HUNGARIANS EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK.

István Deák has a NYRB review of a couple of books about Hungarian exiles in the U.S. that starts with a few jokes (“Another story was about a meeting of top US atomic scientists at which, when Enrico Fermi has stepped out of the room, the others sigh with relief: ‘Now, at last, we can speak Hungarian’”) and goes on to an astonishing list of people:

Marton’s nine [Hungarian] Jews include four nuclear scientists, two photographers, two film directors, and a writer. What both Marton and Frank demonstrate is that such Hungarians as the scientists Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, and Edward Teller, the biochemist and sociologist Michael Polanyi, the photographer Robert Capa, the writer Arthur Koestler, and others have together altered the ways we think, act, and work. And unlike many of their predecessors, the two authors do not shy away from admitting that, with very few exceptions, the world-famous Hungarians they discuss [...] were Jews by religion, or at least converts of Jewish origin.
[...] Indeed, the ethnic and national identity of Theodore von Kármán, Karl Polanyi, Karl Mannheim, Nicholas Lord Kaldor of Newnham, Eugene Ormandy, Sir Georg Solti, Joseph Szigeti, Antal Dorati, George Szell, Fritz Reiner, Ferenc Molnár, Joe Pasternak, Sir Alexander Korda, Michael Curtiz, Brassaï, André Kertész, Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and hundreds of other illustrious expatriates presented a dilemma to anti-Semitic and rightist Hungarians before and during World War II and, to a lesser extent, to Hungarian Communists after the war.

Wow. I knew some of those people were Hungarians (mainly those with obviously Hungarian names, like Solti, Szigeti, and Dorati), but many of them I would never have guessed, and when you put them all together it’s a hell of an impressive list.
In a footnote, Deák mentions an interesting fact about names: “…late in the eighteenth century, the Habsburg authorities gave the Jews of Hungary German-sounding names, many were later converted to Hungarian-sounding family names, and then again, when abroad, to German-, French-, or English/American-sounding names. Thus Manó Kaminer became Mihály Kertész while still in Hungary and Michael Curtiz when in the US.”

Comments

  1. I recommend Hargittai’s “Martians of Science” also. Don’t know anything about the two books reviewed, but Hargittai’s was excellent.
    What was interesting to me is that the five Hungarians seemed to identify primarily as Hungarians even though they were Jewish (though only one or two were religious).

  2. John Emerson: Thus spoke Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem:

    Early in the thirties, under the influence of Italian Fascism, [the Hungarians] had produced a strong Fascist movement, the so-called Arrow Cross men, and in 1938 they followed Italy by passing their first anti-Jewish legislation; despite the strong influence of the Catholic Church in the country, the rulings applied to baptized Jews who had been converted after 1919, and even those converted before that date were included three years later. And yet, when an all-inclusive anti-Semitism, based on race, had become official government policy, eleven Jews continued to sit in the upper chamber of the Parliament, and Hungary was the only Axis country to send Jewish troops — a hundred and thirty thousand of them, in auxiliary service but in Hungarian uniform — to the Eastern front.
    The explanation of these inconsistencies is that the Hungarians, their official policy notwithstanding, were even more emphatic than other countries in distinguishing between native Jews and Ostjuden, between the “Magyarized” Jews of “Trianon Hungary” (established, like the other Successor States, by the Treaty of Trianon) and those of recently annexed territories. Hungary’s sovereignty was respected by the German government until March 1944, with the result that for the Jews the country became an island of safety in “an ocean of destruction”.

    Arendt goes on to describe two events, both almost unbelievable: that at such a date the German government should have decided that liquidating Hungary’s Jews was a top priority before the country could be occupied by the Wehrmacht to protect it (and therefore Germany itself) against the Red Army in the Balkans, and that those same Jews should be so blind as to suppose that the Germans would actually respect the above-mentioned distinction, and transport only the Ostjuden, at a time when the whole world knew exactly what “resettlement in the East” meant. After only two months, the whole operation was stopped under an unprecedented level of international pressure, including from the Papacy and the U.S., but not before almost half a million Jews, 70% of the prewar population, had been murdered.

  3. “After only two months, the whole operation was stopped under an unprecedented level of international pressure”
    It is interesting that Germany worried about international pressure in 1944, especially from the Vatican (in Allied hands since 1943) and the USA. Would it be fair to say that Germany had more pressing concerns as of June 1944 – a three front war (Eastern, Normandy and Italy)?

  4. What was interesting to me is that the five Hungarians seemed to identify primarily as Hungarians even though they were Jewish (though only one or two were religious).
    That was the same in Germany, but not in Russia.

  5. The “operation” was stopped only because the Germans had not time to finish it. Only the Jews of Budapest at least a part of them were saved.
    The Jewish Battalions were not armed and their level of death-rate was huge (more than 80% I guess).

  6. Monty Python, of course, says it all:
    Set: A tobacconist’s shop.
    Text on screen: In 1970, the British Empire lay in ruins, and for­eign nation­al­ists fre­quen­ted the streets — many of them Hungarians (not the streets — the for­eign nation­als). Anyway, many of these Hungarians went into tobacconist’s shops to buy cigarettes…
    A Hungarian tour­ist (John Cleese) approaches the clerk (Terry Jones). The tour­ist is read­ing halt­ingly from a phrase book.
    Hungarian: I will not buy this record, it is scratched.
    Clerk: Sorry?
    Hungarian: I will not buy this record, it is scratched.
    Clerk: Uh, no, no, no. This is a tobacconist’s.
    Hungarian: Ah! I will not buy this tobac­con­ist’s, it is scratched.
    Clerk: No, no, no, no. Tobacco… um… cigar­ettes. (Holds up a pack.)
    Hungarian: Ya! See-gar-ets! Ya! Uh… My hov­er­craft is full of eels.
    Clerk: Sorry?
    YouTube has the rest
    (“You are hereby charged that on the 28th day of May, 1970, you did will­fully, unlaw­fully, and with malice afore­thought, pub­lish an alleged English-Hungarian phrase book with intent to cause a breach of the peace.”)

  7. By chance I am currently reading (in German translation) The Visitor by György Konrád. I suppose a blurb might say “poetically dense description, unsettling”. I’ll be reading more of him, that’s for sure. It’s another book I found in a Ramschtisch situation, like Koeppen’s Pigeons on the Grass.

  8. Ernest Gellner describes a contrasting situation in Czechoslovakia, where his German-Jewish family had been willing to be patriotic Czechs but found themselves not welcomed. Gellner ended his life as a German-Jewish-Czech-Britisher, and built his political theory out of anti-nationalism (he half-seriously proposed the non-national / multi-national Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy as a model for an international order.).

  9. Old Arthur Koestler was a bit of a mixed bag.

  10. Yes, this is also my personal experience on a more everyday level. Wherever you go in the world, even in the smallest towns, when local people get to know you are a Hungarian, they will immediately name another Hungarian living there. A very surprising fact, given the relatively small number of Hungarians and their reluctance to living abroad. That’s why we always say that Hungarian is one of the great world languages as it is spoken in all the places of the world…
    This language, so absurdly complex and spoken by so few people, is also an important component of Hungarian identity, perhaps more than for other nations. There is this joke illustrating this funny feature. An old Jew, who emigrated from Hungary to the USA before WWII, sitting on the New York metro and reading a Yiddish-language newspaper hears two black people standing near to him speaking in Hungarian (as before 1990 several pro-Socialist African countries sent their sons to the universities of Socialist countries, and very often the only common language of such African students was the language of the host country). He looks up from the newspaper and asks with surprise: “Are you Hungarian, too?”

  11. Hey, don’t forget Zsa Zsa Gabor, she certainly changed the way we think about this world.
    My Hungarian friends asked me once to take out a girl visiting from Budapest. She wanted to see the Metro. After a long tour of the palatial stations of the Moscow underground, she said, ‘Thanks, but I wanted to see THE Metro’. Which was the exhibition of art from the Metropolitan Museum, on in Moscow at the time.
    Hungarian economy under Kadar Janosch was the envy of the whole of the Eastern block. The uprising in 1956 was crushed, but later on Kadar, I was told, managed to hide a thriving private sector behind the facade of communist rule.

  12. About 10 years ago, a colleague of mine was invited to a dinner honoring a revered elder of the Brooklyn Satmar Jewish community. My colleague was not a member of the community and speaks only English. After the first few speakers adressed the group in Yiddish, my colleague was relieved to see then-governor Pataki heading to the dais. Pataki confounded expectations by speaking in his, and many of the Satmar’s, native Hungarian.

  13. An old Jew … on the New York metro … Yiddish-language newspaper … black people
    Since it’s slightly relevant to another recent topic, in a common variant of this joke, it’s the black person who is reading the Yiddish newspaper and the old Jew asks, “du bis (/ ir zayt) a yid?” to which the reply is along the lines of “nor dos felt mir ois” or don’t you think I got enough tzores being a schvartzer?

