Ô Nô!

From the Guardian, Not the oignon: fury as France changes 2,000 spellings and ditches circumflex:

French linguistic purists have voiced online anger at the loss of one of their favourite accents – the pointy little circumflex hat (ˆ) that sits on top of certain vowels.

Changes to around 2,400 French words to simplify them for schoolchildren, such as allowing the word for onion to be spelled ognon as well as the traditional oignon, have brought accusations the country’s Socialist government is dumbing down the language. […]

The reforms provoked a #JeSuisCirconflexe campaign (derived from the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag) on Twitter. As the row spread across the internet and social networks, some wondered why the reforms, decided 26 years ago, had suddenly become such an issue.

In 2008, advice from the education ministry suggested the new spelling rules were “the reference” to be used, but it appears few people took notice. Last November, the changes were mentioned again in another ministry document about “texts following the spelling changes … approved by the Académie Française and published in the French Republic Official Journal on 6 December 1990”. Again, the news went unremarked.

It was only when a report by television channel TF1 appeared on Wednesday this week that the ognon went pear-shaped.

A furious student union group issued a statement lambasting education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem for “believing she was authorised to overturn the spelling rules of the French language”.

The far-right Front National waded in with party vice president Florian Philippot declaring “the French language is our soul” and the centre right mayor of Nice Christian Estrosi calling the reforms “absurd”.

The growing fury forced the education ministry in France to reassure the public on Friday that the circumflex accent was not disappearing, and that even though school textbooks would be standardised to contain the new spellings, pupils using either would be given full marks.

There’s a list of ten such changes, which seem eminently sensible (e.g., nénuphar becomes nénufar) but which, I confess, do offend my hard-earned eye for orthography (a product of the severe ministrations of Mme Ruegg), not that it’s going to drive me to adopt a hashtag. We certainly are sensitive about language, we humans. (Here‘s a more soberly written BBC News story. Thanks, Nick and Eric!)

Comments

  1. French prescriptivism: where eggheads push for revolutionary norms.

  2. Flushing the absolutely useless circumflexes on i, u can only be a Good Thing.

  3. Michael Wolf says:

    I’m sure French and people who use it will get along well enough without them, but when first learning French, and picking it up again more recently, I’ve found them very helpful, especially once I learned how they’re so often found where ancestral forms had an ‘s’. They make identifying cognates much easier.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    Wat a laff! I have not seen the full set of suggestions but some of them look extreme.

    About the accent circonflexe :

    This is not just a matter of spelling purism: in most cases this “accent” marks a difference in the pronunciation of a vowel with or without it, affecting the quality and length of the vowel. But as French pronunciation changes (as a result of population mix, especially Southern people moving North) towards the shorter vowels, the people who do not have different vowels don’t know what the circumflex means and often use it inappropriately, while those who (like me and the rest of my family, all ages included) do make a difference, are very upset.

    Examples: The most salient difference for me is the one between /a/ (short, relatively fronted) and /â/ (long, back). A number of former minimal pairs are often pronounced identically. Many, many people pronounce la tache (spot, stain) and la tâche (task) identically with a fronted a which is the most common one, so you see written “taches à accomplir” (intended: tasks to be done) or “une tâche de vin” (intended: wine spot). Another common pair is la patte (leg, paw) and la pâte (dough, paste, pasta).

    Some other minimal pairs: la cote (in financial contexts) and la côte (rib, coast).

    la bette (Swiss chard), la bête (animal, beast, critter); la lettre (letter), l’être (a being, person); le mètre (metre), le maître (master, schoolteacher); and also faite (made (fem.)), le faîte (summit of a roof, of a pointed mountain);

    There are fewer minimal pairs with the other vowels, but the distinction can also affect them: I don’t use the same length in il (he, it) and île (island), for instance, or in mule (mule (fem.), heelless slipper) and brûle ((it) burns).

    As for other reforms, if all were implemented (some of them already have been) they would substantially distort the look of written French, and this would require reprinting practically all texts! I expect that there will be a period of chaos and that eventually people will settle on a compromise.

  5. I suspect most of the changes will be ignored unless they’re mandated, which doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

  6. For me personally, a non-speaker and fairly incompetent reader of French, the main function of the circumflex is to hint at etymological connections that save checking the dictionary – I might guess in context that “tâche” means “task,” but making the same guess for “tache” would be much more difficult. Since the fundamental purpose of any revision of French orthography should be to make my life easier, #JeSuisCirconflexe.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    MW: I’ve found them very helpful, especially once I learned how they’re so often found where ancestral forms had an ‘s’

    Indeed, many English words of French origin were borrowed when French still had a preconsonantal s, which English maintained: forêt (forest), côte (coast, intracostal), hôpital (here French pronounces short o because the vowel is not in the final syllable), and many others.

  8. Eli Nelson says:

    From what I recall, even the reformed spelling does not eliminate the circumflex: it only removes it when it makes not difference to the (standard) pronunciation and when there are no homophones that would otherwise be spelled the same way. In this case, I believe the reference pronunciation has quality but not length distinctions, so île, brûle, maître lose the accent but bête, pâte, côte do not. Wikipedia summarizes the changes as “Circumflex accents are removed on i and u if they are not needed to distinguish between homographs.” As a non-native speaker, most of the rectifications seem innocuous enough to me, but also not all that necessary, and some are a little weird-looking. I think some people have criticized them for being too inconsistent: the circumflex is still used, so you have to memorize a new set of words for it (or a rule for deriving them from the old set) rather than just forgetting about it; the tréma, which from what I recall is otherwise consistently placed on the second vowel in a group, is now placed on the u in gu- followed by another vowel (so aiguë > aigüe, ambiguïté > ambigüité, arguer > argüer).

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Eli: the tréma, which from what I recall is otherwise consistently placed on the second vowel in a group, is now placed on the u in gu- followed by another vowel (so aiguë > aigüe, ambiguïté > ambigüité, arguer > argüer

    This one is actually a very good reform. The old spelling was instituted (many generations ago) at a time when the final e was pronounced more often than it is nowadays, so aiguë represented the three syllables “ai-gu-e”. But in the present day aiguë suggests “ai-gué” where “gu” means /g/. Placing the tréma on “u” shows that the letter represents the vowel.

    I confess that having never heard arguer pronounced (as opposed to reading it), I always thought that “gu” there meant /g/ (even if I knew the word argument. Now I will know to say ar-gü-er.

  10. is now placed on the u in gu- followed by another vowel

    That sounds sensible to me, since what it is showing is that the u is pronounced separately, rather than being a mere sign of /g/ rather than /ʒ/. The rare uses of trema in English are placed on the vowel that is (contrary to expectations) being pronounced separately.

  11. Eli Nelson says:

    @Marie-Lucie:
    I copied the spelling and pronunciation of “arguer” from the English Wikipedia article on the reforms, which gives ” argüer [aʁɡye]”. Now that I look at it more closely, I’m wondering why it would not be [aʁɡɥe] with a semi-vowel. Apparently there is some variation between full vowel and semi-vowel in situations like these; do you have any insights? The spelling with a tréma is listed on the website for the reform. But when I looked the word up in ‘Le Trésor de la Langue Française Informatisé,’ which is what I usually use for a quick conservative pronunciation reference, it says “Tous les dict. mod. de prononc. transcrivent [gɥ] sauf Pt Rob. qui transcrit [aʀge].” So it appears the pronunciation with /g/ is somewhat established, but perhaps still not considered as “correct” as the other one.

  12. Yeah, as a NNS I mostly feel ambivalent about these reforms. I rather like the French circumflex, though at least they’re keeping it in cases where it disambiguates or carries phonemic inormation. And I don’t fully understand the reasoning regarding double consonants in verbs: Why are appeler and jeter exempted? And does it really make sense to write l’étiquette and j’étiquète?

    But like everybody else, I do very much like the change from to üe. This is consistent with how the dieresis is used in Spanish.

  13. It only removes it when it makes not difference to the (standard) pronunciation and when there are no homophones that would otherwise be spelled the same way.

    Are there any living nonstandard dialects, however restricted, in which any of these circumflex present-absent pairs are not homophonous?

  14. Eli Nelson says:

    @Y:
    Marie-Lucie said earlier in this thread that she has a length distinction in some words between /ɛ/ and /ɛː/, /i/ and /iː/, and /y/ and /yː/. If I recall correctly, in Quebec dialects /a/ vs. /ɑː/ and /ɛ/ vs. /ɛː/ are well-established, but I think they generally have lost the length distinctions on high vowels.

  15. Eli Nelson says:

    Note: the reforms do not affect words spelled with ê, but they do affect some words with /ɛː/ that are spelled with the digraph “aî.”

  16. Compēsatory lengthening, presumably.

  17. @Eli Nelson: Oh, I had overlooked that point about . That would seem to refute the idea that the reform is preserving phonemic inormation, if we assume that standard French orthography ought to be friendly to dialects like Québécois.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    Y: Are there any living nonstandard dialects, however restricted, in which any of these circumflex present-absent pairs are not homophonous?

    I am not an expert on dialects, but I would think that the still-existing rural dialects of the Northern half of France probably still make the relevant distinctions, while all the speech varieties in the South (which have Occitan substrates) have only a small set of oral vowels, so the pairs in question are indeed homophonous there.

  19. Eli Nelson says:

    @Lazar: The Académie française tries to promote standardization; it’s not interested in supporting regional variation. The “standard” I am talking about is very Paris-centric.

  20. Eli Nelson says:

    Although actually, it appears that some other organizations besides the Académie were involved in proposing these reforms.

  21. Thanks, m.-l.
    Do you know if the OQLF (The Québec Board of the French Language) has issued an official statement regarding that reform?

  22. marie-lucie says:

    Lazar: if we assume that standard French orthography ought to be friendly to dialects like Québécois.

    As Eli says. If it does not support dialectal variation within France it is even less likely to support it in other countries (Belgium, Canada, Ile Maurice, etc).

    The standard is indeed “Paris-centric”. My parents were born and raised in Paris, my father’s own parents and relatives had lived in Paris or the immediate area for generations, so I heard plenty of “Old Parisian” speech while growing up (although not that of the “haute bourgeoisie” which phoneticians were taking as the model) and the way young Parisians currently speak is very, very different from that of my forebears.

    I am not a Parisian, having been raised in Southern Normancy, a mostly rural, linguistically conservative area, but I spent 5 years in Paris as a student. Plus, having lived in English Canada almost all my adult life, my own pronunciation is somewhat older than that of my French contemporaries, even my own sisters.

    In Canada a Québécois standard has been evolving and the Office de la langue française has been very busy. I hope they don’t feel obliged to follow the Académie slavishly on this and other topics.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    Y, I have no idea if the Office issued anything. Perhaps Etienne will know!

  24. marie-lucie says:

    Eli: it appears that some other organizations besides the Académie were involved in proposing these reforms.

    Certainly! The ministry of Education and a number of linguists have been involved in the project for a long time. The ministry is more important than the Académie in this respect as it sets up the school programs. The Académie is far less powerful than people imagine outside of France, but their opinion is highly repected.

  25. “the French language is our soul”

    They won’t lose their âme. They’ll only change it to ame.

  26. Next thing you know, they’ll want to get rid of all the silent haitches.

  27. Élas! (in this particular case the haitch is unetymological anyway).

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr: They won’t lose their âme. They’ll only change it to ame.

    Ô nô!!!!

  29. Chrît, what an âshole.

  30. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Next thing you know, they’ll want to get rid of all the silent haitches.

