GREEK TO ME, JAVANESE TO YOU.

An e-mail from a reader reminds me of something I meant to blog ages ago: back in January, Mark Liberman at the Log posted a nice chart of the ways different languages have of expressing what we English-speakers term “Greek to me.” That has links to other sources, and you can get commentary on Mark’s post at Strange Maps: “When a Hellenophone has trouble understanding something, his or her preferred languages of reference, as far as incomprehension is concerned, are Arabic and Chinese. And while for Arabs the proverbial unintelligible language is Hindi, for Chinese it’s… the language of Heaven. For Romanians, the ultimate in incomprehensibility is Turkish, for the Turks its French and the French consider Javanese the acme in huh?” (Thanks, Andrew!)

Comments

  1. As a Language Log commenter pointed out, the French/Javanese thing probably refers to the code language Javanais, where -av- is inserted after each syllable’s initial consonant cluster. I’m not aware of an actual French expression along the lines of “It’s all Javanese to me.”

  2. back in January, Mark Liberman at the Log
    Shouldn’t it really be called ‘a log’, rather than ‘the Log’? There are many blogs called logs and I get confused when you say ‘the Log’.
    And can one really be ‘at’ a log? Wouldn’t ‘Mark Liberman on a log’ be a clearer and more vivid description?

  3. As I mentioned at the Log, we also use “Spanish village” for imcomprehensible texts or difficult subjects. “Hungarian”, turns out, is common, too, especially in less ethnically mixed areas. And it’s used not only of languages or subjects, but also of people who do not express themselves clearly or are rather slow on the uptake. And so it happened that when the other day, I asked a colleague a rather stupid question, he replied “Well of course not, what are you, a Hungarian?” “Um, yeah,” I replied.
    But my all time favorite has got to be the “bulgarian constant”, defined as the number you must add to or subtract from the actual result in order to obtain the desired result.

  4. I’ve been trying to think of an equivalent saying in Icelandic but can’t think of one. The word for a language you don’t understand is hrognamál, which means fish-egg language.

  5. When I was studying French, many years ago, the phrase we were taught referred to Hebrew. Is that obsolete? “Chez moi c’est l’hebreu,” or something rather close to that phrase. Wonder if it was obsolete even then?

  6. This “Bulgarian constant” is known (in my circles, anyhow) as Finagle’s Constant, from the verb finagle reinterpreted as a pseudo-Irish name. Or as sf writer Larry Niven has it, “There is no god but Finagle, and Murphy is his prophet.”

  7. I’d think there are two senses to this. “What you’re saying is stupid” and “what you’re saying is complex.” Two versions of incomprehensibility.
    In Yoruba, the traditional expression is “gambari ni gbogbo ohun ti o’nso”– “every thing you’re saying is Gambari.”
    The sense is the pejorative one, “Gambari” being the derogatory term used by the Yoruba for “Hausa.”
    For the second sense, the sense of an interlocutor who’s talking rocket science, Yoruba say, “Geesi”–English, but the etymology is from “Portuguese” (that being the initial language of contact with the West).

  8. marie-lucie says:

    In French it is (or was) (Pour moi,) c’est de l’hébreu or c’est du chinois. As Ben Zimmer says, le javanais is not an actual but difficult language but a form of “secret language” often used by children.

  9. rootlesscosmo says:

    There’s a fairly widespread use of “Chinese” to describe music that the describer neither likes nor understands. A review of the Ravel String Quartet likened it unflatteringly to the sounds heard from a Chinese temple, and Cab Calloway angrily told Dizzy Gillespie to “stop playing that Chinese music in my band.”

  10. In Germany, apart from Kauderwelsch, there’s the xenophilically neutral ich verstehe Bahnhof (all I understood was “train station”). It’s also used for any kind of German jargon, otherwise known as Fachchinesisch (professional Chinese). In this context, I like to spin out the expression if the opportunity presents itself. Initially, when someone confronts me with an unintelligible explanation, I say ich verstehe Bahnhof. Later, when the person has made things clearer, I can say jetzt habe ich wenigstens Gare du Nord verstanden (now at least I’ve understood Gare du Nord).

  11. In Dutch, Chinese is also the epitome of incomprehensability. And Greek. And my brother maintains that he can speak Shoarma, but I’m not sure I believe him.

  12. In Dutch, Chinese is also the epitome of incomprehensability.
    Whereas in England, and despite their similarities, it’s Dutch — or, actually, ‘double Dutch’.

  13. ich verstehe Bahnhof
    Does this come from the difficulty of understanding platform announcements?
    It reminds me of the story I recently read (I hope not here) about the name of an East Anglian train service called ‘ONE’; they’ve since changed it, but it led to disasters for London commuters, because on the information board it would say: ‘Next on platform 3 is the seven thirty – one – train to Liverpool St.’, whereupon half of the people waiting would go off and buy another coffee and a newspaper.

  14. In English expressions, the Dutch seem to get more than their fair share of knocks. There’s also “Dutch treat” which, as I remember it, is when someone invites you to a treat for which you end up having to pay. Then “Dutch courage”, “Dutch bargain”. Finally, the Dutch are perhaps not even entitled to be pissed off at these expressions, since “Dutch” historically has been merely a disapproving synonym for Furrin, i.e. “Deutsch”. I’m sure Desbladet can clear this up. Entre-temps, here is the OED on “Dutch”, with a confused concluding sentence (I say confused, because “Dutch” is not a German or Dutch word):

    OHG. diota, diot, people, nation. In Germany, the adj. was used (in the 9th c.) as a rendering of L. vulgaris, to distinguish the ‘vulgar tongue’ from the Latin of the church and the learned; hence it gradually came to be the current denomination of the vernacular, applicable alike to any particular dialect, and generically to German as a whole. From the language, it was naturally extended to those who spoke it (cf. English), and thus grew to be an ethnic or national adjective; whence also, in the 12th or 13th c., arose the name of the country, Diutisklant, now Deutschland, = Germany. In the 15th and 16th c. ‘Dutch’ was used in England in the general sense in which we now use ‘German’, and in this sense it included the language and people of the Netherlands as part of the ‘Low Dutch’ or Low German domain. After the United Provinces became an independent state, using the ‘Nederduytsch’ or Low German of Holland as the national language, the term ‘Dutch’ was gradually restricted in England to the Netherlanders, as being the particular division of the ‘Dutch’ or Germans with whom the English came in contact in the 17th c.; while in Holland itself duitsch, and in Germany deutsch, are, in their ordinary use, restricted to the language and dialects of Germany and of adjacent regions, exclusive of the Netherlands and Friesland; though in a wider sense ‘deutsch’ includes these also, and may even be used as widely as ‘Germanic’ or ‘Teutonic’. Thus the English use of Dutch has diverged from the German and Netherlandish use since 1600.

  15. ich verstehe Bahnhof … Does this come from the difficulty of understanding platform announcements?

    A brillant derivation! Some day, Martian anthropologists will face the task of understanding the purpose of monumental buildings with artfully arched roofs, and seating arrangements for large numbers of people to listen to unintelligible announcements. They may conclude that they housed some sort of religious cult in competition with Christianity.
    I’ve always imagined that ich verstehe Bahnhof derives from a tourist who has gotten a phrase book in a foreign language to help get around town – but when he asks for directions to the Louvre, all he understands in the answer is Gare du Nord.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    I’ve always imagined that ich verstehe Bahnhof derives from a tourist who has gotten a phrase book in a foreign language
    I agree with Grumbly. An announcement inside the station would not use the word Bahnhof which means “railway station”, so ich verstehe Bahnhof has to refer to the situation of a person looking for the station.

  17. marie-lucie says:

    But the Louvre is quite a distance from the Gare du Nord.

  18. Exactly. When the directions in the foreign language are: “to get to the Louvre from here, don’t go in the direction of the Gare du Nord, but away from it”, to have heard “Gare du Nord” is to have understood very little. Ich verstehe Bahnhof is used particularly when it’s clear that what has just been said has nothing to do with train stations. It’s a jocular form of “I didn’t understand a word”.

  19. Bill Walderman says:

    The French have an expression t describe a foreigner like me who speaks bad French: Il parle francais comme une vache espagnole (sorry, I don’t have a ce/dille on my keyboard).

  20. Heh – my substitute French teacher told a story of his sister who’d been overjoyed when she was told she spoke French like an English(wo)man (I think it was).
    Rather perplexed he asked her why she wasn’t insulted. Her reply was that she was usually told elle-pfcuve, so she considered it an improvement.
    We have “kaudervælsk” in Danish too, but it’s somewhat oldfashioned. “Volapyk” is more common still. We also (at least in my family) have the expression “Jeg er græker” (“I’m greek”) to express utter lack of understanding of a subject or similar.

  21. dearieme says:

    It’s all Geek to me.

  22. Kauderwelsch, Kaudervaelsk…Of course! Koeterwaals! Yeah, we have Koeterwaals too in Dutch. As in ” Johan Cruyff regaled us with a beautiful analysis of this match. Unfortunately, it was in Koeterwaals, without subtitling.”
    Wonder if the Wallonians have anything to do with it.

  23. There’s also “Dutch treat” which, as I remember it, is when someone invites you to a treat for which you end up having to pay.
    But only your share, making it thoroughly modern in many situations. The Wikipedia continues the approach of our original topic, by giving some other language versions. Google also offers net phenom Marina Orlova on it.
    since “Dutch” historically has been merely a disapproving synonym for Furrin, i.e. “Deutsch”. …, here is the OED on “Dutch”
    Read down to sense 4, where most of these occur:

    Characteristic of or attributed to the Dutch; often with an opprobrious or derisive application, largely due to the rivalry and enmity between the English and Dutch in the 17th c.

    The Dutch really are intended.

  24. I just watched “Dutch treat” explained by “net phenom Marina Orlova”. She herself seems to be an explanation of “tit for tat”. As a kid, I thought the expression meant “trade up”.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    sili: she was told she spoke French like an English(wo)man …. she was usually told elle-pfcuve
    Is the last word correct?

  26. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. sili: what language does it belong to? I thought it was supposed to be French, but is it Danish? if so, what does it mean?

  27. I’m sorry, m-l,
    I was just too lazy to type out “parle francais comme une vache espagnole” (and I too don’t have cedille – nor hacek – on my keyboard).

