How Capicola Became Gabagool.

An Atlas Obscura piece by Dan Nosowitz has a pretty decent layman’s explanation of the origin of the peculiar NYC-area pronunciation of Italian foodstuffs (perhaps best exemplified by “pastafazool” for pasta e fagioli, which he doesn’t cite); Nosowitz talks to “a few linguists and experts on Italian-American culture,” provides some historical background and a helpful map (though it should be labeled “A map of Italy in 1494,” not “A map of Italy from 1494”), and gives some basic linguistic information:

During unification, the northern Italian powers decided that having a country that speaks about a dozen different languages would pose a bit of a challenge to their efforts, so they picked one and called it “Standard Italian” and made everyone learn it. The one that they picked was Tuscan, and they probably picked it because it was the language of Dante, the most famous Italian writer. (You can see why calling these languages “dialects” is tricky; Standard Italian is just one more dialect, not the base language which Calabrian or Piedmontese riffs on, which is kind of the implication.)

Nice photos and video clips, too. Worth a read. (Via MetaFilter.)


  1. And when I went to Italy, very few people could understand me, even the people in my parents’ region. They recognized that I was speaking as if I was a 70-year-old man, when I was only 26 years old.

    I wish there was more on this part — what kind of response he had from old people, whether people found his oldisms charmingly retro or fussy or bamma, how people felt about oldisms are still surviving in the US.

    Previously on LH.

  2. Previously on LH.

    Excellent find! Sadly, I have no memory of posting it…

  3. marie-lucie says

    More of the same in Italy:

    When I was a graduate student in the US (many years ago), one of my classmates was from a Sicilian-American family. His parents had run a grocery store while the largely monolingual grandparents looked after him and his sister, who grew up bilingual. He had recently returned from some months in the Sicilian village the family was from. I asked him how he had been getting along in Sicilian. “I had no problem communicating”, he said, “but I spoke like an old man”.

  4. It’s a pretty patronizing discussion, even if after the first few paragraphs it’s technically accurate.

    I’ve been reading the Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante. In English translation, we are frequently told that the characters are speaking “dialect” (i.e. Neapolitan) – some characters speak only Neapolitan, others only Italian, and some code shift, and this is important, socially and politically. From what i have been able to discover, in the original, the narrator’s voice speaks in Italian and the characters speak in Italian or Neapolitan, as appropriate. There’s no way to translate this, and I’m sure that the absence of the two languages is a significant loss to the English reader.

  5. Damn. Now I really want some pašta fažol, even though I’ve just had breakfast.

    I’ve got nothing useful to add, sorry. Carry on.

  6. Ah, that finally explains the word that always puzzled me in the Dean Martin song ‘That’s Amore’…

  7. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    Oh my, gabagool sounds distinctly Australian Aboriginal… Some of these look like they might have been influenced by the quirks of English phonology (flapped /d/, aspiration possibly more salient than voicing) but then I’m rather ignorant about Italo-Romance linguistics.

  8. ‘That’s Amore’

    Looking over the lyrics and playing back Dino’s performance in my mind (here in the hospital it wouldn’t be fair to play it out loud), I’m pretty sure he flaps the “t” in “vita bella”. That can’t be Nnapulitano, because that only interchanges /d/ and /r/, not /t/. (This is sometimes attributed to an Oscan substrate, though haud credo.) His native language was Nn, though he was born here, and he learned English in school. But yes, English phonology is deeply relevant. Why not? Italian-Americans speak English, and for many it is their first or even only language.

  9. marie-lucie says

    JC: Nnapulitano … only interchanges /d/ and /r/, not /t/. (This is sometimes attributed to an Oscan substrate, though haud credo.

    You are probably right to haud credere. I don’t know either Napolitan or Oscan, but it seems to me that this must be of the same order as attributing the gorgia toscana to an Etruscan substrate.

  10. Bloix: I read Ferrante in the original Italian, and she almost never uses dialect, she usually just tells the reader that the person in question is speaking dialect, just as in the English translation. I don’t know if anyone has asked her why she made this choice. It may be that “Ferrante” (whoever she really is) no longer speaks Neapolitan well (or possibly never did). Trying to write in a dialect you aren’t that comfortable in would be as hard as writing in any foreign language you don’t know fluently, so it is probably not that surprising Ferrante doesn’t try.

  11. The article doesn’t mention American English arugula (British rocket) beside standard Italian rucola or ruchetta. Many years ago, I sifted through the forms of this word in all the glossaries of the southern Italian topolects that I could dig out of Widener Library. If memory doesn’t fail me, the forms from Basilicata like arucola, arucula, etc., usually came closest to the form that was generalized in American English. But I am far from being an expert, here. When I lived in Somerville, Massachusetts, the old Italian guy who was my next-door neighbor had let most of his back lawn become a vast arugula patch, and he called it arugula, so I assumed that the word had entered English from the southern Italian topolects spoken by immigrants. I wonder if any Language Hat readers of Italian and Sicilian heritage remember any variants of arugula that their grandparents used in the kitchen, or that they still use today.

    An initial a- also appears in northern Italy (one sees a form from Lombardy, arigola, cited—I haven’t looked for it in the dictionaries of the Lombard language). I wonder if standard Italian la rucola arose from metanalysis of l’arucola with initial a- from an earlier *e- (Latin ērūca, “arugula, cruciferous leafy vegetable”) before -r-?

