The Cambridge History of Linguistics.

There’s a book called The Cambridge History of Linguistics coming out any day now. I haven’t seen it and know nothing about it aside from the blurbs on that page (e.g., “surveys the fascinating history of the study of language, from its beginnings in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt to the diversification of the language sciences in the past half-century”); of course I hope it’s well done, but my burning question is: do they treat Chomsky as hero (revolutionized linguistics, put it on a scientific basis, blah blah) or villain (set linguistics back decades, substituted dogma for facts, etc.)? If anyone knows anything about this impressive-sounding volume, do tell.


  1. TOC and preface here. It looks fairly balanced. Generativist syntax gets one chapter out of 22 (by Newmeyer).

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Pure guesswork, but I would have thought that anybody who engages with the actual history of linguistics would be unlikely to take Chomsky at his own valuation.

    In this regard, at any rate, Chomsky is to linguistics as Ayn Rand is to philosophy. Their respective bands of devotees are alike under the impression that their gurus marked a New Dawn in their respective fields, and lack any real historical perspective at all. It seems possible that the followers may have imbibed these attitudes from their Founders in some way.

    [EDIT: Thanks, Y. The TOC actually looks very encouraging. It may well turn out to be a very interesting book.]

  3. Yes, thanks, Y. I am comforted.

  4. Off topic: There are many other Cambridge Histories of Whatever, as well as Oxford Books of Whatever. One of these days, they should come out with a Cambridge History of Cambridge Histories, and an Oxford Book of Oxford Books. Free idea for anybody who wants it. Carry on.

  5. There’s already an Oxford Book of Oxford (I’ve got a copy), so surely an Oxford Book of Oxford Books can’t be far behind.

  6. Stu Clayton says

    The Cambridge and Oxford History of Their Several and Joint Bookish Carryings-on. [The first 50 volumes at all good booksellers, subsequent volumes by subscription only]

  7. The Oxbridge Omnibus of Bookishness.

  8. Ah, Chomsky. I prefer the father to the son.

  9. Stu Clayton says

    William Chomsky. Dropsie College is new to me. Is it pronounced “dropsy” ? I’m guessing that it isn’t. Looks like a Polish name (moots I who know nothing about Polish).

  10. January First-of-May says

    Apparently Dropsie College was named after Moses Aaron Dropsie, who provided the money for its founding; Moses Aaron’s father, Aaron (bar) Moses Dropsie, was born in Amsterdam in 1794, and I couldn’t find any genealogy older than that online.

    Now that I’m actually considering that option, “Dropsie” does sound a bit like a Dutch name. Of course as a Jewish family name it could still be ultimately Polish, but probably not this early. I don’t know remotely enough Dutch (or Polish) to suggest a further etymology.

  11. PlasticPaddy says

    AD Utrechts Nieuwsblad 23-02-2015

    Johanna Adriana Hendrika (Joek) Dropsie
    87 jaar
    wed./wednr. van Gerardus Spiekman 0

    Crematie te Nieuwegein
    Crematorium Noorderveld

    Utrechts Nieuwsblad 08-06-2000

    Maria Cornelia Dropsie
    wed./wednr. van Antonius Franciscus Henricus C van Maarsseveen


    It does not say whether Maria Cornelia was cremated.

  12. We have a copy of the Field Guide To Fields.

  13. There was (is?) a French family Dropsy of marble sculptors and coin and medal designers (Henri Dropsy is amply represented in the essential Ophthalmologia Optica & Visio in Nummis, which surely graces each and every one of DE’s coffee tables.) There were some Belgian Dropsys, too.

  14. apparently in full Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning – which i present here in hopes of inciting better shtik than i can come up with on my own.

  15. Geneanet (much nicer than the American genealogy sites, and free) says, “Dropsy: Désigne celui qui est originaire de Robechies, en Belgique (province du Hainaut). En France, le nom est porté dans la Marne, l’Aisne et en Lorraine. Variantes: Deropsy, Dropsit.” Dropsie has a similar geographical distribution, pre-1700, around Robechies.

    The Walloon name of Robechies is spelled Robchiye.

    Why did /ʃ/ become /s/ in the surname?

  16. Bathrobe says

    I seldom feel the need to read Chomsky himself. What annoys me is that so many articles on important linguistic topics descend into formulations like “raise to C” (to take a random example) that (a) irritatingly assume you know what “C” is, (b) assume that raising to C is a real phenomenon rather than an artefact of theory, and (c) assume that such arcane statements are a bona fide explanation that clarifies everything. In many cases it’s almost impossible, without severe and debilitating cerebral wrenching, to interpret any ordinary linguistic phenomena in terms of Chomskyan theorising.