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Oh, I see, I didn’t realize this jumble of letters was composed of initials. I suffer from a literal mind, as I have been told before.
    For an easy way to get French diacritics there is the Canadian French keyboard which uses the QWERTY setup otherwise, rather than the AZERTY one used in France.

  29. Thanks for explaining that, Sili. Thanks for asking, m-l.
    That/s great, marie-lucie ççççç ^^^ÉÉééééÀÀàà
    Kind of hard to figure out where everything is on the keyboard, though. I suppose you write the new letters on with nail polish, or something.

  30. Well, I have accents for automatically rendering á, è, ö, ã and so on. And æ, ø and å have keys of their own (which of course means that punctuation and the like is shuffled about. I can never find “?” on an English keyboard, and my very few excursions into coding have been hampered by the annoyance of getting to \, { and }.)
    But no ç or ć or č.
    I’ve set up Word to have shortcuts for the Greek letters (since I used to need those), but I know of no way to do that for the operating system, itself (this is where someone tells me to convert to Linux and gives me a link explaining how to do just that).
    And sorry about the laziness – I guess I should at least have used capitals.

  31. Cecilia says:

    @ M. Crown…
    And then there’s the “Dutch Oven” — when your boyfriend passes gas in bed and holds your head under the covers for you to smell!

  32. How vulgar, Cecilia, this has never happened to me and probably never will now.
    ‘Dutch cap’ is an old-fashioned name for a (contraceptive) diaphragm, in English, as ‘French letter’ is an old-fashioned name for a condom.

  33. John emerson says:

    I’ve been told that in Persian you say “Where’d you get that from, Balkh?” whenever someone makes an especially improbable statement (not unintelligible, just senseless).
    During some eras Balkh was a major Persian cultural center, but apparently not now.

  34. rootlesscosmo says:

    “Doing the Dutch act” is (out-of-date) US slang for “committing suicide.” (Stress in this collocation shifts forward, as with “cream cheese.”)

  35. “Ésto está en Chino.”
    This was my Hispanic students’ response to “It’s Greek to me.” It means something like “that is so intelligible it is in China.” I always thought China was written China but my students say China and Chino are the same, and Chino applies here.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: The placement of diacritics on the Canadian French keyboard is not that hard to learn if you use it very frequently – anything is likely to be forgotten if you don’t use it often. This keyboard is very handy if you frequently switch between the two languages. The French (not Canadian) keyboard layout is more different from the English one.
    To learn where things are, you can make a chart by printing all the possible characters in the proper order on different lines for the different possible keyboards. Print it and keep it near the computer.
    Some letter + diacritic combinations are under “alt” or “option” (this may vary according to computer brands) but it is easier to make them separately (eg circumflex + a) than to remember where on the keyboard the various combinations are (eg å as a unit).

  37. On a Macintosh, it’s very easy to summon up a Keyboard Viewer from the menu at the top of the page.
    The keyboard layout matches whatever keyboard/input system you are using at the time. It also changes to show what you get when you hit the Shift key (capitals), Alt key (diacritics), etc.

  38. unintelligible

  39. I went so far as to make a screenshot of an Arabic character keyboard and post a link to it in my sidebar.
    Now if only I could enable Arabic in my new netbook. I manged to install service pack 3, but then it wanted me to insert the windows xp CD.
    Guess what, netbooks don’t have CD players. Yet another thing to track down.

  40. I swear I am getting senile.
    The Keyboard Viewer is opened from the menu bar at the top of the screen.
    It can be kept open (you can move it to where you want it), so you can actually watch what you are typing as you type it.
    Surely Windows has something analagous to the Keyboard Viewer. It’s not only useful in itself; it’s also very interesting to see differences between keyboard layouts. It was how I first discovered that French uses AZERTY, not QWERTY.

  41. Bathrobe says:

    Mac has a choice of three different Arabic keyboard layouts (Arabic, Arabic PC, and Arabic QWERTY). The letters of each keyboard are visible in the Keyboard Viewer (which changes as you switch among keyboards). No need for screenshots, etc.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: “Ésto está en Chino.”
    This was my Hispanic students’ response to “It’s Greek to me.” It means something like “that is so [un]intelligible it is in China.” I always thought China was written China but my students say China and Chino are the same, and Chino applies here.
    There is a misunderstanding or confusion somewhere. The adjective “chino/china” (masc/fem) means ‘Chinese’ (and so in this respect “chino” and “china” are the same) but it also has several more or less slangy, unrelated meanings, which may be more familiar to your students than the meaning ‘Chinese’. ‘This is in China’ would be “Esto está en China” but I think that ‘This is in Chinese’ would have to be “Esto es en chino”.

  43. Bathrobe says:

    To learn where things are, you can make a chart by printing all the possible characters in the proper order on different lines for the different possible keyboards. Print it and keep it near the computer. Some letter + diacritic combinations are under “alt” or “option” (this may vary according to computer brands) but it is easier to make them separately (eg circumflex + a) than to remember where on the keyboard the various combinations are (eg å as a unit).
    Sorry to sound like an Apple salesman, but if you use the keyboard viewer in a Mac, the diacritics are all visible in the keyboard viewer (coloured orange to indicate that a second input is needed to complete the graph).
    Mac is far from perfect, but judging from the comments of Windows users here, the Mac’s system of selecting keyboards and input methods, along with the keyboard viewer, sound like something that Microsoft should consider emulating.

  44. I confirm what the others have said about using “C’est du chinois” or “C’est de l’hebreu” when something is judged by a French speaker as difficult to understand, the first one being more commonly used than the second one.
    “Parler le français comme une vache espagnole” is used when something is judged badly said (accent, for instance, or structure). And the expression is apparently a corruption of the original one: “parler le français come une basque espagnole”.
    In Sesotho we like to say “ke sekoerekoere” (that’s sekoerekoere) or “O bua sekoerekoere” (S/he is speaking sekoerekoere), sekoerekoere being any language from other parts of Africa other than southern Africa. We wouldn’t use this for French or Hindi we don’t understand or any other language. And it is important to know that it’s considered a bit derogatory.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe, thank you, I have a Mac and I know that I have seen a keyboard viewer (displaying the whole keyboard for a language) somewhere but not in the menu, there is an icon for it in the “System preferences” section under “International”, from which you can make the desired keyboard layout available (although not displayed on the screen) from an icon on the page you are using. My computer is a few years old, so perhaps things have changed in the meantime. The diacritics in orange show up on the screen when you type them, before typing the letter they go with.

  46. Bathrobe says:

    marie-lucie, my apologies!
    I’ve had a look and discovered it’s optional to show the input menu in the menu bar (you have to tick a box at International), just as it is optional to show the Character Palette (to access Unicode characters), IPA Palette, Japanese Kana Palette, and Keyboard Viewer as choices under the input menu. I assumed that the menu was there by default.
    I’ve not always been happy with Macs, but the convenience of using multiple languages was actually the original reason I chose the platform. (Unfortunately Mac doesn’t include a Mongolian Cyrillic keyboard — I had to make one myself — and traditional Mongolian script can’t be shown properly due to some problem with the rendering engine.)

  47. marie-lucie says:

    Rethabile:
    In Sesotho we like to say “ke sekoerekoere”: How is oe pronounced? with two separate vowels [o-e], or a single one like [u], as in Afrikaans?
    “Parler [le] français comme une vache espagnole” is used when something is judged badly said (accent, for instance, or structure). This would apply only to the speech of a foreigner, never of a native French speaker who just has difficulty speaking. (The le is not necessary in this sentence, especially in the informal context of the expression).
    And the expression is apparently a corruption of the original one: “parler [le] français come une basque espagnole”.
    … comme un Basque espagnol is the common expression. A Basque on the French side would speak French incorrectly, and one on the Spanish side even worse. (une basque as opposed to une Basque means the part of a jacket or blouse below the waist, especially the type that looks like a very, very short skirt attached to the waist of a woman’s jacket).
    The confusion comes from the similar pronunciations of Spanish vaca ‘cow’ (Fr vache) and vasco/vasca ‘Basque’, where the letter v, now usually pronounced [b] at the beginning of words, did have the [v] sound in past centuries.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    parler [le] français:
    As a native French speaker I would say
    Je parle français but never Je parle le français which would sound like I spoke it as a second language, and I would also say Je parle français et anglais because I speak both as a matter of course, but I would use the article if I was making some sort of evaluation, such as Je parle espagnol couramment mais je parle l’espagnol moins bien que l’anglais, or J’essaie de parler russe quand je rencontre des Russes, mais je ne parle pas vraiment le russe. It seems to me then that the lack of the article places the focus on the ability to speak as an attribute of the speaker, whereas the use of the article places the focus on the consideration of a particular language in a more abstract way, “at arm’s length” from the speaker.

  49. Thanks, Bathrobe & m-l. I now have my Norwegian keyboard at the top of my screen. I had switched off that option, I see now. And I can actually click its keys instead of my real keyboard if I want to (I don’t).
    I think macs are wonderful in every way, except for the booming noise when I turn mine on.

  50. Bathrobe says:

    Lower the volume before you shut down next time. The boom will be as quiet as your volume setting.

  51. Bathrobe,
    Surely Windows has something analagous to the Keyboard Viewer.
    It’s called On-Screen Keyboard and it can be found in All Programs > Accesories > Accessibility.

  52. marie-lucie,
    It’s /sikwè rè kwè rè/
    i as in English sit
    è as in French père
    The o-e is thus a diphthong that sounds like the French ‘ouais’
    The word is onomatopoeic and is the sound we think we hear: koere-koere-koere…
    In Sesotho, the initial syllable of the name of a language is the same: Sesotho, Sefora (French), Seqhotsa (iSixhosa), Senyesemane (English), hence, Sekoerekoere.
    Thank you for the “basque” as a piece of clothing explanation. But I’d always thought that adjectives of nationality in French (je ne suis pas français / je m’exprime souvent en français) were written with lower-case letters and not capitals (elle parle anglais)…
    Is that correct?

  53. marie-lucie says:

    Rethabile, thank you for your explanations about Sekoerekoere, both the pronunciation and the morphology. As a linguist I always try to be as accurate as possible about things like that. Am I right that the th in your name must be an aspirated t rather than an English “th”?
    French words of nationality: I think that the rules about capitalization may have changed recently: it used to be, for instance, Je ne suis pas Anglaise, mais je parle anglais (where Anglaise is a noun designating a person), but some spelling rules have been simplified in the last few years, and this may be one of them. Since I don’t live in France I am not always aware of such details, and I think that I am old enough to get away with saying “this is the way I was taught” if someone confronts me about my old-fashioned spelling.

