On Learning German.

John le Carré has a fine piece in the Guardian explaining his lifelong love for German:

I began learning German at the age of 13, and I’m still trying to explain to myself why it was love at first sound. The answer must surely be: the excellence of my teacher. At an English public school not famed for its cultural generosity, Mr King was that rare thing: a kindly and intelligent man who, in the thick of the second world war, determinedly loved the Germany that he knew was still there somewhere.

Rather than join the chorus of anti-German propaganda, he preferred, doggedly, to inspire his little class with the beauty of the language, and of its literature and culture. One day, he used to say, the real Germany will come back. And he was right. Because now it has.

Why was it love at first sound for me? Well, in those days not many language teachers played gramophone records to their class, but Mr King did. They were old and very precious to him and us, and he kept them in brown paper bags in a satchel that he put in his bicycle basket when he rode to school.

What did they contain, these precious records? The voices of classical German actors, reading romantic German poetry. The records were a bit cracked, but that was part of their beauty. In my memory, they remain cracked to this day:

Du bist wie eine Blume – CRACK – So hold und schön und… – CRACK (Heinrich Heine)

Bei Nacht im Dorf der Wächter rief… – CRACK (Eduard Mörike’s Elfenlied)

And I loved them. I learned to imitate, then recite them, crack and all. And I discovered that the language fitted me. It fitted my tongue. It pleased my Nordic ear. […]

I didn’t have the same reaction to German, but then I didn’t have that kind of teacher. Read the whole thing; le Carré is always worth reading. And read the post at Boris Dralyuk’s site where I got the link; it’s full of great links (I especially recommend André van Loon’s essay on Dralyuk’s translation of Babel’s Odessa Stories).

Comments

  1. What crap. Every sentence in that article shows that Le Carré is gobbled up by exoticism. If his German were as good as he implies, he would know that German speakers can be just as muddle-headed as speakers of English. The literary and philosophical tradition is just as mixed-pickle as it is in English and any of the other languages I know.

    When I translate his sentences into German, they sound even less plausible than in English, and rather retro nationalsozialistisch. I wonder if that could be regarded as vindication of his thesis.

    The knowledge of more than one language guarantees nothing in the way of conscious-raising. It takes years to learn a language, but you can stop at any point and get portentous about it in your native language. Or wait until you’ve mastered it and then get portentous about the matter in either language.

    But his claims will impress rubes and Cardigan readers, and that’s what it’s all about.

  2. Heh. I had a feeling it would get your Ziege.

  3. It’s not really about German, it’s about good teaching of any kind, rare and priceless.

  4. I’m familiar with these two poems as lyrics for the songs by Schumann and Hugo Wolf. I’d love to hear Mr. King’s records. “My Nordic ear,” however, sounds off; I can’t imagine an acceptable German translation.

    “For a long time I did not believe one could say a stupid thing in English,” as Brodsky said, IIRC.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Why not meine nordischen Ohren?

  6. Getting a student to fall in love with the target language is a very powerful way to teach, and I don’t see how it really matters how they fall in love.

    In my case, and I wouldn’t call it falling in love, I overcame a pretty formidable prejudice against the language by hearing grandmothers chatting in the check-out line. That changed my whole attitude. If the language raises from that to lofty and sublime heights, that’s cool too.

  7. What’s a Cardigan reader?

  8. That’s apparently Stu’s sobriquet for the Guardian. I don’t know why he can’t call it the Grauniad like everyone else.

  9. Maybe “Cardigan” is a typo for “Grauniad.”

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Jim: I overcame a pretty formidable prejudice against the language by hearing grandmothers chatting in the check-out line. That changed my whole attitude. If the language raises from that to lofty and sublime heights, that’s cool too.

    It seems to me that there are two common attitudes to a language which has been mostly suppressed (for whatever sociological reasons, on whatever continent, etc) and whose remaining speakers are bilingual and therefore exercise a conscious choice of which language to speak under what conditions: either “it’s no good, it’s useless, people will think you’re a peasant”, etc, or “it is a sacred treasure, it should be reserved for ceremonies, no outsider should learn it”, and such. No middle ground where the language is spoken as a matter of course to all members of the population under all circumstances of life, and where it can adapt to the loftiest goals as well as the most crudely physical needs. The first attitude gradually shrinks the number of speakers, since older ones may still use the language between themselves but pass away without having spoken it to new babies. The second attitude reduces the circumstances under which the language can be spoken, providing few occasions for its continued use and even fewer for new speakers to arise. Of these two attitudes, the second one may be the most pernicious.

