunds, which at the time were one more strange thing about all the German immigrants in the US. It’s still a fun pun to tease children with.
    “Christmas pud.”
    AJP, seriously, WTF? Surely the Holy Spirit doesn’t have….
    “Westerners often wonder at the number of things considered by the Chinese as edible. They forget that there have been numerous famines in China,”
    m-l, we forget our own weird things, like snails lampreys and possums and armadillos. Oh and cheese, guaranteed to squick out Chinese everywhere.

  14. “You won’t believe it, but Americans are known to eat hot dogs! ”
    read, supposedly this was a joke about Dachshunds, which at the time were one more strange thing about all the German immigrants in the US. It’s still a fun pun to tease children with.
    “Christmas pud.”
    AJP, seriously, WTF? Surely the Holy Spirit doesn’t have….
    “Westerners often wonder at the number of things considered by the Chinese as edible. They forget that there have been numerous famines in China,”
    m-l, we forget our own weird things, like snails lampreys and possums and armadillos. Oh and cheese, guaranteed to squick out Chinese everywhere.

  15. narrowmargin says:

    For what it’s worth, my half-French friend (born, raised, educated til 18 in France), informs me that gateau is slang for vagina. He grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, but doesn’t know how long that usage has been around.

  16. Jim, when I was at school I was never any good at Divinity, as it was called, and it’s just struck me that I’ve got no idea of the role or point of the Holy Spirit (Ghost).

  17. “read, supposedly”
    i was surprised to find myself commenting in my absence, but that was SFR i am relieved to learn, for a moment almost like got panicked :) what if i’m doing stuff not knowing myself, that’s like the greatest fear for a person to have i guess
    i like the funny cat pictures, less their videos, even less i guess it if its alive pets, what’s with the toxoplasmosis fear, so that is something like kind of sublimation/ distilling, taking just what one likes from a given thing, fb, for example, a very distilled experience of “friendship”

  18. For what it’s worth, my half-French friend (born, raised, educated til 18 in France), informs me that gateau is slang for vagina. He grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, but doesn’t know how long that usage has been around.
    My (not at all prudish) Dictionary of French and American Slang (1965) doesn’t have it, so it’s presumably more recent than that.

  19. According to Wikipedia, cat is still eaten in parts of China and Switzerland, and not as famine food.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat_meat

  20. “Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright” presumably refers to meat for a cat, not meat of a cat?

  21. Dearieme: Indeed.

  22. marie-lucie: I didn’t say the story was true, I said I read it in a memoir. I wish I could find it again though, to check out some of these little details.
    When I was a child we frequently ate rabbit because it was cheap. But I had a little friend who wouldn’t eat rabbit because he read all those children’s books about little bunnies wearing waistcoats. So his mother used to cut off one leg in the kitchen and tell him “We’re having rabbit but you can have chicken”. Apparently he never seemed to notice all the rabbits had three legs.

  23. Hmm interesting !
    I’ve actually had Gatto (Scicily) whilst on my travels, it is actually very nice but was disappointed it wasn’t a proper Gateaux.
    Duck is another food many kids won’t eat especially if they’ve fed them bread recently. I was the same until I discovered crispy duck pancakes whilst at university!

  24. Oh and cheese, guaranteed to squick out Chinese everywhere.
    This statement is a wee bit 1975. Strong-flavored cheeses remain difficult to come by in China, but the country is also home to 700+ locations of Pizza Hut, not to mention countless fast food outlets offering cheeseburgers. In China’s villages cheese may remain unknown, but in China’s larger cities you’d be hard-pressed to find a representative of the middle or upper classes who hasn’t eaten it on occasion.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    The cheese slices in cheeseburgers hardly deserve the name of cheese.

  26. AJP – quick catch up on the Holy Spirit for you then – She doesn’t have a pud.
    “For what it’s worth, my half-French friend (born, raised, educated til 18 in France), informs me that gateau is slang for vagina. ”
    Speaking of pudding, that is slang in the US, at least in AAVE, for the vagina, and in more widely it’s more Cajun-sounding form “poontang”.
    And here the discussion curls in on itself…speaking of “cat”….

  27. marie-lucie says:

    maidhc: Although the story may not be true in all details, I think it has a core of truth.
    More on cheese slices: for a number of years I was allergic to milk products and therefore could not eat cheese. A doctor told me that some patients with the same condition could eat processed cheese slices without having a reaction!