  54. Very right about the ‘th’ of Rethabile. It is the ‘th’ of Thabo (as in the former RSA president’s first name), and they’re in fact of the same Sesotho root, ‘thab’. The sound is the ‘t’ in ‘two’
    Cheers

  55. marie-lucie says:

    I know a young man named “Thabiso” who is from South Africa, his name must be from the same root too.

  56. By the way, it’s nice to see you around again, Rethabile!

  57. Thank you, LH. It’s nice to be back. Working on a manuscript AND two jobs doesn’t let me indulge in what I’d like.
    Marie-Lucie, exactly.
    There are quite a few names in Sesotho that use that root, which means happiness.
    Rethabile – we’re happy
    Thabo – happiness
    Thabang – be happy
    Thabiso – joy-bringer
    Nthabiseng – make me happy
    Nthabeleng – be happy over me/for me
    Thabelo – being happy
    I’m sure I’m forgetting some.

  58. Charles Perry says:

    I remember a couple more 12th-century Arab sayings about languages. “Arabic is philosophy, Persian is poetry, Turkish is science and Pashto is the braying of an ass.” I tend to agree with at least the first three.
    Pashto was also the butt of another witticism. A ruler supposedly asked for examples of all the world’s languages, and his scholars brought him samples of Abyssinian, Frankish, Hindi, Chinese etc. “But,” he exclaimed, “what about Pashto?” the scholars were stumped, but then a court wit put a rock into a pot and rattled it around, and this was considered good enough.

  59. On-Screen Keyboard and it can be found in All Programs > Accesories > Accessibility
    Bulbul never ceases to amaze me. Now if only I could enable Arabic on my MSI netbook.

  60. As for the German expression Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof (without nur it sounds completely unidiomatic): it was originally used by German soldiers at the end of WW I who did not want to hear anything but “Bahnhof” in the sense of discharge and consequently journey home.

  61. In Yan-nhangu it’s “Gutji”, but it’s a language that you can sort of understand a little of but not enough to actually understand it.

  62. David Marjanović says:

    I confirm ich verstehe nur Bahnhof. BTW, it’s restricted geographically; it’s understood but not used everywhere.

    Kauderwelsch, Kaudervaelsk…Of course! Koeterwaals! Yeah, we have Koeterwaals too in Dutch. As in ” Johan Cruyff regaled us with a beautiful analysis of this match. Unfortunately, it was in Koeterwaals, without subtitling.”
    Wonder if the Wallonians have anything to do with it.

    Almost.
    Apart from the intrusive /d/ (someone must have had a strong dislike for vowel clusters), the “kauder” part is the city of Chur in Switzerland, near which Romansh is spoken. Someone who knew some sound correspondences turned [χuːr] (one syllable) into [ˈkaʊ̯ɐ] (two syllables), then the /d/ was inserted, and then the Dutch and/or Low Germans, who also knew a thing or two about sound correspondences, evidently turned the [aʊ̯] back into [uː].
    BTW, I just discovered that Windows XP has a Mongolian Cyrillic keyboard. Of course, it’s not under “Keyboard”. That would be easy. It’s under “Region and language options”.
    Play around with your PC, and you’ll find everything and then some. Computers are not for adults.

  63. David Marjanović says:

    some spelling rules have been simplified in the last few years, and this may be one of them.

    Not as far as I know… but then, I get the impression that nobody cares about the alleged spelling reform. I haven’t seen anyone dropping circumflexes or anything.
    Unless of course you’re talking about things that lie much further back. Since when is clé allowed? Did your teachers insist on clef (which can still be seen, but is rare)?

  64. marie-lucie says:

    David, French spelling reforms emanate from the Ministry of Education and are for use in schools. Other people and places conform or not. I personally don’t drop circumflexes because they indicate pronunciations that I have used all my life, as have most members of my family.
    I grew up with la clef (“the key”) which was the common spelling, but la clé (reflecting the common modern pronunciation) was seen occasionally. I think the opposite is true nowadays as la clef is old-fashioned.

  65. I think Mr. All-Good (Jacques Toubon) suggested a few changes some time back when he was Minister of Culture, like adopting “ognon” instead of the more common “oignon”. And allowing the liaison of “haricots” (des haricots, les haricots).
    I think I see “clé” more in the press, and “clef” more in literature.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Rethabile: I think I see “clé” more in the press, and “clef” more in literature.
    That makes sense, as one reads the press for day to day (or week to week) information, but literature is not limited to the most recent works. In addition, the literary writers have usually read a lot of older literature where words are spelled in more classical fashion.
    For myself, I think I would probably use clé everywhere, but if I used clef it would be for an actual concrete key to a door, and I would probably prefer clé in a metaphorical sense such as la clé du mystère ‘the clue to the mystery’. I say “probably” because I have not had occasion to use the word spontaneously in writing for quite a long time.
    The English pronunciation of “clef”, a word restricted to music in this language, reflects that of the Old French word, which kept its spelling for centuries after the final “f” had stopped representing an actual sound.

  67. As a Hellenist, the ‘ it’s all Greek to me! ‘ turn of phrase is endlessly annoying whenever confronted with it by friends and relatives.
    However on one episode of Stargate SG1 they said ‘ it’s all Phoenician to me ‘ and now THAT was funny.

  68. like adopting “ognon” instead of the more common “oignon”.
    I wish they would do this; I mispronounced the word for years.

  69. David Marjanović says:

    I wish they would do this; I mispronounced the word for years.

    That difference is hard to hear; what should be fixed is ambiguë with its silent ë, a contradiction in terms.

  70. marie-lucie says:

    DM: That difference is hard to hear;
    Very much so: oignon is pronounced exactly as if written ognon (or is this your little joke?).
    what should be fixed is ambiguë with its silent ë, a contradiction in terms.
    You are behind the times: the official spelling is now ambigüe (the feminine of ambigu ‘ambiguous’), and similarly aigüe (fem. of aigu ‘sharp, acute’) and cigüe ‘poison hemlock’ (what Socrates was given).
    The older spelling ë indicated that the e should be pronounced on its own after the u which was also pronounced individually (rather than being part of the digraph gu indicating a hard g, as in figue ‘fig’). The reformed spelling shows that the ü should be pronounced on its own, and in Modern French the final e is usually silent anyway, so there is no need to call attention to it.

  71. That difference is hard to hear
    The difference between /ɔɲɔN/ and /waɲɔN/? I think not.
    You are behind the times: the official spelling is now ambigüe
    Sigh. I get further behind the times every day; I did not know that. I should officially declare myself a relic and have done with it.

  72. >> For myself, I think I would probably use clé everywhere, but if I used clef it would be for an actual concrete key to a door, and I would probably prefer clé in a metaphorical sense such as la clé du mystère ‘the clue to the mystery’.
    I was taught in school to use clé for the real thing, and clef metaphorically, a usage that would correspond well to the usual “the older, the metaphorical” fashion.

  73. Sigh. I get further behind the times every day
    Wlcome to the club, fellow Hatter.

  74. marie-lucie says:

    minumi: when were you in school? in what country? I date from well before the spelling reform and was speculating about what I might do in the absence of “rules”, but yours is good to know.
    o(i)gnon:
    DM: The difference is hard to hear
    LH: The difference between /ɔɲɔN/ and /waɲɔN/? I think not
    DM and I are referring to a potential difference in pronunciation which does not exist for most speakers: it is /ɔɲɔN/ for the vast majority. /waɲɔN/ is a spelling pronunciation that some people use, but it is not justified historically or by majority use. That is why M. Toubon (among others) was suggesting writing ognon, to reflect the most common, historically accurate pronunciation: -ign- rather than -gn- was common in earlier periods of French, eg gaaigner for modern gagner ‘to win, to earn’, not *gaigner (* = hypothetical form).
    The word oignon was borrowed into an earlier form of English as onion, not wanion.

  75. DM and I are referring to a potential difference in pronunciation which does not exist for most speakers
    Well, if you’re not talking about ɔ- versus wa-, what are you talking about? I’m lost again.

  76. Bathrobe says:

    The word oignon was borrowed into an earlier form of English as onion, not wanion.
    … but is now pronounced /ʌŋjən/. I presume that /onion/ underwent some kind of sound change? (In many English words the “u” was respelled to “o” to avoid confusion with neighbouring n’s and v’s, and this would look like a good example of this if it were not for the obvious French origin…)

  77. Bathrobe says:

    Well, if you’re not talking about ɔ- versus wa-, what are you talking about? I’m lost again.
    What marie-lucie is saying is that the pronunciation wasn’t actually wanion, it was always onion. It was purely an issue of spelling. As often happens, however, some people went on to adopt a spelling pronunciation.

  78. Bathrobe says:

    And at Wordnik, it gives an etymology of Middle English oinyon, from Old French oignon, from Latin uniō, uniōn-… (from American Heritage dictionary)>

  79. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: the pronunciation wasn’t actually wanion, it was always onion.
    Yes, and your remark just above about the precise quality of the initial vowel is relevant for the later history of the word in English, but not for its origin.
    It is likely that the palatal consonant written gn was “pre-palatalized” and that the i before it in oignon and OF gaaigner reflects this, as does ME oinyon, but the pre-palatalization must have been lost later and therefore the i disappeared from the spelling, but not consistently in all words.

  80. David Marjanović says:

    Rant warning!

    Well, if you’re not talking about ɔ- versus wa-, what are you talking about?

    I am talking about that – but also about the fact that the common transcription of the oi diphthong as [wa] is a shameless exaggeration.* It really is a diphthong, not a consonant followed by a vowel, and it starts not with [u] or something, but in all seriousness with [o]. I’d write it [ŏɐ̯]. Now, in oignon, the diphthong would be in the unstressed first syllable and therefore so short that you’d need to listen very closely** to tell it apart from [ɔ].
    BTW, when I’m already on the topic of phonetic detail, the French /ɲ/ isn’t [ɲ] except (in French) sometimes word-finally (this varies even within the usage of a single speaker as far as I’ve noticed). It’s [ɲj]. (And as far as I’ve noticed so far, the same holds for Spanish and Italian at least.) You want [ɲ] alone, go to Hungarian, or (I suppose) Quechua or Vietnamese.
    In general, all dictionaries that use IPA in brackets are lying, and not just when French is concerned.
    * In a phonemic transcription it could be justified (even if postulating a phoneme /w/ for just this sound, its nasal version, and presumably oui looks a bit odd to me), but in a phonetic one it’s just wrong.
    ** Hmmm. Maybe only when among modern-day Parisians, who speak easily twice as fast as people from anywhere else in France. That could actually explain a lot.