    I keep coming back to Chomsky here (tediously, it probably feels to most Hatters) because I keep encountering works written in Chomsky-ese that seem too important to ignore and are quoted and debated in full seriousness by people who seem to be sane and perceptive observers of language. It would be easier to ignore them if they didn’t infect so much discussion of syntactic topics from decade to decade, each building on work from the decade before. Unfortunately I don’t feel I can turn away from it because failure to fathom its murky depths would open me to the charge of backwardness, ignorance, lack of intelligence, and basically missing what is important. I have encountered a few works that rather deftly dismiss Chomskyan linguistics, but this requires a certain finesse. Tackling it head on (by engaging with it directly) is the manly way of doing it, but direct engagement only seems to invite even more turgid argumentation. I find works that simply step aside, like toreadors letting the bull charge uselessly, more appealing.

  17. David Eddyshaw says

    When I first became interested in syntax from a theoretical standpoint (pretty much as a direct consequence of grappling with Kusaal) I was very interested in Chomskyan ideas (at that time in the Principles and Parameters phase of its degeneration) and, in my innocence, quite open to the idea that it might provide insights into Kusaal structure for me.

    Nope. Like the Duke said about the Rhythm Method: it doesn’t bloody work.

    (This was an empirical discovery on my part*, and in no way an ideological preconception. Then.)

    * Discovery about Chomskyanism, I mean. Never really experimented with the other thing, but the Duke seemed to speak from experience.

  18. I keep coming back to Chomsky here (tediously, it probably feels to most Hatters)

    Fear not, this is a Safe Space for Chomsky-related opprobrium.

  19. My favourite example of stepping aside is this:

    “This is not the right place to comment on the descriptive adequacy of such an analysis because the treatment is motivated by the general architecture of the linguistic theory in which the analysis is framed. The postulation of the invisible element is in accordance with the more general assumptions of the theory (insert nod to Chomsky) and I take it that arguing against this particular analysis would mean to argue against a particular theoretical framework, which is not what this section is trying to provide. However, as discussed in xxx, certain invisible elements …. lack sufficient independent, i.e., theory-external, motivation.”

    The charging bull having been deflected, the writer goes on to restrict his attention to treatments that do not assume an invisible element.

  20. John Cowan says

    Duke said about the Rhythm Method

    The Iron Duke, or a different Duke or duke altogether? If the former, I believe it was his custom to use the Boot Method.

  21. I see that the late Alexander Vovin has a chapter titled “Early linguistic traditions in Korea and Japan” and am looking forward to seeing what he had to say. Gone too soon…

  22. “This is not the right place … “

    But, but … don’t leave us dangling! Where is that from?

  23. Bathrobe says

    It’s from Understanding Relative Clauses: A usage-based view on the processing of complex constructions by Daniel Weichmann (de Gruyter, Mouton, 2015), from the section 1.2 Characterizing English relative clause constructions.

    It’s not necessarily a remarkable tome (although I think it was quite good), but I liked the way he basically dismissed a lot of the arcane specialist and technical writing that characterises much work in the field.

  24. Bathrobe says

    I should point out the ellipsis in the quote from Weichmann is a reference to the work of Ivan Sag, but you don’t have to be an adherent of Sag’s theories to agree with the commonsense observation that invisible elements that are there purely for the sake of the theory are undesirable.

  25. Stu Clayton says

    you don’t have to be an adherent of Sag’s theories to agree with the commonsense observation that invisible elements that are there purely for the sake of the theory are undesirable.

    In linguistics, a zero or null is a segment which is not pronounced or written.

    Such things are invisible, indeed inaudible and überhaupt imperceptible in any way. I’m glad to see open acknowledgement that they are undesirable. I merely have to wait for common sense to kick in around here.

    Edit: but maybe you can bombard a zero with highspeed particles and infer its existence from the way they scatter ? In a sense, that appears to be what linguists do in this context – they bounce the word “zero” off each other, observing the effects that produces, such as “papers”. A scattering of papers shows there must be something there.

  26. jack morava says

    @ Stu Clayton: indeed!

    Some linguists interested in discourse regard dense stressed texts by writers [for example Henry James] as analogous to high-energy scattering theory in physics, as a sandbox for testing their theories under extreme conditions. I think that’s an interesting metaphor but don’t have any useful examples to offer.

  27. Martin Langeveld says

    Besides the Oxford Book of Oxford mentioned upstream, there is apparently also a Cambridge History of Cambridge. But neither of these fulfills my wish for the meta-topical books, Oxford Book of Oxford Books and Cambridge History of Cambridge Histories.