  28. m-l, where are you buying your cheeseburgers? I’m just saying that some relatively high-class lunch joints will offer burgers with Swiss cheese or blue cheese or pepper jack. I realize that these are only halfway from “American cheese” to good cheese, but I think good cheese would be wasted on a burger.
    Last week I bought some excellent cheese, not paying much attention, just whizzing through the Whole Foods (or “Whole Paycheck” as the cynics call it) and bought some soft cheese that just had an appealing label, thinking that we should have some good cheese for these visiting musicians who might or not be having dinner with us before they performed in our living room (long story), and it turned out to be really good. One of the musicians had once been to the place in California where the cheese was made. Everybody loved the stuff. Then I looked at the price, which I hadn’t even looked at in my whizzing: over $30/lb. Jeez, it better be good! But no regrets.
    I wouldn’t put it on a burger, though.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: I’ve got no idea of the role or point of the Holy Spirit (Ghost).
    I am not well-versed in “Divinity” either, but I have read that the Holy Spirit (Ghost in this context meaning ‘spirit’), was a pre-Christian (and perhaps pre-Judaic) deity, conceptualized as a female bird which “moves over the waters”. Somehow it was integrated into Christian doctrine in the early days of Christianity, losing all its non-spiritual attributes to become one of the three God-persons (if I may use such a term), but it also appears in Judaism and Islam.
    In some (non-Christian) creation myths, the primordial cosmos was originally composed of heaven and ocean. A female bird (the only type of creature able to move between those two parts of the cosmos) made her nest on the water, laid an egg or eggs in it, and things started happening from there to eventually form the world as we know it. It could be that this was approximately the creation myth later superseded in the Bible by the more detailed Mesopotamian myth told in Genesis. In this case the Christian concept of the divine Holy Spirit would be the last avatar of the primordial female bird. This would explain why it sometimes appears visibly in the form of a dove (in French, une colombe, a feminine word – I don’t know about other languages).

  30. marie-lucie says:

    Ø, I rarely eat cheeseburgers, or burgers of any kind, unless I don’t have much of a choice, and I don’t make them at home either. No doubt some of the current, upscale burger eateries use better cheese than the rubbery cheese slices commonly used in fast food joints.
    What kind of music were those people playing in your house?

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    This blog is not pneumatologyhat, but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_of_the_Holy_Spirit isn’t bad and makes the helpfully deadpan and counter-Whorfian observation that the grammatical gender of the various words for “spirit” is different in different languages (masc in Lat.; neut. in Gk.; fem. in Heb., to take some relevant candidates – the synonym-in-context “Paraclete” is masc. in the Gk.) but that presumably whatever the right theology might be on the subject should be consistent cross-linguistically.
    Doves in nature come in both male and female varieties, and I have never heard anyone claim (which doesn’t mean the claim hasn’t been made somewhere . . .) that it’s such a girly species of bird that metaphorical conclusions about the nature of the Holy Ghost should be drawn from the dove imagery as such. I don’t know if either Greek or Hebrew has a way of specifying the sex of dove referred to – if so, it doesn’t generally come through in English translation. Presumably Noah had at least one of each sex available to him on the Ark, and if there’s any tradition as to whether it was a boy-dove or girl-dove that was sent out and returned with the olive branch, I’m not aware of it. (In Luke 2:24 Mary and Joseph come to the Temple 40 days after the birth of Jesus to sacrifice a pair of either turtledoves or young pigeons, following the discretionary rule of Leviticus 12:8 – I don’t know if that was supposed to be two males, two females, or one of each; perhaps there’s rabbinical commentary on that question.)

  32. marie-lucie says:

    JWB, even if the presumably original “bird” was not specified as to sex, laying eggs would make it obviously female, so that a grammatically feminine word could be selected for the actual species in order to remove a possible contradiction. Alternately, a grammatically feminine word for a given bird species could have influenced the mythological interpretation. Such things influence each other. Anyway, I am sure there have been all kinds of learned commentaries by scholars of all three Abrahamic religions (and perhaps yet others) on this topic. Obviously, I am not such a scholar.

  33. poontang < putain, not pudding (whose French analogue is boudin).

  34. marie-lucie says:

    JC: le boudin means ‘blood pudding’ or ‘blood sausage’, not any other kind of pudding (although the French word is apparently the form taken by the borrowed English word).
    Un boudin can also refer to something of the same shape as the sausage in question. It can also be a slang term for an overweight woman whose clothes are so tight that she seems to have been stuffed into them.