  81. David Marjanović says:

    I’d write it [ŏɐ̯].

    Or [ʷŏɐ̯], because any preceding consonant is very strongly labialized, but that doesn’t apply to our example.
    Again, though, this labialization doesn’t follow the preceding consonant as a separate [w], which is how dictionaries write it; it’s part of it. If you say quoi ??? slowly to express extreme surprise and confusion, you first open your mouth, then you round your lips, and then the audible release of the [kʷ] follows.

  82. marie-lucie says:

    the common transcription of the oi diphthong as [wa] is a shameless exaggeration…. It really is a diphthong, not a consonant followed by a vowel, and it starts not with [u] or something, but in all seriousness with [o]. I’d write it [ŏɐ̯].
    There are people who would pronounce the diphthong that way, but I would not. My first teacher in school was a lady whose name sounded very strange to me: coming home I announced that her name was Mademoiselle Gouagou (that I said with three syllables: [gu-a-gu]). Later I learned that her name had only two syllables and was spelled Goigoux.
    Perhaps it is a generational difference? and also a regional one, since I grew up in a linguistically conservative area. I had a colleague from Lyon who pronounced the diphthong almost as if written ua. But I think you are generalizing, and in any case the /wa/ in o(i)gnon is a spelling pronounciation from an interpretation oi-gnon instead of earlier French o-ignon where the i indicated palatalization as I explained earlier.
    Adding to the difficulty of differentiating the two pronunciations in your case is the fact that many people delabialize [ɔ] before a consonant, especially a nasal, in the same syllable, for example saying almost une beune perseunne for une bonne personne ( I have noticed that I have a slight tendency to this myself, but not as much as some other people)(based on tape-recording myself).
    the French /ɲ/ isn’t [ɲ] except (in French) sometimes word-finally (this varies even within the usage of a single speaker as far as I’ve noticed). It’s [ɲj].
    Again, you are generalizing. I say [ɲ] not [ɲj], and so do the other members of my family, even the young ones. But even when I was young there were people from other areas who said [nj]. I produce [ɲj] when there is an [i] or [j] afterwards, as in vous gagniez ‘you used to earn/win’ versus vous gagnez ‘you earn/win’. I have seen a description of French which said that nobody said [ɲ] any more, everyone now says [nj], but the author was probably generalizing from her own speech. I wonder how those people make a difference between the two verb forms I quoted above. At the same time there are descriptions which say that French has borrowed from English the sound of ng as in camping, but again I and my relatives pronounce the end of camping exactly like that of ligne ‘line’, that is [ɲ].
    There is no doubt that many features of French in France have changed since I came to North America, as I have commented a number of times. Some of these features show the strong influence of English vocabulary and syntax (eg the much greater use of the passive), but in phonology there are still many differences depending on region, age, education, etc. Even when I was a student I had noticed that some young Parisians were not opening their mouths very wide when speaking (something which caused a centralization of their vowels, as is reflected in David’s description of the pronunciation of oi), but that is not necessarily the case throughout the country.

  83. Daffyd: modern-day Parisians, who speak easily twice as fast as people from anywhere else in France
    Do some people really speak much faster than the rest of us or does it just sound as if they do? I suspect they are just articulating the words differently.

  84. That’s one of the things people love to say about language (“Group X talks really fast”) that is rarely borne out by scientific research. I believe Language Log has covered this issue.

  85. David Marjanović says:

    That’s one of the things people love to say about language (“Group X talks really fast”) that is rarely borne out by scientific research.

    Erm, but, it’s true. In the summers of 2003 and 2004 I was on a dig with people from all over France, and the only Parisian talked much faster than everyone else. It really was the speed, not pronunciation, that differed*. As far as I can tell, that speed is unremarkable here in Paris**, while everyone else’s slower speed is unremarkable elsewhere, and quite conspicuous to me.
    * At one point people compiled an oral list of vocabulary differences between French regions. Pronunciation differences were not mentioned, except in 2004 when there was a guy with the stereotypical southern accent (no nasal vowels, generally more pronounced letters — quand même became [kaˈmɛma]).
    ** To the extent that I try to imitate it, occasionally fail, and start to stutter…

    Perhaps it is a generational difference? and also a regional one, since I grew up in a linguistically conservative area.

    Both of these are easily possible. I hardly ever get out of Paris, and I generally don’t get out much. A few weeks ago I had a course held by about 10 professors who each presented their specialty; one of them (I forgot where he was from, but not Paris) kept a and â apart, something I had only caught my (Canadian) thesis supervisor doing before (apart from the phenomenon I’ve never personally witnessed); and a few months ago, on the campus of Paris 6 & 7, I walked past a student who was telling her cell phone chuis désolèï, only a few days after you had mentioned here on LH that there are dialects which keep and -ée apart.
    I didn’t know there were people who pronounce oi as two syllables.

    Again, you are generalizing. I say [ɲ] not [ɲj], and so do the other members of my family, even the young ones.

    Really? This way?

    But even when I was young there were people from other areas who said [nj].

    That I haven’t encountered at all (outside of a German accent of course). Even Asnières (next to Paris), which I would have naïvely pronounced with [nj] simply based on the spelling before I heard it the first time, gets [ɲj] over here.

    I wonder how those people make a difference between the two verb forms I quoted above.

    By shifting the i closer to vowel status, I assume. However, the verb forms in -iez (let alone -ions) are rare enough in common speech that I’ve never noticed the very existence of the problem, if only due to my general lack of a social life in meatspace.
    Even if the i doesn’t become a syllable of its own (and I guess it does), keeping it audible is still feasible. Lithuanian has /ɛ/, /iɛ/ (a diphthong where, I think, the [i] part is the subsyllabic one, so [i̯ɛ]), and /e/, and at least the first two are distinguished even behind palatalized consonants. In fact, as far as I’ve understood from reading about it, they only occur behind palatalized consonants. (Last time I checked, the Wikipedia article went to great lengths to avoid telling us if the /e/, spelled ė, palatalizes preceding consonants or not, by implying it was obvious but not implying which way it’s obvious.)

  86. David: It really was the speed, not pronunciation, that differed
    How do you know?

  87. David Marjanović says:

    Here are two more audio files of [ɲ] in front of vowels, but the quality is very bad.
    Here is a beautiful long one in front of [i].
    Here are [ɲi̯aː] and [ɲ̊i̯aː], very clearly with [i] rather than [j]. There are also [ŋʲaː] and [ŋ̊ʲaː] for comparison.
    And here are both [ɲ] and [ɲj]… except that the quality is so bad that I’m not entirely sure if it’s [j] or [i̯].

  88. Noetica says:

    Norwegian. It’s all Grieg to me.

  89. David Marjanović says:

    How do you know?

    By listening?
    I didn’t find any differences.
    Of course, I can’t put any hard evidence on the table right now. You’ll have to trust my ability for horrible phonetic nitpicking.

  90. marie-lucie says:

    David:

    Here are two more audio files of [ɲ] in front of vowels, but the quality is very bad.

    They (and the earlier Hungarian ones) sound like what I say.

    And here are both [ɲ] and [ɲj]…

    Really? they all sound like [ɲj] to me (they are written that way too).
    Here is a test, not of strict phonemics but of phonological interpretation: do the people you know say en-seigne-ment (with [ɲ]) or en-sei-gne-ment (with [nj] or [ɲj])? That is a giveaway. If if [ɲ] is a single phoneme, as in the first pronunciation, the schwa is dropped, as after a single consonant, but if there is a [j], it counts as part of a consonant cluster and the schwa after it needs to be pronounced,. I use three syllables and have always found the four-syllable pronunciation very irritating.

    the verb forms in -iez (let alone -ions) are rare enough in common speech

    Perhaps you interact only with students your age and you all say tu to each other, but even then, if you talk to two or more people you would use vous and therefore the imperfect ending would be -iez , as in Qu’est-ce que vous faisiez pendant que je … “What were you [guys] doing while I …”. Since there are few verbs with a stem ending in gn, you might encounter the combination -gniez fairly rarely, but if you try to do some elicitation among your friends you should be able to find the equivalent forms and listen to how they pronounce them. Of course the forms in -ions are very rare in conversation since nous as the subject of a verb is not part of colloquial style, but that is not the case for the -iez forms.

  91. The Bergen dialect is all Grieg to me, Dr Noh.

  92. The Bergen dialect is all Grieg to me, Dr Noh.

  93. David Marjanović says:

    They (and the earlier Hungarian ones) sound like what I say.

    OK, I stand corrected. I have misundreshtmated the variation of French once again.

    Really? they all sound like [ɲj] to me (they are written that way too).

    ARGH! Having surfed through several pages of languages with the retroflex nasal, IPA [ɳ], I got all lysdexic and read the /ŋu/ in the last line as “ɲu”. Clicking on that one didn’t help because the sound quality is just abominable…

    among your friends

    No friends. Métro-boulot-dodo, large, anonymous canteen, large, anonymous students’ home, and I’m not interested in what people nowadays call a party (the ghastly music – and I find a lot of music ghastly – is so loud you can’t even talk, cigarette smoke everywhere, and it only starts late at night).

    do the people you know say en-seigne-ment (with [ɲ]) or en-sei-gne-ment (with [nj] or [ɲj])? That is a giveaway.

    It’s not a giveaway. With just a little effort, it’s possible to pronounce a syllable-final [ɲj] cluster; I do it.

    and the schwa after it needs to be pronounced

    Not in Paris ;-)
    Except… I need to find one of the people who refuse to pronounce three or more consonants in a row (so that porte bleue has three syllables for them, rather than two). There are some of those even in Paris. That would be a test… Unfortunately, the only one I know personally has recently retired, and then my workplace moved from the university to the museum, so I won’t see him again anytime soon.
    Or not, if it applies to entire phonemes and not to actual single consonants (I claimed that the phoneme that could without problems be transcribed as /ɲ/* is realized as [ɲj] almost all the time, and you showed that some people, maybe many, really do say [ɲ]); now I need to find that out first, and that’s difficult – French lacks phonemic affricates and the like, unless maybe if we’re extremely generous with things like recent English loans… :-S
    * Well, actually… maybe it could be explained away as being how /nj/ is always pronounced. (The city of Asnières certainly hints in that direction.) This trick works for the [ŋ] of German: wherever it occurs, you can always pretend it’s actually /ng/, even though there’s no [g] in it. (It does not work for the English one, because pairs like singer and finger don’t rhyme.**) I have no idea if that kind of explanation has been tried, let alone refuted, for any Romance [ɲ].
    ** How, BTW, did that happen??? Dialect mixture?

