Newfangled Spelling.

As I wrote here, I’m reading Veltman’s novel Приключения, почерпнутые из моря житейского (Adventures drawn from the sea of life, 1846-48), and I just got to a bit of dialogue that made me laugh, so I’m sharing it. Grigory Ivanovich and Lukyan Anisimovich are paying a visit to their old friend and former coworker Pamfil Fedoseevich and Lukyan has complained about modern literature, ending with “…and there are always some kind of peculiar words” [да всё слова какія-то особенныя]. Grigory responds:

No, Lukyan Anisimovich, don’t say that. True, there are words you can’t make sense of right away, but when you think it through, it’s the same old word, just with a new spelling. For example, we used to say Kishot [Quijote], but now they write Kikhot, which is quite a bit more delicate. In our day we called a certain astronomer Nevton [Newton], but now it’s Nyuton. All the other words are like that. For instance, yesterday as I was reading: “Pathos, what could that mean?” I thought and thought, and finally I guessed that it was Bacchus.

Нѣтъ, Лукьянъ Ансимовичъ, не говорите. Правда, есть слова, вдругъ и въ толкъ не возьмешь, а какъ подумаешь хорошенько, такъ это то же слово, да по новому правописанію; примѣромъ, по-нашему былъ Кишотъ, а теперь пишутъ — Кихотъ: гораздо нѣжнѣе; въ наше время Невтономъ называли одного астронома, а теперь — Ньютономъ, такъ-то и прочія всѣ слова: примѣромъ, вотъ я вчера начиталъ: Паѳосъ, что бы это значило? Думалъ, думалъ, наконецъ догадался, что это Бахусъ.

Incidentally, in an earlier scene we learn that Pamfil’s wife can’t take advantage of her husband’s new riches to hang out with a better crowd because she never learned French.

Comments

  1. I learnt something new – so there seems to have been a period when the Cyrillic rendering of foreign words (at least, English) was not based (more or less) on their pronunciation, as is the case today, but on their Latin script orthography, and the switch must have happened at some point in the 19th century?
    (Typo check: I assume the “н” in такъ-то н прочія is supposed to be “и”?

  2. Typo check: I assume the “н” in такъ-то н прочія is supposed to be “и”?

    Yup, I thought I caught all the OCR errors but obviously I missed one. I’ll fix it, thanks!

  3. Hans, there was a period when the Russian rendering of foreign names – English in the first place – was often, but not always, based on treating them as if they were Latin, or rather “French Latin” or “German Latin”. For Lomonosov, Newton was Невтòн. Then Ньютон took hold but the stress remained French – and remains so in the fixed expression “Newton’s binomial”: “Подумаешь, бином Ньютòна!” exclaims Korovyev in The Master and Margarita.

    For some, Byron was Бирон or even Бейрон but for Pushkin and Lermontov, he was invariably Байрон. (Pushkin’s parody of archaists: Се Бейрон, Феба образец, // Притек…) Ivanhoe was Ивангое until it morphed into Айвенго. But he was also Иванòй in Shakhovskoy’s dramatization: Walter Scott, for all his influence on Russian authors, was mostly read in French translations.

    When Pushkin started learning English, he pronounced words the Latin way until Zakhar Chernyshev corrected him. Pushkin attempted to adapt names like Waverley, Southey, Wales to the Russian ear. He failed, surprisingly, – his versions never took root – but I think he saw the double problem of producing a Russian equivalent both euphonious and reasonably close to the original.

    Quixote as Кишот is probably a direct French import – isn’t it pronounced like “quichotte” in French? But I have no idea why Gomez remained Гомец, as if a German, for so long? Just because -ец sounded Russian – enabling Kozma Prutkov’s Дон-Мерзавец, traveling with Ослабелла?

  4. See our discussion of Isaac Asimov’s name, a particularly notable case because he wasn’t just of Russian descent but actually born in Russia, and yet the name by which he is known there is not the name on his Russian birth certificate.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    Quixote as Кишот is probably a direct French import – isn’t it pronounced like “quichotte” in French?

    It isn’t just pronounced like “quichotte”, it is Quichotte. Except for the final vowel (lost in French), the spelling preserves the pronunciation of the word at the time of Cervantes. The letter x is still pronounced like French “ch” or English “sh” in many Portuguese words cognate with the Spanish ones (which now use the letter j for the current pronuncitation, hence Quijote).