  11. Oh, of course, the Uardigan.

  12. Greg Pandatshang says:

    It’s odd: I will yield to some but not many in my degree of Germanophilia. I’ve been to Germany a few times and found it consistently lovely. I have a German name and several German-speaking great-grandparents. I always root for Kaiser Bill when hearing about the First World War. But I have never found a damn thing appealing about the language. I mean, the appealing thing is that I would get to talk to Germans, which is a treat.

    I would probably feel the same way about English if I hadn’t grown up with it. I’ve never had the urge to say to anyone “Learn English: it’s beautiful!” (although I’ve certainly had the urge to point English-learners toward the more beautiful instances of it).

  13. Squiffy-Marie van 't Blad, Dutchman-at-large says:

    It’s not really about German, it’s about good teaching of any kind, rare and priceless.

    Le Carré attended Sherborne School, although he didn’t otherwise much like it, and later taught at Eton, both of which it is fair to surmise very much have a price.

    As was remarked on Facebook, his opinions on the necessity of teaching German were intended as a fireside chat for an audience of German teachers, and the intellectual heft and/or rigour they exhibit are precisely calibrated to such an occasion.

    As a Dutch person I have strong but largely preposterous opinions about the German language, which I know significantly better than I would admit in public.

  14. By teaching German, by spreading understanding of German culture and life, today’s honorands and their colleagues will be helping to balance the European argument, to make it decent, to keep it civilised.

    How many people are likely to believe that learning German will improve their decent and civilized rating ? Would these be “elites” ? Will a knowledge of German help to communicate with those who ain’t interested in decent and civilised, and who don’t speak German ? Or with those who are convinced that they’re being fucked over by German-speaking politicians ?

    What does “balance the European argument” mean ?

    Why don’t we all learn Latin and read Cicero instead of watching TV ? If only American presidents had to meet this requirement, on pain of impeachment ! Every day, in every way, I see us getting better and better – provided everybody gets decent and civilized.

    Le Carré has fallen into elder statesman pontification. It happens to the best of us.

  15. To put it in a neutral fashion: this article is one of those ceremonial invocations of “values” that we have all read a hundred times before. There is nothing to be learned here, no new ideas or even “takes”. It’s for people who are comforted by hearing the same old things, and like to exchange their views on them. Everyone can play who is so inclined.

    Why should I pour obloquy on a harmless offer to go see Mary Poppins again ? KNISTER

  16. David Marjanović says:

    I don’t know why he can’t call it the Grauniad like everyone else.

    Also Garundia for variety.

    I always root for Kaiser Bill when hearing about the First World War.

    …Approximately three people in Germany do that anymore.

    What does “balance the European argument” mean ?

    Colorless green ideas balance furiously.

  17. SFReader says:

    The entire piece is a speech given at an award ceremony at the German Embassy for German teachers.

    What else was he supposed to say there?

    “You are teaching a language which is going to be obsolete within your lifetimes, no one of importance cares about German anymore, so go and learn how to teach English instead…”

  18. It’s a nice article, but reading it, you can feel even before you get to the last paragraph that it was meant to be a speech, and suffers a bit from being printed as it was.

    Stu: In context, “to balance the European argument” can evidently be expanded to: “There is a major ongoing argument in England about the desirability of European unity; at the moment, parochial xenophobic sentiments are disproportionately prominent in this argument; Englishmen familiar with Germany can thus help to rebalance the argument by strengthening cosmopolitanism.” Likewise, “to make it decent, to keep it civilised” expands not so much to “learning German will improve your decent and civilized rating” (though that’s often true) but to “Much of this argument is being conducted on the level of the Daily Mail or the Sun (admittedly he started out pointing to Trump, but in this sentence’s context, the tabloids seem an obvious follow-up). Well-educated Englishmen familiar with the foreign press, no matter what their opinions, can debate on a higher level than such ‘obfuscations, contradictions and lies’.” Sounds good to me.