  35. There’s also the jinn-genie in Islam. I suppose that must be where David Bowie got the name. It’s interesting that all these spirits (& angels) are a bit ambiguous in their gender or sex. I still don’t think the extra character is necessary or helpful to the main story despite the attractive imagery but I’ve probably missed the point.

  36. About the cheese: I’ve given up shopping at our equivalent of Empty’s Hole Foods mostly because of the outrageous cheese prices. I now only shop at the Turkish grocery store. I’ve noticed the word “Kasar” on Turkish cheese. Could this be a loan of German Käse, and if so, why?

  37. Turkish kaşar = kasseri. (Note that Turkish ş = sh.)

  38. >Marie-lucie
    Sometimes I’ve read the word “palomo” (cock pigeon) telling to the Holy Spirit. Even, there are some paintings where you can see a ray of light between Mary and him that “transports” the baby Jesus.
    By the way, yesterday the Pope, who was chosen by this white pigeon, “resigned” by a white helicopter.
    >A. J. P. Crown
    Speaking of angels’ sex, do you want to start a byzantine discussion?

  39. Ah ha. Thanks. The one in my fridge doesn’t have one of those şs, but I see it was cheese made in Germany (“ein Stück Natur”).

  40. Jesús: Speaking of angels’ sex, do you want to start a byzantine discussion?
    Certainly not! Live and let live. Oh, all right, what, you’re saying Eastern angels are girls?

  41. There’s more than one way to deal with children who don’t want to eat rabbits. A nephew in Pennsylvania had a neighbor who started raising rabbits to stretch her food budget. When she brought the first bunch home, she told her small children not to give them names or treat them as pets, because they were going to be eaten. They of course ignored her, but only once. When she killed, cut up, and froze the first bunch, she carefully labelled all the packages with the bunnies’ names. They, when she served them for dinner over the next few weeks, she made sure to tell the children they were having Fluffy Stew or Roast Thumper or whatever. That solved the problem: the children did not name any of the later bunches of rabbits. Whether they were warped for life, I do not know: it’s probably too early to tell.

  42. >A. J. P. Crown
    Orient yourself : -) I only know the two appearances of the devil as man or woman to seduce us.

  43. They ] Then

  44. marie-lucie says:

    In French, Italian and Spanish (among other languages), the word for angel is masculine (ange, angelo, ángel), so I am usually surprised to see angels represented as young women in pictures intended for the North American market. It seems to me that European angels are more androgynous in spite of their long wavy hair.

  45. >Marie-lucie
    That’s right. However, in Spanish, the hierarchy of angels has “potestades” et “dominaciones”, two feminine words. It’s true that they aren’t usually a well-defined iconography. On the other hand, angels are men in Gen (18, 2) and (35, 25), and I’ve just read the first representations like women were made in the XIV-XV c.

  46. >Marie-lucie
    I’m sorry! “…they don’t have usually…”

  47. The “stuffed entrail, sausage” sense is the oldest in English, per the OED. A 1287 quotation has “pundinges” in the middle of Latin text; the oldest purely English context is from 1325: “Þe pinnes beþ fat podinges / Rich met to princez and kinges.”

  48. John Emerson says:

    The Goncourts’ main concern during the German siege and the Commune was the difficulty they had in getting meat, and the uncertainly about what kind of animal it was.
    While a history of famine may partly explain Chinese eating habits, things like tendon, the tips of chicken wings, chicken feet, and various exotic animals like cats and pangolins are considered delicacies and often are regarded as having medicinal value. KC Chang’s “Food in Chinese Culture” is very interesting.
    In my experience, Chinese regard eating new and different foods as an adventure and a learning experience, and the textures of foods are prized as much as the flavor (e.g., tendon has no flavor but an interesting texture.)

  49. Trond Engen says:

    The “stuffed entrail, sausage” sense is the oldest in English,
    Pretty whorfian.