  14. Governor Floyd Olson of Minnesota, of Scandinavian descent, grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and was reportedly more fluent in Yiddish than in Swedish or Norwegian, which he also spoke.

  15. Thanks, John, for mentioning my father’s book. I’m obviously not an unbiased observer (see my last name), but I have to agree that excluding a mention of The Martians of Science in this discussion is rather unfortunate.
    From a different perspective, here’s more on the legacy of Hungarians through a video montage:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0wkokaybWA

  16. That’s nothing. I was complimented at school for having spontaneously developed a Marseille accent. At least I took it as a compliment.

  17. Andrew Grove is yet another Hungarian-Jewish-Chemical Engineer.

  18. I should have mentioned that The Visitor was translated into German by another Hungarian, Mario Szenessy, so it’s actually his German I’m marvelling at. Reich-Ranicki (pronounced raNITski), the effervescent, contentious old sweetheart (but this time a Pole) whom the silly media are pleased to call “the Pope of German literary criticism”, praised Szenessy’s first work in these words:

    Er, der kein Deutscher ist, schreibt ein ungleich besseres Deutsch als fast alle, die hierzulande Bücher verfassen… bitter, sarkastisch und temperamentvoll, scharf, federnd und lapidar.

    Szenessy, who is not German, writes an incomparably better German than almost anyone who publishes books in this country … bitter, sarcastic and full of temperament, sharp-edged, resilient and lapidary

    I find nothing of Szenessy in English translation at amazon, and only The Loser by Konrád. Checking the WiPe on Konrád, I see someone has made the English title The Case Worker, which is accurate and more explizit than my The Visitor. Szenessy’s German title is simply Der Besucher.
    Can anyone tell me what the function is of the accent mark above the “a” in Konrád? Does it indicate stress, or a particular vowel flavor?

  19. It is no stress, as stress is always on the first syllable in Hungarian. It indicates a “long a” in contrast to the unaccented “short a” (which is not only shorter, but also more closed, somewhere between English ‘o’ and ‘a’, similar to British “bark” or to Persian آ).

  20. as stress is always on the first syllable in Hungarian
    Then I don’t see how Hungarian can be called “absurdly complex”. Without that stress factor, speech should be fairly relaxed.

  21. Bartok tried to work the trochaic Hungarian meters he found in Hungarian folk songs into his music. Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” was written in a trochaic meter based in the Kalevala, in Hungarian’s sister language Finnish.
    Longfellow was apparently a virtuoso versifier and diligent scholar whose taste in poetry happens to be very far from ours. Baudelaire translated part of “The Song of Hiawatha”. Baudelaire wanted to be a poetry machine like Longfellow and Poe.

  22. You are right. I have never considered this really positive side of Hungarian. What is complex is the system of multiple suffixes, threefold vowel harmony, multiple nominal and verbal paradigms, an apparently free but in the reality subtly regulated word order, a multitude of idioms to be used only in their proper context, and an extremely large amount of exceptions of all kind, just to name a few.

  23. While we’re on the subject of jokes involving unexpected outbreaks of Yiddish, let me tout the one I retailed in the last paragraph of this post. (It was seven years ago, some of you might have missed it.)

  24. multiple suffixes, threefold vowel harmony, multiple nominal and verbal paradigms, an apparently free but in the reality subtly regulated word order, a multitude of idioms to be used only in their proper context, and an extremely large amount of exceptions of all kind
    Thanks for the info about “á”, Studiolum. Please don’t be offended if I now gripe a bit about your list.
    All of the list applies equally to German, except for “threefold vowel harmony”. When you leave out the first two clauses, it still applies in large part to English, French and Spanish and probably most languages with a literary tradition.
    Folks, let’s get serious about long-nosed, judicious lists of language difficulties. It almost seems to be an obsession, this making out a language (i.e. one of its lects!) to be so velly, velly difficult in so many ways. To my mind, this phenomenon is due to a fixation on “scientific” terminology, i.e. that of Latin-based linguistics, and behind that an honest-to-god, retro-medieval ontology of “parts of speech”.
    To be frank, there is often a third thing, that is hard for me to formulate without causing offence. So I’ll skip it for now.
    I don’t think the notion of “difficult” is particularly useful with regard to languages. Clearly there is the possibility, looking at Hungarian say, that you’re looking at it in an inappropriate way if seems difficult – because of the zillions of Joes who speak it. How easy would it seem to learn to play the piano while peering under the lid at the strings, and looking sideways at an oscilloscope? Is that easier than sitting in front of the keys, practicing the Czerny exercises under the guidance of a teacher? If not, is that difficulty inherent in the piano, or in the way you approached the playing of it?
    A simple experiment should make this clearer. All of you whose native language is English – how difficult do you find it to use the language? Not difficult? Why then are there so many people running around speaking broken English? Why do non-English-speakers cross themselves when the subject of “English phrasal verbs” crops up, for instance?
    To generalize the experiment, replace the word “English” in the preceding paragraph with the name of your own mother tongue, and consider the result. Which side of the competency line are you on, and for what possible reasons? How many ways are there to cross the line? Only one?

  25. The basic idea is: In Finnish the direct object (commonly called the accusative object) may occur in the nominative, the genitive, or the partitive case. In order to make things easier to understand, nominative and genitive are called accusative. There is also a real accusative which is not called anything at all.
    Utmost care must be applied when interpreting the grammatical terminology. If you encounter the word ‘accusative,’ it can mean nominative or genitive, but never the real accusative. The term ‘nominative’ can mean accusative or, possibly, nominative. ‘Genitive’ can mean accusative or simply genitive, while partitive is always called partitive, although it may be accusative.
    Take that, Grumbly! I expect to hear no more from you on this!

  26. Thanks, JE! You have – inadvertently, I’m quite sure – revealed the third explanatory factor that I was so loath to make explicit.

  27. mollymooly says:

    If you want to be more impressively specific, most Hungarian Jews were from Budapest District VI. There were more in Vienna than provincial Hungary. I wonder if any Viennese Hungarian-speaking Jews self-identified as Austrian, or German.

  28. I’m in my early 40s. My Hungarian father claimed to not be Jewish, and as far as I can see, believed it. But he married a Jewish woman (the daughter of Russian immigrants, though he also said he hated Russia), and his mannerisms, both cultural and linguistic, were Jewish, as were those of the family he left behind in Hungary (his parents, an aunt, and his brother and sister-in-law). Our family’s favorite dishes were characteristically Jewish. The jokes they tell are reworked old Yiddish jokes. The family includes members well-known for their literary, scientific, and musical accomplishments. Yet nobody in my father’s family admits to being Jewish….

  29. Well, did they live in Budapest District VI?

  30. Apparently District VI of Pest is known as Terézváros.

  31. komfo,amonan says:

    All of the list applies equally to German, except for “threefold vowel harmony”.
    Wait. Am I the only person who finds shocking the implied assertion that German has “an apparently free but in the reality subtly regulated word order”? I think of German word order as being explicitly strict.

  32. But then I read this:
    Theresa Town (Terézváros) The character of Terézváros, district VI, is defined by Andrássy út, the great boulevard running the length of the neighborhood from Heroes’ Square through Oktogon and down into the Inner City. This grand street has been regaining its reputation of elegance: Andrássy út is once again the “best address” in town, especially since the upper part is now a World Heritage site. The Teréz körút section of the Outer Ring cuts through Terézváros; Oktogon is its major square. The area around Nagymezo utca is the city’s small theater district.
    Elizabeth Town (Erzsébetváros) This is district VII. Directly to the southeast of Terézváros, Erzsébetváros is the historic Jewish neighborhood of Pest. During the German occupation from 1944 to 1945, this district was where the ghettos where established for the Jewish people. This district is still the center of Budapest’s Jewish life. Although it had been exceedingly run-down due to the war, in the last couple of years, it has become gentrified and considered one of the up and coming districts to invest in.
    …(Something about Molly & Pest control)…

  33. From its Wiki entry:
    Dohány Street Synagogue is located in Erzsébetváros, the 7th district of Budapest. It is the third largest synagogue in Europe. Theodore Herzl was born next door. Dohány means tobacco in Hungarian. Theodor Herzl in his speeches referred to it as the Tabakgasse Synagogue and it’s known as the Tabac-Schul, in Yiddish. Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns played the original 5,000 tube organ, built in 1859. S-S was the greatest organist in the world, according to Liszt (1866).

  34. Crown, that last WiPe paragraph reads like a school essay by a student trying to insert everything he knows. The sentence about the meaning of Dohany, and the one about Liszt’s comment on Saint-Saëns, are extraneous.

  35. The Wikipedia authorium were worried that you’d run out of grumble-fodder and die of inanation, Stu.

  36. JE, is there a beef, or a mandate, behind this needling of me over the past few days? You seem to be resentful of something, but whatever it may be, I doubt it is of general interest. Actually, that must be why you don’t come out with it, but instead just faintly gripe at me.