  19. The speech was edited as well as cut – not cut much. But if you watch the video, you can hear that after finishing the speech Le Carré tells how he shook Thomas Mann’s hand in 1949. He tells the teachers that when they shake his hand they are shaking Thomas Mann’s. Thomas Mann gave a talk at Bern in 1949, which Le Carré as a student could not follow very well. Then there was some booing of Mann for staying away from Germany/Europe as an emigré during the war, and Le Carré thought this was bad manners, so he went to Thomas Mann’s dressing room after the talk and asked to shake his hand.
    http://www.ogn.ox.ac.uk/olympiad-awards-2013

  20. I didn’t particularly care for German the language itself at first (it seemed to be a less interesting Icelandic), but the more I stay here the more it grows on me. Trennbare Verben are so lovely. /pf/ is lovely. VF but only in subordinate clauses, with V2 in main ones, is lovely; I like how the verb insists on staying put at those specific places, like a reference position in a ballroom dance, while everyone else has to accommodate themselves around it. The way they one-up the curious Anglophone practice of preserving xenoplurals by preserving xenodeclensions more generally (nach Jesu Christo…) is lovely. It doesn’t hurt that the country itself is such a pretty, pleasant, friendly place that one dreads the day of leaving it.

    The one thing I don’t like is that the standard pronunciation of /r/ is that raspy Sauron-reading-the-Ring-Poem back trill (actually fricative). I’ll concede it turned out quite conductive for the evolution of German heavy metal, but it’s baffling how they have a real /r/ in Bavaria/Austria/etc. and somehow it isn’t the standard. Must be an unfortunate side effect of anti-Bavarian sentiment; there’s no other possible explanation.

  21. Breffni says:

    I take the speech as a gesture of support and encouragement for language teachers, who in the UK are naturally feeling a bit embattled at present. Le Carré’s remarks about thinking rationally and creatively relate to language learning, not the German language.

    Have we heard arguments like this before? Certainly those of us who pay attention to talk about language learning have, so it might all seem a bit worthy and anodyne to some Language Hat readers. And most of us would at least quibble with the exoticising tendencies (though I’ve seen far worse). But this moment, in the UK, seems an excellent time and place to say supportive and even grand things about language learning and cosmopolitanism, rather than assuming it’s all old hat to everyone.

    And in light of the general drift of the piece (“The decision to learn a foreign language is to me an act of friendship… a holding out of the hand…”), calling his sentences, as mentally translated, “retro nationalsozialistisch” seems rather overheated.

  22. Actually the piece was in the Observer, not the Guardian. It has similar taste in cardigans.

  23. Of course there are no new ideas in this speech, nor should one expect them from le Carré. Most people are not driven by ideas anyway (unless becoming rich and famous counts as an idea) but sentiments and sympathies still hold some sway. Learning a well-developed language with a large body of first-rate literature can’t be a bad choice unless the alternative is making a vital contribution to curing cancer or some such.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    {Problems with editing. I’m reposting.}

    Thanks, Lameen, that makes perfect sense. I admit I haven’t read the actual article.

    The way they one-up the curious Anglophone practice of preserving xenoplurals by preserving xenodeclensions more generally (nach Jesu Christo…) is lovely.

    This is completely extinct, though, except for the genitives Jesu and Christi.

    The one thing I don’t like is that the standard pronunciation of /r/ is that raspy Sauron-reading-the-Ring-Poem back trill (actually fricative). I’ll concede it turned out quite conductive for the evolution of German heavy metal, but it’s baffling how they have a real /r/ in Bavaria/Austria/etc. and somehow it isn’t the standard. Must be an unfortunate side effect of anti-Bavarian sentiment; there’s no other possible explanation.

    Anything is standard. All these things and more are standard.

    AFAIK, there are four sounds to distinguish here: the uvular trill, the voiced uvular fricative/approximant, and two alveolar trills – one (apical?) that sounds like in Spanish or Slavic, another (laminal?) that sounds like in Italian, Flemish or Icelandic.

    The last one is probably inherited straight from Proto-Germanic, and used to be very widespread (it’s part of the stereotype of northernmost Germany, though good luck finding even old people there who use it anymore). The other alveolar trill is confined to Switzerland and surroundings, and isn’t spreading or retreating as far as I know. The uvular trill has spread far and wide, but has changed into a fricative/approximant in something like the northern half of Germany.