  50. J.W. Brewer says:

    At least according to wikipedia, in Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle” (where turtle = turtledove) the phoenix is the female and the dove is the male in the allegorical avian relationship – not that that necessarily has anything to do with the various Biblical doves. I suppose my real issue (not myself claiming to be a specialist) is that I am not finding m-l’s proposed connection between some sort of archaic mythical egg-laying bird not specified to be a dove and the various Biblical doves not specified to be female (and certainly not laying eggs as part of the particular bits of narrative they advance) particularly persuasive. There are lots of different species of birds floating around the Bible, not just doves. Indeed, I can think of at least one Biblical bird that is identifiably female – the hen to which Jesus likens himself in Luke 13:34. Does this mean that the apparently hen-like Jesus is not male? I think it only means that metaphors/similes are complicated and, you know, not to be taken overliterally.

  51. “poontang poontang > pudding.
    Oe, that sounds like Teleme jack. It has always been kind of special. It also ages well.God knows what that would cost.
    “While a history of famine may partly explain Chinese eating habits, things like tendon, the tips of chicken wings, chicken feet, and various exotic animals like cats and pangolins are considered delicacies and often are regarded as having medicinal value.”
    Yes, John. None of those things is bubba food in China. Pangolins cost enough to set a poor peasant in the sticks up for a year, or used to. even chicken feet are a little spendy, since everyone liks them and you only get two per bird. They are fun stewed lightly with soy sauce and aromatics for a beer munchy.

  52. Surely the point of the wings on birds, angels & messengers is that they allow the winged creatures to fly down from heaven and then back up again. Remember this all took place before the cell phone.

  53. When I was young my little sister cracked us all up by saying “angel boat” when she meant “ferry boat”. To her, I suppose both angels and fairies were mythical creatures with wings. What else is there to say?
    If I’m honest, I’m not very far beyond that view of things. Oh, I know that angels are messengers from God, or at least that that’s what the Greek word suggests. But I also know that Jacob wrestled with an angel at the foot of the ladder. Was that angel a messenger? What message did he bring? I also know that angels are good and devils are bad. But then why did Jacob wrestle with a good guy? Sorry, I just don’t really get it.

  54. When I read that ears like crests on birds and other animals in Haida art symbolized spiritual beings, I twigged that the wings on angels, cherubim and putti symbolized the same. You could also throw in Hermes’ winged heels. And angels were androgynous because sexless.

  55. You could say that only gods themselves don’t need the wings (and devils, perhaps).

  56. Bathrobe says:

    In popular culture an angel is feminine, but this hasn’t totally edged out the older usage — there is the angel Gabriel, who is obviously male.
    I thought the devil was a fallen angel.

  57. Wings are used as attributes of angels from V c.
    >Bathrobe
    Curiously Madrid is one of the few places in the world where you can see a monument to devil as fallen angel.

  58. Here it is. I especially like this bit (note the two alternating types).

  59. There’s also a completely unconvincing one in Brooklyn.

  60. >A. J. P. Crown
    “note the two alternating types”
    Yes, apart from their mouths (smilingly or not), ones have wings with feathers (like birds) whereas others have webbed wings (like bats).
    By the way, all of them are sexless although one seems to have breasts; wings and breasts as the sirens.

  61. That’s a good point about the wings, Jesús. I thought they looked like dragons.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks AJP and Jesus for pointing to the fallen angel’s statues. The Spanish one in bronze is much more convincing that the white marble one in Brooklyn.
    The Devil’s name is Lucifer, ‘light-bearer’ in Latin, a name still used in other languages along with Satan. Wikipedia gives the origin of the Latin name (a translation from attributes of the Morning Star in Hebrew or Greek). The article also shows Blake’s representation of Lucifer as very obviously male (and wingless).
    iakon: Hermes’ winged heels
    Hermes is a god in the Olympian pantheon, but his role is to be the messenger of the other gods, so he has wings, like angels (“messengers”), except that his seem to be symbolic rather than functional.