  37. I was inserting everything I know. I wanted to save you from having to read the boring bits; but okay, go ahead. The meaning of Dohany is about language and this blog is about language; Coincidence? I think not. Liszt’s comment is extraneous, I even took it from another source, but since when did everything have to be neous?

  38. komfo,amonan: I think of German word order as being explicitly strict.
    A short answer to why that is wrong is as follows. German has noun cases. These allow clumps of words (not individual words!) to follow each other in many different orders, without impediment to the meaning. As in Latin.
    This apparent freedom is not an arbitrary one, however. As in Latin. Depending on how you string out the words, you may stress one thing more than another, or sound like a furriner, or almost unintelligible, or a civil servant, or Thomas Mann or Konrad/Szenessy etc. etc.

  39. But on the bright side, i learnt the meaning of in-a-nation.

  40. Sorry, Crown! You did give the text the title “From its Wiki entry”, and formatted it as a paragraph, as if it came from Wiki as it stands. How was I to guess that you yourself wrote the paragraph, as a sum of various facts?

  41. “Inanation” isn’t even a word. At least, I don’t think it is. Depending on what “word” means, I guess. If it means anything. Stu, does “word” mean anything?

  42. marie-lucie says:

    The meaning of Dohány is relevant to the fact that Herzl called the street “Tabacgasse”, translating the name into what seems like a French-German hybrid, and to the existence of the synagogue popularly known as “Tabac-schul”, which provides the link with the Jewish community of the area.

  43. I thought it must be clear that I meant extraneous to what otherwise seemed to be the main subject of the Wiki paragraph, namely the synagogue. Not extraneous to this blog.

  44. Oops, I missed the fact that the synagogue is called the Dohány Street Synagogue. I was thinking of a conductor, to go with the musical theme of Liszt and Saint-Saëns, but actually that’s Dohnányi.

  45. neous
    Crown, is that a word?

  46. It must be a word, otherwise it couldn’t be combined with the word “extra” to create a new word. And “ex” is a word (“former partner”), so “tra” must be also. This is confirmed by the word “tra-la-la”.
    I rest my case.

  47. [smacks forehead]
    I really didn’t get it the first time.
    [hangs head]
    Anyway, it was fairly neous: certainly miscella, possibly sponta, I’ll say subcuta because it seemed to get under our skin. I hope not erro.

  48. our skin -> your skin

  49. neous, sponta, erro
    Somehow those remind me of the speech in A Clockwork Orange. But I read it too long ago. Does anyone remember it in more detail?
    sponta, erro also sound like the abbreviations the French sometimes create nowadays: pub for publicité, for instance.

  50. The Wikipedia authorium were worried that you’d run out of grumble-fodder and die of inanation
    If dying from inanition is

    inanition
    [in′ənish′ən]
    Etymology: L, inanis, empty
    1 an exhausted condition resulting from lack of food and water or a defect in assimilation; starvation.
    2 a state of lethargy characterized by a loss of vitality or vigor in all aspects of social, moral, and intellectual life.
    Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. © 2009, Elsevier.

    …then dying from inanation, by extension must result from a dearth of readily available material that is:

    inane

    From Latin inanis (“‘empty, vain’”).

    Lacking sense or meaning (often implying, “to the point of boredom or annoyance”).

    1 : empty, insubstantial
    2 : lacking significance, meaning, or point : silly

    synonyms see insipid, silly, pointless

    (source: Wiktionary)

  51. komfo,amonan says:

    Grumbly: As in Latin, yes. But German has the rule by which the main verb appears as the second word in a coordinate clause, and the rule by which the main verb appears at the end of a subordinate clause, and the rules governing the position of the past participle of verbs in the perfect aspect. This would seem enough to rule out the characterization of apparent freedom of word order. All that being said, I am no expert.

  52. komfo,amonan says:

    Er, make that “…second word in a coordinate clause *in a declarative sentence*…”.

  53. inanation n: empty country or ethnic territory
    neous adj: of, or relating to, partly saliva-digested gnawsea; distinct from “cudeous”, as nedling is distinct from cudling

  54. Ethnic pride is often displayed in the costume of bitter or weary complaint of the difficulty of mastering one’s native language.
    Is this boastful self-deprecation supposed to be uncommon?

  55. Good point, deadgod. But what’s to be said about the multitudes who wearily complain about the difficulty of a language that is not their native language? That they have not mastered, indeed may not even be trying to learn? But the difficulty of which they seem determined to establish, using linguistic terminology? Turning a sow’s ear into a silky authoritativeness?

  56. JE, where’s the beef?
    My impression was that Emms was interested in the relation between your name and your comment, Grumbly. Like if I were AJP Shitforbrains, people might answer me with “You’re not as stupid as you look, Shitforbrains”. Something like that.

  57. Sorry, grmbly. I’ve been playing off you nickname and meant no harm.

  58. Thanks, JE. <*blots tear with hanky*> I thought everybody was getting tired of my carpet-fraying. <*Grumbly, thin ice here – there was probably something of that as well. Say something conciliatory, for God’s sake*> It seems I’ve unintentionally annoyed both you and Crown, to name but two. Sorry about that. <*snorts into hanky, but misses*>

  59. In the German WiPe entry on the Hungarian language, I find that Jacob Grimm thought Hungarian was remarkably well-organized:

    Der Sprachwissenschaftler Jacob Grimm hat das Studium des Ungarischen allen empfohlen, die neue einfach zu erlernende Plansprachen schaffen wollen. Tatsächlich wäre es möglich, Ungarisch wie eine Programmiersprache darzustellen, in der der Stamm den Befehl und die agglutinierten Endungen die Optionen darstellen würden.

    The linguist Jacob Grimm recommended that anyone wanting to create a new, systematic language that is easy to learn should study Hungarian. In fact it is possible to characterize Hungarian as a programming language in which the root forms represent the functions, and the agglutinative endings the parameters.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    There, there, Grumbly, let me make you a nice cup of tea, or maybe hot chocolate, that will make you feel better. And here is a clean hanky.

  61. Thanks, marie-lucie. One misses the feminine touch.

  62. Grimm’s idea is a good example of how things don’t need to seem difficult, if only you can find an appropriate way of regarding them. Grimm, and whoever came up with the programming language viewpoint, obviously took the trouble to look for such ways.
    Of course, not everyone will be at home with a programming language view of things. Fine – look for something else more suitable to you. Or write to your local linguist and demand that he do this, instead of wasting the voters’ money speculating in sow’s ear futures.

  63. You certainly didn’t annoy me, Grumbly. Quite the reverse.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    what’s to be said about the multitudes who wearily complain about the difficulty of a language that is not their native language?
    When I was a student of English in Paris, I heard many other students complain about how difficult verbs were in English. I was quite puzzled, since all you have to do is memorize a limited number of irregularities, and then the rest is quite straightforward. There is no need of a book such as “205 French/German/Korean/etc verbs” for English. But that was the problem: why sing/sang/sung but give/gave/given, speak/spoke/spoken and, most perverse of all, hit/hit/hit? There was no rhyme or reason to it, no predictability, and that was the difficulty.
    Spanish verbs on the other hand were considered much easier (except for the imperfect subjunctive), in spite of the fact that they have even more forms than French (and Italian, I think, has even more). But the point is that Spanish verbs are formed on the same principles as French verbs, so that a French speaker is not surprised to have to memorize 6 forms for every tense: that is normal for a verb. On the other hand, an English speaker finds the verbs of any Romance language a huge obstacle, because of the foreignness of their structure and the amount of memorization required even with the most regular verbs (before the regularities become familiar), let alone the irregular ones, some of which need to be learned right away.
    The “good language learner”, on the other hand, makes short shrift of the boring regularities and embraces the irregularities as a worthy and stimulating challenge.

  65. Simplicity is its own reward. To take the programming analogy a step further: consider that there are zillions of Hungarian Joes and Judies who deal with each other easily in an everyday language. If that language, Hungarian, resembles a programming language, and so many people speak it every day – why, then maybe learning a programming language, which you might have wanted to do but found too hard, is something that might be easy after all. If only you regard it as a kind of everyday language, not as something “scientific”. If only you practiced it with a good teacher, as you do when learning to play the guitar. Maybe you could even learn Hungarian without first having to become a programmer.

  66. I wasn’t annoyed either, but you did rouse my needling instinct. I guess I overdid it.

  67. Hey you guys, don’t overdo it. marie-lucie is making me cups of tea now, but if she notices that you didn’t mean it after all, she’ll take the kettle off the stove and make me do my French homework.

  68. neous adj: of, or relating to, partly saliva-digested gnawsea; distinct from “cudeous”, as nedling is distinct from cudling
    So, just to spell this out: As needling is to cuddling in the realm of intimate behavior, so neous is to cudeous in the realm of repeat eating. On the model of “canoodling”, then, we could introduce
    canudeous adj (var. sp. canueous) of, or related to, the thorough enjoyment of regurgitated material.
    By coincidence this morning my son brought up (NPI) the out-of-the-way color words taupe, mauve, and puce. Neither of us could entirely remember what they all meant. I told him that the color of puce would depend on what you had eaten. Then I laughed at my own joke and fell into a fit of uncontrollable coughing.