  94. marie-lucie says:

    David: With just a little effort, it’s possible to pronounce a syllable-final [ɲj] cluster; I do it.
    Just because you do it (“with just a little effort”) does not mean that the French people around you do it. In my experience, those who pronounce [ɲ] in syllable-final position (as I do) can follow it with another consonant, while those who pronounce [ɲj] or [nj] follow it with a schwa before adding pronouncing another consonant. This pronunciation is in line with general rules for maintaining (or even interjecting) a schwa in order to avoid a cluster of three consonants (actual rules are a little more complex depending on the nature and place of the consonants relative to each other, but that is the general idea).

  95. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. Even Asnières (next to Paris), which I would have naïvely pronounced with [nj] simply based on the spelling before I heard it the first time, gets [ɲj] over here.
    I am very surprised: all my life I have had family members living in Asnières, where one of my sisters is living right now with her son, and I have never heard anyone use [ɲ] or [ɲj] instead of [nj] in this word, or refer to other people using those pronunciations. Perhaps what you have heard is due to reverse hypercorrection?
    one of the people who refuse to pronounce three or more consonants in a row (so that porte bleue has three syllables for them, rather than two).
    If speaking slowly I would say
    porte bleue with three syllables, but I would often omit the schwa if speaking very casually and especially if the blue door had already been mentioned. Whether the schwa is pronounced or not also depends on whether the phrase is a proper name or not. For instance, the equivalent of a Master Card is called Carte Bleue, which is normally pronounced with the schwa of carte before the [bl] cluster, although for a card which just happened to be blue without other significance the pronunciation cart’ bleue would probably be more common. Similarly for the carte grise, the car registration card that all car drivers have to carry. In these cases the omission of schwa causes a four-consonant cluster. By contrast, the national ID card is pronounced cart’ d’identité even by people who would normally say porte bleue.
    The presence of an r or l in the cluster weakens or distorts the general “no 3 consonant-clusters” rule: if the “liguid” is first in the cluster, the schwa may or may not be pronounced, depending mostly on register (as in the examples above), but if the “liquid” is second, either it causes the schwa to stay (as in maître d’école ‘schoolmaster’ in a high register), or it disappears from the cluster (as in maît’ d’école in a casual register). Another example is Notre-Dame ‘Our Lady (= the Virgin Mary)’ with the schwa, versus the old-fashioned-peasant-sounding not’ dame ‘our lady [of the manor]‘.

  96. Fascinating! I had no idea there was such a complex system of pronouncing or eliding the -e.

  97. How, BTW, did that happen??? Dialect mixture?
    How you explain what is going on depends on whether you think /ŋ/ is a separate phoneme. I suspect this in turn depends on where you went to school and when.
    Let’s take the simpler case that it is separate. (Things will mostly still work if instead it’s an allophone of /n/ before /g/ or /k/, but the dropping will be instead the acquisition of a production rule that drops it.)
    In other words, when did /ŋ/ become an actual phoneme? In OE and ME, [ŋ] only occurred before /g/ and /k/. Late in the 16th Century, -g was dropped at the end of words. Then in the 17th, the interesting thing happened: this was generalized to dropping at morpheme boundaries. (The -er of the comparative and etymological relationships not being so perceived.)
    We know this, in part, because Hodges’ The English Primrose uses different symbols for /g/ that is pronounced n̆g and not n̆ḡ. (Your browser may have made mush of that. The whole thing isn’t online for free, because of EEBO. But here is the scheme. It isn’t called out, but notice how various words with ng are spelled in the supporting text.)
    Although some dialects do not delete (RP and American do), I know of no argument that dialect issues were involved in the history.

  98. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you for looking it up, MMcM.
    On the thread “Dropping the g” at Language Log not too long ago I mentioned that final [g] after [ŋ] was still pronounced in Middle English, and Mark Liberman (who is not a historian of English) maintained that [ŋ] was pronounced independently as far back as Old English, which can’t be right. One word which I think clearly shows the ME [ŋg] pronunciation is tongue where the final gue is a French spelling for [g]: with the older spelling tunge the ge would have looked to people used to French spelling as representing “dge” (the OF pronunciation of ge).
    About comparatives in -er (and the corresponding superlatives in -est), isn’t the [g] kept in longer, longest? at least in “no longer”? and isn’t there some fluctuation with younger, youngest?

  99. Yes, that’s what I was trying to say: [g] is kept in comparatives (and superlatives). Halle (a scheme with a single underlying /N/ and a /#/) explained this by how the affix affects stress.
    I’ve got a [g] in younger and CMU agrees with me. I have no reason to doubt fluctuation in some other dialects, though.
    And, of course, it matters where the morpheme boundary is and spelling can sometimes fool you: e.g., kingly vs. singly.

  100. marie-lucie says:

    kingly vs. singly.
    Yes, king-ly and single-(l)y (where I think the two l’s are collapsed into one: single-y would produce another adjective, not an adverb from the adjective). About the second word, I was going to add that the [g] is preserved before [l] and [r] regardless of etymology, except when the [l] or [r] is part of a productive suffix added to an -ng word as in king-ly: single, shingle, tingle, angle, dangle, English and others, and also anger/angry, hunger/hungry (where -er is phonemically syllabic), Hungary, etc.

  101. David Marjanović says:

    general rules for maintaining (or even interjecting) a schwa in order to avoid a cluster of three consonants

    Most Parisians lack any such rules. They don’t even seem to be mentioned when French is taught as a foreign language (…the rules, not the Parisians).

    I am very surprised: all my life I have had family members living in Asnières, where one of my sisters is living right now with her son, and I have never heard anyone use [ɲ] or [ɲj] instead of [nj] in this word, or refer to other people using those pronunciations. Perhaps what you have heard is due to reverse hypercorrection?

    Hm. Possible. I only heard it once (though I think repeatedly); it was during a métro strike when something about the trains in that direction (line 13) was announced. Gave me an epiphany and made me wonder what other spelling pronunciations were lurking in my French.

    old-fashioned-peasant-sounding not’ dame

    Complete dropping of syllabic r and l is the norm over here, except in the formal register where it is never done. Several times I’ve heard people slowly counting un, deux, trois, quat’, cinq… (…though here of course there’s the extra pressure of assimilation: all other numbers from 1 to 16 have a single syllable.)
    Fixed compounds are, colloquially, never heard without it, such as like aut’ chose “something else” or, in the university/museum environment, maît’ de conf’ = maître de conférences “assistant professor”.
    I don’t know how widespread it is geographically, but I vividly remember the loud, slow announcement À tab’ !!! (with unreleased [b]: IPA [b̚]) by a non-Parisian at the dig in 2004. My thesis supervisor from Québec also does it at just about every occasion, but that could by either québécois or Parisian for all I know (he hasn’t preserved the full Canadian accent), and it should also be mentioned that he speaks extremely fast. When he gets carried away, he soars past the Parisian average.
    When people do pronounce a syllabic /l/ or /r/, they often try hard to take the syllabicity away. This involves devoicing and fricativization for /r/.
    Perhaps Notre Dame, when meaning the cathedral in Paris, is perceived as a proper name for which exceptions are probably made, but even if so, if I’ll ever manage to bring it up in a conversation, I expect to hear a close-to-bisyllabic construct close to [nɔtxˈdam] significantly more often than the trisyllabic [nɔtʀø̞ˈdam].

    Then in the 17th, the interesting thing happened: this was generalized to dropping at morpheme boundaries. (The -er of the comparative and etymological relationships not being so perceived.)

    <lightbulb above head>
    Suddenly it all makes sense! Thanks a lot! :-)
    In southern German (dialects and Austrian Standard), the dropping happened everywhere except, if I’ve correctly discovered the rule in the last few minutes, when another consonant follows in the same morpheme. In northern and probably central German, including most or all standard accents of Germany, even this exception does not seem to exist (perhaps because /g/ is actually voiced there), and England really is [ˈʔɛŋlant], which always sounds to me as if it were derived from eng so as to mean “suffocatingly narrow country”. :-Þ (Unfortunately, the closest English translation of eng is the moribund strait.)
    =================
    Fun fact: A German phonologist once analyzed German [h] and [ŋ] as the same phoneme. Hey, they’re in complementary distribution! Sounds crazy, and probably is, but I don’t know if an outright refutation was ever published. Not that that means anything, though; I don’t follow the relevant literature.

  102. A German phonologist once analyzed German [h] and [ŋ] as the same phoneme.
    Works in English, too. I think this is a standard example when teaching phonemes. (I’m pretty sure I recall Wayne O’Neil explaining it to us when I was a freshman many years ago.)
    I wonder who first noticed this. A quick check of milestones in JSTOR’s Language archive finds no mention in Swadesh’s “The Phonemic Principle” (1934) but already in Twaddell’s “On Defining the Phoneme” (1935, p. 25) and again in Bloch’s “A Set of Postulates for Phonemic Analysis” (1948, p. 23). (I know this biases toward English studies; I’m not claiming it wasn’t somewhere else first.)

  103. marie-lucie says:

    David:

    general rules for maintaining (or even interjecting) a schwa in order to avoid a cluster of three consonants

    -Most Parisians lack any such rules. They don’t even seem to be mentioned when French is taught as a foreign language (…the rules, not the Parisians).

