SPEAKING IN TONGUES.

Zadie Smith has an article in the NYRB (based on a lecture given at the New York Public Library in December 2008) in which she discusses Eliza Doolittle, Barack Obama, Shakespeare, and herself, among other many-voiced people. Here she is on being British:

Voice adaptation is still the original British sin. Monitoring and exposing such citizens is a national pastime, as popular as sex scandals and libel cases. If you lean toward the Atlantic with your high-rising terminals you’re a sell-out; if you pronounce borrowed European words in their original style—even if you try something as innocent as parmigiano for “parmesan”—you’re a fraud. If you go (metaphorically speaking) down the British class scale, you’ve gone from Cockney to “mockney,” and can expect a public tar and feathering; to go the other way is to perform an unforgivable act of class betrayal. Voices are meant to be unchanging and singular. There’s no quicker way to insult an ex-pat Scotsman in London than to tell him he’s lost his accent. We feel that our voices are who we are, and that to have more than one, or to use different versions of a voice for different occasions, represents, at best, a Janus-faced duplicity, and at worst, the loss of our very souls.

And here she is on Cary Grant and Obama:

What did Pauline Kael call Cary Grant? “The Man from Dream City.” When Bristolian Archibald Leach became suave Cary Grant, the transformation happened in his voice, which he subjected to a strange, indefinable manipulation, resulting in that heavenly sui generis accent, neither west country nor posh, American nor English. It came from nowhere, he came from nowhere. Grant seemed the product of a collective dream, dreamed up by moviegoers in hard times, as it sometimes feels voters have dreamed up Obama in hard times. Both men have a strange reflective quality, typical of the self-created man—we see in them whatever we want to see. “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant,” said Cary Grant. “Even I want to be Cary Grant.” It’s not hard to imagine Obama having that same thought, backstage at Grant Park, hearing his own name chanted by the hopeful multitude. Everyone wants to be Barack Obama. Even I want to be Barack Obama.

(My father reminded me of Cary Grant, perhaps in part because he had lost his native Ozark accent, retained by my aunts and uncles, and adopted a regionless American speech appropriate to the diplomatic community in which fate placed him.) Every time I read something by Zadie Smith, I think “I should read more Zadie Smith.”


(Via MetaFilter.)

Comments

  1. That’s also always my reaction to reading something by Zadie Smith.

  2. It’s interesting, my father’s speech is ‘accentless US English’ too, for precisely the same reason – the Diplomatic Corps. There might be something interesting about the social structure itself that does it. It’s not something that I’ve occasioned to see happen in other throw-together-people-from-across-the-country organizations like the military, where people tend to keep their accents. In my family we always referred to it as the “D.C. Accent,” which is to say, none at all, though still unmistakably US English.

  3. This line :
    “even if you try something as innocent as parmigiano for “parmesan”—you’re a fraud”
    struck me because just the other day I heard a caller to the BBC football (soccer) call-in show “606” chastised for pronouncing the name of the popular Dutch football team Ajax as “ai-yaks” instead of “ay-jaks.”

  4. scarabaeus says:

    cor ! luv-ere dukks, wot an inresti’ insite to the plumeys, down on the backs of granta, we are what we voiced.

  5. A.J.P. Crown says:

    You should also mention that Ajax is a popular British brand of bathroom cleaner.

  6. And yet class-based voice adaptation has been such a rich source of British humo(u)r. See Ali G’s Jafaican (cousin of Mockney) for a recent example.

  7. Should I also mention that Ajax (which I mostly pronounce the Dutch way even in Engleesh) are playing Fiorentina (who nobody calls “Florence” even in Engleesh) in the one-over-two-to-the-nth finals of the Euro Vase in little over an hour?
    But I am mildly surprised to find LH not opining in favour of “Parmesan” relative to its re-borrowed upstart rival. (Of course, there can be a real distinction: the evil cardboard tubes of pre-grated filth blighted my childhood experience of a fine cheese.)

  8. And to underscore ZS’s point about Obama being able to voice the voices of his own past, check out the widely circulated snippets from the audiobook version of Dreams From My Father (including lines from the very passage she quotes).

  9. A stunning essay– I think it explains why right-wingers see Obama as a phony. But the reality is more complex– there’s a there there, but it’s also there and there and there.

  10. Thing is, Zadie’s essays are a lot better than her fiction, I’m looking forward to the essay book.

  11. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I agree with Gabe. The one about growing up in Willesdon in a biracial family — was it ‘White Teeth’? — was good for the first half, but the plot was absolute crap.

  12. Thanks, Hat. This is a great essay. Does anyone else just love her name the way I do? Zadie Smith. Now that’s one great name.
    PS I don’t think the US dipcorp changes accents anymore; I’ll have to ask a friend who served for awhile. I never got that. I love accents and I personally will never start saying “milk” when “melk” suits just fine.

  13. One of my Minnesota friends caught me switching from generic educated American English (with a slight Fargo flavor) to the full Fargo when she overheard me talking on the phone to a hometown friend. She was amused.

  14. scarabaeus says:

    off topic
    how anglais be spoke yrs ago: no plums involved:
    Oldest English words’ identified
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7911645.stm

  15. Oldest English words:
    I’ve rarely read such a load of codswallop. E.g:
    Meanwhile, the fastest-changing words are projected to die out and be replaced by other words much sooner.
    For example, “dirty” is a rapidly changing word; currently there are 46 different ways of saying it in the Indo-European languages, all words that are unrelated to each other. As a result, it is likely to die out soon in English, along with “stick” and “guts”.
    Verbs also tend to change quite quickly, so “push”, “turn”, “wipe” and “stab” appear to be heading for the lexicographer’s chopping block.
    What nonsense.Whoever got the grant for this rubbish deserves on of Rep. Waxman’s (?) Golden Fleece Awards.

  16. As I I’ve said here before, in medical supplies the same kind of tape is called “ruban”, “cinta”, “tape”, and two variants each of “sparadrap” and “pfleister”. The eighth name on the box was Japanese.
    Apropos of nothing, really, except maybe the stupid article.

  17. As I I’ve said here before, in medical supplies the same kind of tape is called “ruban”, “cinta”, “tape”, and two variants each of “sparadrap” and “pfleister”. The eighth name on the box was Japanese.
    Apropos of nothing, really, except maybe the stupid article.

  18. To me the article doesn’t look as bad as all that, but I suspect it’s part of a migration of unemployed physicists and mathematicians into new areas to use their powerful tools on new subjects. (The “quants” on Wall Street are part of that movement, so you know its a good thing).
    Awhile back I saw an application of sophisticated methods to historical linguistics that, as I remember, didn’t even succeed in putting all the IE languages in the same group. I definitely remember that they didn’t notice that Portuguese and Spanish are as closely related as just about any other pair of European languages.