  63. Empty: The “angel” formulation of the wrestling scene is late. In Genesis, Jacob wrestles with a man who comes at him at night when he is alone: with what purpose, we can only guess. The contest is even until the man cheats by magically dislocating Jacob’s hip with a single touch. Then the man demands Jacob’s name, and renames him Israel (“triumph God”, syntax unclear), because he has wrestled with God and man and overcome.
    When Joseph returns the question, he’s put off with “Why do you ask?” (an early example of Jews answering a question with a question!) Jacob then assumes he’s been wrestling with God himself, despite the fact that he was beaten by the man, whereas the man said that Jacob had overcome God. The whole incident ends, as often, with our being told that the story explains one of the kosher laws.
    The only Biblical reference to Joseph and an angel (messenger, yes) is in Hosea, an 8th-century-B.C.E. prophet:
    In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel;
        as a man he struggled with God.
    He struggled with the messenger and overcame him;
        he wept and begged for his favor.
    He found him at Bethel
        and talked with him there—
    YHWH God Almighty,
        YHWH is his name!
    It’s not usually those who overcome who weep and beg, is all I can say.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    Ø : to her … both angels and fairies were mythical creatures with wings
    I have always been puzzled by the quite different definition and iconography of “fairies” in France and England (I am not sure about other countries). In French tradition, les fées look like very beautiful women, of adult human size, with only a radiance about them that shows they are supernatural. They don’t have wings or other non-human attributes. These are the good fairies, which protect humans (usually females), often as their “godmothers”. There are also bad ones, which look like withered crones. In the story of La Belle au bois dormant (“Sleeping Beauty”), a bad fairy curses the newborn girl, but a good fairy saves her by altering the terms of the curse.
    In English tradition, fairies are tiny flying creatures with transparent wings, the size of a very small bird at most. How could such a creature act in human ways, let alone be a “godmother” to anyone?

  65. >Empty
    Speaking of Jacob, I didn’t read anything about a ladder in this passage. Nevertheless, there is a lot of angels in the Jacob’s dream ascending and descending a ladder.
    >John Cowan
    Joseph or Jacob?

  66. >Marie-lucie
    I don’t know but I imagine this statue caused a scandal in those days.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Jesús: I can imagine!

  68. Oh m-l, don’t forget A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Spenser’s Faerie Queene. And you might be interested in The Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke, a famous (in England) Victorian painting by the eccentric Richard Dadd that must be more in the French tradition you’re describing. My favourite Victorian fairies are Kate Greenaway’s of the later English type: The Elderberry Fairy, for example.

  69. Jesús: Joseph was a slip for Jacob that I didn’t completely correct. In any case, Jacob’s dream of the ladder is distinct from, and precedes, the wrestling scene, which is presented as an entirely real nocturnal occurrence, not a dream.
    m-l, you raised the point about fairy back in 2009, and I replied with a long quotation from Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-stories”; search on that page for the phrase “Tolkien on elf and fairy” for the full context, but the key passage is this:

    It is perhaps not unnatural that in England, the land where the love of the delicate and fine has often reappeared in art, fancy should in this matter turn towards the dainty and diminutive, as in France it went to court and put on powder and diamonds. Yet I suspect that this flower-and-butterfly minuteness was also a product of “rationalization”, which transformed the glamour of Elfland into mere finesse, and invisibility into a fragility that could hide in a cowslip or shrink behind a blade of grass. It seems to have become fashionable soon after the great voyages had begun to make the world seem too narrow to hold both men and elves; when the magic land of Hy Breasail in the West had become the mere Brazils, the land of red-dye-wood.

    You then replied (rightly, I think):

    It must be through a misunderstanding of the French word féerie, originally “supernatural power or world of the fairies”, that the word “fairy” came to be applied to one of the beings in question, in replacement of earlier “fay” (as in “Morgan le Fay”, from la fée Morgane, after English had lost much of the gender distinction in nouns). So Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” perhaps did not mean the queen who was a fairy but the queen of Fairyland. [...] Perhaps the Victorian miniaturization of fairies was a way of diminishing the actual power of those feminine characters: such tiny beings would not be capable of wielding magic wands and change the destinies of humans.

  70. >John Cowan
    I thought that. As regards the dream I wanted only to point out that lots of angels appeared there.
    On the other hand, and as you know, St. Joseph had a dream where an angel warned him about the massacre of innocents. Saramago looks at this passage from an unusual angle: Joseph feels remorse for what he did.

  71. AJP: Before I saw, or rather deciphered, that picture (it seems to seriously need cleaning), I had read “fairy feller” as “someone who fells fairies”, or perhaps simply “fairy fellow” (i.e. male fairy), but no, it’s “(tree) feller who is a fairy.” A quick education in noun-noun compounds!

  72. John, you’re right about the title and I wonder if the ambiguity was perhaps intended by Richard Dadd; “masterstroke” clearly has an intended a double meaning. It doesn’t need cleaning, it’s just one of those pieces that doesn’t photograph clearly. I’d say it was because all the tones (values) are like mud, but that’s not true of the Fitzwilliam version, which is also next to impossible to decypher in reproduction. You’ll just have to go and see the originals.

