RARAE AVES.

Some of my favorite blogs are updated so rarely I can go weeks without checking them; recently three such have turned up with excellent posts I want to share.
1) Over at bulbulovo, the post may starts with a photo of an ad that plays on nostalgia for Socialist Realist images and goes on to one that says (in Slovak) “May is all about LOVE” with the last word in English… except that it’s spelled out in gold coins, and it so happens that love is also the Romanes word for ‘money.’ From there he segues into a discussion of Romanes loan words in Slovak. (One thing that puzzled me was his transcription of the Romanes word as “['lɔvɛ] or ['lɔːvɛ]“; in most dialects, the stress would be on the final syllable, and I’m not sure whether his stress is for the Slovak loan word or whether Slovak dialects of Romanes have taken on initial stress under the influence of Slovak.)
2) Dick & Garlick had been quiescent since November, but I’ve learned not to give up on it, and more posts started appearing in April (though I just noticed them yesterday). The latest is my favorite: Automatic Hinglish, which points out that “Google Translate now offers translation from English to Hindi and vice versa. … What’s surprising is that if you translate from English to Hindi and convert the results back to English, some of the original text is restored.”

Here’s a portion of Hamlet’s soliloquy in Google Hindi:
‘ Tis एक consummation
श्रद्धापूर्वक को wish’d. करने के लिए मौत की नींद के लिए.
नींद के स्वप्न को perchance करने के लिए: सॉफ्टवेयर, यही तो कठिनाई है!

That’s completely meaningless, of course. But feed this drivel to the Google translator, and it becomes Shakespeare again – with a few improvements.

‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to wish’d. To death for sleep.
To sleep, perchance to dream: software, there’s the rub!

Software, there’s the rub: truer words have never been spoken.

3) I’m particularly embarrassed not to have noticed this for so long, because it starts with a plug for my book: Polyglot Vegetarian had a post back on April 27 called Sowing Cumin and Basil that began “The American edition of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit, co-authored by Steve at LanguageHat, still isn’t available, as far as I know. [Too damn true—LH] But being impatient, I went ahead and got the UK edition…” MMcM, the blogger, is inspired to write about curses, some involving cumin and basil, with the usual multilingual quotes (Greek, Latin, Persian, Old Norse, Hebrew, and Spanish, inter alia); his erudition is always worth diving into and splashing around in, with the warning that it may make you hungry.


(The title of this entry is of course the plural of rara avis ‘rare bird’; the odd thing is that Merriam-Webster gives both /rer-ǝ-’ā-vǝs/ and /rär-ǝ-’ä-wǝs/ for the singular, but only /rär-ī-’ä-wās/ for the plural. If you use the traditional anglicized /rer-ǝ-’ā-vǝs/ for the singular, aren’t you going to use /rer-ē-’ā-vēz/ for the plural? I do, anyway.)

Comments

  1. ä-wǝs? Barking mad. ä-wis, surely.

  2. That was my reaction as well, but that’s what it says. Take it up with Merriam-Webster!

  3. Presumably, the bird in question is so rare that there’s only one in existence, so plurals are not needed.
    Seriously, your post is the first time I’ve seen the phrase used to refer to anything in the plural. I would suspect that the plural form is so rare that when it is used, the switch to Latin pronounciation will usually seem appropriate.
    At least it saves you having to deal with people who would form the plural as rara avises. Or, for that matter, rara hertz.

  4. You mean you don’t use Google Reader or Bloglines?
    Get yourself an account now!
    I prefer Google Reader, but Bloglines is a fine service as well.
    And according to Google Reader, you have 38 subscribers who view your posts from the service.

  5. I’m not sure whether his stress is for the Slovak loan word or whether Slovak dialects of Romanes have taken on initial stress under the influence of Slovak.
    Your comment reminds me of a question I’ve often wondered about: did Slovak (and Czech) acquire their initial stress under the influence of the neighbouring Hungarian, or independently? If there was an influence I suppose it must have been in that direction, given that initial stress also occurs in Finnish but not in most (all?) other Slav languages.

  6. An interesting question. Maybe bulbul will drop by with his thoughts on the subject.

  7. John Emerson says:

    I believe that Bartok thought that the Hungarian language’s initial stress gave Hungarian folk music a distinctive rhythm. Perhaps folk music influenced by Hungarian music would pass the stresses on with the music.
    That’s highly speculative but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bartok said something about it in his ethnomusicological writings. He collected folk music in all the languages of the area.
    Bartok was a very strange Hungarian nationalist who opposed Hungarian chauvinism. He was almost a poly-nationalist who supported all forms of nationalism (or at least, musical nationalism). “Anything but German” may have been his basic principle.
    He also was one of the most politically scrupulous people who ever lived. He boycotted the semi-fascist Horthy regime and had to leave Hungary as a result, but after a brief period at the end of WWI he avoided implication in Communism too. His financial situation was precarious during the last decade or so of his life.
    He also became a member of the Unitarian Church, which has an ancient tradition in Hungary (Unitarianism or Socinianism first caught on in Eastern Europe). His first son became one of the leaders of Hungarian Unitarianism.

  8. John Emerson says:

    I believe that Bartok thought that the Hungarian language’s initial stress gave Hungarian folk music a distinctive rhythm. Perhaps folk music influenced by Hungarian music would pass the stresses on with the music.
    That’s highly speculative but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bartok said something about it in his ethnomusicological writings. He collected folk music in all the languages of the area.
    Bartok was a very strange Hungarian nationalist who opposed Hungarian chauvinism. He was almost a poly-nationalist who supported all forms of nationalism (or at least, musical nationalism). “Anything but German” may have been his basic principle.
    He also was one of the most politically scrupulous people who ever lived. He boycotted the semi-fascist Horthy regime and had to leave Hungary as a result, but after a brief period at the end of WWI he avoided implication in Communism too. His financial situation was precarious during the last decade or so of his life.
    He also became a member of the Unitarian Church, which has an ancient tradition in Hungary (Unitarianism or Socinianism first caught on in Eastern Europe). His first son became one of the leaders of Hungarian Unitarianism.