    By the way, in the area of linguistics, I have the Oxford Book of English Talk (1953), an anthology of transcriptions of spoken English from 1417 to 1949. A lot of fun.

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    I was going to send hat an email about another newish book that might be of sufficient Hattic interest to deserve a post of its own, namely “Words in Space and Time: [a] Historical Atlas of Language Politics in Modern Central Europe.” The beauty part is that if for some reason you’re too much of a cheapskate to pony up the purchase price for your own copy ($125.00 / €105.00/ £89.00), a pdf of the entire work (308 pp. including 42 maps in color …) can be accessed for free from the link at this page: (which also gives you a table of contents so you can get a sense of what’s covered, with a millennium or so of backstory to the “modern” of the subtitle)

  29. It’s by our man Tomasz Kamusella! Downloaded; thanks for the tip.

  30. David Marjanović says

    Why did /ʃ/ become /s/ in the surname?

    I suspect circulation between French dialects with different sound systems, not all of which contain a /ʃ/ (I’m pretty sure Walloon doesn’t), and/or Dutch, which didn’t have a [ʃ] until *handwave* recently, probably, and maybe arguably still doesn’t have a /ʃ/.


    To my disappointment, he’s not “soft”, he’s an ordinary Wiechmann (a name of etymology unknown to me, also Wiegmann because it’s a northern thing).

  31. The Oxford Book of English Talk


    It is fun! Not transcriptions in the phonetic sense. It’s an anthology of literary excerpts which are supposed to (and fairly do) represent everyday speech.

    I should look for a paper copy. This is a good thing to have hanging around the house.

  32. Why did /ʃ/ become /s/ in the surname?

    Or else, could the /s/ be a retention from the Medieval name of Robechies, viz. Rotberceiae? (Named for some Rotbert, cognate with Robert).

  33. Kamusella

    i’m excited to look at this! but – and i do hate to be this person again – i’m a more than a little put off by the fact that he seems to neither know yiddish nor take it seriously enough as a language to own or borrow a dictionary:

    פֿאַר מיין משפּחה, פרענדז, כאָומלאַנד און
    אייראָפּע אין דעם גרויס גלאָובאַלייזד וועלט

    he’s got enough hebrew for “mishpokhe” (though i doubt he knows how to pronounce it af yidish), and enough german for “velt”, but every other substantial word is just plain wrong. adjectives are declined, and there is no circumstance where “velt” takes the null ending (sorry, Stu) that he’s got on “groys”. “frendz”, “khoumland”, and “gloubaleyzd” (the last also left undeclined) are not even Not Even Wrong – they aren’t even vaguely how you’d transcribe the english words into yiddish, let alone how those english words are pronounced by yiddish speakers, let alone the actual yiddish.

    the contrast with his treatment of the other dedication languages is pretty telling. and no, this isn’t “playful” anything: there are plenty of games you could get into with this sentence, but to do that you have to know the language, or the first thing about it, and he blatantly doesn’t. and equally blatantly, he doesn’t expect anyone reading his book to, which is the part that, to me, drifts from merely disqualifyingly unprofessional towards a kind of erasure that amounts (especially in the current political climate in the region he’s writing about) to celebration of the attempted genocide.

    i shudder to find out how he treats any of the rroma languages of the region.

  34. Cambridge University Press has extensive series of compilations on various cultural topics: The Cambridge Companions to Literature and Classics; to Music; and to Philosophy, Religion and Culture. The Music volumes are the ones I am most familiar with; they range from very broad to very narrow topics.* Currently the series front page features:

    The Cambridge Companion to Metal Music
    The Cambridge Companion to Amy Beach
    The Cambridge Companion to K-Pop
    The Cambridge Companion to Serialism
    The Cambridge Companion to Seventeenth-Century Opera
    The Cambridge Companion to Krautrock

    (Guess which one of them I recently bought for my daugher.)

    * I’m not sure whether the hypothetical The Cambridge Companion to The Cambridge Companions to Music should be part of this series of part of the literature series. And, if the former, whether it should contain itself.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    whether it should contain itself

    The Cambridge Companion to Cambridge Logic Paradoxes …

  36. an addendum after looking at some maps:

    [p.94, Non-State Minority, Regional and Unrecognized Languages, and Written Dialects in Central Europe,
    19th–21st Centuries]

    no judeo-greek in ioannina? no judezmo in sarajevo or sofia? no jewish languages in rhodes? (noticing the latter partly because i’ve currently visiting seattle, where a lot of that community ended up after 1922)

    and in the realm of hashing/stripes: no german in the sudetenland? no polish or russian in lithuania beyond vilna? no ukrainian in southern bukovina?