  73. David Marjanović says:

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are careful to illustrate all angels with beards.

    Or the importance of diacritics.

    Indeed!

    Westerners often wonder at the number of things considered by the Chinese as edible. They forget that there have been numerous famines in China

    And both the famines, and the tradition of eating anything that moves, are said to be southern things. China is very big.*
    * Important textbook sentence for learning the tones of Mandarin, but I digress. :-)

    it’s just struck me that I’ve got no idea of the role or point of the Holy Spirit (Ghost).

    Epicureanism: the soul consists of the lightest and most jittery atoms, they quickly disperse after death so it’s impossible to put them back together, so there can’t be an afterlife.
    Paul the Apostle accepted all this and added the spirit to it. Since then, Westerners have talked about “body, soul and spirit” without understanding it. Paul went on to interpret God in an analogous way, especially the mentions of “the breath/spirit of God” such as in Genesis 1.
    Much of the New Testament in general and Paul’s epistles in particular are reactions to Epicureanism.

    a dove (in French, une colombe, a feminine word – I don’t know about other languages)

    The German cognate of dove is feminine: Taube.

    I am not finding m-l’s proposed connection between some sort of archaic mythical egg-laying bird not specified to be a dove and the various Biblical doves not specified to be female (and certainly not laying eggs as part of the particular bits of narrative they advance) particularly persuasive.

    Me neither. Genesis 1, the one with God’s spirit floating above the waters, is the Mesopotamian-derived one.

  74. marie-lucie says:

    JC, thanks for the quotes, and for the link to the earlier discussion. I had an idea that I had made a similar comment before, but did not remember it clearly. I had forgotten the entire Tolkien quote and was glad to read it again, both for content and style.
    Searching for the relevant comments, I reread the entire thread, which was mostly about Indo-European and relevant topics in historical linguistics. Etienne actually said that the comments could be used as notes for a lecture, and later almost as a textbook! It was worth rereading, and I wonder if some of the topics need refreshing 4 years later.

  75. David Marjanović says:

    Searching for the relevant comments, I reread the entire thread

    Me too :-)

    I wonder if some of the topics need refreshing 4 years later

    Definitely! For example, the Moscow School finds (a little) evidence for phonemic tones in Proto-Indo-European!

  76. J.W. Brewer says:

    On the German dove being feminine, I see that Luthers Bibel has the relevant part of Mark 1:10 as describing a vision of “den Geist gleich wie eine Taube herabkommen auf ihn.” So the (masc., at least grammatically) Spirit is likened unto a (fem., at least grammatically) dove, apparently without unacceptable cognitive dissonance.

  77. marie-lucie says:

    JWB, in French too, the Mark quotation would be about le Saint-Esprit, sous la forme d’une colombe ‘the Holy Spirit, in the shape of a dove’. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit is literally a dove.
    You forget that grammatical gender does not always imply biological gender: in fact, in most cases it does not, since most nouns do not refer to living creatures. There are many cases where the same things or living creatures can be referred to by synonyms of opposite genders (eg “pumpkin”: Fr. la citrouille or le potiron; “seagull”: la mouette or le goéland).
    There can be a cognitive dissonance if such things or creatures are anthropomorphized, but not otherwise. For instance, the title of the novel “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” where the main character is supposed to be male was translated into French as Jonathan Livingston le goéland, taking advantage of the possibility of choice with the noun referring to the bird. If the main character had been a female gull, with a female name, the choice would undoubtedly have been la mouette. But the availability of such synonymous pairs is restricted to a few nouns.

  78. >Marie-lucie
    Not only it can be a “problem” of gender in some languages but sometimes it’s also of number. You know, on Pentecost: “And there [the Holy Spirit] appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire.” Spanish and French (among other languages) have feminine words to tongues.

  79. China is very big
    中国 很 大 zhōngguó hěn dà; very cool!
    There’s a Middle Chinese version too: the Emperor asks “What are these four tones of which you scholars speak?”, and the scholar Shen Yue replies “Tien1 tsi2 shiang3 jieat”, meaning “The Son of Heaven is holy and wise”, or freely rendered “Whatever Your Majesty chooses to make them.” “But,” we are told, “the Emperor never would follow them”, presumably because he didn’t get the joke. (Note that MC tones 2 and 3 are Mandarin tones 3 and 4 respectively.)