    I find silent h in French and Spanish is useful for recognizing English cognates. For example, an enzyme I have worked with is called hexokinase in English, hexokinase in French, and hexoquinasa in Spanish (or hexocinasa in Mexico), all easy to recognize as the same word. However, Italian has got rid of silent h, so it has essochinassa, which can be puzzling at first sight.

  31. Piotr: Élas! (in this particular case the haitch is unetymological anyway).

    Never realised this. Why was this h prepended? It did result in Dutch helaas being pronounced as /ɦeˈlaːs/.

  32. There’s also the name Helias, which I presume is hypercorrected Elias.

  33. Hélas is < primitive ha ‘Ah!’ + las < L lassus ‘weary’. I suppose that writing ha as a would invite potential confusion with a ‘has’ or even à ‘to’, since ha is a grammarless particle that can appear anywhere. The same might be said of the h of English Ah!, which indeed may be a borrowing of ha: the OE version was la, which with a long vowel became Lo! and with a short vowel survived to Shakespeare’s day, and later (quoth the OED) in “dialectal, vulgar, and archaic” use.

  34. Hélas is < primitive ha ‘Ah!’ + las < L lassus ‘weary’.

    The earliest occurrences of the exclamation in French have no h: A, las! (ca. 1050), E, las! ~ Elas! (12th c.). Spellings with h dominate later, in Middle French. Also in English we initially have alas, allas (starting ca. 1200), then occasionally helas, hallas (about 1400, evidently reintroduced from French), and then alas again.

  35. Right,. By primitive I meant something like ‘primitively expressive sound’ rather than ‘original spelling’. (Though even primitive sounds can undergo sound-change, as in Skt aum < Pali om, or the lá > lo I mentioned.) Writing ha for a to disambiguate it from its homonyms is just the sort of thing that Middle French orthographers would do. (This time I took both commas out.)

  36. One PIE interjection notable for undergoing regular sound changes in the daughter languages is *wai (Lat. vae, Middle Irish fáe, Middle Welsh gwae, etc.). In Germanic, we have e.g. Goth. wai, ON vei, OHG , OE (beside weġ, borrowed from ON, as in alas and waylaway). Hence ME (Northern ) and, after the Great Vowel Shift, Mod.E woe (Scots wae).

  37. Hat, how did you do it? I see a timer giving me 5 minutes to re-edit the post (not that there’s anything to edit this time, but it looks like a prayer granted).

  38. See the new post; all praise to Songdog!

  39. All: I am fairly certain that this reform will go nowhere, not least because, in the era of the spellchecker, placing circumflexes on the right vowels is the least of the problems French speakers face when writing.

    Eli Nelson: you are quite correct, Quebec French has wholly lost phonemic length with high vowels. In a sense it has lost it elsewhere, inasmuch as the etymologically long vowels now differ from the short ones because of vowel quality, with length being secondary (among middle-aged and younger Montreal French speakers). However, contractions have yielded at least two new, “secondary” long vowels, which differ from their short counterparts purely through length.

    In answer to your question on “arguer” realized as /argye/: this is because of a nice morphophonological rule which some French speakers (such as myself) have, whereby high vowels, which normally become semi-vowels when followed by another vowel, do not do so if they are the last phoneme of the stem of a first conjugation verb followed by a vocalic ending. A near-minimal pair involving homographs: FIER, in French, can either be the infinitive of a reflexive verb meaning “to rely upon”, in which case it is realized as /fie/ (two syllables: the same is true of all forms involving a vocalic ending: “fions, fiez, fiais”, and the like all have two syllables), or the masculine singular form of an adjective meaning “proud”, in which case it is realized as /fjɛr/ (one syllable!)

    John Cowan: Middle French scribes weren’t the only ones to use etymological /h/ to prevent homophones from becoming homographs: Italian scribes did the same (Athel Cornish-Bowden: I grant that Italian uses etymological /h/ far less than French or Spanish do). Consider the Italian verb “to have” (avere) , present tense, indicative: “ho, hai, ha, abbiamo, avete, hanno”. HO was written with an /h/ to prevent confusion with the conjunction O (Latin AUT), HAI to prevent confusion with the preposition + article combination AI (Latin AD ILLOS), HA to prevent confusion with the preposition A (Latin AD), and HANNO to prevent confusion with the noun ANNO (Latin ANNUM).

  40. Huh, I never knew that.

  41. ə de vivre says:

    Just a note on the institutional scope of the changes. The ‘new’ standards have been optional since 1990, the only thing new is that they will be mandatory for schoolbooks in France starting next academic year. Here in Quebec, where the 1990 standards are officially optional but anecdotally pretty uncommon, only the lycées français would be theoretically affected.

    From my own chrisse d’anglo point of view, the reforms hit the sweet spot where they’re just major enough to be aesthetically unpleasant but not major enough to make anything more “logical” (if we accept that internal logic is always a Good Thing in orthography).

    PS: I like the edit count-down timer, it makes me feel like a secret agent diffusing a bomb. Any chance you could put it in blinking red digital-clock numerals?

  42. Étienne: I feel (but I’m not French, and cannot trust my intuition) that there’s something similar with the silent e, but only in unprefixed verbs. So you can say jval or soul’ver, but lever must be leuver.

  43. FIER — I knew that, as in I’m sure I wouldn’t have been in doubt had I had to read the words out in context — but the relevance of the verb being first declension I’d never have been able to explain. It just seems obvious.

    I wonder how I’ve been able to internalize that from desultory attendance (reading SF paperbacks under the table) at two French lessons a week in grade 10 to 12… (and a total of maybe three weeks of vacations in Paris, otherwise French is a language I read).

  44. ə de vivre says:

    minus:
    Likewise not an L1 French speaker so I’ll certainly yield to native speaker judgments and/or proper research, but a ‘mute e’ will only reduce to Ø if the resulting consonant cluster is licit. So while the [lv] in ‘soulever’ gets split over two syllables in [sul.ve], such an option isn’t available for ‘lever’ > *[lve] where the onset cluster [lv-] isn’t possible. It will however reduce under the right circumstances, eg. ‘j’ai levé’ > [ʒɛl.ve]. My impression is that the phonotactics are a little more relaxed across the border between the verb root and its prefixes, so while ‘lever’ > [lve] isn’t allowed, similar clusters like in ‘je le veux’ > [ʒlvø] are. Maybe there’s something going on with syllabic sonorants? Or I could be off the mark completely, in which case we’ll both learn something new.

  45. ø de vivre: Thanks. In general, indeed, more reduced forms feel like proclitics, verbal or nominal. If I say [ʒelve] to myself, I feel that it sounds like j’ai le V.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    FIER
    Unlike Etienne, I say fje for the infinitive and fjer for the adjective.
    e muet

    When I go to France I hear more and more schwas which I would elide in my own natural speech, but it could be because I mostly communicate with family members and I come from a family of teachers, who tend to fall into the special register they use with the children. For instance, to say goodbye I might use À d’main ’till tomorrow’ while my youngest sister, a kindergarten teacher, always says A-de-main (among many similar examples). But she is not the only person I have noticed doing this.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    minus: If I say [ʒelve] to myself,

    Why would you say that? it needs an Object! and if you mean “i got up”, it is j’me suis l’vé(e).

    What clusters are possible initially or medially depends a lot on the individual and the register. Many clusters which would not be uttered word-initially if only the bare word was uttered (like lv..) become possible in actual speech because they occur after an introductory word which is barely noticed, as in: Allez, l’vez-vous! ‘Come on, get up!’ where the cluster occurs as a result of the final pronounced vowel of Allez ([ale]).

  48. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I am fairly certain that this reform will go nowhere, not least because, in the era of the spellchecker, placing circumflexes on the right vowels is the least of the problems French speakers face when writing.

    Right. It’s on a par with rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

  49. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Click to Edit

    Good move. That’s what I needed yesterday.

  50. m-l: Thanks! In “[ʒelve] la main”, for example, of course.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    minus: like a good student!

  52. It’s funny, I can say [lˠv] with no problem, as in the name Alvin (like many Americans, my /l/ is dark in every position), but [lv] with a proper French/German [l] defeats me without at least an ultrashort vowel separating them.

  53. @Lars, ə , minus:

    French schwa deletion IS a very complex issue, involving as it does phonotactics and sociolinguistics, plus considerable regional variation. It is quite simple, however, when it involves pre-verbal clitics and prefixes containing schwa: what applies then is what is called the “three-consonant rule” (règle des trois consonnes).

    Simply put, you may delete the schwas in the clitics + prefixes, but only to the extent that three consonants do not come into contact. Thus, in ON ME LE REDIT, the sequence /mələrəd/ can be reduced either to /mlərd/ or to /məlrəd/, with */mlrəd/ or */məlrd/ being prohibited. Note that, if the subject of the verb were something other than ON and ended in a consonant, only /məlrəd/ would be possible, as a sequence */Cmlərd/ (where C=whatever final consonant the subject has) would violate the three-consonant rule: some varieties of French have a productive rule of schwa insertion in such instances, and thus you could get /Cəmlərd/.

    This variability is quite handy for songwriters, however: since /məlrəd/ or /mlərd/ are both possible, either one can be picked according to the number of syllables needed. In song texts it is common to use an apostrophe to indicate which schwas are expected to be deleted (i.e. “on m’ le r’dit” or “on me l’ redit”).

  54. David Marjanović says:

    I didn’t know there were still French varieties with vowel length, let alone for high vowels. I did know that the quality difference between a [a] and â/as [ɑ], vanished in Paris, survives in some places.

    a nice morphophonological rule which some French speakers (such as myself) have, whereby high vowels, which normally become semi-vowels when followed by another vowel, do not do so if they are the last phoneme of the stem of a first conjugation verb followed by a vocalic ending

    …I can’t tell if I do that. I speak too fast.

    (Combining Paris with my former thesis supervisor’s personal idiosyncracy, I speak French faster than English, even though my command of vocabulary and grammar isn’t always up to that task.)

  55. David Marjanović says:

    It’s funny, I can say [lˠv] with no problem, as in the name Alvin (like many Americans, my /l/ is dark in every position), but [lv] with a proper French/German [l] defeats me without at least an ultrashort vowel separating them.

    This surprises me; I neither share this restriction, nor can I find an articulatory reason for it.

  56. I imagine that between the [l] and the jaw approximation of the [v] one needs some agility to pull the body of the tongue up. With [lˠ] the tongue is already raised and does not need to be moved.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    David: I didn’t know there were still French varieties with vowel length, let alone for high vowels.

    I am no longer an exemplar of current French pronunciation, even from a conservative area, but for me Lille (a Northern city) and l’île ‘the island’ are not homophonous when at the end of an utterance (length is cancelled in other positions).

    I did know that the quality difference between a [a] and â/as [ɑ], vanished in Paris, survives in some places.

    I don’t think it has completely vanished in Paris. It seems to me that not everyone would pronounce pas (in a negation) like the first syllable of Paris.

  58. like a good student!

    Just the kind of French you’ll learn in schools. I have levé la main before, and now I tell students in an irritated tone, Mais si vous ne comprenez pas, n’hésitez pas quand même de lever vos mains hein, s’il vous plaît !

    Lille (a Northern city) and l’île ‘the island’ are not homophonous when at the end of an utterance

    Wow!

    not everyone would pronounce pas (in a negation) like the first syllable of Paris.

    True, but only for pas.

  59. Like David, I was also unaware until this thread that any varieties of French distinguished length for high vowels. That’s pretty cool.