  12. The assertion that “it’s next to impossible to pick out a specific regional accent in the way a Jewish American says ‘challah'” is not completely correct; in Chicago we say “chally” (also matsy, etc.). Some tie this to a particular subregion of Northeastern Yiddish where final unstressed e becomes i (a majority of Jewish immigrants to Chicago spoke Northeastern Yiddish), but I think it’s just one of those things that happened.

  13. In addition, writing in Nnapulitano, which the ordinary Italian cannot read fluently (as opposed to painfully decode), would seriously limit the market for her work. Actually bilingual novels like War and Peace are rare because the circumstances which would gain them a wide readership are rare, and even then Tolstoy made some accommodations to the Russian-only reader.

  14. David Marjanović says

    The Roman I heard speak a few years ago turned every single /p t k/ into [b d g] – a complete merger with /b d g/ in apparently all environments. This makes for a really strange sound system, made even stranger by the fact that z was still voiceless [ts] and ci merged into sci instead of becoming voiced. He probably took out several linguistic universals in every sentence.

    Consonant length was gone, too. He was quite surprised that I didn’t know who Monica Bellucci was – I did, I just hadn’t recognized her name behind [mɔnəˈgabəlʊɕ] or something like that.

    pašta fažol

    Oh, this is a good opportunity to ask: what’s up with all this retroflexion of Italian words in, at least, coastal Croatian? It seems completely regular to me, not sporadic. Is it some kind of hypercorrectivism?

  15. vanya: as for Ferrante’s identity, I’m of the school that believes her books are highly autobiographical and the anonymity is to protect herself and her family – that is, I believe that she is a native speaker of Neapolitan. I’m a little disappointed to learn that the “dialect” passages in the novels are written in Italian – but, perhaps, an Italian from (say) Milan would not understand a passage written in Neapolitan.

    Ben – my parents (both sides) are from Brooklyn, and they said, and I say, challey. My wife’s parents are from New Jersey, and she says challah. My father took great pleasure in using his own father’s pronunciations of Hebrew and Yiddish – oomyn for amen, dye-inee for dayenu. In our house, the Shabbos blessings began with the ringing announcement, Yaym ha-shee-shee.

  16. fisheyed: My parents came from Umbria to Canada in the 1950’s-1960’s, and we spoke Italian @ home. While “standard” Italian developed through newspapers & TV in Italy, we spoke & maintained the standard dialect at home (which is reasonably close to standard because my folks were from central Italy). When I go back to visit relatives, I often get one of several responses:
    1) Young people I meet for the first time tell me, “you speak like my grandfather speaks”.
    2) If I’m conversing with an older person, sometimes they say, “I haven’t heard that term in years!” One very localized example: I get smiles and/or laughs when I describe a deluge of rain as a “sgrullo” – the term also applies to flicking a towel or tablecloth to dry it or clean it off.
    3) Some people compliment my Italian without being able to place the accent or dialect (they haven’t heard it before, or in sooooo long, it’s actually kind of foreign).

    Further complicating the issue is that at home, if I didn’t know the Italian word for something, we’d often use an Italian-ized version of an English word. For example, in Italy, a store is called “negozio”. Here, more often than not, we’d say “storo” as a Latinization of “store”. Try that in Italy a few times, and you get the odd looks, indeed!

    I’ve also heard the same thing from Finns I know whose parents came from the old country & spoke Finnish @ home – kids going back to visit in Finland get told they sound like the old folks, and old folks mention terms they hadn’t heard in years.

    Great piece – thanks for sharing!

  17. we’d often use an Italian-ized version of an English word. For example, in Italy, a store is called “negozio”. Here, more often than not, we’d say “storo” as a Latinization of “store”.

    YIddish did/does that too. The (female) tenant one floor up was called the ‘upstairsikeh.’ I told this to a woman of Polish origin, who responded that her mother used a Slavicized concoction that more or less included ‘vacuum cleaner’ to refer to that device. bulbul? Piotr? Others?

  18. Essentially all immigrant languages take in vocabulary from the superstrate like this. Here’s the 1921 version of Mencken’s “Non-English Dialects in America” (meaning the American dialects of languages other than English) from the second edition of The American Language. The 4th edition is much more comprehensive but not on line. And of course zillions of professional studies have been done. Here’s a lovely bit of heavily Americanized Nnapulitano (with concessions to the standard) written for the Italian theatre in New York, flourishing in those days, which Mencken quotes:

    Ne sera dentro na barra americana dove il patrone era americano, lo visco era americano, la birra era americana, ce steva na ghenga de loffari tutti americani: solo io non ero americano; quanno a tutto nu mumento me mettono mmezzo e me dicettono: Alò spaghetti; iu mericano men? No! no! mi Italy men! Iu blacco enze. No, no! Iu laico chistu contri. No, no! Mi laico mio contry! Mi laico Italy! A questa punto me chiavaieno lo primo fait! “Dice: Orré for America!” Io tuosto: Orré for Italy! Un ato fait. “Dice: Orré for America!” Orré for Italy! N’ato fait e n ato fait, fino a che me facetteno addurmentare; ma però, orré for America nun o dicette!