  6. marie-lucie says:

    pronuncitation

    This looks like a possible word, but it is just a typo for pronunciation.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    so there seems to have been a period when the Cyrillic rendering of foreign words (at least, English) was not based (more or less) on their pronunciation, as is the case today, but on their Latin script orthography, and the switch must have happened at some point in the 19th century?

    Or is it just that approximately nobody knew how to pronounce English in the first place?

    Embarrassingly many German-speaking newsreaders have pronounced Kim Jong-il and Jong-un with [j].

  8. And, why does standard Russian to English transliteration still insist on spasibo, and on Semen for Семён?

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Y, since English does not normally make use of diacritics (except in very rare cases), transliterations into English for general use (not for linguists, for instance) do not either. This principle is valid not just for Russian but also often for languages which use the Latin alphabet. For instance, in French texts the country which endured a recent war is Viêt-Nam (using the local spelling), while English texts only use Vietnam.

    About Семён, why and how should English transliteration keep track of the diacritic when Russian spelling usually does not? It means transliterating the same word alternately with e and with yo or o, which is very confusing for non-speakers of Russian, including people needing to compile or consult bibliographies, whether with hand and eye or through computerized lists. For instance, it is not obvious that Fédor Dostoïevsky in an older French list is the same person as Fyodor Dostoevsky in an English list. In this case, the writer is well enough known that most readers could figure out that the two spellings indicate the same name, but that is not obvious for most references.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    English at the court of Louis XIV

    Until England started to be a significant power in Europe, few Europeans had a desire or opportunity to learn the English language unless they traveled to the British Isles. A well-known text (the eulogy of an English princess who married Louis XIV’s brother and died young) includes the “English” names Vital (a place name) and Bouquinquant (the name of a lord). These are attempts to write something heard, not seen written, and the person or persons first pronouncing the words thus must have been ignorant of English, reading the English words Whitehall and Buckingham aloud as if they were French. Since the writer of the eulogy (Bossuet, a famous religious orator) obviously expected the audience to know what and who these names referred to, those pronunciations must have been the ones used at the French court when referring to the English court.

  11. Việt Nam, strictly speaking: the underdot is a tone mark, whereas the circumflex changes the vowel quality by raising and the “horn” used in ơ and ư indicates backing; breve shortens the vowel. Still, when a word passes from a tone language to a non-tonal one, the tone is the first thing to go.

  12. m.-l., I would argue for a phonetic transliteration of Russian (spasiba, Semyon), rather than one based on similarity of letters. I don’t understand why the literal and misleading convention won. Mixed conventions (like your Fédor Dostoïevsky and Fyodor Dostoevsky) are even more baffling.

  13. Stefan Holm says:

    There’s a difference between ’yo’ in Fyodor and ’a’ in spasibo. The former is a separate vowel in Russian, historically interacting with ‘ye’ and therefore still normally written ‘e’. It is always stressed – Fyódor but F(y)edórovich – while ‘ye’ can be either or.

    The latter however is ‘just’ a pronunciation convention, which basically says, that ‘o’ in (central) Russian is /ʌ/ before, /o/ in and /ə/ after stressed syllable. (So the ‘o’ in spasibo isn’t really ‘a’ but schwa). A strict phonetic transcription would lead to peculiarities like town = ‘gorod’ but towns = ‘garada’ (due to mobile stress) or proper names like ‘Maskva’, ‘Navasibirsk’, ‘Garbachof’ and ‘Baris’ (Yeltsin).

    So I would say: change to Fyodor but keep spasibo.

  14. Marie-lucie, I assume that someone transcribed Bossuet’s speech by ear? Also recall Malbrouck, apparently a French corruption of Marlborough, as in the castle of Malbrouck and in the ditty, “Malbrouck s’en va-t-en guerre,” well known in pre-revolutionary Russia. The first line, Мальбрук в поход собрался, remains in Russian as an ironic description of ponderous preparations for a journey.

    Another example of a French influence on Russian transliterations is the last-syllable stress in non-French names, such as Рентген or Ричард. “То был рыцарь Ричàрд Кольдингам”, writes Zhukovsky, meaning Sir Richard of Coldinghame. Zhukovsky’s Buccleuch sounds like a French ally of the Scots, Боклю.