    Myself, learning French on my own for fun, I’ve always felt uncertain about which distinctions out of /ɛ̃/~/œ̃/, /a/~/ɑ/ and /ɛ/~/ɛː/ I should make in my speech. For now I’ve settled on making only the first of those, but I’m tempted to include the other two. After all I do live a lot closer to Quebec than to France and have spent more time there (a few days vs. a few hours), and although I have no desire to speak Quebec French per se, I think it would be nice to make my speech more compatible with theirs if possible.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    minus: n’hésitez pas quand même de lever vos mains

    I would say n’hésitez quand même pas à lever la main.

    Levez vos mains would imply ‘raise both your hands’.

    For a lot of actions involving body parts it is more traditional to use the definite article, but I have the impression that using a possessive is becoming more common under the influence of bad translations from English.

  61. After all it gets cumbersome to raise the hand of the pupil next to you all the time, so the possessive can normally be understood. But this can of course be overridden, I saw a sketch once where several loose hands happened to lie about and get raised, repeatedly.

    (række hånden op being normal in Danish and række sin hånd op a bit awkward, similarly to French).

    How would a language with inalienable nouns handle body parts that don’t belong to anyone? (In this case they were clearly made from plaster and mounted on sticks, but hands they were).

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Lazar: I’ve always felt uncertain about which distinctions out of /ɛ̃/~/œ̃/, /a/~/ɑ/ and /ɛ/~/ɛː/ I should make in my speech.

    If you anticipate being in Québec, you should make them all! (Québec is not all of Canada but you are not likely to need to speak French in other provinces, where few francophones are unilingual and the local variety can be quite different).

    /ɛ̃/~/œ̃/ : In France (except in the South) /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/ have largely merged but are becoming closer to [œ̃] than to [ɛ̃] (approximating a nasalized schwa). This is not because of a reversal of a trend but as a result of a continuing lowering of both of these vowels. In Québec the trend has been the opposite, as both vowels are much higher than the French ones, being the nasal counterparts of /e/ and /ø/ respectively.

    /a/~/ɑ/ : in France the difference is diminishing if not disappearing altogether, but it is quite pronounced in Québec. In final position (as in “Canada”) the vowel is often [ɑ] rather than [a].

    I am not sure about /ɛ/~/ɛː/ but I suppose the difference is observed. These vowels are lower than in most of France, where in final position /ɛ/ is often merged with /e/, while in Québec it is closer to /a/.

    A major difference, sometimes causing misunderstandings, is the position of nasal vowels relative to their oral counterparts, because of chain shifts in opposite directions. Québec the mid-front nasal vowels (commonly written in, un) have moved up, dragging the low vowel (an) frontward and the mid-back rounded one (on) lower; in France in and un have moved down (and often merged as a result), and an backward, apparently on its way to merge with on. For instance, les Français spoken in France sounds to Québécois as “les froncés”, but spoken in Québec it sounds to French people as “les frinças”. (The difference is less obvious in more educated Québécois speech).

    Even I tend to hear “les froncés” when I go to Fronce. On a recent trip I was in a store looking for directions and (after making a staff person repeat twice) understood I should go au fond (at the back). In fact I was being told to find the enfants (children) department (which happened to be at the back, but that was not what the person said).

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Lars: How would a language with inalienable nouns handle body parts that don’t belong to anyone?

    Probably by saying explicitly a person’s (hand, etc).

  64. Lars, Marie-Lucie: Some languages have grammatical tools to solve this problem: for instance in Cree there is a special prefix, /mi/, (which goes back to Proto-Algonquian and indeed I think to Proto-Algic, and has cognates in most Algonquian languages, Ojibway being a notable exception) which is attached to inalienable nouns (body parts, family members) whenever the actual possessor of the noun is indefinite/unknown: I vaguely remember a Cree story involving a severed hand, which, after it was severed and found by somebody else, was used with the /mi/ prefix (as the person who had found it did not know whose it had originally been).

    Lazar: actually, of the three phonological oppositions you list, the first two are indeed universal in Quebec, but the third, the /ɛ/~/ɛ:/ opposition, is not: Quebec city and areas further North and East in Quebec lack the opposition altogether, and thus “mettre”, “mètre” and “maître” are all homophonous there : /mɛtr/. Further South, including the Montreal area, the first word will be realized as /mɛtr/ and the last two as /mɛ:tr/ (Actually, the vowel is lower in quality than short /ɛ/, and indeed in many accents it is realized as a diphthong, highlighting the difference between this vowel and short /ɛ/. My admittedly wholly subjective impression is that Quebec French has been more conservative than Parisian in preserving the phonological oppositions of seventeenth-century French, but has done and is doing so by being more innovative phonetically, i.e. by shifting vowel quality to maximize phonological distinctiveness).

    This, please note, is unlike what you will typically find on the other side of the Atlantic, where, in those accents where a phonological opposition between long and short /ɛ/ exists, “mettre” and “mètre” are realized as /mɛtr/ and “maître” alone is realized as /mɛ:tr/.

    Finally, for those who find it remarkable that in French there still exist length distinctions involving high vowels: actually, some varieties of French in Europe actually have tonal oppositions: I think I pointed this out here at the Hattery somewhere: a Swedish scholar working on a variety of French spoken in Burgundy found a purely tonal distinction between LAC and LAQUE, both of them /lak/ segmentally.

  65. Fascinating!

  66. …and yes, I had indeed spoken of this tonal distinction at this thread:

    http://languagehat.com/gatto/

    One thing I have learned since then is that Southern Dutch varieties exhibit a tone system whose diachronic origin is suspiciously similar; thus, in these varieties singular and plural /dax/ “day” differ solely through tone (originally the plural was marked by final schwa, just like in Standard Dutch: dag/dagen). Burgundy is not that far removed from the Southern Netherlands, and part of me wonders whether a loss of final schwa accompanied by the rise of phonemic tone might not be a feature of a local Sprachbund.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: in Cree there is a special prefix, /mi/, ….. which is attached to inalienable nouns (body parts, family members) whenever the actual possessor of the noun is indefinite/unknown:

    In the Tsimshianic languages there is a particle (nah or hli) meaning both 1) past and 2) “alienated” inalienable possession (so literally “formerly possessed”). It is used for a severed body part as you mention (including an animal part cut off for meat), or a bodily fluid (eg blood) once out of the body. (The latter semantic category includes the soul, whether in or out of the body).

  68. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: Burgundy is not that far removed from the Southern Netherlands, and part of me wonders whether a loss of final schwa accompanied by the rise of phonemic tone might not be a feature of a local Sprachbund.

    It is not far removed, but separated from it by a number of French dialects as well as by the language barrier starting in Belgium.

    But it may be relevant that Burgundy and “Flanders” had political and commercial ties in past centuries.

  69. Trond Engen says:

    Tonal distinction after loss of a final schwa happened in some Norwegian (and I think Swedish) dialects too, resulting in the so-called circumflex tone on monosyllabics. Its distribution at the northernmost and southernmost ends of the Central Norwegian region of apocope suggests to me that it’s a transitional state.

  70. One of the things that’s put me off from learning the /a/~/ɑ/ distinction (I had put this out of my mind somewhat, but it’s coming back to me now) is the apparent variability in its distribution. For example, I was just now looking for a guide to the distribution of the two phonemes, and found this. The cases with â are pretty obvious (though, newly to me, it says that the simple past endings -âmes and -âtes take /a/), but elsewhere there seems to be a fair bit of disagreement when I compare this book’s descriptions with the pronunciations given in dictionaries. For example, many dictionaries list pas, bras and havre with /a/, most seem to list the -asion, -assion and -ation words with /a/, and the section labeled “for most speakers, in some individual words, notably:” seems to be total chaos when checked against dictionaries. Not to mention cases like Canada where Canadian French may differ from the traditional standard.

    So, faced with that and hearing that the distinction is commonly lost in France, it is very tempting for me to ignore it. It reminds me of the distinction between /ɑː/ and /ɔː/ in American English, which, due to some historical shifts, has attained a distribution that can seem truly baffling at times: dictionaries will tell you that dog doesn’t rhyme with cog and that frog and fog can go either way, that gong doesn’t rhyme with prong, that foster doesn’t rhyme with roster, that doff doesn’t rhyme with off even though don rhymes with on (unless it doesn’t)… When, as a learner, you hear that the distinction is under heavy attrition, and that even those who do maintain it often do so only weakly, how could you not be tempted to learn a nice simple West Coast English and forget the whole thing altogether?

    So… I’m still undecided about whether I should modify my French pronunciation in this regard. I might just keep ignoring the distinction while feeling vaguely guilty about it.

  71. marie-lucie says:

    Lazar, I find some of your quotations bizarre! Thank you for the link, which is “for opera singers”, which explains the sometimes strange choice of words. My own pronunciation agrees with some of the recommendations but by no means all. I won’t try to list them all, there are far too many. So yes, use short a all the time in France and few people will object. In the South people use only short vowels (as in Occitan, even if they don’t speak that language).

    The suffixes -ation/-assion/-asion: I grew up with [â] in those words, but when I went back to France after several years in the US and Canada my sister (who has lived in the Paris area all her adult life and was married to a Parisian) made fun of how I pronounced éducation like a Norman peasant! (we grew up in Normandy but our Parisian father, like his Parisian parents, has a very back â just like the “Norman peasants” – at least the ones close to his age group). Now my pronunciation in this word and similar ones is between the two sounds, my vowel is not [a] as in Paris but not as long and as far back as it used to be.

    Verb forms in -asse, -âmes, -âtes: these forms, no longer used in speech at all (except in a jocular manner), are listed in the guide because they do occur in classical operas and plays. With the pronunciation [â] they are considered very ugly, which is probably why they are now listed among the [a]’s.

  72. dictionaries will tell you

    What dictionaries are these? I checked a couple, and find that they all seem to list two pronunciations for these words, one using their LOT-symbol and another using their THOUGHT-symbol. As one of those annoyingly old-farty people who keep the CLOTH lexical set alive in English by insisting on merging it with THOUGHT but separating it from LOT, I don’t think it makes a damned bit of difference, even if you have a THOUGHT-LOT distinction, which sound you use in these anomalous CLOTH words. I personally merge all of those you mention with LOT except dog, foster, off, doff, though hardly anyone says doff anyway; if I didn’t know it was short for do off, I might not say it that way.

    But if you wanted to be really cool, you’d learn a variety of English with distinct sounds for LOT, THOUGHT, CLOTH, TRAP, PALM, BATH, START, NORTH, and FORCE.

  73. Yeah, it’s true that they often give both pronunciations for those words; I was going by which one they list first. For example, dog almost always has THOUGHT first and LOT second, with the reverse for cog.

  74. I’d be really doubtful that those orderings reflect actual patterns of use. The Merriam-Webster dictionaries, at least separate exceptional pronunciations from the mainstream ones with also.

  75. David Marjanović says:

    Pitch accent in French: I did remember that! – The Central Franconian pitch-accent system is of course found on both sides of the German-Dutch border, e.g. in Cologne. Some Low German dialects have solved the same problem the Estonian way, by introducing a third degree of vowel length; many Upper German dialects like mine have instead ignored the problem, like mainstream French, and live with the resulting homophones (in your example /tɒg/ singular and plural).

    (række hånden op being normal in Danish and række sin hånd op a bit awkward, similarly to French).

    This is one of those European Sprachbund features that English lacks.

    So… I’m still undecided about whether I should modify my French pronunciation in this regard. I might just keep ignoring the distinction while feeling vaguely guilty about it.