  69. If you’d like a Ger. loc. related to these unseemly musings, here it is: sich es nochmal durch den Kopf gehen lassen. Normally one understands that simply to mean “reconsider it”. But, to be jokey, you can understand it as meaning “let it pass through your head again”, i.e. to p*ke.

  70. Thanks, Stu. I’m not sure that would work in English. My mouth is located in my head, but it would be jarring to say that food goes into or through my head.
    By the way, for me your “insufferability” is inseparable from the rest of your persona. (Or anyway, it’s no more separable than an ab- or an aus- or a weg-. It’s always around here somewhere.) I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  71. Consangui
    Contempora
    Erro
    Extra
    Instanta
    Miscella
    Simulta
    Sponta
    Subcuta
    Many of these could pass as names for models of automobiles. Or maybe local terms for Lego pieces.

  72. According to m-l (and I’m extrapolating a bit), thinking up car-model names is what happens to linguists who sell out the academy and go commercial.

  73. Consangui (a sweet party wine similar to sangria)
    Contempora (a magazine for the modern woman)
    Erro (a Catholic weekly)
    Extra (a counselling service for the overweight)
    Instanta (a brand of powdered coffee)
    Miscella (a brand of assorted cheeses)
    Simulta (a translation service)
    Sponta (a fizzy drink for anarchists)
    Subcuta (an electronic-chip ID)

  74. Although ‘Erro’ gets 35 million hits, really he’s a “postmodern Icelandic artist”, according to Wiki. You couldn’t make this stuff up, unfortunately.

  75. I was just taking off on slogans and product names as they tend to be in Germany. I think there is a magazine called Femina, Catholic charity things often have Latin names, such as Misereor. Miszellen (plural) are short pieces on one thing or another in a scientific journal. Spontis were leftist political activists in the 70s and 80s. I have the impression that many brands of margerine have Extra in their names (I never buy the stuff), but it usually refers to additional vitamins or larger size container, not better quality.

  76. Those are brilliant, and now I want a nice cold Sponta.

  77. marie-lucie says:

    the out-of-the-way color words taupe, mauve, and puce.
    All three words are from ordinary French words.
    Une taupe is a mole (the underground beastie), the colour of which was extensively debated right here some time ago. Let’s say a deep “brownish-grey” would cover the range.
    Une mauve is the flower called in English “mallow”. It is pinker than what I think of as mauve, but perhaps the colour may vary with regions, soil, etc.
    Une puce is a flea.
    According to m-l (and I’m extrapolating a bit), thinking up car-model names is what happens to linguists who sell out the academy and go commercial.
    AJP, I don’t remember discussing this, but you are right. Naming products is a very serious activity in the age of globalization and many people with linguistics degrees are recruited into industry for that purpose.

  78. Thank you, m-l. And I have finally, or rather once agin, got it through my thick skull that fauve is not a color preferred by the fauvists, even though it spelled *au*e.

  79. Stu, I want to add two more to the list:
    Homoge is a lot like Consangui. You might know the expression “Homoge to Catalonia”? It’s equivalent to “coals to Newcastle”.
    Heteroge is a mixture of Homoge and Sponta. It should be about 50/50. Add the Sponta last, and don’t stir or you’ll lose the bubbles.

  80. marie-lucie says:

    fauve is not a color preferred by the fauvists”
    As an adjective, fauve refers to the colour range of a lion. As a noun, un fauve refers to a wild feline, so lions, tigers, cougars, wild cats, etc can be called fauves. Because these are wild carnivores, the connotation is “untamed, ferocious, aggressive”. The fauvists (called in French les Fauves) were so called because of their “wild” use of colour and design (compared to the prevalent taste at the time), not because they liked the colour fauve itself.

  81. By golly, I didn’t know any of that about fauve. Doff the headwear to marie-lucie!

  82. So it is a color after all. I’ll be damned. Do they use this word in mail-order catalogues, I wonder?

  83. Is a flea puce-colored? Is it the same color after it gorges on blood as it was before? Why would anybody name a color after something that is so hard to get a good look at?

  84. marie-lucie says:

    Do they use this word in mail-order catalogues, I wonder?
    There are so many words used as colour terms, especially in women’s clothing, that there is no reason why that one might not be used.

  85. Fauve sleeping bags? Fauve table linen? To what kinds of mail-order catalogue do you subscribe?

  86. marie-lucie says:

    empty, I can’t answer those questions.

  87. Then there’s Senator Estes Kefauver, who was anything but yellow.

  88. I was born in Tennessee, so I should know.

  89. In 1962, Kefauver, who had become known to the public at large as the chief enemy of crooked businessmen in the Senate, introduced legislation that would eventually pass into law as the Kefauver-Harris Drug Control Act. This bill, which Kefauver dubbed his “finest achievement” in consumer protection, imposed controls on the pharmaceutical industry that required that drug companies disclose to doctors the side-effects of their products, allow their products to be sold as generic drugs after having held the patent on them for a certain period of time, and be able to prove on demand that their products were, in fact, effective and safe.

  90. Kefauver, by the way, is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: KEY-faw-ver.

  91. Yep. I remember my father making a corny joke involving “keep off her” (stress on “keep”). That’s how I learned the pronunciation.

  92. mollymooly says:

    Ethnic pride is often displayed in the costume of bitter or weary complaint of the difficulty of mastering one’s native language.
    In spite of which difficulty, it is the source of all of English slang.
    Unless the language is English, in which case it is the source of all slang.

  93. mollymooly, what are you referring to with “it”?

  94. A friend of mine, the filmmaker Pearl Gluck, grew up in the Satmar Chasidic community in Brooklyn and for one of her documentaries spent some time in Hungary to learn the language. When she told her father about her plans, he said (in Yiddish), “But why are you learning Hungarian? No one speaks that anymore!”

  95. I assume the “Martians of Science” is a reference to the joke about the resolution to the Fermi Paradox.
    Fermi asked re extraterrestials: Then why aren’t they here yet? (If intelligent life is in anyway common and long-lived, statistics say that we should have been visited by it.)
    Someone (Oppenheimer?) quipped: They are! We just happen to call them Hungarians.

  96. David Marjanović says:

    don’t you think I got enough tzores being a schvartzer?

    Very funny, but no access for me. :-(

    All of the list applies equally to German, except for “threefold vowel harmony”.

    And some Umlaut phenomena go a bit in this direction (though onefold, not threefold), except it’s the suffix that makes the vowel of the root tilt over rather than the reverse.

    Wait. Am I the only person who finds shocking the implied assertion that German has “an apparently free but in the reality subtly regulated word order”? I think of German word order as being explicitly strict.

    Well, within the strict guidelines, a lot of reshuffling can be done to express subtle shades of emphasis, sometimes so subtle they’re actually interchangeable.

    Thanks, Stu. I’m not sure that would work in English. My mouth is located in my head, but it would be jarring to say that food goes into or through my head.

    Not any more obvious in German either. Very funny once it’s explained, though.

    As an adjective, fauve refers to the colour range of a lion.

    Must be an ancient Germanic word – falb in German (an extremely rare word, though). It ought to be related to English fallow somehow.

  97. David Marjanović says:

    Someone (Oppenheimer?) quipped: They are! We just happen to call them Hungarians.

    Scientific American headline:
    “Where do we come from?
    And why do some of us
    speak Basque?”

  98. David Marjanović says:

    And I just discovered on the previous thread that fallow is indeed used for a horse color. Comparative linguistics can be so simple. :-)

  99. marie-lucie says:

    (fauve) Must be an ancient Germanic word
    Yes, according to the TLFI: West Germanic *falwa- “reddish yellow”, OHG falo, MHG val, Modern G falb. Like other colour words (blanc ‘white’, bleu ‘blue’, blond, gris ‘grey’).

  100. marie-lucie says:

    DM: (fauve) Must be an ancient Germanic word
    Yes, according to the TLFI: West Germanic *falwa- “reddish yellow” [similar to "red" hair], OHG falo, MHG val, Modern G falb. Like other colour words (blanc ‘white’, bleu ‘blue’, blond, gris ‘grey’) the term must have been introduced into Late Latin by Germanic soldiers.
    There were many such soldiers in the Roman armies in Imperial times. The shields carried by different units were painted in simple coloured designs for identification, and that may have been how these colour terms passed into Late Latin, supplementing or replacing the Latin words.

  101. This meaning of sich’s nochmal durch den Kopf gehen lassen involves an old corny play on words. You hear it anew on the streets from every new generation of male adolescents and army recruits (who claim they spend a lot of time over-boozing, because peacetime army life is so boring). David points out, as I did, that it normally wouldn’t be understood as “let it pass through your head again”. But, in the company of one’s suitably indelicate male friends, one can easily arrange to have it thus understood.