    Quanno me scietaie, me trovaie ncoppa lu marciepiedi cu nu pulizio vicino che diceva; Ghiroppe bomma! Io ancora stunato alluccaie: America nun gudde! Orré for Italy! Sapete li pulizio che facette? Mi arrestò!

    Quanno fu la mattina, lu giorge mi dicette: Wazzo maro laste naite? Io risponette: No tocche nglese! “No? Tenne dollari.” E quello porco dello giorge nun scherzava, perché le diece pezze se le pigliaie!…

    Note fait ‘punch’, not ‘fight’.

  19. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    Oh, this is a good opportunity to ask: what’s up with all this retroflexion of Italian words in, at least, coastal Croatian? It seems completely regular to me, not sporadic. Is it some kind of hypercorrectivism?

    You mean the s, z → š, ž? AFAIK things like Polish żagiel and German Segel, OCS мьша and Latin missa, Czech komže and camisa and so on are explained as resulting from an alveolar articulation of the sibilants in the source language (so they were perceived as closer to the Slavic hushing sibilants). Perhaps in some Italian dialects this alveolar articulation persisted longer than in others (cf. Castillian Spanish vs Andalusian and American Spanish).

  20. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    I told this to a woman of Polish origin, who responded that her mother used a Slavicized concoction that more or less included ‘vacuum cleaner’ to refer to that device. bulbul? Piotr? Others?

    Seems likely to me but since I’m not familiar with any people from the diaspora (so-called Polonia) so I can’t verify this. Online you can find some lists or even dictionaries of words (borrowings and derivations) supposedly used in the language of the diaspora, which are occasionally brandished to shock and baffle the law-abiding, prescriptive-minded citizens.

  21. Leo Rosten wrote a revised version of The Joys of Yiddish called The Joys of Yinglish, in which he spent quite a bit of space on Yiddishization of otherwise English words. This included both nonce forms and ones that appeared to have entered widespread use. (Unfortunately, my father lost my copies of both books, so I’m working from memory on this. Also, I recently learned that Leo Rosten and William Steig were married to Margaret Mead’s two sisters.)

  22. I told this to a woman of Polish origin

    And she responded:

    ‘Vacuuma. A feminine device. ” ta Vacuuma nie robi”‘

    ‘My mother used to use the word ” vacuumovatch ” as the verb “to vacuum”. As in ” ja po vacuumovawa”
    This would be “I vacuumed” in the feminine.’

  23. David Marjanović says

    Perhaps in some Italian dialects this alveolar articulation persisted longer than in others

    Oh. That could be.

  24. English pastrami also has a final [ i ], indicating I suppose a Yiddish pronunciation of pastrame (early spelling פּאסטראמא [?], now standardized as פּאַסטראַמע) with [ i ], like challah (Yiddish כאַלע ,חלה, from Hebrew חלה). My favorite example of non-English dialects in English is the word often spelled tabbouleh or tabbouli, usually pronounced [tə.ˈ] in American English, with the typically Lebanese realisation of the final tāʾ marbūṭa letter ة in tabūla تبولة as [ i ].

  25. Sorry, Arabic tabbūla تبولة with geminate.

  26. Bloix: Interesting about challey. What about matsy or kishkies?

    Sounds like your father’s heritage dialect was Central Yiddish, the kind spoken in most of Poland and Galicia, as well as parts of Ukraine and Romania. Ashkenazic pronunciations of Hebrew match the vowels of the Yiddish dialects, which is a sort of nice thing.

    Patrick: Pastrami is an interesting one. I always assumed the analogy of Italian deli meats influenced this English spelling and pronunciation. Although now that I’m thinking of Italian deli meats, bologna -> baloney seems relevant.

  27. Tabbouli: add tahini too, by the same route, although WP offers Greek ταχίνι as a possible intermediate.

  28. Ben – my father’s father was from Krakow. In our house, matzah was matzuh, kishkes were kishkes, and latkes were latkes, but bubbeh and zaydeh were bubbie and zaydie.

  29. Oh, this is a good opportunity to ask: what’s up with all this retroflexion of Italian words in, at least, coastal Croatian? It seems completely regular to me, not sporadic. Is it some kind of hypercorrectivism?

    It’s definitely not sporadic. I haven’t given it much thought, but I sort of assumed it was some sort of Slavic thing. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that we get it from the Mleci (I love that word), but Ксёнѕ Фаўст’s theory makes a lot of sense. Anyone know for sure?

  30. vita bella

    Actually, what Dean Martin sings is vi[tʰ]a bella, sort of hyper-Anglicized. The rhyme, however, is gay [tʰ]aran[t]ella, which surely sounds like tarandella to naive anglophone ears (which is indeed the way the backup singers pronounce it). The whole thing is phonologically unstable: tarandella has light [l], but the next ocurrence of it rhymes with lucky fella, which has two instances of [ɫ]. There are plenty of final epenthetic vowels, but then plenty of places where they “should” be and aren’t. Per contra, the final vowel of scusami is slightly diphthongized, and the contrast between this [ij] and [ɪ] in English is robust.

  31. YouTube forwarded me to “Mambo Italiano; I wasn’t listening closely, but I did note mozzarella with stressed /u/, though the tune demands and gets four syllables out of the word.