  37. There’s also The Cambridge Book of Oxford and The Oxford Book of Cambridge. Both very short and, in fact, identical, consisting of a single page inscribed with the words “Don’t Go There.”

  38. J.W. Brewer says

    @rozele: This “atlas” is actually a multi-author work. Chapter 16, titled “tsentral-eyrope in 1910: Yiddish Geography,” is credited to Agata Reibach of the University of Warsaw. It is preceded by a map legended in Yiddish (both in its original script and in romanized transliteration), although I personally lack the competence to assess the competence of the legending.

    The word parallel to “globalized” (hljabalizavanym) in one of the other multilingual versions of the dedication seems to puzzle google, i.e. google cannot find any hits other than in this work (suggesting hapax legomenon) and google translate is baffled. Maybe it’s a mistake, maybe it’s an original coinage (jocular or otherwise), maybe it’s in a language-or-dialect with minimal internet presence and no standardized orthography, with Silesian seeming the most likely contender in context. But I take your point that a hypothetical “playful” approach to Silesian is not parallel in all relevant dimensions with a “playful” approach (by an outsider) to Yiddish.

  39. Bathrobe says

    @ DM

    To my disappointment, he’s not “soft”, he’s an ordinary Wiechmann (a name of etymology unknown to me, also Wiegmann because it’s a northern thing).

    I can’t believe I made that mistake! I’m usually very alert to German “ei”s and “ie”s 🙁

  40. J.W. Brewer says

    We can all hope that Brett’s daughter was favored with a copy of _The Cambridge Companion to Krautrock_, while recognizing that that’s probably not the smart way to bet.

  41. David Marjanović says

    That’s not Silesian, that’s transcribed Belarusian.

    I can’t believe I made that mistake!

    Probably just your daily offering to Tpyos, the god of typos.

  42. J.W. Brewer says

    Ah, re transcribed Belarusian,* although then it’s weird that Belarusian would be presented biscriptally and make up two of the five entries. The ways in which Belarusian is romanized appear to be in recent flux, with as best as I can judge/guess a political/cultural motivation in some quarters yet not in others to generate romanized versions that look maximally unlike conventionally-romanized Russian.

    *Google translate was guessing other words from that same romanized text were either Polish or Slovak, which, when combined with the man’s personal background, led to my guess of Silesian and something intermediate between that pair.

  43. I’d never heard of Amy Beach before. I’ll have to take a listen.

  44. @Y: I confess that Amy Beach’s music has never made a particularly strong impression on me. A lot of her work is very typical of her time. For example, these piano sketches from 1892 are obviously very heavily influence by Chopin, but also the more contemporary works of Debussy. Her “Gaelic Symphony” (1896)—probably her most significant contribution to contemporary concert repertoire—is very fine, but also very similar to Brahms or, to a lesser extent, Dvorak.

  45. David Marjanović says

    Oh yes, it’s intensely political.

    The really fun part is that Belarusian Cyrillic is itself pretty much a straight-up transcription of Łacinka into Russian…

    (…and Łacinka started out as just writing Belarusian sound for sound in Polish orthography. It’s changed a bit since then, but only by a few straightforward substitutions.)

  46. NativLang had a go at linguistic zeros in a pair of videos a few months ago:

    Prettier pictures than usually go with that kind of discussion.

  47. Stu Clayton says

    I’d never heard of Amy Beach before. I’ll have to take a listen.

    What I listened to by her on youtube is uniformly bland. Here’s a song in the grand manner.

  48. Stu Clayton says

    NativLang had a go at linguistic zeros

    I was totally impressed by the fancy way the narrator pronounces “Panini” and “Jakobson”.

    “Is zero’s misuse a technical error, or a cultural expression: an exercise in Eurocentrism ?” I love it. Every available meme gets a few seconds of thoughtful stroking.

    A commenter writes:

    One of the things I love/hate the most about linguistics is how even seemingly strictly theoretical and abstract concepts, such as a null word/morpheme, end up having cultural and social implications that cannot be glossed over.

    Oh but they can be glossed over, dear. Just don’t drag them in at all.

  49. Yes, I had the same reaction — I started rolling my eyes when he got to Eurocentrism and colonialism.

  50. J.W. Brewer says

    Wait, does this mean we Westerners didn’t appropriate the idea of the “linguistic zero” from the Arabs who in turn had appropriated it from the Hindus?

  51. A relevant comment from years ago:
    The difficulty with writing a history of linguistics since 1960 or so is that it would be a history of faction fights, and it’s hard for anyone to do that without inside knowledge — which entails belonging to one of the factions. Several such attempts have been made, but they are always denounced for bias.

    Having such a history be a multi-author tome, as in this case, would seem to be one way of getting around that issue.