  19. To me the article doesn’t look as bad as all that, but I suspect it’s part of a migration of unemployed physicists and mathematicians into new areas to use their powerful tools on new subjects. (The “quants” on Wall Street are part of that movement, so you know its a good thing).
    Awhile back I saw an application of sophisticated methods to historical linguistics that, as I remember, didn’t even succeed in putting all the IE languages in the same group. I definitely remember that they didn’t notice that Portuguese and Spanish are as closely related as just about any other pair of European languages.

  20. rootlesscosmo says:

    I really liked her New Yorker piece, “Dead Man Laughing.” There’s an essay collection coming? Great news.

  21. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Wow, that was weird. I thought you were talking about the Zadie Smith article. I was about to go and reread it, I thought my brain must be going, and then I saw the two comments above yours. That scared me, Pete.

  22. Every time I come across anything by Zadie Smith, I think ‘Why did I ever want to read anything by Zadie Smith?’

  23. Graham Asher says:

    Same here. Also, who gives a damn what Zadie Smith thinks?

  24. marie-lucie says:

    Awhile back I saw an application of sophisticated methods to historical linguistics that, as I remember, didn’t even succeed in putting all the IE languages in the same group.
    That’s what happens when people who know nothing about the subject try “sophisticated methods” that are unsuited to the material at hand. Then journalists and others who are even more ignorant of the subject pick up the results as wonderful new discoveries.

  25. Though as I understand, the most closely-related three European languages are Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian. I’m not so sure about Czech and Slovak or Macedonian and Bulgarian.

  26. Though as I understand, the most closely-related three European languages are Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian. I’m not so sure about Czech and Slovak or Macedonian and Bulgarian.

  27. I was thinking of posting about that damn “oldest English words” interview, but it was eviscerated at the Log, so I don’t have to.
    Also, who gives a damn what Zadie Smith thinks?
    Well, I do, for one, and a bunch of other people apparently do as well. Fortunately, no one is forcing you to read her.

  28. Though as I understand, the most closely-related three European languages are Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian. I’m not so sure about Czech and Slovak or Macedonian and Bulgarian.
    I’m Bosnian and, like most “Yugoslavs” without a strong need for nationalistic propaganda, I don’t consider these different languages at all. I remember being amazed at the appearance of a “Bosnian / English” dictionary (previously one could only find a “Serbo-Croatian / English” one) . . . until I discovered that the contents were exactly the same down to the typesetting, only the cover was different.

  29. PS I don’t think the US dipcorp changes accents anymore;
    When I was living in Jordan I had to contact someone in the embassy to arrange to sign a subcontractor’s agreement to teach English. The guy I talked to had impeccable non-distinguishable standard English. Then, a few minutes into the conversation–I think we were having a “what state are you from” conversation–he gave me a few seconds of what had to be an African American accent–not the Chicago one, but probably from Texas. I’m not sure if he was waiting to see if I would respond in kind, but I’m afraid I only have one accent of my own. After a slight pause he went back to standard English. Oh, when I went to the embassy the guy who met me with the contract was a different guy.

  30. I sort of suspected that, Dee. I’ve read articles about how hard Serbs and Croats have to work to pretend that those are separate languages. Mike Royko wrote a thing a long time ago about how some American Serbs and Croats were trying to establish a difference, and others were saying “That’s exactly the kind of thing we came her to get away from”.
    I knew a guy in Portland who was a descendant of the last (low ranking) Hapsburgs in Dalmatia. He had the jaw and the bad health.
    HR Emperor Leopold I “Hogmouth” eventually married the little girl in Velazquez’s Las Meninas when she came of age and apparently loved her dearly.
    How’s that for off-topic?

  31. I sort of suspected that, Dee. I’ve read articles about how hard Serbs and Croats have to work to pretend that those are separate languages. Mike Royko wrote a thing a long time ago about how some American Serbs and Croats were trying to establish a difference, and others were saying “That’s exactly the kind of thing we came her to get away from”.
    I knew a guy in Portland who was a descendant of the last (low ranking) Hapsburgs in Dalmatia. He had the jaw and the bad health.
    HR Emperor Leopold I “Hogmouth” eventually married the little girl in Velazquez’s Las Meninas when she came of age and apparently loved her dearly.
    How’s that for off-topic?

  32. So anyway, we now have to define the smallest unit of difference required to say objectively that two languages are actually two different languages. Maybe we can get a grant.

  33. So anyway, we now have to define the smallest unit of difference required to say objectively that two languages are actually two different languages. Maybe we can get a grant.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    This is a case where the arguments are entirely political not linguistic. Note that Webster’s original dictionary was not of “American English” but of “the American language”, owing no reference (or reverence) to British usage. But there is no longer a single English language: In French translations, British works are labelled “traduit de l’anglais” but American works “traduit de l’américain”. I am not sure how they deal with Canadian or New Zealand works.

  35. When I was in Moldova a couple of years ago a new dictionary of the Moldovan language had just come out. The author purported to be able to prove that Moldovan was distinct from Romanian. All the Moldovans I knew thought it was a load of crap, and used it at parties as a kind of joke piece.

  36. John: I’ll raise you a young and charming Austrian Hapsburg – high-ranking – whom I met a few years ago, jaw and all. He was a designer for a suitably upmarket European crystal glass company.

  37. A.J.P. Crown says:

    As I mentioned last week if they would just renounce their religious squabbling and intermarry the Hapsburgs and Windsors could solve two chins at once.

  38. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Just to reiterate some comments from the past few weeks. Nij looks like Lauren Bacall and Marie-Lucie like a young Brigitte Bardot. Language’s father was Cary Grant. I remind most people of (British PM) Harold MacMillan. Anyone else?

  39. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Actually, I take that back. I probably look more like Zadie Smith.

  40. American is very closely related to English, probably even closer than Scots. Some people claim that Quebecois is closely related to French, but most high school French students dispute that.

  41. vanya for the win!

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Nij looks like Lauren Bacall and Marie-Lucie like a young Brigitte Bardot.
    Perhaps Nij looks like Lauren Bacall in her prime, but it has been quite a few years (decades actually) since I looked like a very very young Brigitte Bardot (whom you would not recognize if you saw a picture from that time, before she changed her “look” and became famous). I certainly don’t look like le pot de peinture she has become, maintaining the same style well beyond what her age and her figure could get away with.

  43. Excuse my ignorance, but what does it mean to be “many-voiced”?

  44. A.J.P. Crown says:

    You probably don’t share her political views, either. I believe she is keen on animal rights, though.

  45. Excuse my ignorance, but what does it mean to be “many-voiced”?
    You could always read the essay, but in brief, it means to have a number of ways of speaking (e.g., different dialects that you use in different circumstances).