    If you don’t mind sounding Parisian, keep ignoring it. It seems to have completely vanished from Paris two or three generations ago.

    Interestingly, the fusion product is a cardinal [a] in the very corner of the vowel chart; the two phonemes didn’t meet somewhere in the middle, but instead the rarer one was abandoned in favor of the more common one.

  76. Eli Nelson says:

    I’m also not sure about the accuracy (or rather, completeness) of Merriam-Webster’s transcription of CLOTH words. They transcribe “alcohol” as only being pronounced with /ɔ/ in the last syllable, “alcoholic” as having either /ɔ/ or /ɑ/ (in the second-to-last syllable), “hydrosol” as having /ɔ/ or /ɑ/, and “hydrosolic” as having only /ɑ/. I’m one of those West-Coast speakers with the cot-caught merger, and variations like these are just as baffling to me as they would be to any non-native student of English.

  77. marie-lucie says:

    David: it (back [â]) seems to have completely vanished from Paris two or three generations ago.

    I don’t think that is completely right yet.

  78. David Marjanović says:

    I mean that Parisians below your age lack the distinction. 🙂

  79. marie-lucie says:

    David: I mean that Parisians below your age lack the distinction.

    David, when in France I occasionally converse with Parisians well below my advanced age, such as my nephews, and I do notice pronunciations which are different from my own. Now their children (still children) have probably lost the distinction.

  80. of course vowels can be a bit longer before certain consonants like R or D, but i’v never herd that vowel length can make any difference in french (or in any other romanic language exept old latin). now i learned that seemingly some sociolects and accents have it. still i guess it is a minority.

    the circumflex shows that thare was an S befor, but what is the point if it doesnt work in all cases? “théâtre” was never “théastre”, and ‘contrôl’ was never controsl. OK, in the case of contrôl it has a fonological function, but then leev it for that function. otherwise you can never know wat the circumflex stands for.

    the problem of thees reforms is that they make changes in 10 difrent feelds, but only in very particcular cases, and after all you’r supposed to lern new spellings in hundreds or thousands of words (mostly rarely used words). it was the same in german and in portuguese. if they want to make spelling eesier but dont want to change too much, they should make a single change or at most 2 changes, but realy consistent ones, like eliminating all etimological accents (wich broke the original etimology anyway, since latin didnt hav accents), or elimminating H’s without enny function, or F for F (no ph’s ennymor).

    but i cant imagin a cuntry ware the resistence to a spelling reform would be stronger. wen i suggest reforming german (consistently, eeven if in a small scale), english, portuguese or another language, yu find rufly sed 1/3 agenst, 1/3 saying it depends of wat is reformd and 1/3 for reform. wen i suggested it to a group of yung french peeple, they wer all outraged and almost linchd me. mais cest la culture!!!!!

  81. Eli Nelson says:

    @zé do rock:
    Your spelling here is a little inconsistent: “difference” vs. “difrent,” “herd” vs. “learned,” “very” vs. “enny.” But, it’s a good example anyway! “Ph,” in both French and English, isn’t really a tricky part of spelling. Accents are tough for some native speakers, but I think silent letters at the end of words are the greatest source of difficulty: contrasts like “toucher” vs. “touché,” or “bavard” vs. “cauchemar.”

  82. David Marjanović says:

    Yes. Behold this blog, written in French by a linguist about linguistics, by a native speaker of French who studies, and clearly speaks, at least one seriously polysynthetic language, and see how far you can scroll down till you hit the first lack of inaudible number or gender agreement. The really hard part about French spelling aren’t lexically conditioned oddities like ph, but the glaring mismatch between the grammars of written and read-aloud French.

  83. eli nelson,

    A-when i start writing to a person or a forum ware i’ve never written before (B-altho i’m not sure that i’ve never written anything here), C-i do it in a progressive way, D-that is i start with a normal spelling and with each sentence a new letter change is added. E-thats why ‘different’/’difference’ is spelld in the traditional way at the beginning and later it is ‘difrent/difrence’.

    F-but thare was indeed a “mistake” at the beginning (herd/learned), G-becaus i added that sentence after i had written the rest, H-and i started that sentence writing in HS as i usually do (I-the house stile of TESS, J-the english spelling society, K-ware the spelling changes wer decided by voting), L-and wile i was writing the new sentence, M-i rememberd that i’m doing it in the progressiv way and i hav to start with TS, N-traditional spelling. O-and then i forgot to streemline it later…

    P-the spellings ‘enny’ and ‘very’ arnt inconsistent in HS: Q-this sistem doesnt change spellings wen the standard pronunciations in UK and US dont agree. R-and the fact is that most americans dont make enny distinction between mary, S-marry and merry – T-some americans make a distinction between 2 of them, U-but not in all 3 cases. V-ennyway most americans would spel the 3 words with err: W-merry for mary, X-marry and merry, Y-the brits would spel them all difrently.

    Z-this is to avoid that peeple say, “english cant be reformd becaus of the menny dialects”. HS is based on the 2 standards, and it dusnt change wen the 2 standards dont agree. stil, it is possible to make it much eesier.

  84. david marjanovic,

    PH is not a problem for the reader, but it is a problem for the writer. if he hears a word with /f/, he cant know if he has to spell it with F or PH. in english it is worse, you have 3 options – F, PH, and GH.

    french spelling is actually better than the english spelling, since you never know how to spell a word (the sound /o/ can be spelt in 80 different ways), but at least in the great majority of cases you know how to pronounce a word you see written. in english you dont know how to spell it and you dont know how to pronounce it.

    i guess these 2 languages have the worst spelling systems, exept of course the celtic languages, that are probbably much worse.

  85. i guess these 2 languages have the worst spelling systems, exept of course the celtic languages, that are probbably much worse.

    Don’t forget about Chinese and Japanese. Mainland SAE languages like Thai or Khmer are also quite bad.

  86. Incidentally, the most difficult part of Chinese orthography for educated native speakers is the correct distinction between 的, 地 and 得, all of them pronounced stressless de to the north of the Yangtze but with different grammatical functions. Not unlike French orthography in this respect.

  87. Lots of languages base their spelling on centuries- or millennia-old pronunciations — Tibetan seems to be a fun job to learn to spell too — but English has the added feature of unpredictably, in some words only, using the written form corresponding to one old dialect with the pronunciation from another. (Bury is the standard example, of course).

  88. yeah, of course i was talking about european languages – or at least thinking. compared with chinese, even the celtic languages could be considered phonetic. and then all those dialects… i guess china is the only country ware the tv programs have subtitles in the own language…

    japanese at least have the phonetic (or at least phonemic) hiragana and katagana. but of course, no japanese could do without kanji, the chinese writing. altho of course you could write all japanese words with hiragana or katagana, but you wouldnt be able to read much, exept children books…

    thai is so difficult? doesnt their language represent the sounds they speak? i was thare, but curiously i didnt even start trying to lern their language. the tones, the extra-terrestrial pronunciation (at least for us), the funny writing. and that after china, urdu, bengali… i was knocked out…

    english and bury, yes, and colonel with the italian spelling and the french pronunciation… in my europano lingua i sei “gaga lingua!” as the russians say, the english are funny, they spell manchester and pronounce liverpool. but probbably this is all well known in such a forum.

  89. David Marjanović says:

    french spelling is actually better than the english spelling, since you never know how to spell a word (the sound /o/ can be spelt in 80 different ways), but at least in the great majority of cases you know how to pronounce a word you see written. in english you dont know how to spell it and you dont know how to pronounce it.

    Exactly.

    i guess these 2 languages have the worst spelling systems

    Tibetan is like French on both ends of each syllable… some of the silent letters or distinctions are preserved as tones, but by no means all, and obviously most of all of this is different in different dialects.

    The Thai orthography dates from before a split in the tone system (instead of 3 there are now 6 tones), and the Khmer one apparently from before a split in the vowel system (which is now huge). These splits were caused by the loss of certain consonant distinctions which are still written.

  90. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, I forgot to comment on this from a week ago, the day after I came back from Paris:

    /ɛ̃/~/œ̃/ : In France (except in the South) /ɛ̃/ and /œ̃/ have largely merged but are becoming closer to [œ̃] than to [ɛ̃] (approximating a nasalized schwa). This is not because of a reversal of a trend but as a result of a continuing lowering of both of these vowels. In Québec the trend has been the opposite, as both vowels are much higher than the French ones, being the nasal counterparts of /e/ and /ø/ respectively.

    In my experience, /ɛ̃/ hasn’t centralized or rounded in France, but lowered to [æ̃], probably beyond for some people (as you imply below). The merger of /œ̃/ into this appears to be complete in Paris, but indeed not in the South (a colleague a few years younger than me, from Sarlat-la-Canéda, complains that the Parisians do this).

    I am not sure about /ɛ/~/ɛː/ but I suppose the difference is observed. These vowels are lower than in most of France, where in final position /ɛ/ is often merged with /e/, while in Québec it is closer to /a/.

    What’s going on here is yet another merger: for a pretty large number of people at least in Paris, the distinction of [ɛ] and [e] as well as that of [ɔ] and [o] is no longer phonemic at all – open vowels in closed syllables, closed vowels in open syllables (everywhere, not just word-finally where this is more widespread). Even gauche comes out as [gɔʃ].

    A major difference, sometimes causing misunderstandings, is the position of nasal vowels relative to their oral counterparts, because of chain shifts in opposite directions. Québec the mid-front nasal vowels (commonly written in, un) have moved up, dragging the low vowel (an) frontward and the mid-back rounded one (on) lower; in France in and un have moved down (and often merged as a result), and an backward, apparently on its way to merge with on. For instance, les Français spoken in France sounds to Québécois as “les froncés”, but spoken in Québec it sounds to French people as “les frinças”. (The difference is less obvious in more educated Québécois speech).

    Even I tend to hear “les froncés” when I go to Fronce. On a recent trip I was in a store looking for directions and (after making a staff person repeat twice) understood I should go au fond (at the back). In fact I was being told to find the enfants (children) department (which happened to be at the back, but that was not what the person said).

    Even I found a few young people speaking like this! 🙂 Their an apparently hasn’t merged with on (which is not moving and remains [õ]), but it has moved beyond [ɔ̃]. The difference may now be the same as the quality difference between Hungarian o and ó, though these are additionally distinguished by length.

  91. the celtic languages, that are probbably much worse.

    Why? Welsh is spelled phonemically, and Irish is no worse than French (i.e. easy to pronounce if you see it, not in the other direction). Manx, forget about it.

  92. some americans make a distinction between 2 of them, U-but not in all 3 cases

    This American emphatically does distinguish Mary, marry, merry, and so do millions of other people in the Northeast, as well as people with AAVE-influenced accents. Indeed, I make all the traditional distinctions except for LOT=PALM, and even have CLOTH=THOUGHT, which is now highly recessive in RP. My only individual oddity is that hurry/furry rhymes for me.

  93. marie-lucie says:

    zé do rock: [in French] (the sound /o/ can be spelt in 80 different ways

    Do you really mean 80? 8 would seem more realistic (and still quite a large number).

    ware, wile, etc

    There are places in the US where w and wh are quite distinct. I believe this is true in Ireland too, or at least it was. I used to have an Irish landlord who said fwere, fwile etc.

    David: for a pretty large number of people at least in Paris, the distinction of [ɛ] and [e] as well as that of [ɔ] and [o] is no longer phonemic at all – open vowels in closed syllables, closed vowels in open syllables (everywhere, not just word-finally where this is more widespread). Even gauche comes out as [gɔʃ].