  80. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: thank you for the link to the original discussion. Yes, I re-read it too.
    Marie-Lucie, David: I maintain that that thread definitely could serve as a substitute for a lecture or even a textbook on historical linguistics. Also, if anything my skepticism regarding most alleged instances of substrate influence is even stronger now than it was back then.
    Indeed, I wonder: could the popularity of substrate theories outside of Romance be a form of “survival in the periphery” of an idea once dominant in the center? In the late nineteenth/early twentieth century substrate theories were very popular among Romance scholars, and Romance linguistics was an influential field within historical linguistics more generally. By the second half of the twentieth century, when substrate theories were systematically disproved within Romance, the field had lost its former prestige and as a result the credibility of substrate hypotheses in other subfields remained unaffected by their being discredited among Romance scholars.
    David: tones in Proto-Indo-European? Reference or Link, please! That was a possibility Guy Jucquois mentioned once, I believe.

  81. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, my exclamation marks were not intended to be disparaging! It is true that the discussion was very meaty. I trust that you know what you are talking about regarding (im)possible substrate influences in Romance, but that does not mean that substrates cannot be invoked in other language situations. Of course, they would have to be very well substantiated.
    Tones in PIE? I share your skepticism, or even astonishment. I too would like to know the alleged evidence for this proposal. Moscow linguists are often very creative, sometimes a little too much.
    My impression is that tones are generally assumed to have evolved from cases of vowel-consonant sequences where the consonant weakens and ultimately disappears, after some of its formants (is this the right term here?) have been transferred by anticipation to the preceding vowel, creating a tone superimposed on the vowel: for instance, a sequence [aX] could evolve into [a] uttered with a low tone, while [at] could create a mid tone and [aky] (where [ky] is a palatal) a high tone. Such tone-formation is apparently well-attested for the history of Chinese, which is documented over many centuries. So if there were tones in PIE, it would mean that some consonants (and the vowels they affected) would have to be reconstructed for a Pre-PIE stage, with less evidence available than for the currently reconstructed consonants and vowels. I am sure that PIE must have had an ancestor, and probably also “sister” languages, and that is what the Nostratic hypothesis is concerned with. Do Nostraticists entertain the possibility of PIE tones? If so, on what grounds?

  82. Marie-Lucie: oh, I didn’t take them as disparaging, rest assured! But throw in a bibliography cross-referenced to various points in the discussion and I think we’d have a fine textbook.
    Re tonogenesis: actually, my understanding is that the scenario you sketched above was first presented for Vietnamese, on the basis of comparative Mon-Khmer evidence (non-tonal Mon-Khmer languages exhibit, in cognates with Vietnamese words, a systematic relationship whereby a given tone in Vietnamese corresponds to a given final segment in other Mon-Khmer languages), by a French scholar named Haudricourt in the 1950′s. Only later was it argued that Chinese tones arose in the same way.
    But diachronically tone can arise in other ways. Four that come to mind:
    1-Some prairie Algonquian languages (Arapaho is one example, I think) have a four-tone system which arose through the transformation of the original long-short phonemic vowel distinction of Proto-Algonquian and a stress system: so that one Arapaho tone goes back to long stressed vowels, another to short stressed vowels, and so on.
    2-In Lhasa Tibetan a tonal distinction arose (inter alia!) through the loss of voicing as a phonological feature in stops: so that a phonemic distinction between (say) /ta/ and /da/ in Classical Tibetan (a non-tonal language) is now, in Lhasa Tibetan, a phonemic tonal distinction made on the /a/, with both syllables now both beginning with /t/.
    3-Related to this is the rise of tones in Punjabi, which was similar to 2, but in this case involving the loss of voiced aspirate stops: according to their position in the word, they allophonically affected various neighboring vowels in terms of tonal contour: after voiced aspirate stops merged with other stops these tonal contours became phonemic.
    4-Finally there is tonogenesis similar to 2 and 3 but where no merger of consonant phonemes occurs: rather, loss of a segment in a given position modified the syllabic structure of a word, so that an originally allophonic tonal istinction became phonemic. A case in point which may surprise you: some varieties of French!
    Thus, in some recorded accents of French a tonal distinction was found to exist between LAC and LAQUE (both homophonous in the standard: /lak/). The spelling is quite faithful to the phonological history of the word: LAQUE, unlike LAC, was originally bisyllabic. Meaning that, whereas the /la/ of LAQUE was originally in an open syllable, the /la/ of LAC never was. It would seem that an original allophonic tonal distinction between (stressed) open and stressed closed syllables became a BONA FIDE tonal system in these varieties of French when the loss of final schwa caused LAQUE to become monosyllabic.