  52. David Marjanović says

    The comparison of bread to pizza with a zero topping was such a missed opportunity to bring up the nothingburger…

  53. Maybe because I was warned, I did not really roll my eyes (except “I like how, again, this is key – appreciating people and their cultures”).

    Oh yes, it’s intensely political.” – to my surprise I don’t see much politics in the article.

  54. David Eddyshaw says

    Wait, does this mean we Westerners didn’t appropriate the idea of the “linguistic zero” from the Arabs who in turn had appropriated it from the Hindus?

    On the contrary, he implies that Westerners appropriated the idea from India (which is at least partly true. Go Panini!)

    I found the freeform wombling rather annoying, though in among all the self-indulgence he does (eventually) make the key point that reasons for linguists incorporating zero morphemes into their theoretical frameworks are not by any means all the same.

    At one end, you have zeroes whose whole purpose is to make a language system artificially resemble the system of some more familiar (i.e. SAE) language: at the other, you have systems where a gap in a paradigm where an affix usually goes behaves in the actual language in question exactly as if it were an ordinary affix.

    In the first case, your zeroes are indeed likely to be due to misanalysing the language through inappropriate categories imported from a quite different language; in the second, if you try to abolish your zeroes because of some peculiar misguided belief that they are all Just Bad, you just make your description pointlessly overcomplicated.

    (Kusaal has six different enclitics realised as segmental zero. It just does, OK?)

    The stuff about “hearing nothing” is just stupid. I know he’s just being all poetical and playful and all, but putting it like that is going to seriously mislead lay a audience. No linguist claims to be able to hear nothings. It’s pointless mockery, and he should know better: in fact, I’ve no doubt but that he does know better.

    Grammars are not real. They are theories about how languages work. Linguists’ zeroes are invented abstract notions whose value or lack of it consists entirely in whether they make the description clearer and more coherent – or not.

    Deliberate mystification about their ontological status (which is what he’s doing) just makes it harder for a lay audience to grasp a pretty ordinary everyday piece of linguistic notation/jargon/technical machinery.

    Gave up on the second one. Even more self-indulgent, to the point of just being unbearable. Like watching somebody take selfies.

  55. “Grammars are not real.” – But to the same effect you can say that structures are not real. And all right, but material objects are structures too.

    (and in crystals).

  56. David Eddyshaw says

    No ideas but in things …

    (as my paediatric colleague memorably put it.)

  57. J.W. Brewer says

    I regret to say that the odds of any widespread appreciation in the U.S. of the ancient intra-Sanskrit tradition of sophisticated grammatical analysis have been worsened by the notable rise (in the decades since my tenure as an undergraduate student of linguistics) of the salience of in AmEng discourse about what to have for lunch.

  58. @JWB:

    chapter 16 actually illustrates at much greater length precisely what i’m describing. it’s not in any sense a yiddish geography. it’s a (poor) account of yiddish names for places in the christian geography of east/central europe. there’s precisely one paragraph that comes close to dealing with the emic geography of yiddish europe*, and that only even mentions one term: “lite”, which conveniently is one of very few such terms to roughly correspond to a historic christian political entity. but even there, reibach doesn’t seem to understand that what the term refers to is not a region defined by affective “emotional value or other importance”, but by the use of a specific distinct dialect of the language.

    underlining this, the terms that reibach gives as translations for the various nationstates of east/central europe mostly do not in actual usage correspond to the states that they might (or might not) be used to label on a map. some of the more remedial examples: “moldavye” includes most of what’s now eastern romania (plus bukovina and a few other extras) as well as, sometimes, “besarabye”, which is the term that corresponds most closely to what’s now the state of moldova**; the territory currently covered by the state of belarus is mostly referred to in emic terms as “raysn” (which also extends beyond its borders), while “vaysrusland” is applied to a range of political/social entities over time; “poyln”, depending on context and time, can refer to anything from [congress poland] to [the entire polish-speaking territory] to [congress poland plus the entirety of yiddishland north of the prut and west of the russian empire] to [everywhere that speaks a southwestern yiddish lect] to [the lands of the 2nd polish republic]. and don’t get me started on “rusland”.

    it’s inept turtles all the way down: the piece’s nod to an awareness of the very substantial methodological issues surrounding the kind of one-to-one correspondences it presents between yiddish terms and non-jewish ones is completely undermined by its claim to have identified “the most popular or standard form” for every place – which is a joke, as this 2016 group interview/discussion in one of the main dedicated academic yiddish studies spaces points out.***

    there’s also a complete howler in the very first paragraph: i’ve never encountered anyone using “sefarad” to refer to the balkans. as a geographic term, it’s never meant anything but “iberia”. as a social term, it can mean “all of sefardic jewry” – but that’s a (deliberately) non-geographic use of the term, based on lineage and liturgical practice, just as one might say “roman parishes” without implying that st. brigid’s famine church on manhattan’s avenue B is located in a place called “rome”. (and i’m not even going into the contentious usages of “ladino” and “spanyol”, or the cack-handed glossing of “yiddish” as “jewish german”.)