    Y: the ending vowel in спасибо is a schwa but a rather open one in most (but not all!) Russian dialects, akin to the second vowel in “sister” as pronounced by many Black Americans, Jamaicans, and BE speakers. I’d rather leave it as is because, first, northern Russian dialects pronounce the word as written, and, second, it’s worth keeping a link to the source expression, “спаси Бог!” “May God save you!”

  15. A few decades ago the prevailing Polish pronunciations of Don Juan and Don Quixote had Polish “zh” /ʐ/ and “sh” /ʂ/, respectively (the latter was normally spelt don Kiszot, with no final -e, and pronounced with penult stress, like most Polish words). This pronunciation is still used in the derived nouns donżuan ‘ladies’ man’ and donkiszoteria ‘Quixotry’. Though no doubt mediated by French, it reflects quite well the actual Old Castilian realisation of j and x. But pedants have had it their way and now most people use [x] in both names, wich usually end up as [dɔn 'xuwan] and [dɔn 'kixɔt], and the poor ingenioso hidalgo is generally re-spelt don Kichot (still no final vowel) in a rather lame attempt to imitate the modern Spanish pronunciation.

  16. I agree with Stefan on Fyodor: it’s a special case as Фёдор is an easier way of saying and writing Феодор, or to be true to pre-1918 spelling, Ѳеодоръ, from Θεόδωρος: “Ѳеодоръ Михайловичъ Достоевскій”.

  17. Stefan Holm says:

    In Swedish the spelling of Juan and Quixote has always been the Spanish one. The (not original) /x/-sound has been extremely productive and attracted a number of inherited consonant clusters as well as fricatives in loanwords (the National Encyclopedia counts no less than 45 ways to spell it). Due to that the two guys have probably always been pronounced as in modern Spanish.

    A complication is though, that both in dialects and sociolects some Swedes use /ʃ/ instead of /x/. Among those are part of the socio-cultural elite in Stockholm (it was taught in drama schools). So there has for decades been a furious debate about the ‘correct’ or at least ‘educated’ way to pronounce this sound. Modern technology may have settled the quarrel by exposing 14 different tounge positions for this fricative in actual speech by Swedes – gliding all the way from a supradental to a velar – with corresponding visible variation in sound wave patterns.

  18. I would argue for a phonetic transliteration of Russian (spasiba

    That’s a terrible idea! Not only does it ignore the diversity of Russian pronunciation, but it would make it difficult or impossible to figure out the Russian from the transliteration.

  19. difficult or impossible to figure out the Russian from the transliteration

    Reversibly expressing one script using another script is the function of transliteration, whereas displaying the pronunciation of a word in one language using the conventions of another language (or even itself) is the function of transcription. We need both, because neither can fully serve the functions of the other. Safire once complained about the bad transliteration of the name Mickiewicz along with some Russian names, but of course Mickiewicz is Polish and needs no transliteration. What it may require is transcription, just as Cholmondeley does. Heinlein’s transcription spaseebaw (he obviously pronounced Russian like a Pole) is a bad one, and spaseeba would be a better one: the transliteration in any case remains spasibo.

  20. Stefan Holm says:

    The problems begins, when we come to sounds, for which there are no letters in the Latin alphabet, like the fricatives:

    Russian: Чехов, Чайковский, Шолохов, Хрущёв, Е́льцин
    English: Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Sholokhov, Khrushchev, Yeltsin
    French: Tchekhov, Tchaïkovski, Cholokhov, Khrouchtchev, Ieltsine
    German: Tschechow, Tschaikowski, Scholochow, Chruschtschow, Jelzin
    Swedish: Tjechov, Tjajkovskij, Sjolochov, Chrusjtjov, Jeltsin

    Why not agree upon adding ш + ч, to the Latin alphabet and changing the pronunciation of x into – /x/?

  21. Those are of course transcriptions. Standard ISO 9 transliteration and some variants of it.

  22. Dostoevsky’s grand-half-nephew, the famous biologist Феодосий (Ѳеодосий at birth) Григорьевич Добржaнский, simply Latinised his first name and Anglicised his surname, becoming Theodosius Dobzhansky when he moved to the USA. He is known as such in Poland today, but had he remained in the Soviet Union, we would call him Fieodosij Dobrzański (his surname is of Polish origin, so it would be treated like Dzierżyński or Przewalski). On the other hand, if he did stay in the USSR, he would have ended up in one of the remote places where Lysenko sent his enemies.