  46. A nice piece. Thanks for finally getting me to read it. I’d only take issue with this:
    And the concept of a unified black voice is a potent one. It has filtered down, these past forty years, into the black community at all levels, settling itself in that impossible injunction “keep it real,” the original intention of which was unification. We were going to unify the concept of Blackness in order to strengthen it. Instead we confined and restricted it. To me, the instruction “keep it real” is a sort of prison cell, two feet by five. The fact is, it’s too narrow. I just can’t live comfortably in there. ” Keep it real” replaced the blessed and solid genetic fact of Blackness with a flimsy imperative.
    “Keep it real” is one of my favorite expressions. It can be used oppressively, but as often as not it isn’t. It essentially means “be honest; be yourself” — only it’s cool enough to actually say. Whether this “be yourself” means “speak in only one voice” or something more sophisticated depends on who’s saying it. Used well, “keep it real” is the best expression I know to combat bullshit in realtime.

  47. Is Acadian related to Quebecois? Many deny this.
    Kruunu: Fascist animal rights. Hitler knew how to treat dogs, etc.

  48. Is Acadian related to Quebecois? Many deny this.
    Kruunu: Fascist animal rights. Hitler knew how to treat dogs, etc.

  49. jamessal: I think she was talking about its use within the black community, as a (potentially oppressive) way to enforce cultural/linguistic cohesiveness.

  50. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yeah, I expect you’re right, Pete.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    Is Acadian related to Quebecois?
    Indirectly, because both are Western French dialects (and also diverse in themselves). But the emigrants came from different areas: Quebecois ancestors mostly from Southern Normandy and adjacent parts, Acadian ancestors from the Atlantic shore South of the Loire river, in an area of swamps and reclaimed land (which is why they knew how to take advantage of similar conditions in the first Acadian colony in Nova Scotia). Many linguistic features considered typically Quebecois or Acadian are actually still found in rural dialects of the regions of origin.

  52. jamessal: I think she was talking about its use within the black community, as a (potentially oppressive) way to enforce cultural/linguistic cohesiveness.
    I was thinking about its use in the black community too, and my experience of it, and I was all ready to argue the point, but just now I asked Robin, who now knows better than I, and she agrees with you and Zadie Smith, so I’m just gonna keep my white mouth shut.

  53. Should we expect the Acadian v. Quebecois difference to erupt in violence? Or have they negotiated an uneasy truce?

  54. Should we expect the Acadian v. Quebecois difference to erupt in violence? Or have they negotiated an uneasy truce?

  55. scarabaeus says:

    Dialects Anglais lost their way with the Advent of Hoollywood in film and the goglebox, and so a larger group of peoples of the Isles started to understand each other, but how did the French unify the dialects of Gallic turf?

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Should we expect the Acadian v. Quebecois difference to erupt in violence?
    Probably not, because they don’t live next to each other. But some of the Quebecois think that all other French speakers in Canada should move to Quebec. The Acadians don’t think so.
    how did the French unify the dialects of Gallic turf?
    They did not, they just forced all the children to go to school and be taught in French.

  57. I am not sure how they deal with Canadian or New Zealand works
    On an ESOL/TESOL forum I frequent, the level of prescriptivism depresses me, as does the division of English into either UK or US. All other flavours are either implicitly or even explicitly “non-standard”, whatever the hell that means. Perhaps that’s how the dictionary you mentioned handles other flavours of English, by pretending that they don’t exist.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: I remind most people of (British PM) Harold MacMillan.
    Do you now, AJP? That is not at all how I imagined you. He looks like a stereotyped Britisher, like Major Thompson in a famous French book of the 50’s (the Major was married to a Frenchwoman and discoursed on French-British differences). I just can’t imagine anyone like him raising goats.

  59. marie-lucie says:

    how the dictionary you mentioned handles other flavours of English, by pretending that they don’t exist.
    I suppose you mean my reference to Noah Webster’s dictionary, published in 1828, called An American Dictionary of the English Language (I made a mistake in quoting it earlier). It dealt strictly with English as spoken in America and introduced a number of spelling reforms. (More on Wikipedia under Noah Webster).

  60. A.J.P. Crown says:

    MacMillan, when he was trying to look like a man of the people (which he clearly wasn’t) would say that he came from a family of Scottish crofters, implying that they had been evicted from their cottage by English landowners so that more sheep could graze. So, though he was stretching the truth, he wasn’t as far from being a goatherd as you might think. Since you’re kind enough to ask, I don’t really look like him. Neither do I wear a beard and sandals and carry pan pipes. Like Language and Pete, I look young young for my years, (except to my daughter, who thinks I look ancient and that it’s terribly funny).

  61. David Marjanović says:

    Though as I understand, the most closely-related three European languages are Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian.

    Montenegrin! 🙂

    I’m not so sure about Czech and Slovak or Macedonian and Bulgarian.

    Not that close, but, when asked how many languages he spoke, a Slovak said in my presence he didn’t consider Czech a foreign language.
    Czech, Slovak, and Polish are mutually intelligible most of the time. I can hold a conversation with a Tyrolean when each speaks their own dialect, but beyond that it gets difficult…

    In French translations, British works are labelled “traduit de l’anglais” but American works “traduit de l’américain”.

    Same in German.

    As I mentioned last week if they would just renounce their religious squabbling and intermarry the Hapsburgs and Windsors could solve two chins at once.

    The Habsburgs are stiflingly Catholic…

  62. Q: Should we expect the Acadian v. Quebecois difference to erupt in violence?
    A: Probably not….

    Damn.

  63. Q: Should we expect the Acadian v. Quebecois difference to erupt in violence?
    A: Probably not….

    Damn.

  64. Stiflingly indeed, what with the Battle of White Mountain and shit.

  65. Stiflingly indeed, what with the Battle of White Mountain and shit.

  66. “…Czech, Slovak, and Polish are mutually intelligible most of the time…”
    Not so in the Isles of me yuth [65+ years past], ye coodnae go more than 10,000 yds befire ye lost contact with words that you could understand, but thanks to Marie-Lucie I now know it be me teachers fault..

  67. 10,000 yards would be 2000 normal truckloads or 1111 yards of full-nine-yards truckloads.

  68. 10,000 yards would be 2000 normal truckloads or 1111 yards of full-nine-yards truckloads.

  69. rootlesscosmo says:

    @ marie-lucie:
    Major Thompson in a famous French book of the 50’s (the Major was married to a Frenchwoman and discoursed on French-British differences
    Yes, Les Carnets de Major Thompson, made into a film–I think his last–by Preston Sturges, under the title (for US distribution anyway) “The French They Are a Funny Race.” I saw it 50 or so years ago but can’t recall anything about it; I believe it was a commercial flop in the US.