  32. I’ve never come across wakumować ‘to vacuum-clean’, but I can well imagine that American Poles could coin a hybrid verb like that (e.g. wywakumowałam pokój ‘I [fem.] have vacuumed the room’). I could quote similar examples from the fully native Polish of my students. English is the language of instruction in my department, so there’s quite a lot of L2 -> L1 transfer in the students’ classroom jargon at the lexical level. But also mainstream Polish has been strongly affected by English influence, especially in its slangy register, I suppose you can guess what the phrase forwardować e-mail /ˈimejl/ means. Lajkować coś na fejsie means ‘to “like” sth on Facebook’.

  33. My father has told me that in his parents’ social circle (pre-war Jewish immigrants in the northeastern US) there were Anglo-Yiddish words in use like shtoyv for “stove”, and koyt for “coat”. (I wonder if those two were the most memorable because oy is a funny sound.) He also told me that his father spoke some kind of pidgin with the Poles at the bakery where he worked. Poles weren’t unknown in his region of Ukraine, so it may have been something taken from the old country.

  34. The most memorable ones to me are op/donsterziker/e, transparently from English up/downstairs and meaning ‘up/downstairs neighbor in an apartment building’, with gender marking. Not all American-specific Yiddish vocabulary is adapted from English in this fashion, but a fair amount of it is, and some of it has survived the transition to English either because of its expressiveness or its useful semantic chunking, as in this case.

  35. Mleci (I love that word)

    That is a great word, and the etymology (which I just looked up) is amazing:


    Venezia, Mleci, Mletaka < Mneci, Mnetaka < stsrp. Bnetci < Bьnetьci, dalmatoromanskim posredstvom od lat. prideva veneticus ‘venecijanski’, množina Venetici ‘Venecijanci’ (Skok I 137–138). (A.L.)

    I never would have guessed it was etymologically related to Venice as well as meaning ‘Venice’!

  36. David Marjanović says

    So Mlet “Venice” is a back-formation? 🙂

    Interesting that /v/ was borrowed as /b/. Either Slavic /v/ was still [w], or “Dalmato-Romance” had a Spanish-style sound change…

  37. The 4th edition is much more comprehensive but not on line.

    Now it is, as a PDF. No sign of the Supplements yet.

  38. Here’s some of the Russian material from the 4th edition, in turn from a paper by H.B. Wells (1932):

    Thus, importirovat’ and eksportirovat’ contend with vvozit’ and vyvozit’ for the privilege of representing to import and to export; annonsirovat’ and objavljat’ represent to announce, and registrirovat’ and zapissat’sja represent to sign up, to register one’s self. Such a combination as annulirovat’ naturalizatsionnye sertifikaty (to annul naturalization certificates) would be rare, to say the least, in Russia, though the writer has here obviously struggled for correctness; otherwise he would have written sertifikejty instead of sertifikaty.


    The Russian-American New Yorker lives v optaune (in the uptown)…. His apartment is in a desjatifamil’nyi dom (ten-family house) at 67 Vest 123 strit, ist of Brodvej. There is an élevator in the building. The apartment is very ap tu dejt (upto date); it is furnished with rejdiejtory (radiators) and a
    refridzherejtor (refrigerator). Several of the rooms have okna naront (windows on the front); these he calls frontovye komnaty (front-rooms). In the living-room there is a vik or viktrola, and in the kitchen a garbich kén… [His] wife is also quite ap tu dejt. When she wants to imet’ ljonch or
    ljonchevat’ (have lunch), she calls up another lédi (lady) and they go to the drogstor and consume séndvichi (sandwiches), kejk (cake), and ajskrim (ice-cream), smoking sigarety furiously the while and discussing the cost of potejta (potatoes), and whether to mufovat’ in view of the unsuitability of the neighborhood. She boasts of her boj (boy) in khaj-skul (high-school), who plays football and made a tochdaun (touchdown) last Thanksgiving Day, but who is nevertheless distraught because he hada fajt (fight) with his gjorla (girl). The gjorla is ku-ku (cuckoo) anyway, and the mother thinks of advising her son not to mix himself up in any monki bisnes (monkey business)…. In the evening the Russian comes home to his flét (flat)…. He has a kara (car) and the way it eats up gazolin and ojl is frightful.… A dark interlude in his life was the time he had a run-in with a kop; he was driving through a uan-vej strit (one-way street), and was exceeding the spidlimit. Moreover, he had left his lajsens at home on the piano, and the kop gave him a tiket.

    Unfortunately, there is no running text in Americanized Russian. But here’s some Americanized Swedish, supposedly recorded as heard, just for lagniappe:

    Edvard, kom an, nu!

    Men, Mamma, ja må finischa de’ här; ja må stäph vajern på den här fensposten. [Note the calque of nonstandard English this here, an emphatic demonstrative.]

    Edvard! Nu näver du majndar! Nu kommer du an! Mäka mej inte mäd, nu, Edvard!

    And some sentences of Americanized Norwegian:

    Mrs. Olsen va aafel bisi idag; hun maatte beke kek.

    Reilraaden ha muva schappa sine.

    Je kunde ikke faa reset saa mye kaes at je fik betalt morgesen i farmen min.

    Det meka ingen difrens.