    These (unwritten, unconscious) rules are mentioned in several books on French phonetics and phonology I have seen and/or used, including some with exercises for teaching foreigners from various backgrounds. Most French people are not aware of them as they are automatic and therefore not taught to native speakers (but can vary according to register). I only started to discover them when the topic was brought up by a professor of Old English (in France): why do we say la p’tit’ fill’ but un’ petit’ fill’? and similarly why gou-ver-ne-ment not gou-vern’-ment (as in English government)? etc. Dropping too many schwa’s (= going against this rule) sounds dialectal to me.
    On the other hand many people will insert a schwa to break up a cluster: for instance pronouncing ours blanc “polar bear” as ours-e blanc (which I said as a child and might still do if I don’t pay attention). There is a low-class “Parisian” feature which rigidly follows the rules to the point of not only inserting a schwa but dropping another schwa in the next syllable, as in carte d’ voeux instead of cart’ de voeux “greeting card”. The classic example is the pronunciation of “Arc de Triomphe” (there are two of these triumphal arches in Paris, so every Parisian may have occasion to mention them) . The standard pronunciation is Arc de Triomphe, which has two awkward sound sequences from the point of view of the “no 3-consonant” rule: it has r followed by two consonants, followed by schwa (see previous post), then one consonant followed by schwa, followed in the next word by two more consonants. One way to resolve this awkwardness is to insert a schwa between arc and de, thus Arc-e de Triomphe, which sounds uneducated but not otherwise objectionable, but the stigmatized pronunciation goes further in following the rules, by deleting the next schwa, which occurs after only one consonant, thus Arc-e d’ Triomphe. The pronunciation which makes the preposition sound like ed instead of de was described by the famous French linguists André Martinet as “inexpressibly vulgar” (and I agree).
    This judgment appeared in Martinet’s review of a long article by Robert A. Hall jr, who wrote a short grammar of French on the basis of being in France as an American soldier, so what he is describing was basically uneducated oral Parisian French – it would be interesting to compare it with present-day phonetics. It dates from shortly after the end of WWII and I think it appeared in the journal Language.

    Complete dropping of syllabic r and l is the norm over here, except in the formal register where it is never done. Several times I’ve heard people slowly counting un, deux, trois, quat’, cinq…….

    That’s what I would say too, unless I was teaching a beginning class (and I would explain why I was doing it). But r and l here are not “syllabic” in the sense that they occupy the length of a normal vowel, as in English. I also say aut’ chose, etc in casual speech, although not if I am teaching and therefore speaking more slowly.
    This “dropping” is quite old: there is a Mozart song based on a French text which contains the sentence je me promenais l’aut’ jour, which in current performances by French singers is standardized as … l’autre jour (but I also heard it sung with the original pronunciation by a German or Austrian singer) . (Many 18th century pronunciations, were standardized according to spelling in the 19th century and especially after schooling became compulsory and free of charge).

    (Notre-Dame): I expect to hear a close-to-bisyllabic construct close to [nɔtxˈdam] significantly more often than the trisyllabic [nɔtʀø̞ˈdam].

    I hope you investigate. I wouldn’t expect to hear either of these pronunciations, since schwa is not the same as [ø̞] (there is a difference between the words de with schwa and deux with [ø̞].

  104. For those with JSTOR access, here is Hall’s monograph. Word isn’t scanned there, so Martinet’s review, “About Structural Sketches,” isn’t.

  105. David Marjanović says:

    Dropping too many schwa’s (= going against this rule) sounds dialectal to me.

    To me it only sounds informal. Everyone around me seems to do it most of the time.
    Of course it’s easily possible that this phenomenon only became “mainstream” ( = Parisian) a few decades ago.

    There is a low-class “Parisian” feature which rigidly follows the rules to the point of not only inserting a schwa but dropping another schwa in the next syllable, as in carte d’ voeux instead of cart’ de voeux “greeting card”.

    Today apparently associated with Ch’ti; the Ch’ti subtitles on the DVD of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis spell eud and eul instead of le and de.

    there is a difference between the words de with schwa and deux with [ø̞].

    Yes, the [ ̞] part.
    Deux has a clear [ø], leur has a clear [œ], and de has neither (unless sung, sometimes, when it gets [ø], but never mind); what it has is somewhere in between, so I opted for “[ø]” with the “lowered” diacritic (a subscript T-shaped thingie).
    From a phonological point of view, this is the reduced vowel of French, so it makes plenty of sense to transcribe it as “/ə/”, but, phonetically speaking, there’s no actual [ə] anywhere in any French accent I’ve encountered. [ɐ] or something like that occurs in some, but [ə] doesn’t.
    While I am at it, probably all dictionaries claim German has an [ə]. That’s probably wrong, too. Most speakers (that is, all of northern and central Germany, and then some) have a reduced vowel, but that’s most commonly [ɵ], followed by what is probably [ɘ]. I’ll spend a week in Berlin in late July (at an English-speaking scientific congress, but still); if anyone really uses [ə], I’ll report back. :-)
    I have encountered [ə] in English, where it’s almost as common as the dictionaries would have it.

    I hope you investigate.

    I’ll try.

  106. David Marjanović says:

    To me it only sounds informal. Everyone around me seems to do it most of the time.

    That’s where my infamous t’veux conduire, ou t’veux qu’j’conduise ? example (from the 2004 dig) fits, I forgot to add. Every last “schwa” can be dropped in the low register of modern standard French, consonant clusters be damned.

  107. David Marjanović says:

    Every last “schwa” can be dropped

    Almost! I was too quick. There is such a thing as a consonant cluster that is too horrible to contemplate. Ce que je me demande, with five “schwas” in a row, becomes ce qu’j’me d’mande, but goes no further.

  108. marie-lucie says:

    Ce que je me demande, [what I am asking myself] with five “schwas” in a row, becomes ce qu’j’me d’mande, but goes no further.

    Which schwas to drop in such a case varies with the regions. I normally say c’que j’me d’mand’ and don’t think I would say it the other way. For just je me demande I say either j’med’ – mande or jem’ – de – mande, but perhaps the latter would be more likely in a slightly more formal situation (since greater formality causes the preservation of more schwas).
    The syllables are (for me): c’quej’ – med’ – mand’, and for your example: ce qu’ – j’med’ – mand’. Another possibility would be ce qu’- je m’ – de – mand’ which I might possibly say just after a word ending in at least one consonant (so that the first e would be after two consonants, thus following the “no 3 consonants” rule (which, I repeat, is not a conscious, learned rule).

  109. marie-lucie says:

    t’veux conduire, ou t’veux qu’j’conduise ‘You want to drive, or you want me to drive?’

    (There the tu has been reduced to a schwa in rapid casual speech)
    … ou t’veux qu’j’conduise
    The (spoken) syllables are ou t’ – veux qu’ -j’con – duise’
    Normal syllables end either in a vowel or in a consonant (in this case, the next consonant after a vowel, regardless of which word it belons to). When a schwa is dropped after the sounds
    s (written s or c) and j (French pronunciation zh), that consonant can be prefixed to a syllable, causing a cluster with the next consonant.
    The difference between this pronunciation and the more classic one is that a two-consonant cluster can occur at the beginning of a syllable even if the preceding syllable ends in a consonant. Of course this can happen in a sequence of two words, but classically it should not happen if the consonant sequence is interrupted by a schwa, where the schwa should remain. The “new rule” (which already existed in some non-standard French varieties) extends schwa-dropping to cases where three consonants are distributed over two syllables, as in the examples given.
    there is a difference between the words de with schwa and deux with [ø̞].
    for instance, pour demain ‘for tomorrow’ does not sound the same as pour deux mains ‘for two hands’. The quality of the vowel is different, but also its length: the vowel in the second example is longer, but also tenser. A frequent schwa-dropper could say pour d’- main but could not drop the full vowel of pour deux mains.

  110. pour demain ‘for tomorrow’ does not sound the same as pour deux mains ‘for two hands’
    I for one would pronounce both exactly the same. I remember the joke a cousin of mine cracked once. We were playing ping pong and while swaping players somebody asked whether they preferred to be beaten with the right hand or the left. The answer was: “A deux mains, si vous le voulez bien”, which was a (twisted) reference to Lucien Jeunesse and “Le jeu des mille francs” (a quizz on French radio that was broadcast in Mauritius too). Every time Lucien Jeunesse finished his programme he said “A demain, si vous le voulez bien !” I didn’t hear any difference between “demain” and “deux mains”.

  111. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus, I must be very old-fashioned, because I would normally say À d’main. (Pronouncing the schwa within a word where it could be omitted is another, opposite tendency that David did not mention). And to me the two expressions are definitely different. For the vowel of deux the lips come forward (as with du) , but they do not with de. You wouldn’t want to have your picture taken saying deux or du, but de would be OK, with the lips slightly open but in a neutral position.
    I confess to never having heard Lucien Jeunesse: did he by any chance have a slight Southern accent? the phrase si vous le voulez bien reminds me of what my grandparents might have said. Northern French people would be more likely to say si vous voulez bien or simply si vous voulez.

  112. For the vowel of deux the lips come forward (as with du), but they do not with de.
    Isn’t there a way for you to post a video of yourself saying “deux” and “de”, somewhere on the internet? I’m sure it’ll help me understand the point much better!
    Here we eat up our Rs (with our dholl puris for instance), but we usually don’t do it with Es. Only (?) the final Es become mute letters. It’s never “au r’voir”, which would sound extremely French. It has nothing to do with l’âge du capitaine.
    Maybe Lucien Jeunesse was a meridional. But he must be old now, since he retired many years ago. And he may well have said “si vous voulez bien”… My father used to listen to his quiz shows with an almost religious fervour, even during lunch, which got one of my mother’s aunts crazy once.

  113. Oh, Lucien Jeunesse has his Wiki page, where I just learned that he died last year:
    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucien_Jeunesse
    Alfortville is in the South of France?

  114. In an English context (which is the only context I have), I have pronounced roman à clef with [klɛf] my whole life. Now I have to change it. *sob*
    Digression: I was thinking that reverse calque, which has only about 10 ghits, should be used more often: a situation in which words are borrowed from a foreign language to replace native words in a fixed phrase, but the underlying construction remains native. Nom de plume is almost an example: the syntax is French, but the diction is that of English pen name, which predates it. Trask characterizes this rudely (uncharacteristically for him) as “making up some French and borrowing that”.
    Longer, stronger, and younger are exceptions to the normal rule that adding -er does not restore an underlying final /g/; there is a marginal agent noun longer ‘one who longs’ which does not have /g/, so the distinction is in the root.

  115. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: Alfortville is in the South of France?
    No, it is in the Paris suburbs, so my theory was wrong.
    It says on Wikipedia that he always ended with A demain, si vous le voulez bien “Till tomorrow, if you wish it so” (with the le) except on Saturdays, when he said A lundi, si le coeur vous en dit “Till Monday, if it pleases you”, two sentences with the same number of syllables if the schwa of demain is pronounced (as it must have been). Both seem slightly archaic, if not Southern.