  70. michael farris says:

    “Czech, Slovak, and Polish are mutually intelligible most of the time”
    IME Polish and ‘standard’ Slovak are largely mutually intelligible for native speakers (though there are Slovak dialects that would defeat most Poles) But Czech and Polish much less so. Interestingly their even less intelligible in written form (I can read Czech better than most Poles IME).
    Usually Czechs understand more Polish than vice versa for which I’ve heard various theories. My idea is that Czechs are used to navigating between different speech forms (literary and colloquial Czech, various non-Bohemian dialects and Slovak) while Poles are mostly stuck in a single variety all the time (Polish has got to be one the least diglossic languages in Europe which has its advantages and disadvantages).
    Also exposure counts I’ve known some people from near the border who can understand (and partly speak) Czech. Level also counts. Czech and Polish are closest at a very basic everyday level but anthing that requires ‘educated’ vocabulary is going to be rough going due to the different ways the lexicon was increased in each language to deal with politics, sciences and the humanities.

  71. Usually Czechs understand more Polish than vice versa for which I’ve heard various theories.
    This sounds similar to something I’ve heard about Tamizh and Telugu. A couple of Tamizh-speaking friends used to have a Telugu flatmate. They would converse happily in Tamizh or English, but even though my friend understood him if he spoke Telugu, her actually begged her not to reply in Telugu, because it weas so broken and hard to understand. From what I have heard I think a similar situation may exist between NZ Māori and Cook Island Maori too.

  72. A.J.P. Crown says:

    What. Both sexes are called ‘her’?

  73. Middle English pronouns were horribly confused. Stuart must be Middle English.

  74. Middle English pronouns were horribly confused. Stuart must be Middle English.

  75. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Did they really mix up ‘him’ and ‘her’? Or just both of them with ‘it’?

  76. her actually begged her
    I could play the gimp card and blame my CP, or say that all my work tutoring Punjabi kids is erasing my grasp of separate male/female pronouns. Sadly, it was much more likely to be horrible confusion. I would leap to the defence of the pronouns involved, and insist that it was I who was horribly confused and not the pronouns.

  77. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Well played, Stuart. I like a man who plays with a straight bat.

  78. Czech and Polish are closest at a very basic everyday level but anything that requires ‘educated’ vocabulary is going to be rough going due to the different ways the lexicon was increased in each language to deal with politics, sciences and the humanities.
    Very interesting—reminiscent of the situation of Hindi and Urdu (whose common base used to be called Hindustani back in Raj days).

  79. scarabaeus says:

    “of full-nine-yards truckloads.” Codswollop?

  80. Nine yards of codswallop would not fit into a standard truck.

  81. You need a big two-axle truck.

  82. You need a big two-axle truck.

  83. reminiscent of the situation of Hindi and Urdu (whose common base used to be called Hindustani back in Raj days)
    In the case of Hindi and Urdu, each looked to different languages for those “higher” or at least less everyday, registers. Hindi becomes increasingly Sanskritised in those registers, Urdu looks to Persian. This divergence in borrowing causes the difficulties of comprehension in those registers. Is the cause of the divergence similar in Czech and Polish?

  84. Persian, Arabic, and probably Turkish.
    I had a friend fluent in modern spoken Arabic, Turkish, and Persian who took a try at reading Ottoman Turkish (which is heavily Persianized and Arabized both directly and through Persian). He found it impossible because it was also an archaic, stylized language. Starting from his already rather advanced level, to read Ottoman Turkish would have taken him a year or two of hard study.
    Somewhat the same case as Chinese “Guanhua” used until the end of the Qing dynasty. A different friend had a file of letters from her Chinese grandfather to famous people like Hu Shih and Sun Yat-sen, but a Chinese PhD (PhD in Chinese from a Chinese University) she knew couldn’t even begin to read them.

  85. Persian, Arabic, and probably Turkish.
    I had a friend fluent in modern spoken Arabic, Turkish, and Persian who took a try at reading Ottoman Turkish (which is heavily Persianized and Arabized both directly and through Persian). He found it impossible because it was also an archaic, stylized language. Starting from his already rather advanced level, to read Ottoman Turkish would have taken him a year or two of hard study.
    Somewhat the same case as Chinese “Guanhua” used until the end of the Qing dynasty. A different friend had a file of letters from her Chinese grandfather to famous people like Hu Shih and Sun Yat-sen, but a Chinese PhD (PhD in Chinese from a Chinese University) she knew couldn’t even begin to read them.

  86. michael farris says:

    “Is the cause of the divergence similar in Czech and Polish?”
    No, they just used the same roots mostly but extend their meanings in very different ways
    examples (warning I could be misspelling the Czech examples)
    polish powód = reason, cause
    czech puvod = origin
    polish przytomny = conscious
    czech pritomny = present (not absent)
    polish bezcenny = priceless
    czech bezcenny = worthless
    polish występ = performance (by a person)
    czech vystup = getting off (a bus etc)
    there are common semantic threads there but they’re going in different directions. Multiply that by hundreds and there are serious barriers to serious communication.
    plus they borrowed different parts of the Latin-Greek vocabulary (actually often the same borrowing exists in both but is much more frequently used in one than the other).

  87. Stravinsky spoke very amusingly about the Polish-Russian false cognates: “In Polish, perfume stinks.”
    Stravinsky was immensely amusing, witty, and malicious. His conversations with Robert Craft are tremendous fun. IIRC, he was incapable of saying a good word about any contemporary musician, but his snide remarks were almost always funny rather than arrogant or brutal or resentful. He said of Chaliapin that he was a complete idiot about everything that wasn’t about music, and almost all things that were about music. The guy just had a fantastic voice and first-rate vocal training

  88. Stravinsky spoke very amusingly about the Polish-Russian false cognates: “In Polish, perfume stinks.”
    Stravinsky was immensely amusing, witty, and malicious. His conversations with Robert Craft are tremendous fun. IIRC, he was incapable of saying a good word about any contemporary musician, but his snide remarks were almost always funny rather than arrogant or brutal or resentful. He said of Chaliapin that he was a complete idiot about everything that wasn’t about music, and almost all things that were about music. The guy just had a fantastic voice and first-rate vocal training

  89. polish bezcenny = priceless
    czech bezcenny = worthless

    Yrch! False friends don’t come much falser than these two.

  90. Marie-Lucie: I would deny that Quebecois and Acadian could be called “Western French” dialects: Quebecois French, in phonology and morphosyntax, is quite simply Parisian in origin, and apart from some non-basic vocabulary there is very little that is specifically non-parisian. Acadian does have a number of Poitou-saintongeais dialect features, but this seems to be a case of what (historically!) can be described as dialect-influenced parisian French rather than Poitou-saintongeais dialect.
    And in its strongest bastion, the North-Western part of New Brunswick, Acadian French is definitely heavily influenced by Quebecois (as well as by English): this is very noticeable when comparing the speech of the youngest and oldest generations.