    Hos’n fila du? / Puddi gud.

  39. I’m not sure den här is a calque: it’s an ordinary expression used in Swedish quite a lot.

  40. Trond Engen says

    John C.: And some sentences of Americanized Norwegian:

    Some more.

    juha: I’m not sure den här is a calque: it’s an ordinary expression used in Swedish quite a lot..

    Norwegian too. Den her and det her are probably more common than denne and dette, at least traditionally and colloquially. There’s also denne her and dette her.

  41. David Marjanović says


    Also used in Russia, straight from French.

  42. Such a combination as annulirovat’ naturalizatsionnye sertifikaty (to annul naturalization certificates) would be rare, to say the least, in Russia

    it would only because Russian immigration services don’t use such documents.

    the phrase itself is perfectly normal standard Russian these days

  43. Roberto Batisti says

    “Perhaps in some Italian dialects this alveolar articulation persisted longer than in others”

    Yes, in most northern dialects (and in the respective regional accents) sibilants are normally realized as alveolar, while they’re dental in the center/south (and in standard pronunciation). Since coastal Croatian would have got its ‘Italian’ loans mainly from Venetian, it makes sense that [s̺ z̺] were adapted as /ʃ ʒ/.

  44. January First-of-May says

    it would only because Russian immigration services don’t use such documents.

    the phrase itself is perfectly normal standard Russian these days

    While I would not be especially surprised to see the phrase аннулировать натурализационные сертификаты in a Russian text (if said documents existed, at least – I don’t think they do, but it’s not like I’m particularly familiar with that kind of paperwork), it does sound a bit overly formal; perfectly normal standard Russian would probably be something like аннулировать сертификаты натурализации.

    Certainly аннулировать сертификаты by itself is completely ordinary.

  45. John Cowan says

    Naturalization certificates certainly exist in the U.S. Original proof of U.S. citizenship takes one of four forms: a birth certificate showing birth in U.S. territory (except American Samoa), a consular report of birth (showing that the local U.S. consul was satisfied that at least one of your parents was an American citizen and spent some time as a U.S. resident prior to your birth, but details vary), a certificate of citizenship (issued to people who meet the jus sanguinis conditions but for whatever reasons no consular report existed), or a naturalization certificate. An American passport is also a proof of citizenship, but is issued only to people having one of the four original-proof documents. I don’t have a passport, because mine has expired and I don’t expect to travel outside the U.S. in the future, but I have an official copy of my birth certificate and that establishes my citizenship.

    The original Russian phrase, after all, was used by Russians in the U.S. I suspect the reason for annulling the naturalization certificates in question is that they were fraudulent.

    I finally dug up how you prove you are a citizen of the Russian Federation, but the document I found is obviously poorly translated from Russian. Apparently the passport is the primary means, but a military or merchant-marine ID card or a birth certificate is also sufficient, provided that the issuer marked the document to show that the infant, soldier, or sailor is a citizen. So apparently a naturalized Russian citizen would prove citizenship with their passport.

    Germany has a certificate of citizenship (Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis), but acquiring one without an existing German passport involves proving by documentary evidence the time and place of birth, the marital status, the military record, the adoption status, and the citizenship status of you and your ancestors back to 1914 (in most cases). Not surprisingly, it takes 2-3 years from the time you submit the evidence till the time you get a reply.

  46. Since it has been decided (through a combination of court rulings and administrative interpretations) that the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment means that an American citizen does not lose their citizenship by swearing allegiance to or taking service under a foreign power, an expired passport is still a presumptively valid proof of citizenship.

  47. And yet I’m having to go to the trouble and expense of getting a new one to prove my identity to the satisfaction of the bank that has otherwise approved a loan.

  48. John Cowan says

    Private parties can impose any requirements they want, of course. If they want to see your cat’s anti-rabies vaccination records, they can certainly insist on them.

  49. Don’t give them any ideas!

  50. David Marjanović says

    Germany has a certificate of citizenship (Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis)

    Austria, too, has one, but it’s called Staatsbürgerschaftsnachweis; rather than an ID card (Ausweis), it’s a document issued on request by the municipality you live in. I think it’s simply an excerpt of their own records.

  51. John Cowan says

    That’s closer to a birth certificate, I think. This is what you apply for when you walk into a German consulate and ask: “Am I a German citizen?” Then they give you forms to fill out to find out.

    When I made such an inquiry, I simply emailed the embassy in Washington, and got a reply in one day: no, I am not, though my mother certainly was, because by marrying my father, an American citizen, in 1950 she gave up her German citizenship by operation of law (which would not be true today). However, I am eligible for accelerated German naturalization if I moved to Germany.

  52. David Marjanović says

    That’s closer to a birth certificate, I think.

    It would be under ius soli. But my birth certificate doesn’t mention my citizenship at all; it’s just one sentence stating my name, date of birth and place of birth followed by descriptions of my parents in keywords.

    I also have a citizenship certificate. That’s just one sentence stating name, date & place of birth and place of residence.

  53. Normal American birth certificates don’t say anything about citizenship either, because the circumstances of a documented birth essentially automatically imply citizenship. I wonder about birth certificates issued by overseas military hospitals though; they might be different.