  116. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Longer, stronger, and younger are exceptions to the normal rule that adding -er does not restore an underlying final /g/
    Are there other adjectives ending in ong/oung? It is probably relevant that these are very common: common words tend to preserve irregularities (eg the irregular verbs and the irregular plural of nouns).

  117. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. There is also wrong but does anyone ever use wronger (with or without the /g/)?

  118. I don’t know why it’s more wrong rather than wronger; the choice between morphological and syntactic comparatives isn’t free, but if it’s rule-governed, nobody’s been able to work out the rules. Probably there are a lot of factors pulling the native speaker different ways: length, native vs. borrowed, etc.
    But in any case wronger as either comparative adjective or agent noun would lack /g/.

  119. Noetica says:

    I don’t know why it’s more wrong rather than wronger …
    Two reasons spring to mind:
    1. Wrong is most usually a binary on-or-off affair, contrasted with the continuity of long, strong, and young. So the standardly formed comparative (along with the superlative, wrongest) is less frequent, and therefore less accepted. Like righter and rightest, though, it can be used humorously or for special effect.
    2. Much less plausible, but perhaps worth noting, is an appeal to the absence of any “hard” stop consonant in wrong. So wronger (formed according to rule without /g/) sounds oddly malacic; and wrongest is unbalanced because the only stop is /t/ in the added -est. This sort of consideration might have a bearing on the standard introduction of /g/, through frequent use, into younger, youngest, longer, etc.; and thence by analogy into stronger, etc.
    In OED (“wrong, a. and adj.“) there is no discussion of the comparative or superlative forms; but the article includes citations with wronger and wrongest, and none with more wrong or most wrong. For example:

    1763 Tucker Lt. Nat. (1834) I. 211 If the finger rest against the trigger of a loaded musket, and a man stand just before, you cannot do a wronger thing.

  120. marie-lucie says:

    Noetica, I see your point about why wronger/wrongest is not very common, but I don’t understand your point no. 2: long and young do not have stop consonants either. As I explained above, I don’t believe that the /g/ in those words is a standard introduction but I think (without proof) it may well be an instance of preserving an older form.

  121. Marie-Lucie, as I said: “Two reasons spring to mind.” I don’t claim that they are well considered or genuine; like your own thoughts on the matter, they are “without proof”. Let me expand on the second a little more. We need the forms younger, longer, and stronger (along with the superlatives also), because the concepts young, strong, and long are basic to any language, and the variables they involve are continuous. We have recourse to these comparatives and superlatives all the time; and there is little to stop us forming them in the standard way: by addition of -er and -est. But there is something (very inconsiderable, but possibly in effect all the same) that impedes this move: the forms resulting from such simple regular addition are bisyllabic but without stop consonants (except for strong-). They may sound “weak”, to native English speakers. So /g/ is added, giving structure to the word as it is heard, and in particular marking (for strong- also, now) a clearer boundary between the stem and the addition, yielding a more immediately grasped and accepted comparative or superlative form.
    Since comparatives and superlatives are less commonly needed for the usually binary wrong, the forms wronger and wrongest have not evolved with such an interpolated /g/, though it is just as available phonologically (phonotactically?) as an extension of /ŋ/ in these cases as in the other cases.
    On an alternative hypothesis, it is an implicit rule that the comparative and superlative forms for adjectives ending in /ŋ/ will have interpolated /g/; and wrong just happens to be an inexplicable exception. To test this hypothesis, try the very few other adjectives ending in /ŋ/ that are at all amenable to formation of comparatives and superlatives. There are no common ones at all, so we have recourse to rarities or concocted examples. Consider headstrong. How would we pronounce headstronger? How about oblonger, bunger (Australian bung means “broken”)? All are extremely uncommon, because they, like wrong, tend to be binary. My own firm intuition is that they are all like wrong, and have no interpolated /g/. Similarly, imagine a novel adjective crong. Now make, and say, its comparative: cronger? Do you add a /g/? I don’t! So I dismiss that alternative hypothesis.
    Just off the top of my head. Nothing too serious.

  122. Noetica says:

    I meant disyllabic, of course.
    Consider also the of the suffix -yer (spelling variant of -ier) added to verbs ending in -w to form the noun for an agent: lawyer, sawyer, bowyer (“maker of bows”, or “bowman”; preferred to bower, itself marked obsolete in OED), tawyer (variant of tawer: “One who taws; one who prepares white leather; = white-taw[y]er”). The suffix is available (usually as -ier) in other cases as well (bombardier, cashier, with French links of course; but see also grazier, glazier, lockyer). There is, though, a definite preference for it over -er when an intervocalic /j/ will help separate the syllables.

  123. marie-lucie says:

    Noetica, your explanation of the /g/ in longer, younger, stronger is ingenious, but I am afraid it is very unlikely in historical linguistic terms.
    It is a well-established fact from a wide variety of languages that new words follow the regular or “productive” pattern (eg adding -er, -est to the base word, without a change). Old but common words very often preserve an older pattern, which is why the plural of foot ir feet not foots, of that of child is children not childs. Less common words get regularized: cow still has the plural kine in some rural dialects, but the regular cows must have started in urban settings. The history of “irregular verbs” similarly shows much more “irregularity” in ancient forms of the language, eg the past of help was once holp. Similarly the most common /ŋ/-ending words must be preserving the original /g/ after /ŋ/ before adding the suffix -er or -est, not adding it to these old, common words, alone of all possible /ŋ/-ending words (wrong is very old too, but you are correct about the semantic reason for not using the comparative and superlative with this word). And it is not a coincidence that the original /g/ also appears in words such as finger and anger which keep the /g/, since the final er is not perceived as a suffix (which it must have been originally, witness the cognate German forms, such as angst which shows the same root ang- as anger).
    And now a question: is there a /g/ in the monger of fishmonger, ironmonger, warmonger (and perhaps others) which I have often seen in print but probably never heard? On the one hand, there is no current verb to mong and the -er is therefore perhaps not perceived a suffix, so one would expect the /g/, but on the other hand these compounds are stressed on the first not the second component word, and that fact tends to weaken the pronunciation of the unstressed component, so the /g/ would tend to disappear. Such nstances of two conflicting patterns are common and usually speakers (individually or dialectally) unconsciously chose one or the other.

  124. marie-lucie says:

    Noetica: About the -yer, -ier variant of -er for names of professions: here there is a conflict between the Germanic suffix -er vs the (Old) French suffix -ier which has the same meaning (and ultimate origin if you want to go back to PIE). You are right that -yer (a spelling variant of -ier) is preferred after a diphthong (aw having been a diphthong originally), but this is a different case from stronger etc where the presence of /g/ does not have a phonetic motivation.

  125. Noetica says:

    … but this is a different case from stronger etc where the presence of /g/ does not have a phonetic motivation.
    I should add to the list stuccoyer, given as an alternative to stuccoer in OED. Interesting: apparently the only addition of the -ier or -yer of agency to a pure vowel – though effectively the -o of English stucco is probably as much a diphthong as the -aw in law.
    The question of phonetic motivations is exactly what we are conjecturing about, and so far I see no evidence that the /g/ in longer (etc.) lacks it. What about the case I make with headstrong, oblong, bung, and *crong, after all? The case for wrong being an isolated exception is weakened by them: especially since its exceptional status is so far entirely unaccounted for on that hypothesis.
    Similarly the most common /ŋ/-ending words must be preserving the original /g/ after /ŋ/ before adding the suffix -er or -est, not adding it to these old, common words, alone of all possible /ŋ/-ending words …
    Forgive me: but I do not see that this follows. Why must it be so? Again, how about the cases I submit in evidence? Why should they not also preserve an original /g/, if that were regularly what is going on, with wrong (and compounds) as the sole exception?
    Sure, I acknowledge that anger and finger at least seem to have an original /g/. Note, though, that German Finger does not. What to make of such evidence? Has German regularly dropped all such instances of original /g/, while English preserves them? Possible, of course. But we cannot at this stage rule out that there was no such original /g/, and that English regularly adds a /g/. The question is to be resolved by evidence from historical investigation, of course; but so far no one here has produced such evidence. In any event, this may have little bearing on our question concerning verbs with -ng and their suffixes.
    Of interest also, as evidence we might wish to make use of for one case or another: linger (the only non-derivative -nger verb that I uncovered; contrast finger, from the noun); hunger; conger (the eel); punger (dialectal, a kind of crab). All of these, along with your -monger, are not taken as inflected and are pronounced with /g/.
    AS for -monger (first citation 975 CE; and there are very many items incorporating that element in OED), it is indeed from the obsolete verb mong. OED:

    a. intr. To traffic (with). b. trans. To barter.

    From OE mangian, going back to an Old Teutonic form that is itself derived from Latin mango, “dealer, trader”. OED has citations up to the 14th century; then a 17th-century one glossed as a back formation from monger. OED gives monger a /g/; I have never heard it without one.
    Last, trepanger (“a trepang-fisher”) is of passing interest. It is in OED; but, while not obsolete or dialectal, it is given no pronunciation in OED. No native speaker of standard English would pronounce it with /g/. But of course that is expected, for formation of an agent noun. Same with John Cowan’s agent noun longer; but compare two other longer headwords in OED. Meanings:

    a. A row of casks stored next to the keelson. Also pl. b. ‘The fore and aft space allotted to a hammock’ (Smyth Sailor’s Word-bk. 1867).

    A long pole or piece of timber used for fencing, a fishing stage, etc.

    OED has each with /g/. But the first is thought to be from French longueur (with /g/), and the second from adjective long + -er[1]. That is the -er parallel to -ier, -yer, but given that the word is Canadian (think of French, again) and of unusual formation, I would not make much of it as evidence for anything here.
     