  91. they just used the same roots mostly but extend their meanings in very different ways
    It’s a shame the Dictionary of Slavic Word Families is essentially unavailable (an Amazon seller wants $100 for it—I got my copy for $15 back in 1994); it’s perfect for this stuff. For instance, for michael’s powód/původ example, it says:
    По́вод et al.: In the meaning “cause, occasion, reason,” the underlying sense is “that which leads to a given action or result”; compare Eng. induce and conduce (both ult. <Lat. ducere “to lead”). The second meaning of the Polish word represents the fact that the plaintiff is the one who “causes,” i.e., institutes, a legal action. In the case of Cz. původ, the meaning may be an outgrowth of the notion of “cause” or, it has been suggested, may bespeak the view that to originate is to be “led,” i.e. derived, from a source; see note on вы́вод et al.
    (The annoying thing about the book, if you know Russian, is that the roots are ordered according to the Latin alphabet, so you have to look near the end of the book for roots starting with в (i.e., v/w), but those of you focused on Czech or Polish will not have a problem with that.)

  92. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, you could be right, but when (some) Québécois people want to see where their ancestors came from they go to Tourouvre, a small town in Southern Normandy (specifically the region called Le Perche) which was a centre for emigration to Canada in the 17th century. The townspeople are proud of their connection to Canada. The local church has a stained glass window commemorating the departure of local people for New France. There is an active Association Perche-Canada and often planeloads of people all named Tremblay or Gagnon or other common names in Québec come to see old houses which belonged to their ancestors or distant relatives. The town recently built a new Musée de l’émigration canadienne, meant also as a research centre, with funds contributed in part by the governments of Canada and Québec.
    It is true that the French still spoken by some people in both Québec and the Perche preserves archaic forms of speech which were in general use (including in Paris) at the time of the main period of emigration from the area, but I think that there are more links to Normandy than just a few isolated words (I am not a specialist, so that is just my impression as I grew up in the area).
    What you say about the Acadians in New Brunswick (closest to Québec) does not seem to be true in Nova Scotia, but I could be wrong.

  93. So is there anything we can do to provoke violence between these two fine French-American peoples? I’m keen for violence not involving the U.S. of A.

  94. So is there anything we can do to provoke violence between these two fine French-American peoples? I’m keen for violence not involving the U.S. of A.

  95. marie-lucie says:

    JE, watch out, French is also spoken in Vermont.

  96. marie-lucie says:

    @rootlesscosmo
    Yes, Les Carnets du Major Thompson, made into a film … under the title (for US distribution anyway) “The French They Are a Funny Race.” … I believe it was a commercial flop in the US.
    I am not surprised. You would have to be familiar with both British and French stereotypes of each other to appreciate it (assuming it was well done).

  97. I’ll steer clear of Vermont. I want violence!
    Minnesota still has a small French speaking population (from p.36). This was mostly XIXc settlement from Quebec, but there are a lot of French placenames and family names that trace back to the fur trade. There are also French-speaking relics of old Louisiana as far north as Illinois and Missouri.
    One French-surnamed person I know is a bit touchy about it. The French were here before the English, and the French names often belong to old but very poor families, as though they were autochthones. The ones I’ve met are pure Anglophones.

  98. I’ll steer clear of Vermont. I want violence!
    Minnesota still has a small French speaking population (from p.36). This was mostly XIXc settlement from Quebec, but there are a lot of French placenames and family names that trace back to the fur trade. There are also French-speaking relics of old Louisiana as far north as Illinois and Missouri.
    One French-surnamed person I know is a bit touchy about it. The French were here before the English, and the French names often belong to old but very poor families, as though they were autochthones. The ones I’ve met are pure Anglophones.

  99. French is also spoken in Vermont.
    I had some ancestors in Vermont: the pond guy that is mentioned in the history here for one. I was told his father was French. Also some Warrens and Frenches, I was told the French surname was something like Frece or Frence before Ellis Island. I have no idea how they got to Minnesnowta. There was a French presence all up and down the main rivers on account of the fort system. I suppose that disappeared after the Louisiana Purchase. They still have French festivals in southern Illinois; they used to do the running of the guillianais (?) and sing the song in French. Also the priest does mass using the upside down canoe as an altar, but I don’t remember where, maybe the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon in Indiana? This last one is huge; you can sometimes pick up a hand forged ax suitable for Viking ax-throwing contests. I used to be quite good at throwing the ax.
    I thought the Accadians were in Louisiana…isn’t that where the Cajun food comes from?

  100. Minnesota used to be the intersection between Louisiana and Quebec. But, the Plains of Abraham.

  101. Minnesota used to be the intersection between Louisiana and Quebec. But, the Plains of Abraham.

  102. marie-lucie says:

    The Acadians of Nova Scotia were expelled by the British governor in 1755 (he was reprimanded by the crown for his excessive zeal, but by then the damage had been done). The people were put on boats and sent into different directions. Some of them ended up in Louisiana, where many of them stayed, becoming known as Cajuns (= Cadians). After the war was over some of the exiles tried to go back to Acadia but it was very difficult (that is the story told in Longfellow’s Evangeline). The ones who had been sent back to France no longer had any ties there after 150 or so years in Canada. When they went back to Acadia they found that their lands had been given to British colonists, so some of them settled on the barren “French shore” (the West coast of Nova Scotia) where they became fishermen (and many of them still are).

  103. Siganus Sutor says:

    I thought the Acadians were in Louisiana…
    They were deported there from Eastern Canada, by the English. Funnily, when the Isle of France was conquered by the Godons, they didn’t send the French-speaking Martians to Louisiana, God knows why. We would have made very exotic little Cadiens (Cajuns in English).

  104. Siganus Sutor says:

    Oh, New-Caledonian Marie-Lucie gave the explanation a few minutes before I posted my comment. So, Nijma, you’ll have a double feed-back (beware of choking).
    Incidentally, not only was the population changed, but place names in Acadia were modified too. (I’m not specifically referring to Nova Scotia. The French never had a prince called Édouard.)