  23. Correction: … if he had stayed …

  24. had he remained in the Soviet Union, we would call him Fieodosij Dobrzański

    Speak for yourself; I would have called him Feodosy Dobrzhansky. And Polish spellings are extremely unusual in English for Soviet/Russian names.

  25. I think by “we” Piotr means “Polish people”.

  26. By “we” I meant “us Poles”. We (Poles) normally restore the original spelling of Russified Polish surnames. From our point of view, extremely unusual things happen to them as they are transliterated into Cyrillic script and then Anglicised. The Polish pronunciation of Przewalski (Przhevalsky / Пржевaльский) is [pʂɛˈvalski], but in English he becomes [ʃɨˈvɑːlski] (US), [pə(r)ʒɨˈvælski] (UK), or some other monstrosity with too few consonants or too many syllables ;).

  27. Stefan Holm says:

    Piotr: Dzierżyński…would have ended up in one of the remote places

    Are you sure? Couldn’t he have claimed to be a relative of a certain Feliks Dzierżyński, ‘a devout knight of the proletariat’ according to Iosif Vissarionovich?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Dzerzhinsky

  28. (Come to think of it, “Cheval-ski” suits him fine.)

  29. Stefan: I spent my childhood in a small town near Warsaw. I lived in a house built before the war by one Jan Dzierżyński, son of a close cousin of Felix Edmundovich (when my family lived there, the house was still owned by his daughter and her husband). Jan’s son Jerzy fought in the Polish resistance (the “Home Army”) during WW2. He was arrested by the NKVD after the “liberation” of Vilnius and sent to a Gulag camp in Kolyma. He spent there a few years before his family managed to negotiate his release with the Soviet ambassador in Warsaw (I have been told that some family photos and heirlooms connected with Felix Dzerzhinsky were offered in exchange). When Jerzy was being transported to Eastern Siberia, his guards cracked jokes about his surname and its similarity to that of the founder of the institution they served. It didn’t help him much, though.

  30. I think by “we” Piotr means “Polish people”.

    Of course he does. Sorry, I didn’t get enough sleep last night.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    Alexei: I assume that someone transcribed Bossuet’s speech by ear?

    No, Bossuet wrote the speech he then delivered, but the French spellings were not invented by him. I found other references to the Duke of Buckinham as le duc. de Bouquinquant or M. (Monsieur) de Bouquinquant, an English lord who at one time was special ambassador to France and is still well-known for his ambitions. Googling “Bouquinquant” brought first many pages referring to a modern novel and film, and also a tiny village in Guadeloupe, but finally there were excerpts from the 17th century writer Tallemant des Réaux, who wrote about the French court from firsthand knowledge (but was not published until almost 200 years later). I did not try to read all of Google on the topic, what I found was enough to confirm that the French pronunciation and spelling were current at the time, at least at the French court.

    Also recall Malbrouck, apparently a French corruption of Marlborough, as in the castle of Malbrouck and in the ditty, “Malbrouck s’en va-t-en guerre,”

    I know the song, can sing several verses, and have never pronounced the name other than Malbrou, with no final consonant, just as with the English pronunciation. This was not a conscious decision, I just pronounce the name as does the rest of my family when singing the song. I agree that those who say Malbrouck must be using a spelling pronunciation with the final gh understood to represent [k].

  32. David Marjanović says:

    (Come to think of it, “Cheval-ski” suits him fine.)

    :-D :-D :-D

    I agree that those who say Malbrouck must be using a spelling pronunciation with the final gh understood to represent [k].

    Likely influenced by German placenames in -bruck (modern standard Brücke: “bridge”)

  33. marie-lucie says:

    Good point, David.

  34. All right, Stefan, point taken, somewhat, but what would you do with пожалуйста? Would you condemn innocent visitors to Russia to say “pozhaluysta”?

    Here’s another example of literal transcription. When I was a youngster in Israel, the English name Lincoln was invariably transcribed לינקולן, and always pronounced [linkoln], except for those few who couldn’t hack the final consonant cluster and said [linkolɛn] (I don’t remember if the n was velarized or not.) Nobody had any idea that the second el was silent (though nowadays it’s quite different, with much greater exposure to English.) So what to do? Orthographic spelling does lead the pronunciation astray, as also in the é in the French Fédor.