    The Italian-type alveolar trill has become part of Bavarian (and apparently Flemish) national identity and survives for this reason. In Austria, this doesn’t apply, and the uvular trill is now the most common version, but I don’t know what the geographic distribution is. I haven’t noticed any social prestige differences; there are still a few newsreaders on TV and radio who use the alveolar one, and nobody even mentions this. There are still children who use it, too, but I don’t know where they’re from. Myself, a city child, I use the uvular one, so does my mother, and so do/did my grandparents at least sometimes – in free variation with what seems to be an alveolar trill modified to sound as much like a uvular one as possible; I only noticed this rather recently. Classical Viennese of the 1970s had the alveolar one, but people born then don’t. Although I’m physically capable of articulating alveolar trills (not everyone is), I find them to be among the hardest sounds in the world to produce spontaneously; apparently they require a lot of practice if you’re used to vibrating the uvula instead.

    The Italian-type trill was codified in the first version of German stage pronunciation (1898), perhaps because Theodor Siebs was from the northern fringe (born in Bremen, childhood on Helgoland where he must have heard more North Frisian than High or Low German), but apparently dropped already in the second version and is not used today. I haven’t been to an upscale theater in a long time, so I’m not sure if they use the uvular trill or the uvular fricative… probably the trill, though. – The stage pronunciation is confined to highbrow theater stages. Don’t expect newsreaders to use it. The concept of standard is much broader than the stage pronunciation, even though it is of course much narrower than the range found in dialects that count as German.

    The uvular approximant can be very hard to tell apart from a one-contact uvular trill.

    Rammstein uses the Swiss-type trill because it sounds the most metal.

    There’s some place in Austria (in Carinthia somewhere, IIRC) where the uvular trill developed natively, not as part of the wave from Paris. It didn’t spread from there. There’s also an area in Lower Austria where a fifth sound is used; it’s between the alveolar trill, the English-style alveolar approximant and [l]. The one person I’ve actually heard using it – I haven’t been to the region – is probably about 40 by now.

  25. calling his sentences, as mentally translated, “retro nationalsozialistisch” seems rather overheated.

    This is Grumbly Stu you’re talking about; “overheated” is his middle name.

  26. My first impulse upon seeing the mysterious phrase “Cardigan readers” was to put it into a Google search, and now Facebook is trying to sell me sweaters. But not reading glasses, for some reason.

  27. the mysterious phrase “Cardigan readers”

    Or, as the readers in question might describe themselves, “darllenwyr o Aberteifi”.

  28. “retro nationalsozialistisch”

    Note the qualifier “retro”. When you ignore it, you arrive at “hotheaded”. But it is not there to be ignored.

    “Language” is not enough. You should also know “the culture”. That’s what Le Carré is on about, after all. “The culture” is more than Heine CRACK, it includes Heino KOTZ as well.

    Those who object to my characterization must be unaware that Le Carré’s article, translated into German, would raise a lot of hackles here, for all kinds of good reasons.

    # … the German language can attain heights of simplicity and beauty that make it, for many of us, a language of the gods. … by spreading understanding of German culture and life … #

    This formulation would be rejected by all participants of the recently re-heated “Leitkultur” squabble.

    The whole thing goes down as smoothly as cod liver oil, but only in English. That’s why I accused Le Carré of exoticism.

  29. Every language can attain heights of simplicity and beauty: against Wanderers Nachtlied II I would put the Lucy poems of Wordsworth, though they are not as brief. What the language of the gods may be I do not know, but these are not written in the language of the ego, but in something else altogether.

    Cod liver oil goes down smoothly only for those with no (sense of) taste.

  30. Your last sentence is exactly my point.

  31. M-L,

    “The second attitude reduces the circumstances under which the language can be spoken, providing few occasions for its continued use and even fewer for new speakers to arise. Of these two attitudes, the second one may be the most pernicious.”

    This pedestalization is what is crippling the rebirth of Irish and it is quite widespread with American languages, as you know better than any of us.

    John,

    “Every language can attain heights of simplicity and beauty: against Wanderers Nachtlied II I would put the Lucy poems of Wordsworth, though they are not as brief”

    But some have a head start, at least when it comes to brevity. Not many languages are going to get anywhere near Classical Chinese when it comes to brevity and this brevity is what gives so much Tang poetry and so many sutras their sublime power. You simply cannot get this degree of concision in a language with a bunch of morphology.