  105. Marie-Lucie–
    It is certainly true that of the first colonists/settlers who arrived in the valley of the Saint-Lawrence over half came either from the Ile-de-France area or Normandy: but linguistically it is quite clear that the first settlers must have shifted to Parisian dialect quite early. This is taken for granted among scholars who work on this topic: the causes are less clear. Philippe Barbaud, in his “Le choc des patois en Nouvelle-France”, believed the high percentage of educated women (notably the “filles du roy”, educated female orphans sent to the colony to remedy a persistent gender imbalance) was the key factor in this shift: more convincing to my mind is the work of Yves-Charles Morin [Full disclosure: a former prof of mine] who, starting with a 2002 article (“Les premiers immigrants et la prononciation du francais au Quebec”, REVUE QUEBECOISE DE LINGUISTIQUE, 2002, vol. 1/31 pp.39-78), has shown that Quebec French is so faithful to what in the seventeenth century were *upper class urban* Parisian pronunciations and forms that it must be assumed dialect shift took place, with as its target a prestigious variety despite there only being a tiny minority of native speakers (and therefore that Barbaud’s explanation is incorrect, as his demographic explanation would have predicted Quebec French to exhibit the more widespread seventeenth-century Ile-de-France colloquial/popular forms)
    As for Acadian [All varieties!], its status as dialect-tinged (Parisian) French has never been denied by any serious scholar ever since Genevieve Massignon, in LES PARLERS FRANCAIS D’ACADIE, made the claim. But of course the various enclave dialects spoken elsewhere in the Atlantic provinces are little affected by standard or Quebec French. As for Cajun French in Louisiana, it is historically speaking a transplanted variety of Acadian French, but which, through contact with other local varieties of French (of which we know little) has shed a great many of its dialectal features and become much closer to the standard.

  106. My non-Viking blood is getting thinner and thinner. I always figured on a couple drops of Norman blood filtered though Britain, but now it looks like my few drops of French blood via Vermont/Minnesota must have come from Normandy as well. Was Chamberlain a typical Norman name?

  107. On the Slavic thread — don’t you think it’s the fixed stress in Czech that makes it hard to understand? I can figure out a great deal of written Czech, but I have a really hard time understanding it when it is spoken. I’m not sure, though, why Czechs would have an easier time with other Slavic languages.
    On the French thread — there are still some French-speakers in upstate NY, too, but more in the Adirondacks (close to Vermont).

  108. A.J.P. Kroun says:

    I have never heard of these ‘French speakers’ in upstate NY and Vermont. Language lives up there, maybe he ought to go and investigate. It sounds like The Twilight Zone: late at night a tired traveling salesman stops his car at a motel and when he wakes up EVERYONE IS SPEAKING FRENCH! Weird.

  109. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, merci! Obviously I have to do more reading on the subject. Thank you for the references.

  110. George Herbert Mead grew up in NE and learned to read French from his friend’s comic books. Jack Kerouac’s father published a French newspaper in Massachusetts, though the Kerouac family spoke only or mostly Breton when they arrived in this hemisphere. Thoreau had a French name but his family was anglicised. However, he said he read French as well as he did English. Whether he learned some of it locally (in the neighborhood) I don’t know.

  111. George Herbert Mead grew up in NE and learned to read French from his friend’s comic books. Jack Kerouac’s father published a French newspaper in Massachusetts, though the Kerouac family spoke only or mostly Breton when they arrived in this hemisphere. Thoreau had a French name but his family was anglicised. However, he said he read French as well as he did English. Whether he learned some of it locally (in the neighborhood) I don’t know.

  112. A.J.P. Crone says:

    I can’t find anything about Thoreau’s French, are you sure? In old age he bore a remarkable resemblance to Pete Townsend, though you have to squint and imagine him wearing white dungarees.

  113. marie-lucie says:

    JE: Jack Kerouac’s father published a French newspaper in Massachusetts, though the Kerouac family spoke only or mostly Breton when they arrived in this hemisphere.
    The name Kerouac is definitely Breton (the beginning Ker- is a giveaway), but whether the family (as opposed to perhaps a single immigrant male ancestor) spoke Breton when coming to Canada is irrelevant to what Jack himself grew up speaking, which was French. If his immigrant ancestor(s) did speak Breton he/they must have spoken French as well (half of Brittany has been French-speaking for centuries). In any case, by the time Kerouac’s parents went to Massachusetts the male Kerouac line was thoroughly mixed up with French-speaking Quebecois.

  114. Thoreau was noted for his joyfulness..

  115. Thoreau was noted for his joyfulness..

  116. Interesting. I think Zadie Smith is expressing an angst felt by many who’ve moved geographically and socially, and who are unfairly viewed as, in some way, inauthentic by those who’ve never moved far enough from their roots to experience the inevitable accretions and code-switching.

  117. A.J.P. Comb says:

    Come to think of it, Pete, Older Thoreau looks quite a lot like Modest Mussorgsky too. A cross between Pete Townsend and Modest Mussorgsky.

  118. A.J.P. Condom says:

    Zadie had, presumably, a cockney accent. King’s College being, traditionally, the most left-leaning college at Cambridge, despite what is implied in her speech/article I’d be surprised if any social pressure was put on her there to change it.

  119. marie-lucie says:

    JE, jouissance does not mean “joyfulness”. It is more something like “extreme enjoyment of the pleasures of the flesh”. Rimbaud on drugs, maybe, but Thoreau?

  120. I am a specialist in misinterpreting Lacan, ML. In Lacan misinterpretation circles, “jouissance” is a technical term meaning “something stupid Lacan said”. For us it’s a matter of utter indifference if lay Frenchmen, Frenchwomen, and Frenchchildren seem to think that the word “jouissance” has a “meaning”.

  121. I am a specialist in misinterpreting Lacan, ML. In Lacan misinterpretation circles, “jouissance” is a technical term meaning “something stupid Lacan said”. For us it’s a matter of utter indifference if lay Frenchmen, Frenchwomen, and Frenchchildren seem to think that the word “jouissance” has a “meaning”.

  122. marie-lucie says:

    Well, I leave Lacan to you, or you to Lacan, as you prefer. But you should specify that you are referring to a word in lacanien not French.

  123. ML, I can see that you are no Lacanienne. To specify that a Lacanian term is being used in a special Lacanian sense rather than in a colloquial sense would destroy its Lacanienity and would be unforgivably anti-Lacanian. Humpty Dumpty lexicography is the Lacanian essence.

  124. ML, I can see that you are no Lacanienne. To specify that a Lacanian term is being used in a special Lacanian sense rather than in a colloquial sense would destroy its Lacanienity and would be unforgivably anti-Lacanian. Humpty Dumpty lexicography is the Lacanian essence.

  125. I’d be surprised if any social pressure was put on her there to change it.
    I went there, way back, and I don’t recall any pressure (I had a UK southern “town” accent, RP with a heavy overlay of proto-Estuary and Hampshire/IOW). Even less chance of pressure in the 1990s when Zadie Smith was there and far more students from the state school sector.

  126. For us it’s a matter of utter indifference if lay Frenchmen, Frenchwomen, and Frenchchildren seem to think that the word “jouissance” has a “meaning”.
    The above, and the comments that followed, make me wonder if perhaps Kim Il Sung’s Swiss-educated grandson could be persuaded to write a new set of volumes on the jouissance of Juche.

  127. marie-lucie says:

    JE; Humpty Dumpty lexicography is the Lacanian essence.
    Of course! That explains it all. Thank you for the tip.