  35. I went to college, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, with a guy named Felix Dzerzhinsky. Actually, I don’t remember how he spelled in in the English alphabet, and I don’t know if I ever saw how he wrote it in Cyrillic. However, I was very surprised that a family would name their son that, especially since I did not get the impression from talking to him that his parents had been old school Brezhnev loyalists in the 1970s.

  36. That reminds me of Mark Twain’s angel in The Mysterious Stranger, who is named Satan after his uncle.

  37. Stefan Holm says:

    Y – if you mean somebody saying pozhaluysta instead of spoken pozhalsta I suppose the Russians would be forgiving. At least as much as the English would if I ordered some Worcestershire sauce instead of a Wousteshe one. Think of it – if we were to spell foreign cities Njo Jåk, Oåsjington, Tjikago, Pari, Bordå or Marsäj it would look as ridiculous and confusing to a Swede as to an anglo- or francophone.

    But of course, I have heard people in the generation above mine (e.g. my ex mother-in-law) say [‘nævjork], [jæns] and [‘texit.] (the final t+dot marking retroflex t). New York, jeans and T-shirt, if you wonder.

    John – if I’ve got it correctly Satan in Judaism and Islam is an angel, albeit a fallen one.

  38. Collected in Appalachia: “Moll Brooks, get out of the water, [3] Until you learn to swim.”

  39. Satan in Judaism and Islam is an angel

    Christianity too. Exactly.

    At last I made bold to ask him [the mysterious stranger of the title] to tell us who he was.

    “An angel,” he said, quite simply, and set another bird free and clapped like hands and made it fly away.

    A kind of awe fell upon us when we heard him say that, and we were afraid again; but he said we need not be troubled, there was no occasion for us to be afraid of an angel, and he liked us, anyway. He went on chatting as simply and unaffectedly as ever; and while he talked he made a crowd of little men and women the size of your finger, and they went diligently to work and cleared and leveled off a space a couple of yards square in the grass and began to build a cunning little castle in it, the women mixing the mortar and carrying it up the scaffoldings in pails on their heads, just as our work-women have always done, and the men laying the courses of masonry — five hundred of these toy people swarming briskly about and working diligently and wiping the sweat off their faces as natural as life. In the absorbing interest of watching those five hundred little people make the castle grow step by step and course by course and take shape and symmetry, that feeling and awe soon passed away and we were quite comfortable and at home again. We asked if we might make some people, and he said yes, and told Seppi to make some cannon for the walls, and told Nikolaus to make some halberdiers, with breastplates and greaves and helmets, and I was to make some cavalry, with horses, and in allotting these tasks he called us by our names, but did not say how he knew them. Then Seppi asked him what his own name was, and he said, tranquilly, “Satan,” and held out a chip and caught a little woman on it who was falling from the scaffolding and put her back where she belonged, and said, “She is an idiot to step backward like that and not notice what she is about.”

    It caught us suddenly, that name did, and our work dropped out of of our hands and broke to pieces – a cannon, a halberdier, and a horse. Satan laughed, and asked what was the matter. I said, “Nothing, only it seemed a strange name for an angel.” He asked why.

    “Because it’s – it’s – well, it’s his name, you know.”

    “Yes – he is my uncle.”

    He said it placidly, but it took our breath for a moment and made our hearts beat. He did not seem to notice that, but mended our halberdiers and things with a touch, handing them to us finished, and said, “Don’t you remember? – he was an angel himself, once.”

    “Yes – it’s true,” said Seppi; “I didn’t think of that.”

    “Before the Fall he was blameless.”

    “Yes,” said Nikolaus, “he was without sin.”

    “It is a good family – ours,” said Satan; “there is not a better. He is the only member of it that has ever sinned.”

  40. what would you do with пожалуйста? Would you condemn innocent visitors to Russia to say “pozhaluysta”?

    In the first place, what if they did? They’d be understood perfectly well, and it wouldn’t cause any problems; they just wouldn’t sound like native speakers. In the second place, you don’t reform an entire system to deal with a few exceptions; you just add “(pronounced ….)” in the phrasebook.