    reibach at least has some yiddish to work with, unlike the volume’s editor, but she’s completely adrift when it comes to culture and society – which are, after all, the ostensible subject of the section. the best i can say for the chapter is that i’ll be considering using the left-hand column of p74 as the core of an exercise on the misreading and misrepresentation of modern yiddish history the next time i teach a yiddish culture workshop long enough to need one.

    * the first paragraph deals with general rabbinic geography, which is not specific to yiddish jewry. on the one term whose transformation is specific to yidishland (“ashkenaz”), reibach does the laziest punt possible, making a very specific assertion (“As Jews migrated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Poland-Lithuania), the meaning of the term Ashkenaz was broadened to include Central and Eastern Europe.”) with no citation. personally, i think the assertion is demonstrably false (there’s a proverb that says “ashkenaz ends at the Dammtor”) – but as far as i know (and i’ve looked) nobody has actually done the research to document the extension of “ashkenaz” beyond western germany. and that’s not even touching the shaky foundations of the standard Ostsiedlung narrative for the origins of yiddish jewry.

    ** “besarabye” does manage to make it onto the map – but only to translate the name of a russian gubernye, just as “moldavye” is used there for the romanian principality. neither of these state-defined zones precisely matches the yiddish usage.

    *** i can’t say i entirely agree with where any of them land as far as practice goes, but i do think they’re talking about the right questions!

  59. @DM:

    not the perfect meme?

  60. “The Holocaust, perpetrated by Germans and Austrians with the aid of the Axis allies” (p108)

    just gonna drop in the completely gratuitous endorsement of the eastern european far right’s historical revisionism, by way of confirmation of my initial sniff-test.

    there’s a parallel, politically identical, version in the map on p110, which claims that the turkish state stopped trying to impose an isomorphism of state, nation, and language in 1928. having first been in istanbul the month that kurmanji and zaza education and media ceased (nominally) to be entirely illegal, and having paid a reasonable amount of attention to language politics of the AK regime and its kemalist opposition since then, i can confidently say that the date is 95 years and counting off (even the later maps in the volume agree). perhaps kamusella should read article 42 of atatürk’s constitution.

  61. i could’ve saved all of you all of this ranting if i’d looked at the southeast asia map on p174. then i’d’ve known i didn’t need to look at a single other page, and had a good long laugh in the process.

  62. The Kama River (Çulman in Tatar, Kam in Udmurt) is the longest left (Eastern) tributary of the Volga (İdel in Tatar).

    A good illustration of Centrism.

    İdel went to the east of the confluence. Volga was seen as its Western tributary….

  63. rozele, they write “Likewise, in Cyprus, Turkish was in co-official use, alongside English and Greek.”
    Perhaps by “1928” they meant some event in Cyprus? Because by “isomorphism” they don’t really mean (complex) internal language policy but rather (simple) coextensivity.

  64. What does “isomorphism” mean for people who did not study abstract algebra?

    (in math it is such a way to establish one-to-one correspondence between two sets that, if there is some structure in these sets, these structures also correspond.)

  65. From math, there is indeed a temptation to understand their “isomorphism” as rozele did. Simple exact match between sets of people who are a) citizens of X b) speak X c) are ethnic X is just a mapping.

    As I understand their intent, they wanted to exclude countries like Algeria, where strong support for Arabic is associated not only with, say, claims that French colonisers played on cultural distinctions but also with desire to embed Algeria in the “Arab world”.

    So they add the condition that other countries do NOT call your language official.
    When exceptions (those “other countries”) seem minor, they still classify your country differently.

  66. David Marjanović says

    not the perfect meme?

    Ooh, that feels like I knew it a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and then forgot it.

  67. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Chomsky is to linguistics as Ayn Rand is to philosophy.

    Ayn Rand has something in common with Frank Lloyd Wright — both regarded by some people in the USA as the greatest people in their fields who have ever existed, or could exist, and largely unknown elsewhere.

    We have heard of Chomsky, however. I had dinner with him once — just the four of us at a big table, the great man, me, my wife and 16-year old daughter. However, I didn’t know who he was at that moment, and I don’t think our conversation went beyond “would you pass the salt, please”. He was the honoured guest speaker at a linguistics meeting in 1999 at the Certosa di Pontignano, Siena, and was much too important to be expected to sit with the rank and file. I, much less important, was a guest of the University of Siena and the people of the Certosa decided that I as well couldn’t be expected to sit with the peasantry.