    Yes, this distribution of open and closed vowels used to be typical of Southern speech but is becoming more widespread. But are you sure you heard a true Parisian or someone from farther South? A true Southerner would add a schwa to [gɔʃ] ( final schwa which is normally dropped in Standard French is pronounced but does not affect the rule in the Southern variety).

  94. marie-lucie says:

    David: In my experience, /ɛ̃/ hasn’t centralized or rounded in France, but lowered to [æ̃], probably beyond for some people ….

    I remember when I first came to live in Paris as a student (Parisian speech for me having been largely restricted to that of older people: my father and his side of the family) noticing that some young people pronounced main ‘hand’ as if written “mun” (not rounded but otherwise closer to [œ̃] than to [æ̃]).

    The merger of /œ̃/ into this appears to be complete in Paris, but indeed not in the South (a colleague a few years younger than me, from Sarlat-la-Canéda, complains that the Parisians do this).

    Southern people switched from Occitan to French when universal, free public education was instituted in 1883. At that time the distinction /ɛ̃/ vs /œ̃/ was the norm, and that is what Southerners learned. It was also reinforced by spelling, since /œ̃/ is always spelled un or um (as in un parfum ‘a perfume’) while the spelling of /ɛ̃/ can be more varied. Parisian speech does not sound nice to Southern ears, even young ones.

  95. Do you really mean 80?

    Maybe including silent final letters?

  96. roger c,

    usually i hav quite a good idea how to pronounce words in other languages, but i hav no idea how to pronounce irish words. i had a look at http://www.focloir.ie/en/, ware they translate and giv (mostly) the sounds. i dont hav the best eers, but that is what i herd at the translation of thees words, in 3 accents, of connacht, munster and ulster:

    history – stair – /staZ/, /staz/, /stEr/

    history – scéal – /Ski:@l/

    english – béarla – /bIrl@/, U /bErl@/

    language – teanga – /tsjang@/, /tang@/, /tSawi/

    book – leabhar – /ljaur/, /law@r/, /ljo:r/

    development – forbairt – /forb@rt/, U /f3rb@rtS/

    beginning – tosach – /tosax/, /to’sax/, /tOsa/

    chapter – caibidil – /kabidil/

    chapter – treimhse – /tSeifS@/, U (?)

    chapter (period) – ré – /rei/

    writing – scribhneoireacht – /Skrivnor@nt/, /Skiv’nor@nt/, /Skivni’raxt/

    writing – saothar – /siç@r/, /seih@r/, /siç@r/

    vocabulary – gluais – /guliS/, U /gu’lES/

    foreign – coimhthioch – /k@’bir/, /ko’xi@x/, /k@vi’a/

    foreign – allUrach – /alduro/, /a’lu:r@x/, /alera/

    now, the I in ‘stair’ seems to disappeer, and R becomes /Z/ (zh) in the first dialect, /z/ in the seccond and remains /r/ in the third one. but does that doenst meen that the ulster dialect pronounces R as /r/ all the time, i dont know what is done in ‘treimhse’ but it is certanly not a /tr/, rather a /tS/ (tch).

    the S of the beginning of stair is an /s/, but it is a /S/ (sh) in ‘scéal’. it is /S/ in scribhneoireacht, but not in saothar. the ‘é’ seems to be an /i:/ in ‘scéal’, but not in ‘béarla’ – in none of the accents. ar the /I/ or /E/ pronunciations for the digraph EA (in béarla) or just for the ‘é’ and the A is silent?

    in teanga the first syllable begins with /tsjaN/, /tan/ and /tSa/, and the latter syllable GA becomes /wi/ in ulster. i cant imagin that thare is any logic in that. can an irishman who ses /ljo:r/ imagin that he has to spell this word as leabhar? and if the irish would know how to pronounce the words they see written, why do they pronounce the word leabhar in (at leest) 3 different ways?

    tosach – the ulster dialect doesnt pronounce the final CH in this case, but it doesnt meen that he doesnt say it in scribhneoireacht – they ar the only ones who pronounce it in that case, while the others say the CH as /n/!

    so the E can be seemingly /i:/, /I/, /E/, in rE it is an /ei/. and has the TH always the german ç-sound? the AO thare is /I/, but is it always like that? i bet it is not! and how one can infer the pronunciation of ‘gluais’ from the spelling – is thare a rule saying that ‘glu’ becomes ‘gul’? i bet not. and the A is gon, but it doesnt meen it always disappeers. or how can one infer the spelling from the pronunciation /guliS/ or /gu’lES/?

    one of the worst cases is coimhmthioch – /k@’bir/, /ko’xi@x/, /k@vi’a/ – the O is a shwa and the I is silent, or is OI shwa? HM can be /f/? /b?/, /v/? and how come they take such a strange digraf for /f/ or /b?/ like HM? and what happend to the TH? no german CH anymor? and what is the /r/ doing in a word that doesnt hav R? what does it stands for, the TH, the I, the O or the CH?

    R pronounced as /Z/ (sometimes), CH pronounced as /n/ (sometimes), OCH pronounced as /r/ (?) – hard to imagin that french is as difficult. thare you usually know how to pronounce a written word, and i cant imagin you can do this in irish, altho i might be just too ignorant about celtic languages. and eeven when you write french: it is mostly cleer until you come to the last letter. i guess in coimhmthioch (as in most words in irish) you hav to guess from the first to the last letter/sound.

  97. marie-lucie,

    of course i’m talking about theoretical possibilities to spell the word, not about existing spellings like au, aux, eau, eaux, haut, etc

    you hav two ways to start the word, with H or with vowel. that meens times 2. the sound /o/ can be spelt o, ô, au, aû, eau. 2×5=10. now all the final consonants that can be silent: D, P, S, T, X, Z, thus od, ôs, aup, eaut, hoz, heaux, etc. 10×6=60. ok, thats not 80, it is 60, but thare ar the odder writings, ware it is not cleer whether you should pronounce the last consonant or not: in principle ‘haûc’ could be pronounced /o/, with a silent C as in ‘tabac’. same for endings with F (clef), G (long), etc. so with this od spellings you’d hav mor than 80…

  98. Is even used in French? Even with final silent letters, I only count 20, or 24 if you include the letter e in words like rougeot and rougeaud. Multiplying this by two to account for initial silent h gets 40 or 48. You can’t combine all possible letters; for example, in words that end in “ox,” “oz,” “od,” “og,” the final consonant is never silent in French (because no native words end in these sounds, and in loanwords and newly coined words final consonants are pronounced). And no words end in auc or aup. I don’t think “od,” “aup,” “oz” are possible regular spellings of /o/ even theoretically for a French speaker.

  99. marie-lucie says:

    zé do rock:

    I see your point, but apart from o, ô, au, aû, eau what you have is silent consonants before of after the vowel part, not alternate ways of representing the sound /o/. It is true that just hearing a word containing this sound, especially at the end of a word, does not tell you how to spell beyond the letter(s) representing the sound, but that’s what dictionaries are for! (and/or a very good visual memory).

    (I can’t think of a word with , which one(s) do you have in mind?)

  100. but i hav no idea how to pronounce irish words

    That’s because you haven’t taken the trouble to learn the system, which is straightforward and for the most part intuitive once learned: the biggest problem is to know which vowel letters represent vowel sounds, and which are inserted as markers of palatalized vs. non-palatalized consonants, which is as important to Irish as to Russian, if not more so. (It would be better to write Irish in Cyrillic!) But you aren’t doing any worse than the average L1 anglophone confronted with French or Polish for the first time and trying to guess the pronunciations.

    In addition, the “3 accents” are really three dialects of spoken Irish, which have independent lineages from the standard written form, whose ancestor is no longer spoken. No L1 Irish-speaker pronounces Irish as it is written: Irish is a “speak your dialect, write the standard” language like Finnish or Norwegian (except that Norwegian has two written standards). As in Finnish and Nynorsk, the written form is highly conservative, preserving many distinctions no longer made in L1 speech, so you can’t expect it to match spoken pronunciation at all well. Consequently, when L1 Irish speakers read out loud, they say the words that are written but use the pronunciations current in their own dialects. L2 Irish is another story: it is spoken as written according to the complex but almost exception-free system (somewhat better than French), except that there is often interference from English phonology, as you’d expect.

    The reason you can’t make any sense of coimhmthioch is that it’s a misspelling of coimhthíoch, which would be /ˈkovhiːx/ in L2-style pronunciation. Mh is /v/ when palatalized (as shown graphically by the preceding i, which is not pronounced); it is written that way because it is derived from underlying /m/. Similarly, th is /h/, and is related to underlying /t/. In older forms of Irish orthography a dot-above diacritic was used instead of following h, producing coiṁṫíoċ, which is considerably less messy-looking. Finally, the acute on i shows that it is long (and therefore not reduced to schwa in unstressed syllables), and the o shows that the ch has its non-palatalized value of /x/ even though it is adjacent to a front vowel.

    I won’t go through the rest of the examples, but they follow a logic very similar to this. One other point worth mentioning in that written consonant clusters like gl have an epenthetic schwa inserted to break them up, as in Irish English “fillum, arrum” for film, arm.

  101. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you for the Irish lesson, JC!

  102. Ulp (hoping I didn’t make too many egregious errors)

  103. marie lucie, eli nelson,

    OK, sorry – thare is no aû, i thaught thare would be some words with it, as thare is aî (disparaître), but seemingly it doenst exist indeed (at leest not in ‘les miserables’…).

    i didnt find -ox or -oz either, but thare ar words like six (befor consonants) or chez with a vowel + x or z. and i wouldnt know why the french should consider a word like ‘lod’ as a forein word: thare is also the word ‘laid’, which doesnt hav a parallel (another word ending with -aid), and still i dont think the french would feel it is forein, if they didnt know it.

    of course: linguistically speeking the silent letters around the vowel(s) arnt a part indicating in any way the pronunciation of the vowel, but the fact is that when you heer a word /o/ and you hav to write it down, you hav dozens of theoretical ways to spell it.

  104. john cowan,

    thanks for all the explanation. it seems all logical, provided peeple follow the rules, wich L1 speekers dont do, if i got you rite. altho usually if you lern a language and want to use it in the country, you want to speek to L1 speekers, dont you? if you lern /kovhi:x/ and they say /k@bir/, you wont hav a chance to understand, and if you heer it, you wont hav a chance to spell it rite…

    and then, it seems that it would make mor sense to lern polish, if i go to ireland, since acording to wikipedia thare ar mor polish speekers in ireland than irish speekers…

    russian would certanly be eesier, since they hav that ‘b’ or not that ‘b’ to show the difrence between palatized and non-palatized. but then they dont hav a letter for shwa either, wich seems quite common in irish… for that albanian would be better…

  105. I’m also an American who distinguishes Mary-merry-marry, as well as serious-Sirius, hurry-furry and Tory-torrent (and LOT-PALM). These pre-/r/ distinctions are generally maintained by non-rhotic speakers in the American Northeast – I’m natively rhotic myself but live in a traditionally non-rhotic area, so they evidently persisted in my speech.

    (And they consistently betray people from the rest of the country who try to fake a New York or Boston accent, like when Leo says “trash barrel” in The Departed.)

  106. @zé do rock: You have to realize that Irish distinguishes palatal and nonpalatal consonants by means of adjacent vowel digraphs that are highly imaginative and never had anything particularly to do with the phonetics. They could unkindly be called fake. Also the Irish vowel system is very strange to begin with. Also, as you can see, the orthography has to cover three very different dialects. The system isn’t hard once you actually learn it.