  41. Think of it – if we were to spell foreign cities Njo Jåk, Oåsjington, Tjikago, Pari, Bordå or Marsäj it would look as ridiculous and confusing to a Swede as to an anglo- or francophone.

    I don’t think the example is completely fair, as people are generally aware that proper names don’t play by the usual rules.

    On a related point, I’ve always find the degree to which Swedish sticks to the endonymous names of cities quite surprising. Other than Rom, Köpenhamn and Prag, I can’t think of any Swedified names for major cities—even in cases, such as Münich, where the endonym includes letter-diacritic combinations that are otherwise alien to Swedish spelling!

  42. Well, all right. I’ll concede on spasibo and pozhaluysta, though it’s still weird to me to read Nabokov use the latter when painting a Russian conversation. I still think there’s no good reason to conflate Cyrillic э, е, and ё, with all their different pronunciations, into the single Latin letter e, and I wonder what bad reasons have led people to insist on doing so for so long.

  43. Stefan Holm says:

    I can’t think of any Swedified names for major cities.

    You’re right, Alon, with some comments/exceptions:

    1) Köpenhamn (Copenhagen) isn’t really Swedified. The oldest attested name is Köpmannahamn (‘Merchants harbour’), so it has rather been Danified by its citizens to København. Vocalisation of voicless stops (p→b, t→d, k→g) word finally is a Danish innovation. So is the change mn→vn. They have however kept the original ‘k’ in speech while we have palatalized it to /ç/. Similarily we have Fredrikshamn at the northern tip of Jutland where they have Frederikshavn.

    2) In Finland we use Swedish names for many, many places. So: Helsinki is Helsingfors, Tampere is Tammerfors, Turku is Åbo, Karjala is Karelen, Lappeenranta is Villmanstrand, Inarinjärvi is Enare träsk etc. And of course, the entirely Swedish speaking islands of Ahvenanmaa is Åland.

    3) Names of south European cities are mostly ’Germanified’: Venezia is Venedig (Venice), Torino is Turin, Firenze is Florens (Florence), Athens is Aten etc. And in order to be politically correct we have changed Strassburg to Strasbourg, Elsass-Lothringen to Alsace-Lorraine and Stettin to Szczecin (as written – pronounce it we are unable to). Even if it’s not in the Swedish alphabet the diacritic ü isn’t really ‘alien’ to Swedish spelling – just because we use it for all proper German names such as München, Nürnberg, Düsseldorf, Thüringen etc.

    If purists are to have their say we could change Istanbul, Jerusalem and Novgorod to Miklagård, Jorsala and Holmgård, England to Anglaland (or as written on rune stones aklat – our ancestors didn’t care if a velar was voiced, unvoiced or nasal. And Africa we could call Blåland (‘Blueland’), where there live blåmän (blue men). :-)

  44. marie-lucie says:

    Stefan: Names of south European cities are mostly ’Germanified’: … Torino is Turin

    Turin is not ‘Germanified’, it is the name of Italian Torino in the local Piemontese dialect, which is (very roughly) sort of a middle ground between French and Italian. Turin is also the French name of the city.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    Africa we could call Blåland (‘Blueland’), where there live blåmän (blue men).

    Are these blue men the Touareg inhabitants of the Sahara?

  46. How did Milano come to be Mailand in German?

  47. Stefan Holm says:

    No, Marie-Lucie. In old Norse there was no difference between the colours blue and black. As you know this has been the subject for many a linguistic study – how people percieve colours.

    Thank you, by the way, for enlightening me about Turin/Torino. As a soccer fan I took it for granted that Torino was the local name. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torino_F.C.

  48. How did Milano come to be Mailand in German?

    Good question; German Wikipedia says only “Der Name Mailand leitet sich vom italienischen Milano ab,” which isn’t much help. Perhaps one of our Germanophone Hatters can enlighten us.

  49. Trond Engen says:

    I imagine that -ai- is just a fancy, pseudo-foreign way to write -ei-, and ei from i: is regular. -land from -lan looks like a not that bad folk-etymology.