  102. David Marjanović says:

    The shields carried by different units were painted in simple coloured designs for identification, and that may have been how these colour terms passed into Late Latin, supplementing or replacing the Latin words.

    Possible. In any case, it certainly helped that (like for directions*) Latin had words for a completely different system: two words for “white”, none I can think of for “yellow” or “grey” except one for both (canis), one for “sky-blue” but apparently not for “blue”…
    * Latin had names for the winds – 8 of them, I think –, but not for the directions themselves: auster “wind from the south”, aquilo “wind from the north”… “from the north” was occasionally rendered ab aquilone parte.

  103. [a word} for "sky-blue" but apparently not for "blue"
    Does every extant Latin text describing the color of a lake, or of the ocean in certain weathers, use the same word that you’re translating as “sky-blue”? If so, then to translate the word as “sky-blue” is misleading. “Blue” would be more appropriate. If the Romans didn’t distinguish those blues, why should we?

  104. The Romans were very serious’ task-otiented people and had no color words.

  105. So what philologists have taken to be color words, may in fact be attributes of various task stages: half-finished, finished, over-budget etc. ?

  106. ab aquilone parte might then really mean “an icy wind from controlling”

  107. Oh, you know philologists. They’re always making things up.

  108. Mutual commiseration about the difficulties of learning a foreign language is like gossip — it’s not particularly constructive but it’s fun. And it’s not to be taken any more seriously than complaining about the weather or rising prices. Of course, the more creative amongst us might make such complaints into a minor literary form, designed more to make people laugh the difficulties away than to seriously denigrate the other language.

  109. I strongly disagree, bathrobe, for a very practical reason. Why I get so riled about difficulty-making by linguists is that these are people whose “scientific knowledge” is consulted when language-learning textbooks are written. It’s not solely the fault of linguists that their “knowledge” is used in this way, but those certainly contribute to the problem who complicate things in order to be scientific and secure their career.
    There is a general belief that if something is technical and hard to understand, then it must be scientific, and therefore the right and only way to see things. I am provisionally calling that the “gynecologist fallacy”.

  110. Well… maybe.
    I recently had a discussion with my brother. He felt that terms like “definite article” were deliberate obfuscation and there was no particular reason why people should learn things like that. He seemed to feel that a literate, intelligent person could have all kinds of knowledge about all kinds of things, but “definite article” and “indefinite article” were irrelevant terms that we didn’t need to know. I think the point came up in a crossword or quizz show. I was rather shocked at the aggressive anti-grammar sentiments this view entailed. Other disciplines could have their technical terminology, but anything even faintly technical from the field of grammar was regarded as totally unnecessary.
    Unfortunately, there are times when you need labels and organisation in learning languages. If you don’t learn words like ‘noun’ and ‘verb’, you end up making them up yourself, like ‘name words’ or ‘doing words’. Perhaps this is not what you are talking about, but where do you draw the line? If I was trying to learn Hungarian, and my teacher spent hours trying to explain to me what what could have been explained in seconds using a word like ‘verb’ or ‘past tense’, I would feel very annoyed.

  111. there are times when you need labels and organisation in learning languages
    Organization yes, labels maybe. Kids don’t need labels. The “need” of adults for labels derives in large part from an unwillingness, or inability, to take the years to learn that a kid has. There is a belief that linguistic “knowledge” is available in a condensed form in linguistic terminology – phrasal verbs, the superessive, delative, sublative, inessive, elative, illative, adessive etc. cases in Hungarian … Adults are encouraged to use this “knowledge” in order to learn more efficiently.
    However, as far as I have understood it, physiolinguistic research in recent decades appears to show that kids learn languages more easily than adults only in certain phases in their neurological development. Usually these claims are made to imply that adults, statistically, have only limited physiological ability to learn correct pronunciation and active speech, although they may learn to read foreign languages.
    But to get back to the terminological issue: what is the justification for demanding that the same linguistic terminology (Latin-grammar-based !) be used to describe every language in order to learn it? No matter what the source language? The reason would probably be that it wouldn’t be scientific to do otherwise.
    In contrast, I think a learn-Hungarian textbook for Turks would naturally have, and should have, a quite different approach than such a textbook for Germans. I think a learn-French textbook for Spanish-speakers should have a different approach than one for English-speakers.

  112. And none of these textbooks need use any analytical concepts that impede learning the specific target language, coming from the specific source language. If the English “noun” and “verb” don’t work for learning Chinese, toss them in the dust bin and find something better. “20 Hungarian noun cases” is absurd – the “programming language” viewpoint would be more useful, if only for programmers.

  113. Hear, hear, O Caped One. I’m supposed to be teaching completely in English, but yesterday, the lone French/Creole-speaking student having snuck out during break, found myself writing the words nombre, verbo, vocales and consonantes on the blackboard. As I tell my students, everyone has their own learning style, whether by reading, writing, or physical movement. You can tell the who the 80% of students who learn by reading are by looking around to see which students are holding a pen or pencil as they listen. (I myself can’t speak without holding chalk). Some students can learn faster with the little grammar boxes and some can’t, but better to include them for the students who find them useful. I don’t think you can begin to understand English until you study another language, and you really start to understand it — modals, phrasal verbs, etc. — when you have to simplify it enough to teach it.
    As far as “commiseration about the difficulties of learning a foreign language…designed more to make people laugh the difficulties away” I’m all for that too. A lot of my classroom activities are designed to make students more comfortable about making mistakes in trying to reproduce the language as they get closer and closer to the target language, without the fear ostracism or ridicule by other students, and I would have to say my students are some of the best I have seen anywhere for helping each other. (I also enjoy seeing many of them, some close to my age, make enormous strides in learning the language.) Some time ago someone linked to a Mark Twain piece about the vicissitudes of learning German that had me convulsing with laughter. I hope I never become so self-righteously anal that I can’t enjoy laughing at something like that.

  114. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly,
    You seem to have had bad experiences, with language textbooks, but as a linguist myself I wonder what exactly is your beef with linguists as a group. I personally know one person who calls himself a linguist and who seems to subscribe to the idea that you should never be content with a simple presentation if you can think up a more complex one, but this person is very far from being at the top of the profession, and I disagree that this is a characteristic of most linguists. Also, authors of textbooks for teaching languages are not necessarily what I would call “linguists”, since in the present state of affairs writing such a textbook is not what gets you rewards and promotions unless perhaps you are in “applied linguistics”, which in spite of its obvious utility (or perhaps because of it) is not highly valued in the profession. Finally, even in general-purpose series such as “Teach Yourself Language X”, most textbooks intended for students at various ages or levels are meant for native speakers of a certain language, and a Spanish textbook will be quite different if directed to speakers of Italian rather than English or Russian, since much of the difficulty of language learning depends on how close or how distant the structures and vocabulary of the two languages are. That said, I entirely agree that those formal elements are only part of what has to be learned, and the challenge for the teacher or the textbook author is to make it as easy as possible to “swallow the pill” of the formal aspects by surrounding them with useful and fun material and activities. But you cannot teach adults exactly as you would teach pre-schoolers, partly because their brains are not the same and partly because most adults expect some kind of formal teaching, which is wasted on small children.

  115. Nijma, I think the key to what you (and perhaps Bathrobe) are talking about is “mutual commiseration”- simultaneously a friction-disspellative and glue in the small society of a classroom.
    Not so sure how useful creative grumbling is in a competitive hothouse where circular complaining can grow into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Grumbly Stu seems (to me) to have been indicating @ Nov. 14, 4:48 am. ‘These [lexical/grammatical feature/s] are ridiculous! I’ll never get it/them!’ ‘Me, neither!’ And a groupthought grows, with the effect of rationalizing a slackening of effort.
    But I was thinking of something else, namely, linguistic nationalism, which I’ve seen up-close- as everyone has?- be used as a justifier, in a suite of justifications, of antagonistic solidarity.

  116. One person’s “linguistic nationalism” is another person’s “pressure to assimilate”. Personally I would like to see more of it, since that’s where my paychecks come from, not to mention my interests, but unfortunately the funds for it seem to be drying up, as in 25% of what it was last year at this time. Rumor has it though there are plenty of funds for K-12 teachers in inner cities.
    My students don’t experience “slackening of effort” though. They start out not being able to pronounce English, who can? I can pick up anything written in Spanish and read it out loud so a native speaker can understand it, whether I understand it myself or not. It’s a very regular language, and the parts that aren’t regular are always marked. But English! There are the rules and there are the exceptions, but the textbooks don’t tell you that. Phonics has come into disrepute in our own schools (but it’s how I learned and some learn better with phonics), how would they then dare show phonics to non-native speakers? Like everything else, ESL textbooks have been dumbed down, but whether they need to be dumbed down quite that far is open to interpretation. So I dig out my memories of phonics and tell my students about long and short vowels and silent “e” in the hopes they will see English pronunciation as something that can be reasoned rather than memorized, and therefore mastered. Many times my explanations do work and when they don’t “get” the book, and can’t do the examples, they do get my explanations and go on to plow through the exercises.
    ESL language textbooks these days are based on the “communicative” method, which uses conversation to demonstrate grammar points. That way you don’t need a separate textbook or class for every language group that shows up for instruction. The system I learned with was the “audio-lingual” method with taped drills in a language lab. I loathe the communicative method; I seem to need much, much more repetition to learn pronunciation, no matter how regular. It does seem to have worked, after only four years of study. The Hispanic teachers claim I’m bilingual and call me “compadre”, although I suspect more than a little of that is just politeness.