  107. ə de vivre says:

    John:
    In addition, the “3 accents” are really three dialects of spoken Irish, which have independent lineages from the standard written form, whose ancestor is no longer spoken.

    Is that just because the written language is a reflection of the modern dialects’ common ancestor, or is the written language based on a dialect that was already distinct from the modern dialects’ ancestors when it was standardized and just happened to not have any daughter dialects survive?

    Zé do:
    altho usually if you lern a language and want to use it in the country, you want to speek to L1 speekers, dont you? if you lern /kovhi:x/ and they say /k@bir/, you wont hav a chance to understand, and if you heer it, you wont hav a chance to spell it rite…

    That’s a problem with learning any language that isn’t politically centralized enough to have one dialect be unmarked. You can either talk like a book or use “non-standard” forms that signal a specific local identity. As long as Irish speakers claim a single linguistic identity, no amount of spelling reform will give L2 learners an easier access point. You might want to avoid studying Arabic if things like this bother you 🙂

  108. David Marjanović says:

    history – stair – /staZ/, /staz/, /stEr/

    Oh, nice, that’s a [rʲ] > [zʲ] sound change. Good to know this is attested.

  109. I should note that since Zé addressed me directly, I replied to him right away without reading John Cowan’s superior explanation first. Sorry. I’d only like to add that no one is saying Irish spelling is transparent or even rational, but it is intelligible.

  110. Is that just because the written language is a reflection of the modern dialects’ common ancestor, or is the written language based on a dialect that was already distinct from the modern dialects’ ancestors when it was standardized and just happened to not have any daughter dialects survive?

    I’m sure the first is true, but I believe the second is true as well. Standard Irish is a modernized form of Early Modern Irish, which is the ancestor of both modern Irish and modern Scots Gaelic. The modernization involves compromises with the specifically Irish dialects, using Connacht Irish as a tie-breaker where necessary. Scots Gaelic is another standardization of the same dialect continuum, though it is no longer really continuous any more; Manx is a third.

    You can either talk like a book or use “non-standard” forms that signal a specific local identity.

    Just so. Hat’s Irish I believe is Connacht Irish (and I wish he’d weigh in here, rather than leaving me to twist slowly in the wind). Of course, it might well be said (and has been) that I talk like a book in English: what you see in writing here is pretty much what you get if you meet me.

  111. marie-lucie says:

    JC: talk like a book

    A few years ago I attended a show by a Québec raconteur (if that is the right word here) at one of the universities here. He told stories originally written by a well-known Québécois writer from decades ago, featuring scenes from rural life among other things. He was good, but I thought he was pronouncing too many schwas. I remarked on it to one of my colleagues (at the time), who reported it to the raconteur, who came back to me! But meanwhile I had realized that he alternated rural dialogue with standard narration, using the appropriate pronunciation for the various registers. It was during the narrative parts that indeed il parlait comme un livre, with the schwas intact: what we heard then was the book speaking, not he. So I congratulated the raconteur with a clear conscience.

  112. the funny thing about thees irish dialects is that you cant take any conclusions about how another word would be pronounced. if you see the german word ‘wasser’, you know that low german will say ‘water’ /vO:ta/ or /vO:t@/: german Z or SS is T in low german. or the southern german dialects swallow the final CH, so that ‘ich’ becomes ‘i’ /i/ (I) – and that applies for all words with final CH (exept wen thare is a collision with an existent word). in northern english dialects the short U is still an /U/, not an /V/. so you can infer from the written language wat the word will be in the dialect, at leest as long as they dont hav compleetly difrent words, wich is rather rare. but it doesnt seem to be the case in irish, at leest i couldnt find any patterns.

    i wonder how the word ‘athbhreithnithe’ is pronounced – the book pronunciation, and if it is possible to infer how such a word is sed in the dialects – i guess not – ?

    BH is /v/, rite? and MH too? wat do those TH’s stand for?

    i guess it would’v been better to take one dialect, in this case probbably connacht, insted of using a theoretical, but inexistent language – in daily life. or they could choose the forms that ar found in at leest 2 dialects, and wen no dialects can agree, the simplest form, and the literary language as last ti-braker. ‘stair’ being pronounced /staZ/, /staz/, /stEr/, the /a/ being common to two dialects, and the final /r/ corresponding to the literary form, the final form would be ‘star’. leabhar being pronounced /ljaur/, /law@r/, /ljor/, we would keep the /lj/ becaus 2 dialects hav it, then A becaus 2 dialects hav it, and no shwa becaus only one dialect has it, giving /ljaur/ as in the connacht dialect. that would be the standard pronunciation, i dont know how one would spell it acording to the irish rules – but certanly not ‘leabhar’? leaur? or would the irish spelling rules be inaddequat to represent irish dialects?

    but i guess all this was mor a political than a linguistic decision.

  113. the funny thing about thees irish dialects is that you cant take any conclusions about how another word would be pronounced.

    Sure you can, but the relationship may not be a simple one. The German varieties you mention have been heavily under the thumb of the written language for a century or more; the Irish ones, not so much. That allows them to be much more divergent.

    In the book-pronunciation, bh and mh are /w/ when not palatalized and /v/ when palatalized. Th as noted above is /h/. Star would be an impossible spelling for stair, because the former would represent /star/ and the latter /starʲ/. Now /rʲ/ is notoriously a difficult and variable consonant in Irish as in the Slavic languages, so what you are hearing may be individual variation rather than dialectal variation. (I haven’t heard these samples myself, but it seems clear that you are not hearing the palatalizations except for the most drastic ones.)

  114. Hat’s Irish I believe is Connacht Irish

    Quite so.

    (and I wish he’d weigh in here, rather than leaving me to twist slowly in the wind)

    Nah, you and ə are doing a great job!

  115. marie-lucie says:

    you and ə are doing a great job!

    I second this.

  116. Okay, soldiering on and hoping not to sink into a patch of bog …

    i wonder how the word ‘athbhreithnithe’ is pronounced – the book pronunciation

    It’s a compound, so /ahvrʲɛhnʲəhə/ or thereabouts. I’m not sure if the stress is initial (as is usual) or on the second syllable (if ath is an unstressed prefix).

    and if it is possible to infer how such a word is sed in the dialects

    It is, but that’s way above my pay grade. Also, it is probably not a pure dialect word, but a learned word (it means ‘revised’ as a participle, or ‘of a revision’ as a noun), so it may be pronounced in a bookish way.

    The book pronunciation of leabhar ‘book’ is /lʲewər/. The e tells us that the l is palatalized even though adjacent to a back vowel, whereas the bh, being adjacent to two back vowels, is non-palatalized /w/. It is a borrowing from Latin līber. How do we know it isn’t /lʲawər/? That’s one of those things you just have to know, that in this context ea is /e/ + non-palatalization marker rather than palatalization marker + /a/. That’s why it would be a win to spell it левар or леб̇ар (unfortunately, the dot over the Cyrillic б̇ may not be too visible in this font).

    Unless, of course, I have it wrong and it is /lʲawər/ after all. It’s not like I actually know any Irish ….

    I also note that although I say /sɛkrətɛri/, I have no trouble understanding people who say /sɛkrəteɪri/ or even /sɛkrɪtri/. The human ear is remarkably good at getting past accent boundaries.

  117. The book pronunciation of leabhar ‘book’ is /lʲewər/.

    In my dialect (specifically that of Cois Fharraige, Co. Galway) it’s /lʲaur/ (one syllable).

  118. you want to speek to L1 speekers, dont you?

    Since the number of L1 speakers is progressively decreasing (the chain of L1 speakers was broken sometime between 1930 and 1960 in the various Irish-speaking areas), whereas the number of mostly-urban L2 speakers is increasing, this will soon no longer be an issue, unfortunately.

    thare ar mor polish speekers in ireland than irish speekers…

    True, but most of them are named Prawo Jazdy and drive like lunatics, so I wouldn’t bother.

  119. john,

    >Sure you can, but the relationship may not be a simple one.

    so can you explane wy /rj/ in connacht and munster dialects become /Z/ or /z/ in ‘stair’, but not in leabhar, bearla or forbairt? or why CH is droppd in tosach or coimhthioch in U-dialect, bot not in scribhneoireacht? or wy CH becomes an /n/ in scribhneoireacht but not tosach? is thare any explanation wy coimhthioch becomes /k@bir/ in C dialect? wat was the letter that became a /b/, and wich one became /r/? ar thare any patterns for it?

    The German varieties you mention have been heavily under the thumb of the written language for a century or more; the Irish ones, not so much. That allows them to be much more divergent.

    sure. still, eeven in the middle ages, ware thare was no standard language, thare was always a logic and patterns in the fonological changes of the dialects – at leest in portuguese, german and english. i hardly find any logic in the irish dialects…

    >In the book-pronunciation, bh and mh are /w/ when not palatalized and /v/ when palatalized.

    do you know any reeson wy they didnt take a simple letter as V or W for it, insted of using thees rather bizarr digrafs for it?

    Th as noted above is /h/. Star would be an impossible spelling for stair, because the former would represent /star/ and the latter /starʲ/.

    i had alreddy dificulties wen i lernd russian with palatized and non-palatized stuf, so i cant tell if the /r/ in /stEr/ of the U dialect was palatized. but we could (acording to my suggested principle) spell ‘star’ if the /r/ in the U dialect isnt palatized in a single dialect, since it makes the word simpler.

    Now /rʲ/ is notoriously a difficult and variable consonant in Irish as in the Slavic languages, so what you are hearing may be individual variation rather than dialectal variation. (I haven’t heard these samples myself, but it seems clear that you are not hearing the palatalizations except for the most drastic ones.)

    see abov…

  120. john,

    >The book pronunciation of leabhar ‘book’ is /lʲewər/. The e tells us that the l is palatalized even though adjacent to a back vowel, whereas the bh, being adjacent to two back vowels, is non-palatalized /w/. It is a borrowing from Latin līber. How do we know it isn’t /lʲawər/? That’s one of those things you just have to know, that in this context ea is /e/ + non-palatalization marker rather than palatalization marker + /a/. That’s why it would be a win to spell it левар or леб̇ар (unfortunately, the dot over the Cyrillic б̇ may not be too visible in this font).

    since E is a palatalization marker, shouldnt A be the “actual” vowel? but A is also a marker, so theoretically both ar markers, i guess they should spell leaabhar, with the A in the middle showing the real vowel…

    in the dialect forms, A in the last sillable is sometimes shwa, sometimes /a/. is this reggular in the bookish pronunciation? how about other vowels – the same problem, sometimes they seem to hav thare own value, sometimes shwa agen…

  121. David Marjanović says:

    do you know any reeson wy they didnt take a simple letter as V or W for it, insted of using thees rather bizarr digrafs for it?

    To highlight the morphological (and historical) relationship to b. Also, the distinction between U and V was still a thousand years in the future, and to insert uu into a word already stuffed with vowel letters would be counterproductive.

    BTW, you can use a lot of HTML here; I put the quote above between <blockquote><i> and </i></blockquote>.

  122. per incuriam says:

    The book pronunciation of leabhar ‘book’ is /lʲewər/

    Leabhar is generally pronounced /lʲaur/, in Ulster more like /lʲor/.