  50. Stefan Holm says:

    Y: there’s no good reason to conflate Cyrillic э, е, and ё, with all their different pronunciations, into the single Latin letter e

    Who does that? Don’t translators into English normally render Федор as Fyodor, Екатеринa as Yekaterina and Этельстан as Athelstane? :-)

    One problem might be that anglophones seem to have difficulties in separating /e/ and /ɛ/ – the vowel values in Russian ‘е’ and ‘э’. I hear it frequently in movies etc. when speakers of English pronounce the German (and Scandinavian) word Herr, ‘Mr’. It more than often turns up as /he:ʀ/ rather than the more accurate /hɛʀ/. (For the actual sound values this site provides fairly good acoustic representations of the IPA alphabet):

    http://www.yorku.ca/earmstro/ipa/

  51. Trond Engen says:

    Or ei might have survived in German since after the loss of medial -d- but before monophtongization of ei in, uh, Old North Italian.

  52. One problem might be that anglophones seem to have difficulties in separating /e/ and /ɛ/ – the vowel values in Russian ‘е’ and ‘э’.

    That is not the distinction; the only difference is that the former follows a palatalized consonant (initially unwritten /y/) and the latter doesn’t. The former has a wide range of values including both of the ones you mention.

  53. @Stefan Holm: “Ekaterina” is much more common as an English transliteration than “Yekaterina.”

  54. Trond Engen says:

    Though I’d rather suspect medi- > midi- > mi.i- > mi:-.

  55. Stefan Holm says:

    That might be the problem, Bret. In Gmc languages the difference between vowels following a palatalized versus a non-palatalized consonant is of little significance, opposite to Russian. The empress of all Russians Yekaterina II Alexeevna Velikaya (Екатерина II Алексеевна Великая , ‘Catherine II Alexdaughter the Great’), should really have her name spelled in English Yekatyeryina II Alyexyeyevna Vyelyikaya?

    There apparently must be a space for compromises.

  56. But Yeltsin is hardly ever written Eltsin.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Turin is not ‘Germanified’, it is the name of Italian Torino in the local Piemontese dialect, which is (very roughly) sort of a middle ground between French and Italian.

    Partially demonstrating this, it’s pronounced [tyˈriŋ].

    (Word-final n becoming [ŋ] extends all the way to Venice.)

    How did Milano come to be Mailand in German?

    Start from Lombard Milan ([miˈlãː], says Wikipedia; of course I have no idea how old the nasalization is). Interpret the /i/ as long (perhaps just because it’s not [ɪ]). Send it through the New High German Diphthongization around the time the transalpine trade becomes important (vaguely 14th–16th century); and then apply folk etymology – “May country”. Mai is spelled with ai straight out of Latin.

    After all, as we all know, (northern) Italy is the place that has spring instead of winter, “the land where the lemons blossom” (Goethe); conversely, everything German in poetic language from the Little Ice Age equates spring with May.

    It may even play a role that, around the same time, bizarre things happened to make the boundaries of words more audible; for instance, niemand (“nobody”, clearly from “no man”) acquired its -d out of nowhere.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    And a city that has “land” in its name is strange, but no stranger than the obsolescent Alexandrien or the Biblical Bethanien.

  59. “After all, as we all know, (northern) Italy is the place that has spring instead of winter, “the land where the lemons blossom” (Goethe)…”

    It should not be taken as a description of any real-world realm, but – AFAIK – Goethe was influenced by his travels in Sicily and southern Italy. Today, most of Italy’s lemons are grown in Sicily and on the Amalfi coast, near Naples. The second line in “Kennst du das Land” goes, “Im dunklen Laub die Goldorangen glühn,” and it’s Sicily that produces the best oranges and pretty much all the oranges in the country. This is not to say that lemons don’t grow elsewhere in Italy or that crossing the Alps cannot create an illusion of entry into Eden.

  60. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @Stefan Holm: I hadn’t thought about Finland, which should have been obvious in retrospect.

    @marie-lucie: it seems odd to call Piedmontese a dialect, when it has minimal mutual intelligibility with Standard Italian. It’s quite obviously a distinct Gallo-Romance language.

  61. Stefan Holm says:

    niemand (..) aquired its –d out of nowhere

    It’s French mocking: niemand instead of Allemand. :-)

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Alon: Piedmontese … a distinct Gallo-Romance language

    All right. I am not familiar enough with it to define its position.

  63. David Marjanović says:

    it’s French mocking: niemand instead of Allemand. :-)

    :-D :-D :-D

    All right. I am not familiar enough with it to define its position.

    This should help!

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