  68. Ayn Rand has something in common with Frank Lloyd Wright — both regarded by some people in the USA as the greatest people in their fields who have ever existed, or could exist, and largely unknown elsewhere.

    That’s an odd comparison. Frank Lloyd Wright may be best known in the US — he was, after all, American — but it is absurd to call him “largely unknown elsewhere”; if you don’t believe me, check the Wikipedia pages in 144 languages. The very long French one, for example, calls him “Un fondateur de l’architecture moderne,” and the French are not known for kowtowing to American examples. (When they pick an American to worship, they tend to choose one mocked by Americans, like Jerry Lewis.) And Ayn Rand is regarded as a Great Something-or-Other only by a small cohort of eternal adolescents; nobody who cares about literature spares her a thought.

  69. David Eddyshaw says

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

  70. That’s an odd comparison. Frank Lloyd Wright may be best known in the US — he was, after all, American — but it is absurd to call him “largely unknown elsewhere”;

    (Brit/NZer speaking) Entirely agree with m’learned colleague. Known of FLW pretty much since I could spell ‘architecture’. And there’s the S&G song.

    Rand (oh, and I’m a Philosophy major at a Brit University department half-staffed with Americans) hadn’t heard of until the fuckwittery that was Alan Greenspan. Crap literature, crap Philosophy leading to crap Economics.

  71. January First-of-May says

    Ayn Rand has something in common with Frank Lloyd Wright — both regarded by some people in the USA as the greatest people in their fields who have ever existed, or could exist, and largely unknown elsewhere.

    Ezra Pound also strikes me as a good comparison for this category – perhaps undeservedly, but that’s certainly the impression I got.

    (Disclaimer: I don’t actually remember who Frank Lloyd Wright was and wouldn’t have even recognized his name except for a vague memory of that one xkcd comic where he was confused with Andrew Lloyd Webber. To be fair I’m not very sure who Andrew Lloyd Webber was either – some kind of musician, I think?)

  72. Ezra Pound also strikes me as a good comparison for this category – perhaps undeservedly, but that’s certainly the impression I got.

    He is very well known in Western Europe (he did, after all, live in France and Italy). I can’t speak for the rest of the world. Once again, I must warn against equating “what I happen to know about” with “the world’s knowledge.”

  73. David Eddyshaw says

    Nah. Pound belongs to the (well=populated) “Picasso” category: horrible person (in major respects, anyhow), unequivocally great artist.

    Rand was a Pied Piper: horrible person, and intellectual fraud venerated only by a cult: a cult which unfortunately has included some powerful people who have done great harm (as AntC rightly implies.)

    Though I made the comparison with Chomsky myself, it is not altogether fair: whereas Rand’s “philosophy” has had no beneficial effects of any kind, and is totally sterile intellectually, Chomsky has provoked excellent work in syntax in others, sometimes by outright reaction against his views, sometimes by erstwhile acolytes coming to their senses and doing actual valuable work. Good things can arise from bad, sometimes (though it doesn’t retrospectively make the bad things good when that happens.)

    Whatever you say about Chomsky (and who doesn’t?) he’s drawn attention so some very interesting aspects of linguistics which were hitherto comparatively neglected. That’s a valuable thing, as far as it goes.

    Rand, not even that.

  74. True, true, though I say it through gritted teeth.

  75. J.W. Brewer says

    To the extent there’s a loose FLW/Rand parallel, it’s that FLW has (or used to have at least) a devoted cult of amateur fans who praised his stuff to the skies while either not knowing very much about the series of Officially-Approved (in academic/professional insider circles) Architects that were his contemporaries/successors or indeed actively disliking those Officially-Approved Architects. This dynamic (not least due to simple jealousy) probably hurt FLW’s own reputation within academic/professional circles. The man must be a charlatan if the rubes and philistines admire him!

    Also FLW’s designs looked nice if they were the sort of thing you liked to look at, but had a certain tendency in practice to be shoddily built and difficult to actually live in because various boring-but-functional details had been overlooked in the design process, the roof might be prone to leaking, etc. Your Chomsky (or whoever) parallel goes here.

  76. Stu Clayton says

    (Disclaimer: I don’t actually remember who Frank Lloyd Wright was and wouldn’t have even recognized his name except for a vague memory of that one xkcd comic where he was confused with Andrew Lloyd Webber. To be fair I’m not very sure who Andrew Lloyd Webber was either – some kind of musician, I think?)