    Not sure about “book pronunciation” either. There is no standard pronunciation of Irish. And books frequently disregard the standardized grammar and even spelling in favour of a particular dialect.

    the chain of L1 speakers was broken sometime between 1930 and 1960 in the various Irish-speaking areas

    If by this you mean that intergenerational transmission was over by 1960 then you are mistaken. Perhaps you had a particular local variety in mind?

  123. Wikipedia has what seems to be a pretty comprehensive guide to Irish orthography that should be able to answer your questions, Zé’. It’s very complex, but a lot more consistent than English orthography.

  124. BTW, you can use a lot of HTML here

    Yes, and I’ve added italics to zé do rock’s quotes to set them off and make for easier reading — I hope that’s OK, zé!

  125. but not in leabhar, bearla or forbairt

    The first two are irrelevant, because a back vowel is adjacent to the r, so it is /r/ and not /rʲ/. In the last case, it probably is palatalized and you’re not hearing it. Except across the components of a compound word, a consonant cluster is always either all palatalized or not palatalized, so forbairt is /forbərʲtʲ/.

    I can’t answer your dialect questions in detail, except that I think it quite certain that you are failing to hear essential distinctions. If you struggled with Russian, Irish is going to be much worse. In Russian you can often pick up a strong hint from the neighboring vowel whether a consonant is palatalized or not, but in Irish you pretty much cannot: the palatalized/non-palatalized (or velarized as they call it nowadays) distinction is the single most salient phonological distinction in the language. It is absolutely not an ornament you can do with or without, and it must be reliably represented in any writing system for Irish. If anything, using Cyrillic would make it more prominent, and this would be all to the good.

    do you know any reeson wy they didnt take a simple letter as V or W for it

    When the Irish writing system was established, those letters did not yet exist, and conflating u and v as English did until early modern times (that’s why love has an apparently useless final e, so that it would not be misread as Lou) simply wasn’t practical for Irish. More importantly, the Irish system is to some degree morphophonemic, as Russian spelling is: words with /m/ or /mʲ/ in one form will have /w/ or /v/ in another, and writing them as mh shows the structure more clearly. Likewise, there is often an alternation between /b/ or /bʲ/ on the one hand, and /w/ or /v/ on the other, and in this case the spirant is best represented as bh. Where there is no such relationship, as in loanwords, bh is usual.

    In some cases the distinction is historical: dh and gh are now pronounced the same way in both palatalized and non-palatalized forms, and fh is completely silent, but again there is generally a strong relationship with /d/, /g/, /f/. (Welsh does without this, but that’s a different orthographic tradition altogether.)

    There was one experiment with drastic spelling reform: the politician Éamon Ó Cuív and his father, the scholar Brian Ó Cuív, owe their un-Irishly spelled surname to Brian’s father, who changed his name from Seán Ó Caoimh (typically anglicized Sean or Shawn O’Keefe) to Shán Ó Cuív based on a spelling reform of the father’s own invention. It never caught on, though Irish did get a much more gentle spelling reform in the 1940s, whereby things like silent -ghadh endings were dropped, so that beirbhiughadh became beiriú. The reformed spelling sometimes does not map to the dialects as well as the older spelling did, and sometimes preserves distinctions made in none of them, but reforms are by definition imperfect.

    guess they should spell leaabhar

    Overkill, and ugly too.

    A in the last sillable is sometimes shwa, sometimes /a/

    Technically I am wrong to write /ə/ between slashes at all, as it is not a phoneme of Irish. Any unstressed short vowel, and indeed any unstressed short diphthong, may be given its full vowel, reduced to schwa, or somewhere in between. This is like Russian vowel reduction, only more drastic. It does not affect long vowels and long diphthongs, which Russian does not have; for that reason, a long vowel is never a mere marker, so Seán for instance is unambiguously /ʃaːn/, where /ʃ/ is the realization of systematic /sʲ/.

    “Some of the English might say that the Irish orthography is very Irish. Personally, I have a lot of respect for a people who can create something so grotesque.” —And Rosta, English syntactician and conlanger

  126. BTW, you can use a lot of HTML here; I put the quote above between blockquote-i and i-blockquote

    .

    do i just write blockquote with the >’s befor and after the quotation? wel, i’l try it. i took the sines away in the sentence and put my own ones, so the sistem doesnt get confused with the many markers… lets see.

  127. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, you have to write the word ‘blockquote’ in full where you would use ‘i’ for italics or ‘b’ for bold. Apparently there is no way to use a shorter form!

  128. Wikipedia has what seems to be a pretty comprehensive guide to Irish orthography that should be able to answer your questions, Zé’. It’s very complex, but a lot more consistent than English orthography.

    the stuf with the blokquote workd, thanks for the tip, david.
    matt, i had alreddy a look at wikipedia, actualy sevral times. thare is some stuf thare, but thare is no table for the letters and thare sounds, maybe becaus it would be so dificult to put it into a table… anyway, it reminds me of icelandic, ware the written language is the same as 800 yeers ago but thare was no way to stop the evolution of spoken language, so that many letters hav 6 or 7 ways to be pronounced, depending on wat comes befor and/or after them. since thare is a rule for evrything, it is lernable – maybe 200 mini-rules, wich is stil much better than having to lern the single spellings of many thousands of words as in english. the grate advantage in icelandic is that once you lernd it, you can talk to icelanders. wile if you lern the many irish rules, you’l rarely be able to speek to an irishman, unless he’s an L2 lerner… but i guess lerning icelandic or irish just makes sense wen you’r a language freek, since in both countries evrybody speeks english…

  129. It never caught on, though Irish did get a much more gentle spelling reform in the 1940s, whereby things like silent -ghadh endings were dropped, so that beirbhiughadh became beiriú.

    ware has the BH gon?

    guess they should spell leaabhar

    Overkill, and ugly too.

    worse than scribhneoireacht?

    “Some of the English might say that the Irish orthography is very Irish. Personally, I have a lot of respect for a people who can create something so grotesque.” —And Rosta, English syntactician and conlanger

    he he… anyway thanks for all the information!

  130. sorry, with evry quotation it pushd my line to the rite… how can i avoid that?

  131. matt, i had alreddy a look at wikipedia, actualy sevral times. thare is some stuf thare, but thare is no table for the letters and thare sounds, maybe becaus it would be so dificult to put it into a table.

    Zé, did you actually look at the link I provided to the ‘Irish Orthography’ Wikipedia article? If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see that they’ve got quite a comprehensive collection of tables for vowel and consonant spellings.

  132. sorry, with evry quotation it pushd my line to the rite… how can i avoid that?

    You have to put a slash (/) before the HTML tag when you want it to stop working. So you had:

    <blockquote><i>Overkill, and ugly too.<i><blockquote>

    Since the tags weren’t closed, it kept going with the indents and itals. I changed it to this:

    <blockquote><i>Overkill, and ugly too.</i></blockquote>

    And you see the result above.

  133. ware has the BH gon?

    I expect it went away because it was no longer pronounced in any dialect and, not being morph-initial, had no morphophonemic justification.

    You do realize, don’t you, that sounds at the beginning of words in Celtic languages change according to what comes before them grammatically? I don’t recall anyone pointing this out to you. I think you’d be helped in understanding all this by looking up “initial mutation” and, for that matter, “morphophoneme.”

  134. You have to put a slash (/) before the HTML tag when you want it to stop working. So you had:

    thanks, language hat, for correcting the layout. but i’m quite ignorant in computer language – wats an html tag?

  135. “blockquote” and “i” are HTML tags — basically, anything you put between angle brackets to make the browser display something (in this case, indented blocks of text and italics respectively). You can’t use angle brackets for other things because the software will try to interpret them as HTML, so if you want to display an angle bracket as such, as I did above in my comment showing you how to use them, you have to substitute & l t ; (“less than”) and & g t ; (“greater than”), but run together, thus: < >. (I was completely ignorant of all this stuff before I started the blog, and still only understand enough to get the software to do the basic stuff I want it to do!)

  136. Zé, did you actually look at the link I provided to the ‘Irish Orthography’ Wikipedia article? If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see that they’ve got quite a comprehensive collection of tables for vowel and consonant spellings.


    thanks, matt – i hadnt lookd at ‘irish orthography’ but at ‘irish language’. this is indeed much cleerer.

    the first thing i see is that bh and mh hav always the same pronunciation (/v/ or /w/), and thare is also the letter V… so if you heer /v/ and hav to write it down, you hav 3 options and i guess you hav to guess (probbably if you know the language wel, you can know better). is V used only in lone words?

    bhfión /vji:n8/ (cant reproduce that simbol heer, so i took 8) for ‘wine’… sounds quite much like scandinavian ‘vin’, but i’v never seen such a weerd spelling for it – of course, in chinese is worse.

    bhfuinneog for /winjo:g/ – ok, in english you could spel window, windoe, windo, but bhfuinneog is an extra number…

    john, you sed thare isnt a foneemic shwa, but the table is full of shwas…

  137. I composed this before I realised that Language Hat had already answered your question about HTML, Zé, but I’ll post it anyway in case two explanations make things clearer than one:

    wats an html tag?

    Html tags are messages to your Internet browser that tell it how it should display text. So, for example:

    <i> is an html tag — it means “put the following text in italics.”
    <blockquote> is another html tag — it means “This is a block quotation — please indicate this through layout (e.g. by indenting from left and right margins)”

    An html tag is a bit like brackets in punctuation — you need to match each starting tag with an ending tag, which is written with a slash (/) before the tag name. The ending tag tells the browser where to stop applying a particular style to the text.

    So, for example, to get “that’s what she said”, you need to write “that’s what <i>she</i> said”. The same with <blockquote> — you need to put </blockquote> at the end of your quote to show that the quote is finished.

  138. john, you sed thare isnt a foneemic shwa, but the table is full of shwas…

    Which doesn’t necessarily contradict what John said about a lack of phonemic schwas. The transcription in the “Irish Orthography” article is a “narrow” transcription — it indicates fairly precisely the exact phonetic realisation of each phoneme in a word. That can be quite useful, but it can also obscure the phonemic structure of the language being transcribed. See this Wikipedia article for a brief explanation of the difference between narrow and broad transcriptions.

    About bhfíon and bhfuinneog — these spellings are actually quite logical. They’re good examples of the sort of thing Rodger C was talking about when he advised you to look up “initial mutation” and “morphophoneme”. You might want to try reading through Wikipedia’s article on Irish initial mutations, paying particular attention to the “Eclipsis” section, to understand what’s going on here.

  139. John Cowan: minor nitpick: Irish “leabhar” does not come from Latin “līber”: the Latin word had a short /i/, and those Romance languages where the initial syllable of the word is /li/ owe their /i/ in this word to learned influence, as I had pointed out in my contribution to this thread:

    http://languagehat.com/steelbow-cheptel/

    Inasmuch as Welsh “llyfr” clearly derives from the Latin etymon, and inasmuch as Old Irish loanwords from Latin mostly entered the language via Brythonic, I suspect that “leabhar” is a straightford loan with no learned influence: I’ve an old dissertation on Latin loanwords in Old Irish accumulating dust in a box, and can consult it if anyone wishes me to confirm this hunch of mine.

  140. Here‘s a direct link to Etienne’s earlier comment.

  141. Thanks, Etienne. For some reason I simply cannot keep straight which of ‘free’ and ‘book’ has the long vowel in Latin (is it the libberal arts or the leeberal ones?) The English pronunciation of libel < libellus ‘(scurrilous) pamphlet’ certainly doesn’t help.