  54. I wonder about birth certificates issued by overseas military hospitals though; they might be different.

    That’s exactly what I’ve got (issued by Tokyo Army Hospital). It doesn’t make life easy, let me tell you (especially since none of the copies in my possession have the requisite raised seal).

  55. And of course there were no U.S. consuls in occupied Japan, so no consular report. I can see that that would be annoying. It also turns out that the process is somewhat more streamlined for a passport than for a certificate of citizenship, so getting the former is actually faster.

    My grandson has just moved to Philadelphia (he’s here for the long weekend, U.S. Labor Day, to see us and his father), and we are trying to deal with the mismatch between his Philadelphia school, which expects a classic U.S. report card with letter grades A-F (omitting E) in each subject, and his NYC school, which provides narrative reports of student progress individually written by the teacher. NYC middle schools can cope with this, but it’s entirely new to the Philadelphia school. Fortunately he gets special education (meaning that the program is tailored to him), so his Individualized Education Program, though not standardized, is something that special ed at the Philadelphia school should be able to deal with.

  56. Lars Mathiesen says

    Private parties: Another case in point, if you have a valid government-issued ID card from a country in the Schengen area of the EU of which you are a citizen, you can legally stay in any of the other countries for up to three months without further paperwork . (Driver’s licences are not proof of citizenship so do not count).

    Airlines won’t let you fly without a valid passport, however.

  57. David Marjanović says

    letter grades A-F (omitting E)

    Oh, have I told you about the time in 2001, -2 or -3 when Austria’s black-and-blue* coalition government wanted to reform the universities (which happened in 2003) and at this opportunity make the grades more internationally comparable by changing them from 1–5 (5 is “Not Sufficient”) to A–F? Somehow that proposal got into public before someone pointed out that A–F wouldn’t be internationally comparable at all – the UK has A–E, the US has A–D + F…

    * Conservatives and xenophobes. The conservatives underwent a hostile takover in 2017 and got their color changed to turquoise shortly before entering the turquoise-blue coalition that exploded so spectacularly in May and may nonetheless come back next month.

  58. @John Cowan: I thought Dorian was in the Bahamas today.

  59. I just wanted to get my guess in before reading the answers, “K” and “G” are like “F” and “P”, JoseF is Giuseppe in Italian, Josip in Aramaic.

    Another example is the B in English which is a Vav or “V” in Hebrew like the name Ya’akov vs Jacob.

    F and V.

    But mostly the word is known in English as “Gabagool” because of the Sopranos. But I am Italian American and I call it Capicola. I used to love it. Everyone calls it capicola in my experience, even the Italian deli.

  60. David Marjanović says

    the turquoise-blue coalition that exploded so spectacularly in May and may nonetheless come back next month

    Hasn’t come back, following another blue scandal, and probably won’t; currently there are turquoise-green negotiations.

  61. LanguageHat, Joe Cowan, how have you been?

    The title of this is an easy question to answer re: Capicola becoming Gabagool in New York Italian slang, although it is probably more of a Sopranos thing than anything, most probably call it Capicola but I don’t know for sure.

    What I do know is that when switching languages sometimes an F becomes a P or a Vav a B or an F a V, this is just a common feature in the development of languages.

    Joseph or Yusuf is Giuseppe in Italian and Josip in Aramaic.
    Jacob or Yaqub is Ya’akov. These are just examples from semi random languages where one letter is pronounced another in a different language or region.

    Some Arabs pronounce ظهر or Th-h-r by transliteration, “Zhuhr” although the is no ز or z in the word. Some say for ذكر or dh-k-r thikr and others Zhikr.

    K and G can have the same relationship as f/p or b/v or even p/b. In one language, dialect or region where a K sound is used it is not unknown to substitute the K sound with G.

  62. As I just read the Italian alphabet has no “K” so that’s probably the real reason.

  63. Germany has a certificate of citizenship (Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis)

    what a scary word…

    In Soviet movies, Nazi patrol would stop the hero (who is, of course, in Resistance), shout “Ausweis!” and then would arrest and bring him to Gestapo prison.

  64. Stu Clayton says

    Ausweis is any kind of ID honored in the context.

    what a scary word…Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis

    = country membership identification

    Remember that many oft-recurring German noun expressions are written together as if “one word”, just because. As in English they are not written together as if “one word”, equally just because. It’s all convention, and has no significance except that inherent in the notion of “convention”.

    “Countrymembershipidentification” would work if English speakers were accustomed to it. It doesn’t merely because they aren’t.


  65. Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis or Nationality white sauce. For example, Béchamel would be das italienische Staatsangehörigkeitssausweis (i.e. it’s not French).

  66. Stu Clayton says

    Word boundaries are where you find them ! Weisse Soße is not that hard to find either.

  67. Black-blue, turquoise-blue, turquoise-green all remind me of Taiwan with its Pan-Green and Pan-Blue coalitions. I have not bothered to discover the exact shades of color that are associated with the parties that belong to these coalitions, however.

  68. Lars Mathiesen says

    I don’t know about German, but in Danish and Swedish there are clear prosodic markers for compounds as opposed to adjective noun combinations — in Danish the second component of compounds has secondary stress at most, and either component can lose stød, in Swedish I think there is a single word tone contour for the compound and two for the separate words, in addition to stress — and this is marked by writing as one or two words.