    As for beauty, that’s a matter of taste obviously. For me beauty requires simplicity, so I like Emily Dickinson more than Tennyson. I know rather than feel though that Tennyson is quite beautiful in places.

  32. Michael Hendry says:

    I wonder if Housman would be a better example of simplicity in English verse than Wordsworth. As he himself wrote, when someone asked about the influence of classical philology on his English verse: “No doubt I have been unconsciously influenced by the Greeks and Latins, but [the] chief sources of which I am conscious are Shakespeare’s songs, the Scottish Border ballads, and Heine.” Which gives us two more examples of simple English verse, while bringing us back to Heine.

  33. I like Blake’s definition: “Exuberance is Beauty.”

  34. Marja Erwin says:

    Uardinga?

  35. I’ve read a lot of Heine. His poetry is just a thing. People might find it worth their while to peep under the pasties.

  36. The Cardigan

    I am currently using this from a guy I know through FB, Nicolas Buchele. The game is to spell “Guardian” differently as often as you like, in acknowledgement of their poorly proofread articles as were.

  37. That’s almost as ancient a game as cricket.

  38. Greg Pandatshang says:

    I have rarely encountered much of interest printed on a cardigan, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop keeping an eye out, just in case.

  39. Stu Clayton says:

    Yes, Guardian writers are as liberally strident as crickets are carelessly stridulous. Crickets don’t worry about orthography, that’s for the ants.

  40. You know, I’ve heard the story about how the Grauniad used to be full of typos back in, like, the 1980s or something, but I’ve been reading it sporadically for, oh, 25 years or so, and I have yet to see a conspicuous typo even once. Just how long is it going to take them to live that down?

  41. “I have yet to see a conspicuous typo even once.”

    I see them all the time. In the initial minutes after Guardian stories first appear, they quite often have one major typo. In today’s internet media environment, the newspaper clearly feels the pressure to get the content out now and worry about proofreading it later.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    This pedestalization is what is crippling the rebirth of Irish

    I reiterate my call for a spelling reform of Stalinist proportions. That way, the old spelling could be reserved for purposes that belong on a pedestal.

    (Scottish Gaelic could do the same, especially because it didn’t participate in the very timid Irish spelling reform of the 1960s that eliminated a lot of silent dh…)

  43. I reiterate my call to create a Common Goedelic standard using the Cyrillic alphabet, which would not only be easier to learn, but would flummox the English even more than the current spelling. Acute accent for length, dots above for lenition, and the double vowel set for palatalization.

  44. “Cardigan reader” messed with my head, because people in the UK who wear cardigans are without exception readers of the Telegraph or the Daily Mail. Scientific fact.

  45. SFReader says:

    They sure have sense of humor

    http://www.grauniad.co.uk

  46. people in the UK who wear cardigans are without exception readers of the Telegraph or the Daily Mail.

    What about The Times? Is that still a thing among the harrumphing class?

  47. David,
    two alveolar trills – one (apical?) that sounds like in Spanish or Slavic, another (laminal?) that sounds like in Italian, Flemish or Icelandic.

    I’m curious to know more about that. There is phonetic variation within all the languages you mention, and I’d need convincing that there’s a categorical distinction between, say, the standard Italian and Castilian Spanish realizations. Do you think some of that distinction (within German, or between any of those other languages) might be one of manner (like degree and timing of voicing or aspiration) rather than an apical/laminal distinction?

    There’s some place in Austria (in Carinthia somewhere, IIRC) where the uvular trill developed natively, not as part of the wave from Paris.

    What’s the evidence for that?

  48. In any speech community where the dominant realisation of /r/ is an coronal trill or tap, there will be some individuals who natively develop [ʀ] as their idiolectal variant. I am personally an example of this phenomenon as a Polish speaker. No-one else in my family has it (except one of my younger sisters, who may have picked it up from me), and I swear I wasn’t influenced by French or German in my childhood. I did not realise there was anything unusual about my /r/ until I was school age. I have learnt to articulate [r] and to use it when speaking those foreign languages that require it (like Russian), but I have never adjusted my Polish pronunciation (except in a controlled speech style).