  117. superessive, delative, sublative, inessive, elative, illative, adessive etc. cases in Hungarian.
    On this one I would probably agree. My best foreign language is Japanese, and I’m sure that if I’d learnt the language in terms of ‘elative’, ‘possessive’, ‘dative’, cases, etc., instead of just treating them as clitics, I, too, would have been tearing my hair out. The problem is that Hungarian and Finnish are too close to Western Europe and get stuck with the Latin terminology. Mongolian gets it, too, unfortunately. I don’t think the same terminology is used for Korean, however.

  118. Not so sure how useful creative grumbling is in a competitive hothouse where circular complaining can grow into a self-fulfilling prophecy … a groupthought grows, with the effect of rationalizing a slackening of effort.
    Thanks, deadgod! That’s a concise description of one of the things I am getting at, the possible demotivating effects of arduous-for-the-sake-of-arduous.
    My sister, a lawyer, once described to me the systematic simplifications to American legal terminology that have been in train for 30-40 years at least. Laws, contracts etc. often used to be almost unintelligible to a non-lawyer. According to her, a lot of that has been gradually eliminated, by deliberate policy.

  119. I can think of two instances. The German strong verbs are easy to teach to English speakers, and so is the Chinese indirect object (Classical, at least). (“I gave him money” translates straight across.) So English-language textbooks of these languages wouldn’t have to put so much effort into those features.

  120. Interesting examples, JE. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. These textbooks need to be constructed on a language-pair basis.
    Nijma makes a good point that I agree with, though it may have seemed that I was taking a counter-position. Grammatical concepts should be included for those who find them a help. But such concepts should be of a kind appropriate to the language-pair in each case, and chosen judiciously.
    I suppose there are Chinese grammars for Chinese people. Do they use, have they always used, the noun-verb-adjective-etc. ontology of Latin?

  121. My guess is that early grammars written by wester-educated Chinese followed whatever theory the author had been trained in, but that as time went on the methods and terminology became more appropriate.
    Things I’ve read about classical Chinese use a topic-comment analysis rather than subject-object. The first word of the sentence is the most important word of the sentence, but not necessarily the subject. In English you can get this effect clumsily, but it’s easy and natural in CC.
    For example:
    It was fish that he ate.
    It was he who ate the fish.
    It was on Tuesday that he ate fish.
    It was at his mother’s house that he ate fish.
    On this analysis, what the sentence wants to say is the focus of the analysis, not a sentence function; or you could say, there’s a sentence-function for what the sentence wants to say.
    Another thing that comes up is that the verb-noun-adjective distnctions are weak. Stative verbs can be used directly as adjectives, and most nouns can be used as verbs, and most verbs as nouns. As time went on, this analysis became complexified and refined, but the general idea remains useful. (Though English, as an isolating language with simpler morphology, is a bit like chinese).
    Mongol, at least classical Mongol, has a system of turning nouns into verbs with affixes, and the resulting verb can be nominalized, and the noun verbalized, several levels deep. (However, much of what I know about Mongol comes from dictionaries of the ancient language, and these effects are reflected in today’s spelling but not in today’s pronunciation.)

  122. marie-lucie says:

    Mongol, at least classical Mongol, has a system of turning nouns into verbs with affixes, and the resulting verb can be nominalized, and the noun verbalized, several levels deep.
    This is true of Latin and of other affixing languages too.

  123. Actually, I find most Chinese grammars dismal affairs. They appear to be based on structuralist “slot-filling” criteria. The result is a kind of classification for the sake of classification. The grammars don’t appear to be designed to enlighten you as to the way Chinese syntax works; they merely sort surface forms into categories (e.g., “complements of result”, “complements of direction”, “complements of degree”, “complements of potential”, etc.) In the end, it’s just kind of boring.
    This slot-filling approach somehow manages to make words like ‘today’ (今天) into nouns. I’m sure there is some kind of slot-filling logic behind it, but 今天 is so different in behaviour from most ordinary nouns that I am truly baffled how classing it as a noun adds to our understanding of Chinese syntax.

  124. In the grammars I’ve seen jintian is a timeword, with its own place in the sentence.
    As I remember the verbal sentence is Timeword, Placeword, Subject, IO, DO, with various additions and the possibility of topic exposure. I found it helpful, but again, I’ve mostly studied classical Chinese.

  125. Actually, I find most Chinese grammars dismal affairs. They appear to be based on structuralist “slot-filling” criteria. The result is a kind of classification for the sake of classification. The grammars don’t appear to be designed to enlighten you as to the way Chinese syntax works; they merely sort surface forms into categories
    Now that really gives me pause, more than most of the opposition to my ravings to date. It shows the danger of being too casual about linguistic analysis. I’ve never meant to argue against structured description (grammar) as such, though it may have sounded like that. I’m saying, rather, that grammars should efficiently help one to learn how to speak specific languages, to predict how they are produced, to understand their historical development, to compare them with other languages, to understand the phonology etc. etc. I even think it would make sense to have (slightly ?) different types of structured descriptions for these different pusposes. But one Latin-based corset for all, just to look slimly scientific: no.

  126. purposes

  127. I meant Latin-laced corset

  128. Don’t tell Dressing Gown about Latin-laced corsets for all, he’ll use it for a name.

  129. I have never seen a grammar with either a Latin base or Latin lace and have no clue what this might be.
    Also it’s just not practical to have a separate textbook for every “language pair” that might turn up in a classroom. My students speak Spanish, French, and Arabic, as well as Creole and some lesser known African languages that aren’t even listed in ethnologue. Yes, my French speaking students are at a disadvantage because I don’t do French, (and also because they don’t usually have very good reading and writing skills in their first language to transfer to another language)(maybe I should try to pick up some French), but for a classroom learning environment, a textbook in the student’s first language is just not gonna happen. I would say that a “grammar” is also not the best way to learn a language, it’s just a reference. To learn a language you need context.
    I would be curious as to what the Hattian Asia-phils consider to be the best way to learn Chinese/Japanese.

  130. Trond Engen says:

    Jesus bar korsett. Vi skal alle bære korsett

    (Foreign-born Catholic priest in Norway, according to my Catholic in-laws.)

  131. I learned classical Chinese from half a dozen texts, none of which I would recommend. There are several new texts out which all should be better, but I don’t know which is best.
    I wrote my own “Fast Reading of Classical Chinese” text once, based on Lao Tzu, and taught about six classes from it. It ended up being more of an appreciated class than a language class; you could see how LT’s sentences worked.

  132. David Marjanović says:

    the Chinese indirect object (Classical, at least). (“I gave him money” translates straight across.)

    Not just Classical.

    I would be curious as to what the Hattian Asia-phils consider to be the best way to learn Chinese/Japanese.

    Not the same way. For instance, Japanese actually conjugates its verbs (as far as I can tell from a quick glance at Wikipedia). Chinese does no such thing. Japanese marks topic, subject, and a couple of cases; Chinese marks basically nothing except by word order. And then of course there’s the pronunciation… Japanese has a small consonant inventory and an almost world-average vowel system; Chinese has a middling consonant inventory with several quirks, a decidedly un-European vowel system, and tones… not the same as the Japanese (or Swedish or Norwegian) pitch accent.

  133. Yes, Chinese and Japanese are so different I can’t imagine the same approach working for both.

  134. No results found for “jesus wore a corset“.

  135. Latin-laced Corset says:

    Forgive me, I’ll have to do a bit of research before I say anything more about Chinese grammar. I was speaking from memory of how most Chinese grammars (in China) work, but I’ll obviously have to look into it more closely.

  136. Latin-laced Corset says:

    Try this for starters: Grammar Guide – Nouns.

  137. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: I have never seen a grammar with either a Latin base or Latin lace and have no clue what this might be.
    A Latin-based grammar would not be a grammar of Latin or mention any Latin at all, but the way the structure of the (modern) language was described (eg the technical terms used) would be derived from the way the Latin language was described centuries and even millennia ago. An example would be to call forms like “him” and “whom” ‘accusative’ (meaning that they indicate the Object form), a term invented by Latin grammarians for their own language. Many such terms are still in use today, even in works by linguists, when they seem to be appropriate. The problem is that sometimes they are not appropriate to the language being described, especially if the grammar is written by someone untrained in linguistics. But most linguists writing grammars for languages without a long written tradition (and even with such a tradition) have to invent some new terms, more appropriate to the language they are writing about.
    it’s just not practical to have a separate textbook for every “language pair” that might turn up in a classroom.
    This is true in the ESL situation, where the teacher has to be more creative because of the diversity in the student body, but if you look at high school or university textbooks, they are usually designed for native (or at least competent) speakers of a single language, in this case English, to learn another single language, such as Spanish, Arabic, etc. For ESL or the corresponding FSL (French) in Canada, I have seen pronunciation exercises which were specifically designed for speakers of particular languages who would be expected to have trouble with specific sounds or sound sequences in English or French. For instance, Spanish speakers have trouble with b and v, but French or Italian speakers don’t. Speakers of German or South Indian languages have trouble with v and w, etc. So an otherwise all-purpose phonetic supplement presented and identified exercises addressing these potential problems.