    Da: rødspætte = ‘plaice,’ rød spætte = ‘red woodpecker.’

    Sw: särskrivning = ‘separating written words,’ sär skrivning = ‘strange turn of words’ skumtomte = ‘marshmallow Santa’ (very common type of sweet), skum tomte = ‘shifty old man.’

  69. The go-to sentence I use for the unwashed masses on Quora:

    en: The New Year’s Day party guests on the finance company motor yacht broke all the heirloom crystal dinner plates.

    de: Die Neujahrspartygäste auf der Finanzfirmamotorjacht zerbrachen alle Erbstückskristallteller.

    The latter is courtesy of Niklas Hamann, who says it is unrealistic but correct.

    In English, non-compositional compounds (which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but there it is) have a single word stress contour: chúrch kéy ‘key to a church door’, chúrch key ‘similar-looking device for removing crimped metal caps from glass bottles’.

  70. David Eddyshaw says

    Spanish American History Teacher!

    In my own idiolect,

    Spanish [[American History] Teacher]
    [[Spanish American] History] Teacher
    [Spanish American] [History Teacher]

    are all distinguished by stress (in fact I came across this very example years ago as a demonstration that at least some English speakers have up to four contrasting stress levels.) I think not all L1 speakers distinguish the latter two.

    I think there are juncture effects in there too. IIRC, the same source (Charles Hockett, I think) cited a minimal pair for some speakers between the two halves of the courtier’s reply to the King’s enquiry as as to why he (the King) keeps bumping his head on the door lintel:

    “Your highness, Your Highness.”

  71. PlasticPaddy says

    My impression is that conversational English has a soft limit of 3 juxtaposed nouns and a hard limit of 4, e.g., [village] Morris dancing association or [round-robin] table tennis competition. Whereas Germans are willing to tolerate more for the gain in specificity, I. e., something like Wildblumengeschenkkorb or Pfandflaschenversammlungsort would be unexceptional and Bundesvolkstanzaufsichtsrat would be possible.

  72. Well, there was the gadget that blows up rockets if they go dangerously off course, known to NASA as the emergency ground automatic destruct sequencer. Though usually they just called it the EGADS.

    (Se non e vero, e ben trovato.)

  73. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t think it’s a hard limit. For all I know, there may be an annual World Spanish American History Teacher Convention. With papers and keynote speakers. I imagine Spanish and English are both acceptable.

    Oversight would naturally be the concern of the World Spanish American History Teacher Convention General Steering Committee.

  74. David Eddyshaw says

    (Unfortunately no Pirahã delegates would be in attendance, as they would be unable to parse the name of the event.)

  75. David Marjanović says

    As I just read the Italian alphabet has no “K” so that’s probably the real reason.

    Uh, it just uses C instead (or CH when E or I follows).

    Don’t confuse spelling systems with languages! And don’t comment before you’ve read the rest of the thread.

    clear prosodic markers

    The canonical example for English is black bird with final stress = any bird that happens to be black, vs. blackbird with initial stress = Turdus merula in Europe (males are black, females brown), any icterid in North America (all species are mostly black, but the rest is quite colorful).

    German does the same, with complications I can’t write about at this hour.

  76. It’s a peculiar goal: first make spaces between words and then take them away again. Either spaces are useful or they aren’t. But they enjoy it and it is quite fun to do. I make up my own in Norwegian occasionally. And people my age think better of you for doing it. Like the unnecessary apostrophes in English it’s merely code for I was paying attention in class.

  77. Lars Mathiesen says

    Well, unlike apostrophes it does encode a feature of the spoken form. Of course it is not necessary to encode it, just as you could drop the English apostrophe in a simplified spelling, and the number of real ambiguities would probably be about the same (near zero).

    But if you are used to reading texts with the conventional spelling, seeing a compound spelled as two words has a big potential for leading you down a wrong path in parsing and break your flow — just like the English apostrophe when used to distinguish the plural and genetive functions of ‘-s.’ Getting it ‘right’ is a courtesy to your readers — but of course mastering the rule is also a sociolectal marker.

  78. Germans are amateurs. Try Thai for the best effect.

    PS. Can’t post Thai script, so have to do with transliteration. OK, here is a “word” from the first line in the Bible:


    translates as “God created everything in heaven and earth.”

  79. Okay, but Thai whitespace is a phrase separator, not a word separator. That said, Thais insist that line-breaking be done only at word boundaries, which means Thai word wrap requires a whole morphology engine.

  80. World Spanish American History Teacher Convention General Steering Committee.

    Reading back over this, it gives me a funny feeling, which I trace to the presence of “General Committee”. I think (and I believe this is true in AmE, umm, generally) that a committee is necessarily special (confined to a particular topic) rather than general[*], and googling suggests that general committee is mostly a calque of comité général in multilingual entities.

    [*] Except for that curious creature of parliamentary law, the committee of the whole. When a deliberative body decides that some matter is best suited to informal consideration, it adjourns to a time definite[**] (say, an hour later) and resolves itself, as the expression is, into a committee meeting — a committee consisting of every member present. Like any committee, its first order of business is to elect a chair, traditionally someone different from the chair of the parent body, so as to more emphatically mark the difference.