  49. They sure have sense of humor

    A good way to sever the Gaurdian Knot.

  50. I have learnt to articulate [r] and to use it when speaking those foreign languages that require it (like Russian)
    But if you haven’t, you would speak with a very nice Russian pronunciation (as you’ve mentioned, there are inevitably native Russian speakers who do that) called грассирование from French grasseyer. (Obviously, pan Gąsiorowski knows that. I am just trying to entertain those who don’t).

  51. marie-lucie says:

    The French verb grasseyer (to use uvular r) is now quite obsolete since the overwhelming majority of people in France do so and therefore there is no need to call attention to this now standard feature of pronunciation. In fact some people encountering the verb in older literature (where it is rather derogatory and describes a stigmatized lower-class Parisian pronunciation) assume it means using apico/alveolar r ! since apical r is now only associated with some old-fashioned rural pronunciations.

  52. marie-lucie, I just read up a bit on those French “r”s. I think had heard the apical “r” in passing, in old recordings, but had no name for or interest in it. I generally want only to understand what is being said, so my practice is to toss aside pronunciation details. I just now found some examples of the apical “r” in old recordings of Colette, for example her “littératurrrre”. Supposedly Bachelard is another, but I couldn’t hear the “r” as clearly in the recordings of him.

    To find old recordings of a person named X speaking, if they exist in the internet, you can do a Google search for “X enregistrement”.

  53. My impression is that if the French still use grasseyer at all, it’s with reference to the “rolled” uvular rhotic of basilectal fabourien accents in and around Paris (as opposed to the velar fricatives of Standard French). If you listen to Edith Piaf’s interviews, it turns out that she used a uvular tap, sometimes a narrow approximant, more rarely a weak trill, in her casual speech style. But when singing, she trilled her R’s really hard. My R is quite similar, so I supposed it’s technically grasseyé. This pronunciation isn’t particularly stigmatised in Poland, because at least its manner of articulation is the same as that of the normative apicoalveolarl [r], but people do notice the difference and may remark on it. A labiodental, retroflex, velar or uvular approximant/fricative would definitely be regarded as a conspicuous speech defect. All rhotics are notoriously and inherently unstable, though, and yesterday’s speech defects may be tolerated today on their way to become tomorrow’s norm — see the evolving attitudes towards labiovelar R [ʋ] in South East England.

  54. David Eddyshaw says:

    The name “Grauniad” reflects a once perfectly real tendency to excessive misprints based on the unusual history of the newspaper. It has long ceased to reflect reality. Who says we Cardiganophores have no sense of tradition?

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=grauniad

    No bad man wears a cardigan.

  55. David Marjanović says:

    http://www.grauniad.co.uk

    Win.

    I’m curious to know more about that. There is phonetic variation within all the languages you mention, and I’d need convincing that there’s a categorical distinction between, say, the standard Italian and Castilian Spanish realizations. Do you think some of that distinction (within German, or between any of those other languages) might be one of manner (like degree and timing of voicing or aspiration) rather than an apical/laminal distinction?

    Could be all sorts of things, because there’s so much the rest of the tongue can do while the tip (or nearly so) is busy trilling. In my impression, Bavarian, Italian, Icelandic and Finnish have a more [i]-tinged version, while the ones in Slavic, Québécois French, Alemannic, and at least the long one in Spanish are different (they’re the ones you want to use when imitating a machine gun). This difference may actually be why various early Germanic loanwords in Slavic show up with */rʲ/ instead of */r/.

    There’s some place in Austria (in Carinthia somewhere, IIRC) where the uvular trill developed natively, not as part of the wave from Paris.

    What’s the evidence for that?

    The fact that it was commented on in the early-mid 20th century, when uvular trills were otherwise absent from Austria or nearly so.

    the velar fricatives of Standard French

    Almost, yeah.

  56. David Eddyshaw says:

    “What the language of the gods may be I do not know”

    Cymraeg ydy iaith y nefoedd.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr,

    When you say “the French still use grasseyer“, I don’t know which French people you are talking about (phoneticians?) as the word is not part of common vocabulary! But in 19th century literature it is fairly common when the author is unfavourably describing the pronunciation of some lower-class Parisians.