  126. Noetica says:

    Actually, linger is connected with long. OED derives it from the obsolete verb leng (1. trans. “lengthen, prolong”; 2. intrans. “linger, tarry”), from OE lęngan, ultimately from Old Teutonic *laŋgjian and the adjectival *laŋgjo- (“long”). I assume that OED’s “Old Teutonic” is Proto-Germanic. OED appends this in the etymology for leng: “The normal mod. form, if the OE. word had survived, would be linge.” Compare the obsolete adjective leng (“longer”; last citation is from Chaucer). Long meaning “yearn” is also ultimately connected with our standard adjective long.
    I had not mentioned malinger (always with /g/), thinking it must be closely connected with linger. But it is not, according to OED: “f. F. malingre sickly, ailing (formerly ‘sore, scabbie, ouglie, loathsome’, Cotgr.); of obscure origin.” Malingre is one of the only five modern French words ending in -gre listed in Petit Robert. An earlier form is malingros, and Petit Robert associates it tentatively with Old French mingre (“chétif”, = “puny, wretched”), haingre (“faible, décharné”, = “feeble, wasted away”, with the influence of mal and malade. (Malacic!)
    For the rest, Marie-Lucie, I don’t mean to press any amateurish theory – against the weight of authority that you bring to these discussions as an expert in historical linguistics. I only say that so far I have not seen the evidence against the partial theory I hastily proposed. I see only assertions, which I have little doubt could be backed up. Anyway, mightn’t we think that “retention” of /g/ in longer (or John Cowan’s more mysterious “restoration” of it, after it is “lost” in long) is compossible with the cheeky account that I sketch? Why should /g/ be “retained” for those inflections of long, strong, and young, and not in the other cases like headstrong, oblong? I simply propose a phonological and practical cause for the presence of /g/, and would suggest that it may not be a matter of retention in the strict sense that seems to have been intended.

  127. I meant “… one of the only five modern French words ending in -ngre“.

  128. David Marjanović says:

    Which schwas to drop in such a case varies with the regions. I normally say c’que j’me d’mand’ and don’t think I would say it the other way.

    I hesitated about that actually. Your way to say it certainly occurs over here. I really don’t get out enough…
    Might depend on what is emphasized, too.

    pour demain ‘for tomorrow’ does not sound the same as pour deux mains ‘for two hands’
    I for one would pronounce both exactly the same.

    Interesting.

    Has German regularly dropped all such instances of original /g/, while English preserves them?

    Looks like the most parsimonious hypothesis to me.
    However, keep in mind that the history of a language is not necessarily the same as what’s going on in the heads of modern-day speakers. A good example are all those German compound nouns with a -s- or -en- between their parts. What’s going on in my head when I make such a compound is that the first part has to be turned into a prefix. What’s historically going on is that all those “prefixes” once were genitives (or analogical formations based on the genitives of other nouns). Take “sunshine”: that once was “the sun’s shine” in German, der Sonnen Schein, straightforwardly yielding Sonnenschein in modern German. Sonnen is not recognizable as a genitive singular to modern speakers who haven’t been taught these historical details, because there’s an ongoing tendency to interpret all noun endings as plural markers, so that it is now Sonne in all cases in the singular and Sonnen in all cases in the plural, with case-marking left to the article – der Sonnen Schein would be interpreted nowadays as a poetic way of saying “the shine of the suns“. “The sun’s shine” would be der Sonne Schein, or rather der Schein der Sonne in non-poetic word order (der Sonne Schein sounds outright medieval, like, 12th or 13th century, even though it’s not!).
    Erm, where was I? Oh yeah: modern speakers know by heart that the prefix form of Sonne is Sonnen- for no particular reason. It’s productive (sun spots: Sonnenflecken, solar system: Sonnensystem, solar wind: Sonnenwind…). From a historical (“diachronic” as opposed to “synchronic”) point of view, that’s complete nonsense, but nobody except linguists knows that even subconsciously.

  129. Looks like the most parsimonious hypothesis to me.
    Yes David, and further investigation does show /g/ for the Proto-Germanic ancestors of young, long, and strong (with German cognates). Young, for example, is from PG “*jūŋgaz, contraction of *juwuŋgaz”, as OED tells us (confirmed elsewhere). But as you pretty well point out, an original of that sort does not necessarily give the whole story, or even the causally relevant part. My own toy theory about /g/, above, is about “what’s going on in the heads of modern-day speakers”, as you have it.

  130. marie-lucie says:

    Noetica: longer etc
    Sorry for the delay: I knew I would need to write a fairly lengthy response, so I started this morning, but when I had almost finished I was interrupted by a visitor, and when I went back to my text I must have hit the wrong key because the whole thing disappeared. So I waited until the end of the day to start again.
    To make a long story short (or at least try to):

    so far I have not seen the evidence against the partial theory I hastily proposed. I see only assertions, which I have little doubt could be backed up.

    Of course there does not seem to be incontrovertible evidence such as a dated document saying “I notice that X does not pronounce the /g/ in long, but he does in longer, and that seems to be the new fashion”, or some such. But there are theoretical and practical reasons against your theory, as I explained above.
    You rightly surmised that the lack of /g/ in wronger is due to the extreme rarity of the form, because wrong is an either/or term, the true opposite of right, without a possibility of degree as in long, young, strong, so the comparative form would be very unlikely to be used frequently and each speaker using it would be forming it on the spot rather than remembering it as in the case of longer, etc. But you went on to assume that the use of /g/ must have started with the practically non-existent wronger and from then gone on to coopt the very frequent longer, younger, stronger. This is extremely improbable: rare forms do not normally or durably influence very common ones, although there is plenty of evidence that the opposite is true.

    Anyway, mightn’t we think that “retention” of /g/ in longer (or John Cowan’s more mysterious “restoration” of it, after it is “lost” in long) is compossible with the cheeky account that I sketch?

    JC’s “restoration” is not quite the right word. It depends on how one interprets the deviation from the “underlying form” (a technical term for a base form which is not actually pronounced as such) which includes the /g/. But “restoring” a missing segment after it has been deleted does not seem likely from a historical point of view.
    Now “retention” (as I see it) is quite likely for very common old words (as I mentioned above), while less common or newer words get reformed according to a newer model. Even though wrong is also a very old word, the only attestations for wronger, besides being rare, are also relatively recent (ie not from Old English) (and the written record does not indicate its pronunciation).

    Why should /g/ be “retained” for those inflections of long, strong, and young, and not in the other cases like headstrong, oblong?

    Because the latter are newer words, even though they include older components (and for the almost hypothetical wronger, the pronunciation would not be a remembered one as in longer but one made up at the moment of speech, on the basis of the current g-less pronunciation of wrong).
    Something similar happens in (relatively new) compounds: for instance, the plural of maple leaf is maple leaves, but the well-known Canadian hockey team is the Toronto Maple Leafs.
    Leaves with its change from /f/ to /v/ is a very old type of plural, and the same type of change applies to a small number of old words. Only those words ending in f which are inherited from Old English change the /f/ to /v/: for instance the Old French word chief was adopted into Middle English, and the plural is chiefs not chieves even though there was an obvious model in thief, thieves.
    So here the /g/ of long, etc which was pronounced in Old English has been kept in longer, etc, but not extended later to other words ending in ong which did not already exist in OE. But meanwhile all the words where ng was at the very end lost the /g/ (but the ‘n’ had already accommodated to the neighbouring /g/ and remained as /ŋ/.
    About the pronunciation of ng in Old English, there is at least one bit of evidence: the linguistically interesting Middle English text called the Ormulum, which is written in an idiosyncratic kind of phonetic transcription: words normally ending in -nge are written -nnge. Since the purpose of the Ormulum was to show exact pronunciation, the spelling -nnge suggests not only that the /g/ was pronounced separately, but also that the /n/ was not yet assimilated as [ŋ], at least in careful speech.

    I simply propose a phonological and practical cause for the presence of /g/and would suggest that it may not be a matter of retention in the strict sense that seems to have been intended.

    But your phonological cause (the lack of a “hard stop consonant” in wrong) is not very likely when seen within the context of English word-formation. In English (as in many other languages) the pronunciation of a suffix is conditioned by the final sound of the word it is attached to (eg the differing pronunciations of the noun plural suffix in cats, dogs, peas, bushes), and it is the presence of the actual sound, not a lack of something in the word, that is the conditioning factor (and this is true for languages in general). Such phonological conditioning factors apply across the board (at least during a given period of the language), not on a case-by-case basis. As for the practical cause, see above for its “impracticality” in this case.
    About non-comparatives where the /g/ is preserved (hunger, anger, finger, linger, -monger, etc): the fact that /g/ is preserved in these words where the final er is not perceived as a suffix, while it is lost in singer, etc where er is clearly a suffix, may seem to go against the rationale for preserving the /g/ in longer, etc. But the two -er‘s are different: the agentive -er as in singer (a person who sings) creates a new word, a noun. on the basis of an existing word, a verb, while the comparative -er only creates a form of the same word (longer is still long, only ‘more’ so). This difference is enough to justify the retention of a distinct pronunciation in an old word.
    Note that /g/ is also preserved in other cases where it is not word-final, as in England, English, ingle (nook), mingle, tingle, angle, spangle, tangle, etc), so it seems that it should be the loss of /g/ that needs an explanation (at the end of words, and therefore in derivatives of such words), rather than its preservation.

  131. marie-lucie says:

    Noetica: My own toy theory about /g/, above, is about “what’s going on in the heads of modern-day speakers”
    This is not obvious from your posts! My own theory is historical, although present-day speakers may interpret the facts differently (consciously or not).

  132. Thank you for your long and painstaking reply, Marie-Lucie. I will study it carefully before making a considered response. Just two things for now.
    First, you write:

    But you went on to assume that the use of /g/ must have started with the practically non-existent wronger and from then gone on to coopt the very frequent longer, younger, stronger.

    I am mystified by that, and I cannot see why you attribute it to me. Where do I suggest that there must ever have been a /g/ in wronger?
    Second, concerning your comment on my reply to David (immediately above your last):

    Noetica: My own toy theory about /g/, above, is about “what’s going on in the heads of modern-day speakers”, as you have it.

    Marie-Lucie: This is not obvious from your posts! My own theory is historical, although present-day speakers may interpret the facts differently (consciously or not).

    This too surprises me. I had thought that I was consistently arguing against an historical account that supposes retention of (an admittedly real) original /g/ as the cause of our modern /g/ in the very common comparatives and superlatives of young, long, and strong. Or rather, against too ready an acceptance of that historical account; or again, for the possibility that both causations may be operating. And I argued by appeal to what happens pragmatically for moderns, without regard for the presence or absence of /g/ in the ancestors of modern forms.
    More later. Commiserations on having to type everything in twice! I’ve taken to backing up lumps of text in a separate .txt file that I keep handy just for the purpose.

  133. marie-lucie says:

    Noetica, I am sorry about any misunderstandings. I will have to revisit this exchange later, if you don’t mind.

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