  128. A.J.P. Crow says:

    Thank you for that confirmation, Ray. My experience, which is limited to visits, has been that there are plenty of regional accents all over Oxbridge these days.

  129. Smith does not say she was pressured into changing her accent by anyone else; she says “this English voice with its rounded vowels and consonants in more or less the right place—this is not the voice of my childhood. I picked it up in college, along with the unabridged Clarissa and a taste for port. Maybe this fact is only what it seems to be—a case of bald social climbing—but at the time I genuinely thought this was the voice of lettered people, and that if I didn’t have the voice of lettered people I would never truly be lettered.”
    It’s not a matter of being able to join in conversations with her classmates but of being able to join in the Conversation of Lettered People Throughout the Ages. I can easily see an intellectually ambitious young person thinking that way; in fact, I can easily see myself thinking that way if I’d been raised in different circumstances. (The fact that she links the accent with “the unabridged Clarissa and a taste for port” should be a dead giveaway; I’m pretty sure those things are no more universal at Oxford than a posh accent.)

  130. A.J.P. Chrome says:

    Smith does not say she was pressured into changing her accent by anyone else
    She does seem to be saying that, to me. Unabridged Clarissa would apply equally to an Ivy-League English department, but ‘a taste for port’ is a cliché confined to high tables at Oxbridge and their many attendant mystery stories. I take it to mean she consciously renounced the dialect of her native Willesden in order to seek her fortune, and that her route is well-known to have gone through King’s College, Cambridge. “If I didn’t have the voice of lettered people I would never truly be lettered” doesn’t, in my opinion, apply to Shakespeare or Keats — and I’m pretty sure she would have learnt that at Cambridge — I think she’s blaming the university mafias. I don’t find it at all convincing.
    I bet she changed accents a) earlier, and b) in some way that would have been accepted by her fellow-students. The trend nowadays is the ‘Princess Diana’ phenomenon of glottal stops and more the even more downmarket accents of her children, Princes William & Harry.

  131. Di will never die. She will always be with us. Every time I hear a young person speaking annoyingly, I will reflect on death, immortality, and the murderous Knights of Malta and their far-reaching plans. She’s the Elvis of the postmodern age.

  132. Di will never die. She will always be with us. Every time I hear a young person speaking annoyingly, I will reflect on death, immortality, and the murderous Knights of Malta and their far-reaching plans. She’s the Elvis of the postmodern age.

  133. A.J. Polished- Chrome says:

    Princess Di & Elvis is my well-worn example of the tendentiousness of the concept of agnosticism. If I say Princess Di is alive and living with Elvis Presley on the Isle of Man, people don’t go ‘Oh, we just can’t tell if that’s true or not’, they say it’s bollocks.

  134. She does seem to be saying that, to me. Unabridged Clarissa would apply equally to an Ivy-League English department, but ‘a taste for port’ is a cliché confined to high tables at Oxbridge and their many attendant mystery stories. I take it to mean she consciously renounced the dialect of her native Willesden in order to seek her fortune, and that her route is well-known to have gone through King’s College, Cambridge. “If I didn’t have the voice of lettered people I would never truly be lettered” doesn’t, in my opinion, apply to Shakespeare or Keats — and I’m pretty sure she would have learnt that at Cambridge — I think she’s blaming the university mafias. I don’t find it at all convincing.
    I’m glad you included all those qualifiers—I wish everyone were as honest—but get serious, you’re pretty much twisting her words to suit your own prejudices about her as representative of some apparently irritating group of people. It seems to me much simpler to take what she writes at face value, and I’m not sure why you’re so determined to unmask a fraud that is apparent only to you. It’s not as if she’s presenting herself as some sort of paragon; she’s quite frank about her desire to rise in the world.

  135. A.J. P. Crewcut says:

    Is what you’re calling ‘face value’ that she needed it to ‘join in the conversation with the men of letters’ rather than, as you put it: ‘It’s not a matter of being able to join in conversations with her classmates’? Because I thought that was your inference, not what she had actually said.
    I don’t hate Zadie Smith and I don’t see her as representing a group of irritating people. Far from it, as I (and she) said, her accent change goes against the trend. I think the only fraud she is perpetrating is on herself, that she has fooled herself into blaming some unnamed Cambridge people who made her suppress her sing-song native Willesdonian like she was Dylan Thomas, or something. Whereas, in fact, most of South-East England talks with that accent plus/minus a few non-socially-significant nuances. Willesdon is the lower-middle-class neighbourhood in North London where she sets much of her work and it is (to me) its best, most unusual feature. I still maintain her plots are crap.

  136. jamessal says:

    blaming some unnamed Cambridge people
    Like Hat, I don’t think she’s blaming anyone but herself.
    Like you, I like her but not her fiction.

  137. A.J. P. Chowder says:

    Ok, there you go. Jamessal has spoken, I agree, you’re right, she’s not blaming them. Never mind.

  138. Read the rest of it, yes she is saying she was pressured:

    A braver person, perhaps, would have stood firm, teaching her peers a useful lesson by example: not all lettered people need be of the same class, nor speak identically. I went the other way. Partly out of cowardice and a constitutional eagerness to please, but also because I didn’t quite see it as a straight swap, of this voice for that.

    Has everyone gotten too old to remember how important it is at that age to fit in? But I think that on some level we also choose our peer groups based on who we want to be.
    Changing accents was once the subject of a Nijmasson family feud. Of course we don’t have blood feuds anymore like in the old Viking days, but this one went on for at least 20 years. I first realized my mother had changed her accent when we visited some relatives in Iowa in order to decorate some graves in Iowa for Memorial Day and we stayed at someone’s farmhouse. Suddenly my mother was saying stuff like “ain’t got no” and some more subtle changes that I can’t imitate. Fast forward to the quarrel. My mother had done something unspeakable, first in marrying a pencil pusher instead of someone who did real work, and secondly in not raising her children to speak in the rural way–sending us to school in town and not in the good old one-room country schools (by that time there weren’t many left) where we would be able to keep our culture and know who we were. In the end it didn’t matter, peer groups will prevail–my cousins have perfect standard midwest English accents indistinguishable from my own.

  139. jamessal says:

    Read the rest of it, yes she is saying she was pressured
    Just because Zadie Smith, as a young person, perceived pressure to talk a certain way doesn’t mean that now, writing for the NYRB, she’s blaming anyone for anything.
    Jamessal has spoken
    Can you teach that to Robin?

  140. Oh, please. Why is there such resistance to just listening to her words? Some one must be putting a negative value judgment on her feelings to reject the simplest explanation of what she is saying. Listen to her, and listen to the others who are speaking about their personal experiences. They are all saying something about language.