  138. It was a big thing among structuralist linguists that Latin categories should not be applied a priori in analysing languages. I think the SIL were quite prominent in this kind of approach. You don’t just flounce in using “noun”, “adjective”, “verb”, “case”, “tense”, “subjunctive”, etc., you find the actual categories used in the language, and you arrive at such categories using very rigorous tests designed to show which words fill which slots in sentences. The idea was to be completely objective. I’ve read some grammars like this — I have one written for Vietnamese — and sometimes they can be extremely hard to follow.

  139. I don’t want to get in to Chumpsky, but do all known languanguages have nouns and verbs? How about adverbs and adjectives?

  140. I think Charles Fries was very much into the slot-filling thing.

  141. do all known languages have nouns and verbs?
    Only if you define them that way. As bathrobe says, people used to go in with their lists of names and force the language to fit it.
    How about adverbs and adjectives?
    No, that’s very often a useless distinction.

  142. It used to be said that Classical Chinese had no word classes, and that any noun could be used as a verb or adjective, and so on.
    Eventually contexts were found where some words functioned as verbs and others as adjective, or where some words functioned as nounds and others as verbs. But distinguishing word classes isn’t a helpful tool in learning the language, and it isn’t a place to start when describing it. It’s more like a nuance to learn at the end.

  143. David Marjanović says:

    Apparently, nouns and verbs can be distinguished in every language known to science, if you’re willing to be a bit flexible about the definitions of these terms. For instance, there are 2 or so languages where nouns can be put into the past tense if they describe things that are no more.
    For that matter, Bavarian-Austrian German dialects such as mine replace 2nd person pronouns with their verb endings when they occur behind conjunctions. Conjunctions get conjugated! (And the plural ending, Standard German -/t/, somehow shrinks from -/ts/ to just -/s/ in the process.)
    Categories like “adjective”, on the other hand, are still widespread, but much less universal. For instance, many western African languages have a very small number of adjectives (less than 10 or so) and use verbs for all the rest, and lots of languages more or less the world over lack adjectives entirely and use verbs or nouns (Arabic uses nouns, AFAIK).
    Categories like “adverb” or “preposition/postposition” often become useless as soon as you leave Standard Average European. For instance, Chinese (modern Mandarin at least) at first glance looks like it has both pre- and postpositions (which would be unique, AFAIK), but the former are more easily understood as verbs and the latter as nouns.

  144. But distinguishing word classes isn’t a helpful tool in learning the language.
    That gives the impression that Classical Chinese had no syntax. How did they construct sentences? No verbs, no nouns (subjects, objects, etc.)… how does a sentence come into being without syntactic categories like noun or verb?

  145. Arabic does have adjectives, but as in Spanish, the word order is reversed and the adjective comes after the noun it modifies.

  146. Function is determined by position and particles. In a given context a word will have a nominal or verbal function, but the part of speech of a freestanding word, by and large, cannot be known.
    Another difference: one sort of sentence, the equative sentence, has no expressed verb, and adjectives can function without verbs. So the sentences “Dog big” “Dog mammal” and “dog scratches” are all permissible.

  147. marie-lucie says:

    (In Arabic) as in Spanish, the word order is reversed and the adjective comes after the noun it modifies.
    This was true of Latin and is still mostly true of the descendants of Latin. English titles such as “Professor Emeritus, Princess Royal, Attorney-General, ” have the adjective second because they follow the Latin or the French custom. But apart from those rare examples, French influence on English has not extended to the place of the adjective.
    In France there are place names which are the reverse of each other, such as Villefranche/Francheville (lit. Free town), Villeneuve/Neuville (lit. New town) where the adjective is found both after and before the noun. This reflects the history of those places, founded or named either by Late Latin/Early French speakers (with adjective second) or by Latinized Franks (formerly Germanic speakers) (with adjective first).
    adjectives can function without verbs
    This means in effect that adjectives are part of the verb class rather than the noun class, and there is no need of a “copula” ( = to be) to join the adjective with the noun it refers to. This is quite common in the world: many languages do not have a verb equivalent to “to be” and don’t have a need for it.

  148. I’m not sure what language Emerson is talking about, or maybe not a particular language but a representative construction.
    Arabic doesn’t use “to be” except maybe for kan كان to indicate past (“once upon a time” is “kan, ma kan” كان, ما كان “there was or there wasn’t”) or fee في for “there is/there are”, while Spanish needs two verbs, ser and estar, to fill the function of “to be”.
    In Spanish, the adjective can occasionally come before the verb for emphasis. For example (and maybe Hat is more fluent and can think of a better example) would be un sombrero grande for “a large hat”, but un gran sombrero to emphasize the grandeur of the hat.

  149. S/B …can occasionally come before the noun

  150. John Emerson was talking about Classical Chinese.
    Presumably, then, you could say “The dog dogs”?
    Or “He dogs”?
    (Since “dog” is not a noun per se).
    And if you can talk about function and particles, doesn’t this show that the noun, or the verb, is a functional category in Classical Chinese? That is, the concept of a noun or a verb exists, but it is not always possible to place a lexical item in a single category.
    Nevertheless, I’m rather suspicious of any theory that says that “dog”, for instance, doesn’t innately belong to a part of speech. It seems to me that noun should come first in the hierarchy of possible parts of speech, in the sense that even the ancient Chinese would have perceived the dog as a ‘thing’ before any use of the word 犬 to mean ‘doggy’ or ‘act doggily’.

  151. Thanks, David, that was just what I wanted to know.
    place names which are the reverse of each other, such as Villefranche/Francheville
    And note these reversals in N.America; where e.g. on the California-side of the border the town name is Calexico, while on the Baja side it’s Mexicali.
    you could say “The dog dogs”
    Reminds me, I remember an expression used by teenagers in California in the 1970s, “It’s a doggy-dog world” (out there) (=”dog eat”).

  152. Dogs don’t eat dogs. It is more true to say, as the OED reminds me, that it’s dogged as does it. “Having the persistency or tenacity characteristic of various breeds of dogs, obstinate, stubborn, pertinacious (the current use)”.
    There are citations up to 1684 for another meaning: “having the bad qualities of a dog; currish. [dagger] a: Ill-conditioned, malicious, crabbed, spiteful, perverse; cruel (of persons, their actions etc.). Obs.”

    1663 Butler Hud. i. i. 632 Fortune unto them turn’d dogged. For they a sad Adventure met.

    A further meaning is not marked as obsolete: “c. Ill-tempered, surly; sullen, morose. Now with some mixture of sense 3: Having an air of sullen obstinacy.”. One citation is from Uncle Tom’s C.:

    1852 Mrs. Stowe Uncle Tom’s C. xli, Legree .. looked in with a dogged air of affected carelessness, and turned away.

  153. You’re a bad lot, Legree. “Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war”, Shakespeare obviously was no dog owner; If you cried ‘havoc’ at ours, they’d think you said “Haddock”. Cry ‘Havoc is derived, I read, from the Old French “crier havot”, to send out the signal to begin pillaging.

  154. marie-lucie says:

    Cry ‘Havoc is derived, I read, from the Old French “crier havot”, to send out the signal to begin pillaging.
    I have never heard that, but I am not an Old French specialist. If it is right, that word havot must be of Germanic origin, and so is havoc (although “cry” is of French origin). So blame the pillaging on the Frankish element.

  155. There’s a famous saying by Confucius translatable as something like “Sons are sons, fathers are fathers, subjects are subjects, princes are princes.”
    OR
    “Sons son, fathers father, subjects subject, kings king”.
    Four sentences in series so minimal that you can’t be sure whether they’re verbal or equative (nominal) sentences. The original reads something like “Zi zi, fu fu, min min, wang wang”. (I’ve remembered the detail wrong, but the grammatical point is good.)
    One of the English sentence above works, or almost: “Fathers father”. “Subjects subject” is almost grammatical, but has the wrong meaning, since in English the verb “subject” means “to subject others”, whereas in the Chinese it means “to act as a subject”.
    In other words, the noun-verb distinction isn’t absolute in English either. But in Classical Chinese there more or less isn’t any; one book analyzed words by proportion, with some words 50 N / 50 V, and others 10 N / 90 V, etc.
    I’ve forgotten the details, but there was one specific context where some words functioned as nouns and others as verbs. I think it depends on whether B in a phrase A B can be interpreted as the object of the verb A, in which case that is the interpretation. But outside that specific context, the distinction is useless.
    I might say that Chinese philosophers and poets push the possibilities of the Chinese language to the limit, and that everyday speech would be less strange to us. This is an area where the Whorf thesis works; any given language is susceptible to its own specific kinds of virtuoso development. A C Graham did a quasi-Whorfian comparison of Classical Greek and Classical Chinese, concluding that the scholastic discourse about eseence and existence was in part an artifact of the tension between Greek, Latin, and Arabic uses of the copular (Arabic because Greek philosophy came to Europe in Arabic translation).
    Graham also argued that Aristotles metaphysical categories matched the question-words of classical greek, the Greek equivalents of “who what where when how”.