    At the end of the hour, or sooner if there is nothing left to say, the committee of the whole dissolves itself and the parent body’s meeting resumes. More modern parliamentary codes than Robert’s simply recognize a subsidiary motion “to consider informally”, which is not debatable, and if passed allows most of the parliamentary formalities to be set aside; it has the same priority as the ordinary motion “to commit”[***].

    [**] Yet another noun-adjective compound in English!

    [***] Which is why committee ends in -ee; it is the absolutive noun of this sense of commit. I suppose the parent body could be called the committer, except it isn’t.

  81. I hadn’t realized there was a noun committee¹ (stress on final syllable):

    One of a group of people jointly entrusted with some task, duty, or office; a member of a body appointed or elected for a specific function; a member of a committee (committee n.² 1). Usually in plural. Now rare (historical in later use).

    After the 17th cent. chiefly in Lords committees, collectively denoting the members of a House of Lords committee or subcommittee, as distinct from the whole House considered as a committee (cf. subcommittee n.¹), and in specialized applications with reference to particular groups, as the 24 directors elected annually by the East India Company to manage its affairs, or the body of 21 people originally responsible for the financial management and appointment of governors at Guy’s Hospital (cf. court n.¹).

    But it’s unclear who’s doing the entrusting/committing.

  82. PlasticPaddy says

    This is for me a jocular pronunciation. But maybe in some local accent committee is stressed that way.

  83. This is for me a jocular pronunciation.

    Of that word, not the normal word meaning a body of people? When do you use it? I’ve never heard of it before. You say “He’s a committee”?

  84. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry , jocular pronunciation of the word in its normal sense. The special sense seems to me to be more a legal English word (like most of the other “agent” -ee words apart from referee).

  85. But the pronunciation only applies to the special sense; of course nobody says the usual word that way. Here are the citations:

    The comyttees for the bill of fugitives are appointed to meet in the Star-chamber at three of the clock to morrow in the afternoon.
    Orig. Jrnls. House of Commons 26 April vol. 2 f. 20v

    The bill is put to certeine committees to be amended.
    W. Harrison, Hist. Descr. Iland Britain (new edition) ii. viii. 174/2 in Holinshed’s Chronicles (new edition) vol. I

    By virtue of the King’s authoritie giuen vnto mee his the Committes of the Honourable Company of East India Merchants.
    T. Roe, Letter 6 December in Embassy of Sir T. Roe to Court of Great Mogul (1899) vol. II. 434

    These committees when they meet, they elect one of them to sit in the chair in likenesse of the speaker.
    E. Coke, 1st Part of Institutes of Lawes of England (1809) vii. 11

    The Lords Committees ordered him to attend again: and he was farther examined in relation to the Facts mentioned in the Answer.
    A. Boyer, Hist. Reign Queen Anne: Year the Sixth App. 129

    The several persons herein-after named..are hereby declared to be the President, Treasurer, and one and twenty Committees of the said hereby erected Corporation.
    Act 11 George I (Guy’s Hospital)

    After electing their Chairman and Deputy, and appointing the several Committees, Captain Tullie moved, that an express should be immediately dispatched to Portsmouth.
    Vindic. Mr. Holwell’s Char. 13

    The reports made by the lords committees 1st and 22nd of May 1725.
    J. Ayloffe, Cal. Ancient Charters Introduction p. xliii

    The Committee to be proposed by the Lords’ Committees appointed for proposing Committees on Opposed Bills.
    Mirror of Parliament (1st Sess., 13th Parl.) vol. 6 5005/1

    The committees and auditors were chosen also.
    C. Robinson & R. A. Brock, Abstr. Proc. Virginia Company London 1619–1624 4

    The president or treasurer and any seven committees were to be a full Court of Committees, and to have power to sell or dispose of any of the Hospital estates.
    S. Wilks, Biogr. Hist. Guy’s Hosp. ii. i. 76

    The ‘Committees’ (or, as we should say, Directors) of the Company made a petition to King James to command Roe to a special plenipotentiary to the court of Jahangir.
    R. C. Prasad, Early Eng. Travellers in India v. 136

    The minutes of the Committees of Guy’s Hospital, April 6, 1725, contains this item.
    R. H. Mead, In Sunshine of Life iii. 58

    And if you think about it, it’s almost imperative to have a special pronunciation to make clear you’re not using the normal word.

  86. PlasticPaddy says

    Bailey’s dictionary has (with final syllable stress)
    COMMITTEE’ [of the King] a Widow of a King’s Tenant, so called as being committed by the ancient Law of the Land to the King’s Care and Protection.
    The word in the usual sense has penult stress in that dictionary. I am not sure end stress is a priori “of course” not happening with words like this, the same dictionary has “commonwealth” with final syllable stress.

  87. Bailey’s dictionary is 300 years old! My “of course” referred to today’s world. And in any case, Bailey’s final syllable stress is used for a single person, so doesn’t contradict what I said.

  88. PlasticPaddy says

    Yes, the Bailey’s entry is another obsolete meaning with final stress. I suppose what I am getting at is that some three-syllable words normally stressed on the penult or ante-penult still (not only historically) have alternative end-stressed versions. For example, the word “realise” is pronounced with three syllables and final stress by some Dubliners (I think I would use this pronunciation emphatically but not otherwise).

  89. That makes sense.

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