    I believe I speak Standard French at least as concerns the r, and my r is definitely uvular not velar. So is that of members of my family in France, including all ages. I can produce a rolled uvular, but that is not my normal r. I think the “faubourien” r is heavily fricative than actually rolled (although I agree with you about Piaf’s allophones). The only people I have heard using a (light) velar fricative are some Africans and Antillais.

    All rhotics are notoriously and inherently unstable : indeed! the variety is amazing, much greater than that of other phonetic categories.

  58. No bad man wears a cardigan.

    Cardigan was a bad man.

  59. “the very timid Irish spelling reform of the 1960s”

    1940s. Shortly after the Constitution was promulgated. (Some later Constitutional amendments use ye olde spelling, some don’t.)

  60. The articulation of Standard French R (as described by Pierre Delattre on the basis of X-ray videos) is quite complex . The root and the dorsum of the tongue are raised and retracted, causing a constriction in the upper end of the pharynx as well in the uvular AND velar regions. The uvula does not vibrate, the sound is voiced (except in devoicing environments) and more approximant than fricative.

    The present-day popular Parisian variant is “bas-pharyngal“: the main constriction is made “deep in the throat”, near the bottom of the pharynx. It is not more fricative than the standard variety, just more “guttural” (impressionistically speaking). The Haitian/North African variants are indeed pure velar approximants, not very different from lenited intervocalic /g/ in Spanish.

    When I associated grasseyer with uvular trills, I had in mind what Bernard Tranel wrote in The sounds of French: “This trilled uvular r, sometimes known in French as ‘r grasseyé’, does not seem very common today.” He points to Piaf’s accent as a typical case.

  61. Cymraeg ydy iaith y nefoedd.

    Formerly (with reference to Andrew Board and Tolkien’s lecture “English and Welsh”).

  62. Lars (the original one) says:

    The Guardian is also the only online news site I’ve ever given any money to, _because_ they don’t use a paywall. I just wish they’d notice and stop bugging me for a month at least.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr: Standard French R (as described by Pierre Delattre)

    One problem is that older descriptions do not always correspond to current pronunciations. A few years ago I bought a recent book on French pronunciation which said that there were only two nasal consonants in French, [m] and [n]. What happened to the sound written gn? Gone apparently, replaced by [nj] (except at the end of words?). Nobody in my family (all living in France) has stopped using it. Another source said there were only three vowel heights, not four as in my own speech. Etc.

    The present-day popular Parisian variant is “bas-pharyngal“: the main constriction is made “deep in the throat”, near the bottom of the pharynx

    I did have the impression (trying to approximate that pronunciation) that the pharynx was indeed involved! But the sound does strike me as a fricative. However, I am not a phonetician, nor a French specialist, only an “educated native speaker” of post-retirement age.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    Piotr: The Haitian/North African variants are indeed pure velar approximates

    I meant Antillais (Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe) and Sub-Saharan Africans – I knew quite a few of the latter as a student.

  65. That must be right. Delattre mentions Haitians (Blacks and Whites alike) and “beacoup de noirs d’Afrique”. I met some colleagues from Senegal recently, but can’t recall what sort of /r/ they had.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    colleagues from Senegal : Depending on their education (in Africa or France), they might have the velar or the uvular fricative.

    Not too long ago I met a young man who said he was from the Congo, who sounded to me just like a Frenchman his age. I thought he must have grown up in France. He said no, but he went to the French lycée where most of the students (and the teachers) were expatriates from France, so he learned to speak like them.

  67. per incuriam says:

    This pedestalization is what is crippling the rebirth of Irish

    I reiterate my call for a spelling reform of Stalinist proportions

    The cumbersome spelling seems to be an issue chiefly for dilettantes; it’s the least of the concerns of those seeking to preserve and promote Irish, there being no evidence it discourages anybody from using the language (see also English).

  68. Bathrobe says:

    I did like this paragraph:

    No wonder then that the most conscientious editors of my novels are not those for whom English is their first language, but the foreign translators who bring their relentless eye to the tautological phrase or factual inaccuracy – of which there are far too many. My German translator is particularly infuriating.

    It’s very true that the translator, of necessity, has to carry out a closer reading of the text than the monolingual reader.

  69. David Marjanović says:

    A few years ago I bought a recent book on French pronunciation which said that there were only two nasal consonants in French, [m] and [n]. What happened to the sound written gn? Gone apparently, replaced by [nj] (except at the end of words?).