  156. What happens when you cry “Haddock” to your dogs?

  157. Maybe they think the ice-cream truck has just driven up, so they run to get a piscicle.

  158. John, that phrase is even more minimal than your translation because Chinese nouns don’t have plural forms. Shouldn’t it be “Son son, father father, subject subject, king king”?

  159. Yeah, I overtranslated so that people would find it intelligible at all.

  160. What’s that saying about a fish without a piscicle?

  161. A fish without a piscicle

    Let the lamp affix its beam.
    The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

  162. As an experiment, I let my daughter slip the dogs in the living room while I cried “Haddock!” from the kitchen. They would have shown more enthusiasm if I’d actually had a fish to back it up, probably. Maybe I’ll try the real thing tomorrow, they love fish. Shakespeare could have been on to something. I take it back that he wasn’t a dog lover, i’d better add it to Wikipedia.

  163. There must be books with titles like “The Dog Through the Centuries”. One of them might tell us what gives with the disparaging ideas about dog personality. I myself suspect that most dogs (numerically) in Britain, say until the 19th century, were strays and regarded as a nuisance. Was it here that I recently read about the newly developing cult of household pets in Britain (Western Europe ?) in that century?
    In certain circles, of course, dogs were bred for hunting, and cherished accordingly. Dogs in general may not have been appreciated very much. And if you treat ‘em bad, they’ll respond in kind. Unless they’re like Lassie, the Dog Saint – who, even though temporarily neglected in some installments, could always be relied on to woof out the bad guys just before the last commercial.

  164. David Marjanović says:

    I might say that Chinese philosophers and poets push the possibilities of the Chinese language to the limit, and that everyday speech would be less strange to us.

    Quite so. Have a look at this description of it (scroll down about 2/3 of the page to chapter 6… or don’t and read the whole thing, it’s great)… well, I’ll just post half of it:

    Whereas modern Mandarin is merely perversely hard, classical Chinese is deliberately impossible. Here’s a secret that sinologists won’t tell you: A passage in classical Chinese can be understood only if you already know what the passage says in the first place. This is because classical Chinese really consists of several centuries of esoteric anecdotes and in-jokes written in a kind of terse, miserly code for dissemination among a small, elite group of intellectually-inbred bookworms who already knew the whole literature backwards and forwards, anyway. An uninitiated westerner can no more be expected to understand such writing than Confucius himself, if transported to the present, could understand the entries in the “personal” section of the classified ads that say things like: “Hndsm. SWGM, 24, 160, sks BGM or WGM for gentle S&M, mod. bndg., some lthr., twosm or threesm ok, have own equip., wheels, 988-8752 lv. mssg. on ans. mach., no weirdos please.”
    In fairness, it should be said that classical Chinese gets easier the more you attempt it. But then so does hitting a hole in one, or swimming the English channel in a straitjacket.

    Italics in the original.
    “No weirdos please” indeed.

  165. David Marjanović says:

    The extreme of what can be done with Classical Chinese are texts like this one (scroll to the bottom and then up a little), which consists (apart from the tones) only of Mandarin homophones and is thus completely incomprehensible when read aloud, but can be read just fine in characters. In fact, several different versions of this text are in circulation.
    To be fair, though, this text is not good Classical Chinese – it’s for instance inconsistent in using 是 both as a demonstrative pronoun (the older use) and as the copula (the younger one, which remains in modern Mandarin).
    (…That’s right, Mandarin has a copula that is not a verb and is, BTW, not used with adjectives.)

  166. David Marjanović says:

    Actually, it might be comprehensible in Teochew. Go here and scroll up just a little.

  167. I have met Lassie #7. (They’re all boys, but fixed.) #7 was just a regular dog, not stuck up at all.
    It has been asked how Lassie’s human family ever succeeded in growing any crops at all, what with the weekly disasters. As far as I know, no answer was ever found.

  168. David, there are a lot of Chinese word games in Smith’s Proverbs and sayings from the Chinese. I also have a book called Qi Shi “Odd Poems” which includes poems which can be read backwards and forwards, etc., etc.

  169. They must have lived off Lassie’s salary, and may even have shared his food.

  170. The full and accurate title is:
    “Proverbs and common sayings from the Chinese: Together with much related and unrelated matter, interspersed with observations on Chinese things in general”.
    Everyone should buy it.

  171. Sounds like a Chinese dog’s-breakfast – a bit of everything.

  172. More seriously, could it be compared with The Old Farmer’s Almanac?

  173. NO, one of those almanacs has been translated but Smith’s book is his own personal miscellany.
    A Chinese almanac circulating in Taiwan in the 60s or so used Sogdian names for the months which had to go back to about 800-900 AD.
    It really wasn’t a survival of ancient wisdom, though, I don’t think. Making almanacs is a cottage industry done on the cheap, and I’d guess that the names had been replicating for centuries without anyone having much idea what they were. Just a Chinese version of witchy-looking exoticism.

  174. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: I myself suspect that most dogs (numerically) in Britain, say until the 19th century, were strays and regarded as a nuisance. Was it here that I recently read about the newly developing cult of household pets in Britain (Western Europe ?) in that century?
    … Dogs in general may not have been appreciated very much

    On the other hand, old paintings frequently show dogs as part of normal households, fed from the table or lying on cushions or beds. I remember reading about, I think, one of the kings of France in the 16th century, who was so close to his dogs that not only did he cuddle up with them at night but the females even had their puppies in his bed.

  175. Geoff Nunberg says:

    And where, may I ask, is Leslie Howard?

  176. Chinese is absolutely full of terms of contempt for dogs. “Running dog of capitalism” is familiar to all, but how about “dog’s semen” as a term of contempt for something worthless or trifling?

  177. I like ‘gnats’ piss’ better, even though it’s only used to describe to weak tea. I don’t think it’s Chinese, either.

  178. In Chaucer’s time noblemen fed hunting dogs at the table. Chaucer’s etiquette book taught them to feed the dogs under the table.
    Erasmus also wrote an etiquette book for young apprentices and students resident in respectable households. He explained, for example, that boys should take care to fart in uninhabited parts of the house. (The humanist era was the golden age of the toilet joke.)

  179. As I remembered it, it’s precisely that De civilitate morum puerilium of Erasmus that is discussed in considerable detail in Vol. 1 of Nobert Elias, Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation (The Civilizing Process). [I would have translated the title to be Civilization as Process. There's a subtle and significant difference, to my mind].
    Anyway, that’s the context of how I googled out this excerpt from Elias on Erasmus: Advice on how to blow one’s nose.

  180. Standards were more lenient back in the good old days.

  181. marie-lucie says:

    Standards were more lenient back in the good old days.
    Sometimes incredibly so. I can’t resist copying the following passage, from a description of conditions at the time of the Black Death:

    Fleas, of course, were all too common. Many people, even the relatively well to do, cohabited with domesticated animals in a state of hygiene which would horrify a modern mother. Two centuries before the plague, a description of the burial of the martyr Thomas à Becket clearly showed the state of personal cleanliness. As his body was readied for burial, he was undressed, First they took off his outer garment, a capacious brown mantle. Underneath were found a white surplice, then a coat of lamb’s wool, a woolen pelisse, another woolen pelisse, the black robe of the Benedictine order, and finally, next to the skin, a short, tight-fitting suit of coarse haircloth, covered on the outside with linen. When they took that off, and it was exposed to the chilly English air, so disturbed were the myriad creatures living in the hair suit “that it boiled over, like water in a simmering cauldron”. (Marq de Villiers, Dangerous World, 2009:239).

    Of course, Thomas à Becket was a monk, so this was his way of “mortifying the flesh”. Ordinary people might not have been so extreme, but taking baths and other forms of attention to the comfort of one’s body were considered sinful.

  182. “Boiling fleas”: Now we have an intransitive sense to match the transitive one.

  183. “it boiled over, like water in a simmering cauldron”
    This was not in the movie.

  184. And where, may I ask, is Leslie Howard?
    Well, whaddaya know, another one: Wikipedia says he was “born to a Hungarian-Jewish father, Ferdinand Steiner.” The Hungarian Wikipedia article starts off “Leslie Howard (eredetileg Steiner László)…”

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