  9. Athel,
    an interesting question indeed, I was planning on responding to it once I got back home and had the chance to consult my library. But off the top of my head, I do not think it’s the influence of Hungarian. First, the Czechs never had much contact with Hungarian. Second, there’s standard Slovak and there are the other dialects. Standard Slovak is based on central dialects (the dialect of Martin is often cited as the typical example). Those dialects have always been isolated and not influenced by Hungarian very much. Eastern dialects, on the other hand, have been in intensive contact with Hungarian for centuries and yet the stress in Eastern Slovak is melodic (as opposed to dynamic in Standard Slovak and Hungarian) and is placed on the penultimate syllable. I’ll have a look at it again once I get off work.

  10. Etienne says:

    Athel, Bulbul–
    We actually discussed this matter (the origin of initial stress in Czech and Slovak) in an (informal) undergraduate historical linguistics discussion group: we took as our point of departure Andre Martinet’s question: if
    Czech owes its initial stress to German, why didn’t Slovenian develop initial stress because of the same influence? One difference between German-Czech and German-Slovenian language contact, we found (I haven’t the references at hand), was that the former involved far more language contact “on the ground”, in the cities and the countryside alike, whereas the latter was more of a dichotomy between a predominantly urban German-speaking culture and a predominantly rural Slovenian-speaking culture (plus a few rural German enclaves, that of Gottschee being the best-known). Thus, we concluded that a contact explanation for Czech initial stress was certainly plausible.
    The fact that within the Czech + Slovak dialect continuum it is the easternmost dialects that lack initial stress (having penultimate stress instead) certainly fits: one would expect the dialects geogrphically furthest removed from Czech to be the unaffected ones. On a related topic: could Hungarian owe its initial stress to German influence as well?

  11. I think I heard your coauthor on The Verb on Radio 3 a coupla months ago. Didn’t catch much of it, I’m afraid. I have to tendency to get so lost in Ian McMillan’s voice that I forget to listen to what he’s saying … He should have you on next, anyway.
    And I use the aggregator in Opera. Works well enough for me, since I only use the one computer. I just wish CoComment worked with it too. I’m finding it harder and harder to keep track of what I comment on …

  12. A. Crown says:

    Bartok was a very strange Hungarian nationalist who opposed Hungarian chauvinism.
    If you mean it’s strange to be a nationalist who’s not chauvinistic, it is a very common position for people from small countries to hold. Norwegians are big flag wavers, and they are currently debating the correctness of the perverse inhabitants of the city of Stavanger, who have been waving foreign flags on the Norwegian independence day.

  13. So then: according to “Pravidlá rómskeho pravopisu” (“Romani Orthography”, the official guide to Standard Slovak Romani authored by, among many others, the late Milena Hübschmannová and published as an approved teaching text by the Ministry of Education), the stress in Standard Slovak Romani (which is essentially East Slovak Romani) is on the penultimate syllable, e.g. čhavoro, bachtaľipen, kerel. Here I would be more inclined to suspect the influence of Eastern Slovak.
    As for initial stress in Slovak, it seems to be well established by 13th century for all dialectsm as well as Czech and Polish. The process by which Eastern Dialects acquired stress on the penulta is (at least according to Stanislav’s “Dejiny slovenského jazyka”) essentialy the same as for Polish: as Polish and Eastern Slovak began to lose vowel quantity, stress gradually shifted from the initial syllable to the penultimate one which already carried secondary stress.
    Interestingly, none of my sources cite German as the cause for the initial stress in either Czech or Slovak.
    Etienne,
    that’s a very good point about differences between Czech-German and Slovenian-German language contact. I think the Slovak-German situation is somewhat similar. There were urban areas with substantial contact throughout the history, like Bratislava and its surroundings, Košice, the cities of Spiš/Zips, Dobšiná and so forth, there were also rural areas with not so much contact. But I think the crucial difference here is that in Slovakia, there never was an exclusive German-speaking elite. I’m currently researching the history of German communities planning to write something on that subject and I even have an expert in historical demographics on my side. I’ll be sure to let you know what I come up with.

  14. Thanks for the various answers to my question. I’m glad to know that it was an “interesting question” (I feared in raising it that it might turn out to be a thoroughly boring question that anyone who knew anything about Slovak would say had been done to death in the 19th century).
    I’d be surprised if Hungarian owed its initial stress to German influence, as in Hungarian it’s an absolute inviolable rule, whereas in German it’s just a tendency (stronger than in English, perhaps, but far from inviolable.)

  15. Also, Finnish has initial stress too, so it seems likely it was inherited.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    if
    Czech owes its initial stress to German

    …that would surprise me, because except for the Alemannic dialects, German doesn’t have strict initial stress. In fact, as far as I can tell, it’s less strict than English (which often assigns initial stress to recent French loans, something that non-Alemannic German never does). Czech has merciless exceptionless initial stress, AFAIK, like Hungarian. Also like Hungarian (and Finnish), stress and vowel length are completely independent in Czech and Slovak, while in Standard German only syllables that have at least secondary stress can be long at all, and the Bavarian-Austrian dialects lack phonemic vowel length altogether. That said, Czech & Slovak tend to have long vowels in syllables that are stressed in Russian, and the Polish ó likewise corresponds to Russian stressed /o/ at least most of the time.

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