  142. David Marjanović says:

    I have the same problem, because most kinds of German abolished short vowels in stressed open syllables some 500 years ago… actually, English did that, too, but before the Great Vowel Shift.

  143. ə de vivre says:

    FWIW ye olde Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru gives the first attestations of “llyfr” as “llevreu”, “lleuereu” (plural) and “alyvir” (singular); along with Old Cornish “liuer”, Old Breton “librou”, and Old Irish “lebor”.

  144. marie-lucie says:

    lib(e)r-

    If I remember correctly, there was yet another similar word, perhaps used only in the plural: liberi ‘children (= offspring)’, a word related to Greek eleutheros, am I right? perhaps this word was related to the one for ‘free’.

  145. Līberī first referred to the children of a free couple, then to children in general.

  146. marie-lucie says:

    Y: Līberī first referred to the children of a free couple

    That’s what came to my mind as I wrote above. The children of a slave woman would be slaves. This means that if a man had children both with his wife and with a female slave, only the wife’s children would be Līberī. Basically like “legitimate” vs “illegitimate” children in later centuries.

  147. Long discussion of līberī in Benveniste, here, p. 324.

  148. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks Y. I will see if I can read it another time.

  149. The Roman rule partus sequitur ventrem (that legal status ‘follows the womb’) made the children resulting from the rape of female slaves into assets. At common law, the rule was otherwise, and slaves could and did sue their English owners for support payments for themselves and their children. However, all the American colonies quickly established the Roman rule by legislation.

    How did someone without legal rights sue, you may wonder? By a next friend, or prochaine amy in Law-French, proximus amicus in Latin. Before their legal emancipation, married women always had to sue by a next friend, typically but not always their husbands or fathers. Next friends are still sometimes used for minors, mental incompetents, and so on when there is no court-appointed guardian. A monkey recently brought suit by his next friend for the copyright in a selfie; the court ruled against him, but it may well be that the owner of the camera has no copyright either, since the monkey pressed the button on the camera’s remote control, so that the owner had limited creative input into the work (the matter is still in dispute).

  150. thanks hat (language hat is quite long!), thanks matt, i think i got it.

    thanks roger for the tips, eeven if i wont follow them, at leest for the moment. i thaut i should lern a new language, a last one. it should be “big”, and i’m too old for all those arabic or chinese oddities, thus russian. i lernd some russian 3 times and then forgot it agen, thare was no contact with russians. it is hard to memorize with cirilic and the many consonant aglomerations, it has a very irreggular stress, but wat else could i lern? wel, i could improve my esperanto. but certanly not irish bookish pronunciation, wich hardly givs the possibility of comunication with the irish peeple… actualy i’v never herd of such a situation: a standard language that nobody speeks. of course you hardly find peeple who speek it exactly, but quite neer to it, based somehow on it. but a standard no nativ speeker speeks is somehow bizarr, at leest for me.

    but i mite use the links later – i’m writing texts about countries and languages and wen i come to I as irish i wil hav a look thare. but i’m still at A…

    altogether, it seems to me that thare is a lot of logic in the sistem (at leest wen you compare the written language with the should-be language), but also a lot of unlogic: BHF being pronounced /w/, wich doesnt meen that the most likely way to spel /w/ is with BHF. then BP for /b/. you can spel /b/ with B, but also with BP. in both cases it is eesier for the reeder, becaus he’l know how to pronounce it. but not for the writer, who wont know how to spel it. DH can be silent, DT is /d/, FH is silent, GC can be pronounced /g/ or /ɟ/, GH can be silent, MB is a way to spel /v/ or /w/ too. you can spel /n/ with N or NN, one way of spelling /d/ is ND, one of the ways of spelling /f/ is PH, and of course also this PH has two renderings in pronunciation… S can be /s/ or /S/, wile SH is not /S/ at all, it is /h/. so you can spel /h/ with H, SH, TH… of course TH can also be pronounced as /ç/, wich can be represented by SH, too…and then you can spel /t/ as TS. or to be linguisticly correct: if you heer /t/, thare mite be a silent S after it.

    i feel that this is mor dificult than french. thare ar lots of questions for peeple who heer a french word and hav to spel it, but a reeder who noes the rules wil hardly hav a problem, wile in irish… it seems that eeven the irish expert has to guess sometimes (if not rellativly offen, but thats a matter of definition of course) wen he sees a new word and has to utter it. in french thare silent letters manely at the end, in irish they’r evryware, and sometimes you look at those consonant clusters at the beginning of a word and you ask yourself, wat the hel is the letter i hav to pronounce heer, and how? wel, it does look weerd to me, almost as weerd as maltese, but then i had a lot of contact with romanic, germanic and slavic languages, and very little with celtic languages. wich is wy i didnt considderd them for my europano lingua, eeven if irish is an oficial language in ireland. i wouldnt eeven know how to pronounce it, and thats essential in the calculation to determin a word… the same was with georgian or armenian – no no, i wont lern thare alfabet…

  151. Personally I’ve tried to get up reading skills in devanagari a few times, but that petered out because I didn’t find anything to read — the cyrillic alphabet has the advantage that Russian is full of latinate and French loans (and recent English ones), so every time I decipher a phrase I find something I recognize, and that reinforces the skill. (Greek worked the same way for me).

    So if Hatters would please start quoting संस्कृतम् in देवनागरी, it would help 🙂 Typing it in Unicode seems to work nowadays (Chrome on Mac), complete with using विराम for clusters, but typeit.org doesn’t have a keyboard for it 🙁

  152. Man, my Sanskrit teacher used to get mad at me because I used transcriptions for the texts of the Vedas, but I had no desire or need to learn devanagari — I was an Indo-Europeanist, not a devotee of Indic literature, and I just wanted to know the irregular verb forms. I can still recite “Asid raja Nalo nama” and “Agnim ile purohitam,” though.

  153. russian has a lot of german lones too, marshrut, kurort, platzkarta, steker, kartofel, etc – marshrut in german is just the route for wen you walk, but i guess in eest european languages it always meen ‘route’ in genral, if you walk or you fly. funny enouf, most of thees words ar not originaly german, but you see cleerly by the construction and by the fact that the words exist in german, that they borrowd it from that language.

    i think most other languages in the soviet kingdom hav most of thees lone words russian has, at leest this is offen the case in azerbaicanian – azeri?

    but as you sed, cirilic is rellativly eesy, quite a few letters ar the same, quite a few ar simmilar – it is somehow the same thinking in writing. but georgian, or armenian… armenian stil has something european, but georgian could be thai after all…

  154. David Marjanović says:

    georgian could be thai after all…

    Oh, don’t say that. Georgian is ruthlessly phonemic: 1 letter = 1 phoneme. Thai is an abugida, so there’s an inherent vowel in every consonant letter, and some of the tones are written with diacritics while others are written with different letters for historical reasons… oh yeah, six tones, where Georgian merely has consonant clusters instead. 🙂

    DH can be silent, […] GC can be pronounced /g/ or /ɟ/, GH can be silent, […] S can be /s/ or /S/

    Imagine “/ɟ/” as /gʲ/ and “/ʃ/” (as mentioned above) as /sʲ/, and suddenly logic appears. 🙂 Also, DH and GH must have been [ð] and [ɣ] at some point; those are prone to falling out, especially when palatalized.

  155. a standard language that nobody speeks

    As noted above, Modern Standard Arabic is like this. People speak it only when they are making speeches or in movies or TV, never in conversation. The same is true of Standard Finnish. That does not mean that if a foreigner speaks the standard language well, L1 speakers will not understand; the problem in Ireland is that most L2 speakers do not speak Irish well at all.

    BHF being pronounced /w/, wich doesnt meen that the most likely way to spel /w/ is with BHF. then BP for /b/. you can spel /b/ with B, but also with BP. in both cases it is eesier for the reeder, becaus he’l know how to pronounce it. but not for the writer, who wont know how to spel it.

    The spellings bp, dt, gc, bhf, mb, nd, ng represent the grammaticalized voicing (or, if already voiced, nasalization) of certain initial consonants. So bp is pronounced /b/ but is a grammatical form of a word beginning with p, and so on for the rest. This is the same kind of convention as the use of h (or dot above) and is actually handy for both the reader and the writer. In Welsh, which does not use this convention, when you see a word (or part of a compound) beginning with f (which represents /v/) that you don’t know, you must look it up in the dictionary under f, ff, b, m (where ff is /f/) until you find it.

    DH and GH must have been [ð] and [ɣ] at some point

    Quite so. Nowadays they are both [ɣ] when not palatalized and [j] when palatalized, either of which may be lost. Hence the merger of the names Eóghan and Eóin < Ioannes in Connaught, whereby both may be anglicized John.

    There is a book by Raymond Hickey called The Dialects of Irish that, judging by the bits I can see on Google Books, seems to show how the dialects diverged from the common ancestor.

  156. david,

    i dont know much about how foneemic/fonetic the sistems ar that hav no roman alfabet, but now i know that georgian is fonetic and thai has not only a dificult writing but also a dificult spelling. i was just referring to the shape of the script.

    DH, GC, etc – i supposed that. something like the use of C and G in romanic languages and english. but not in two letters, probbably in most of them!

    john,

    altho i’m brazilian, i’m teeching german to reffugees, mostly sirians and iraqis. i offen look for a translation, usualy with pronunciation. wat they say corresponds quite to wat the pronunciation guide ses. on wikipedia they talk about the dialects and modern standard arabic, but it seems that you can infer the pronunciation in the dialect by the standard language (sounds X and Y become B and C, sounds D and F become G and H, etc). and thats something i miss in irish…

    i dont know much about finnish, but i was twice thare and i had a finnish girlfrend for a month (in india). and i’v never herd that they dont speek thare oficial language. wikipedia talks just about ‘finnish language’ and thare is no mention that standard finnish isnt spoken. wen it comes to dialects, it ses the dialects dont vary much, and they giv some examples of letters that ar pronounce in a way in a reegion and in another way in another reegion, but agen, it seems you can infer how to say it in the dialect wen you know the standard pronunciation and/or vice-versa. wich is not the case in irish – or maybe it is possible, but nobody would know how to do it…

    In Welsh, which does not use this convention, when you see a word (or part of a compound) beginning with f (which represents /v/) that you don’t know, you must look it up in the dictionary under f, ff, b, m (where ff is /f/) until you find it.

    handy! but of course stil eesier than looking up a word in a chinese dictionary without knowing pinyin.

  157. Man, my Sanskrit teacher used to get mad at me because I used transcriptions for the texts of the Vedas

    You should have asked why it’s legitimate to use Grantha script but not Latin to write Sanskrit. Indeed just about any script of (greater) India can be and has been used to write Sanskrit:

    Brahmi evolved into a multiplicity of Brahmic scripts, many of which were used to write Sanskrit. Roughly contemporary with the Brahmi, Kharosthi was used in the northwest of the subcontinent. Sometime between the fourth and eighth centuries, the Gupta script, derived from Brahmi, became prevalent. Around the eighth century, the Śāradā script evolved out of the Gupta script. The latter was displaced in its turn by Devanagari in the 11th or 12th century, with intermediary stages such as the Siddhaṃ script. In East India, the Bengali alphabet, and, later, the Odia alphabet, were used.

    In the south, where Dravidian languages predominate, scripts used for Sanskrit include the Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, the Malayalam and Grantha alphabets. —Wikipedia s.v. Sanskrit

    There is also a nice table showing the same Skt sentence in ten modern Indian scripts, plus Tibetan, Khmer, Thai, Balinese, Baybayin, Javanese, Lontara.

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