  141. A.J. P. Cong says:

    yeah, but if you listen to the linguists, anecdotal evidence is not to be trusted.

  142. jamessal says:

    Oh, please. Why is there such resistance to just listening to her words?
    You show me how by just listening to her words I should reach the conclusion that “she’s blaming the university mafia dons” (not to beat your dead horse, Kron, but that it what we were talking about) and you can Oh, please me all you want.

  143. When I was 18 most of my word choices and grammar were standard educated American English, but my pronunciation and certain phrases were Fargo. (One person politely called it Canadian, and others politely assumed I was an immigrant from some unknown land). I just barely noticed, didn’t feel at all embarrassed, and made no effort to change, and I still have a trace of it.
    Once construction in the Fargo movie that someone vividly remembered was the “So then…..” / “So……, then” construction, whic could introduce questions, mild imperatives, and the announcement of decisions. It’s not ungrammatical in English at all, but it’s very characteristic of German, taught in intro texts.
    After the fact I realized that for most of my classmates and teachers, almost all of whom were coastal, I was sort of an exotic, not especially in a good way. I can’t say that it harmed my so-called career, because I had (and have) other unique and exotic traits too, but teachers give the benefit of the doubt to students they feel comfortable with, and that was not me.
    For fairness sake, it has to be said in their defense that significantly before they failed properly to like me, I had already failed to like them much at all. I didn’t come close to bonding with any of them except two music teachers, and I lack musical talent.

  144. When I was 18 most of my word choices and grammar were standard educated American English, but my pronunciation and certain phrases were Fargo. (One person politely called it Canadian, and others politely assumed I was an immigrant from some unknown land). I just barely noticed, didn’t feel at all embarrassed, and made no effort to change, and I still have a trace of it.
    Once construction in the Fargo movie that someone vividly remembered was the “So then…..” / “So……, then” construction, whic could introduce questions, mild imperatives, and the announcement of decisions. It’s not ungrammatical in English at all, but it’s very characteristic of German, taught in intro texts.
    After the fact I realized that for most of my classmates and teachers, almost all of whom were coastal, I was sort of an exotic, not especially in a good way. I can’t say that it harmed my so-called career, because I had (and have) other unique and exotic traits too, but teachers give the benefit of the doubt to students they feel comfortable with, and that was not me.
    For fairness sake, it has to be said in their defense that significantly before they failed properly to like me, I had already failed to like them much at all. I didn’t come close to bonding with any of them except two music teachers, and I lack musical talent.

  145. Nijma, you seem awfully fond of stirring up trouble.

  146. A.J. P. Something says:

    Shut the fuck up, Donny. No, was that at Reed College, Pete? I’d imagined it was the epitome of tolerance and informal politeness.
    I didn’t see the university, dons, mafia connection when I wrote it. It’s rather good.

  147. Reed College was known as Rude College by the neighbors.

  148. Reed College was known as Rude College by the neighbors.

  149. What troubles you, Hat?

  150. David Marjanović says:

    Stiflingly indeed, what with the Battle of White Mountain and shit.

    No, I mean the living three or four generations.

    Polish has got to be one the least diglossic languages in Europe

    The people I saw managing to understand some Czech may have had some exposure to the Silesian dialect, which differs from Standard Polish quite appreciably (BTW, there’s a Wikipedia in it).
    I’ve also seen the failure of this, though. One was when three Czechs wanted to buy icecream and it didn’t work, because they use “frozen” while Polish uses “ice”. The other was phonological: every single time one of the Czechs asked for maso (meat) at the table, it was understood as masło (butter), so he was handed the largely comestible margarine instead of the mięso (Czech of course having lost the nasal vowels, and the Polish nasal vowels being closer to vowel-plus-[n] sequences anyway).

    Somewhat the same case as Chinese “Guanhua” used until the end of the Qing dynasty. A different friend had a file of letters from her Chinese grandfather to famous people like Hu Shih and Sun Yat-sen, but a Chinese PhD (PhD in Chinese from a Chinese University) she knew couldn’t even begin to read them.

    Go here and read Chapter 6. It’s only about one large screen…
    (Well, actually, you should all read the whole page, but only that chapter is on topic here.)

    the “So then…..” / “So……, then” construction, whic could introduce questions, mild imperatives, and the announcement of decisions. It’s not ungrammatical in English at all, but it’s very characteristic of German, taught in intro texts.

    What is it in German, then? ~:-|
    Finally, I’m surprised nobody has brought that up yet. What kind of a name is Zadie? Where does that come from?

  151. David Marjanović says:

    …and Czech also having lost the palatalized labials. Or maybe it never had them.

  152. The cited Chapter Six is a bit inaccurate. Actual classical Chinese is straightforward and not that heard to learn.
    But as early as the Han dynasty (ca. 100 BC) people started writing in codes derived from the actual classics, so that, in an example I recently saw, “we-wei” (something like “without activity, without action, without doing”) was interpreted by Ho-shang Kung as a code for “Don’t eat the Five Grains”. (Why holy men should live only on root crops and greens is a different question.)
    The classical meaning was the literal meaning, the technical Taoist meaning was something entirely different — an allusion at best. That wasn’t the best example, because Taoist terminology was a subspecialty. “Guanhua” was Confucian.
    inged was exclusionary elitism, but also paranoid secretiveness. The paranoid codes kept receding, because at a certain point something blatantly obvious like “I hear dogs barking” could get your head cut off. [An example coined on the spot by me. I’m not totally on top of this stuff.]

  153. The cited Chapter Six is a bit inaccurate. Actual classical Chinese is straightforward and not that heard to learn.
    But as early as the Han dynasty (ca. 100 BC) people started writing in codes derived from the actual classics, so that, in an example I recently saw, “we-wei” (something like “without activity, without action, without doing”) was interpreted by Ho-shang Kung as a code for “Don’t eat the Five Grains”. (Why holy men should live only on root crops and greens is a different question.)
    The classical meaning was the literal meaning, the technical Taoist meaning was something entirely different — an allusion at best. That wasn’t the best example, because Taoist terminology was a subspecialty. “Guanhua” was Confucian.
    inged was exclusionary elitism, but also paranoid secretiveness. The paranoid codes kept receding, because at a certain point something blatantly obvious like “I hear dogs barking” could get your head cut off. [An example coined on the spot by me. I’m not totally on top of this stuff.]

  154. “wu-wei”
    “This coded writing was exclusionary elitism, but also paranoid secretiveness.”
    Damn.

  155. “wu-wei”
    “This coded writing was exclusionary elitism, but also paranoid secretiveness.”
    Damn.

  156. What kind of a name is Zadie? Where does that come from?
    Zadie Smith was born Sadie, a diminutive of Sarah.

  157. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, thanks.

  158. John:
    because I had (and have) other unique and exotic traits too
    Des noms, des noms !

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