    Not in my experience. It’s often [ɲj] or thereabouts rather than just [ɲ], but it’s not merging with [nj], contrary to some of my early mishearings I reported here at least 10 years ago. (And yes, [ɲ] without an offglide is most common at the ends of words.)

    It’s possible that the geographic variation within Standard Hexagonal French is actually increasing as some changes spread but others don’t. A colleague of mine, my age, is from far enough south in France that his grandparents spoke Occitan; he doesn’t have any trace of the stereotypical southern accent, but complains at every opportunity that the Parisians have merged un into in unlike him.

    Another source said there were only three vowel heights, not four as in my own speech. Etc.

    On the phonemic level that’s true for some, perhaps many people in Paris now, who render gauche as [gɔʃ]. On the phonetic one, not at all.

    The cumbersome spelling seems to be an issue chiefly for dilettantes; it’s the least of the concerns of those seeking to preserve and promote Irish, there being no evidence it discourages anybody from using the language

    Does it discourage anyone from beginning to use the language? Are there for example “last-generation hearers” who grew up hearing it occasionally but not speaking it, can’t speak it, are interested in learning it but demoralized by how complex and irregular it looks?

    (see also English).

    The social utility of reading & writing English is such that people willingly suffer through any quirks of its spelling. Give people a strong enough reason, and they’ll learn it. They’ll also learn the Tibetan spelling if they figure they have to (it’s like French, but on both ends of every syllable). They’ll also learn Chinese characters or die trying. Further comparisons could include the QWERTY keyboard layout, the VHS video system of days mostly gone by, Microsoft, and anything else with a huge Installed User Base. And now that I think of it, I’m reminded of how women need to be twice as good at the same job as men to be perceived as being just equally good at it.

  70. Lars (the original one) says:

    — luckily that isn’t so hard, as feminist comedians used to add. (It’s still not fair).

  71. per incuriam says:

    Are there for example “last-generation hearers” who grew up hearing it occasionally but not speaking it, can’t speak it, are interested in learning it but demoralized by how complex and irregular it looks?

    Not something I’ve come across and it seems unlikely. Remember that for the vast majority of people in Ireland initial contact with the language comes in school, where reading and writing are taught from the outset. Now there are all sorts of reasons put forward as to why some school-children develop (start out with?) a negative attitude to Irish but the spelling is not one of them.

    Give people a strong enough reason, and they’ll learn it

    Precisely.

  72. David Marjanović says:

    Remember that for the vast majority of people in Ireland initial contact with the language comes in school, where reading and writing are taught from the outset.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    David M: gn : Another book about the history of French declares that in the past accompagner (to accompany) did not rhyme with panier (basket). It still does not, in my own speech and that of my family. We do not have an off-glide in the gn words.

    un/in : Indeed it has long been the case that Northerners tend to merge the two (in favour of in) while Southerners keep them very obviously distinct. But actually it seems to me that in is becoming much lower and centralized, almost a nasalized schwa, so that a person unfamiliar with the older, distinct pronunciations might think that in has been losing to un instead of the opposite.

  74. Cardigan was a bad man.

    I think that goes too far. He was an extraordinarily incompetent commander (though the Charge of the Light Brigade was not his fault, but that of his commanding officer Lord Lucan, or perhaps his C.O. Lord Raglan), but a brave soldier and very decent to his troops, although with some tendency to bully his under-officers. He also, after many years of fighting political reform, supported the Second Reform Bill to the great surprise of almost everyone:

    In acknowledging his change of heart he said that the time for trying to stem the tide of reform, an endeavour in which he had long strived, had passed and given “good luck” the extension of the vote would “confer… a great benefit upon every class of the community”.

    He also supported posthumous recognition of Henry Shrapnel, inventor of the explosive artillery shell.

  75. So two sweater-related terms come from officers in the Charge of the Light Brigade? How did Lucan get left out?

  76. Louis Nolan, the officer who delivered the order that Lucan and Cardigan misunderstood, rode out in front of the light brigade as it started to move, probably to try to stop Cardigan from attacking the wrong artillery emplacement. He was killed. Cardigan’s people said it was by an enemy shell, but there were alternate rumors that Cardigan had shot him for getting in the way and interfering with the charge.

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