  83. Fascinating! These threads are a continuing postgraduate course for me.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    Grand merci, Etienne! Tone and tonogenesis have been a very neglected part of my linguistic training. I should really try to catch up. I am especially curious to know what French dialects have tone.
    Thanks for referring to André Haudricourt, who had very interesting ideas.

  85. Indeed, there has to be more than one mechanism for tonogenesis, given that although Proto-Tai apparently had only four tones (usually labeled with capital letters to avoid confusion with Chinese tones, where A, C, B, D [sic] correspond to Middle Chinese tones 1, 2, 3, 4, and where D is the tone of all syllables ending in stops), its descendant Kam has fifteen tones by usual reckonings, nine in syllables that end in vowels or nasals and six in syllables that end in stops. This suggests at least two tone splits, possibly a third as well.
    Kam uses a Hmong-style tonal spelling, where the final written consonant indicates the tone; this is preceded by the actual final consonant if there is one, so that medc ‘ant’ is pronounced [mət] with the tone contour 2-1-2 represented by c. The tone also affects the quality of certain vowels: -ed is pronounced [et] or [ət] depending on the tone.

  86. Trond Engen says:

    Type 4 is the standard explanation for Scandinavian tone — or at least the one I’ve been touting because it makes most sense to me. The contour of three syllables was squeezed onto two.
    In the emeticity thread I got this idea that the process of phonological reduction that led to the tonogenesis in Chinese was similar to what we now see in Danish, and that Danish may well develop a tonal system. But the thread got closed before I came around to adding it.

  87. The only Biblical reference to Joseph and an angel (messenger, yes) is in Hosea, an 8th-century-B.C.E. prophet [Joseph was a slip for Jacob]
    Genesis, Chapter 28, Verse 12 (KJV): and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
    The Hebrew word for angel is מלאך malakh. Robert Alter translates the word as messenger, as does Klein. Klein derives it from לאך send, and gives cognates in Phoenician, Aramaic, Syriac and Ugaritic, plus loanwords from Aramaic in Ethiopic and Arabic.
    A related word, מלאכה milakha, means work or occupation. Klein derives it from לאך send, hence a literal meaning of mission. (Modern Hebrew uses another word for mission.) מלאכותי milakhuti means artificial in Modern Hebrew.

  88. >Paul Ogden
    Yes, it’s the ladder of Jacob’s dream already mentioned: http://cuadrosparaunaexposicion.blogspot.com.es/2011/05/nueva-escena-biblica-para-identificar_26.html

  89. Other other Paul, is there any obvious connection between מלאכה milakha and מלאכותי milakhuti ? In English & Norwegian & German I’ve always liked the link between art, artifice and artificial.

  90. Paul Ogden: I mean, the only reference to Jacob wrestling with an angel (rather than a man) is in Hosea.

  91. is there any obvious connection between מלאכה milakha and מלאכותי milakhuti ? In English & Norwegian & German I’ve always liked the link between art, artifice and artificial.
    I suppose it’s the same sense development we see in English forge. One forges metal at a forge but forges a document. The first activity is honorable, the second not.

  92. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: I’ve always liked the link between art, artifice and artificial.
    “Art” did not always mean painting, sculpture, music, etc but “high degree of skill”. This is the meaning of Latin ars,artis and it is also found in Shakespeare, for instance to refer to medical skill.

  93. artistic, artful, artificial, artisanal, arty, artsy, artsy-fartsy

  94. and apparently artifactual as well

  95. “high degree of skill”
    our ur (u is oo like in tool) works the same way, urtai, uran means skillful, ur chadvar mean skills, urlag becomes art, urlah – to do something artful, urlan is a study room
    ur – ars, artis – maybe some connection could be like construed there, no?
    but maybe every language constructs the similar meaning words the same way like that, but in russian it’s coming from iskus – temptation? iskushat’- to tempt, then it becomes iskusnui – skillful, iskusstvo-art, maybe iskus meant skill too but lost its that original meaning somehow
    english and japanese arts are borrowings i understand, from latin and chinese, so every word related includes either art or jutsu i guess

  96. not either or, but each of
    we have a saying buruu yarij zov oilgoh – to speak wrong but understand correctly, recalled that

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