    How difficult it is to admit ignorance of things everyone talks about ! I still sometimes try to squeeze blood out of a turnip: “I’ve heard of the book OF COURSE, but DON’T REALLY know MUCH about the author”.

    I do this to indicate that I am, although ignorant, not completely out of the loop. But how could I know that if I am indeed out of it ? Anyway, others like me tend to accept it for what it’s worth and move on to another topic. Turnip people are nothing if not flexible.

    In contrast, when someone starts wittering to me about soccer game results I say “I know nothing about soccer, and have zero interest in the subject” – and it has absolutely no effect. The wittering continues, and I have to get up and leave to escape death by boredom.

    Disclaimer: that is not a linguistic zero, but a mathematical one.

  77. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I feared that mentioning Frank Lloyd Wright might stir up a reaction. In my defence I should say that I live about 5 minutes walk away from Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse, a building that in the 1950s and 1960s architects and city planners came from as far away as New Zealand to gaze at in astonishment that something so marvellous could exist. Nowadays the shine has rubbed off. If you go up on the roof (as you can) you get what is perhaps the best view of the southern part of Marseille, as it’s the only place from which you can’t see the Corbusier Building. I’ve long felt that the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris has the big advantage that you can’t see the Centre Georges Pompidou from it. I’ve read that in Warsaw they say that about the view from the Palace of Culture and Science. As for the Tour Montparnasse, words fail me. I guess I’m beginning to sound like King Charles III, not a comparison I welcome.

  78. Stu Clayton says

    I’ve long felt that the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris has the big advantage that you can’t see the Centre Georges Pompidou from it.

    On the premises, you don’t see them. You don’t see your own without a certain effort, and then they are not yours. It’s a standard idea in systems theory. Also called the blind spot.

    “O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as others see us!

    That’s not hard, they’ll even tell you if you only ask. It may intimidate, but not enlighten.

    It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
    An’ foolish notion.”

    Well, selfies show you how others see you. Has that made those who take them less foolish ?

  79. PlasticPaddy says

    @a c-b
    Other reasons for placing you with Chomsky:
    1. Italians (also other Continentals) don’t want to be seen speaking imperfect English by their peers.
    2. You are the best-dressed candidate and will uphold ‘la bella figura’.
    3. You are the worst-dressed candidate and will makr a badly dressed Chomsky feel more comfortable.
    4. You are boring or have a high boredom tolerance.
    5. You have the least friends on the committee.
    6. You have the most friends on the committee.
    7. The committee factions could not agree; you were the compromise candidate.

  80. J.W. Brewer says

    Corbusier maybe a better Chomsky parallel in terms of a charlatan (prone to saying quotable/clever things that often turn out to be vacuous/banal if analyzed closely enough) obtaining mysteriously high levels of respect over a reasonably long time period from tenured academics?

  81. Hegel could be another parallel.

  82. Buckminster Fuller.

  83. “True, true, though I say it through gritted teeth.” (and what DE said) –

    I’m not sure because I understand the problem the following way: disproportinally many people began working on one theory. As if an explorer led most other explorers in the same direction. They will discover something, and they will not discover something else.

  84. David Eddyshaw says

    I think there has undeniably been a large element of sucking all the air out of the room with Chomskyanism, to the detriment of other valuable linguistic work. But I was trying to Accentuate the Positive (all together now!)

    I persist (also with gritted teeth) in thinking that the new(ish) stress on syntax is very largely in reaction to ANC, and thus reflects (kinda) to his credit. And you only have to compare a good descriptive grammar of an “obscure” language from nowadays with those produced by perfectly competent scholars fifty years ago to see the benefits of this. (Most such grammars incorporate a practically-boilerplate statement to the effect that they have tried not to confine their grammar within the terms of any one currently popular theoretical framework – generally without naming any names – but the fact that they typically do pay a great deal of attention to the topics that Chomsky has himself grievously mishandled is nevertheless a sort of positive legacy of the man.)

  85. Imagine we start seriously working on colonisation of Mars. We know for sure that it will lead to ennumerable scientific discoveries and technological advances which would not be made otherwise.

    Should we start colonising Mars tomorrow?

    (Technological advances are often a matter of effort/resources rather than genial insights. Say, I like CRT displays. In 90s they quickly became larger and flatter, so there was a deal of ongoing progress in this technology. And then it froze where it was because everyone began using LCDs, much smaller and potentially cheaper, insteach we are refining liquid crystal tech.
    In an alternative universe where eveyone is using CRT displays, they would NOT have just “stuck in year 2000”. No, theirs would be different… still large and heavy, likely.).

    @DE, again, in an alternative universe linguistics hardly would have gotten “stuck in 1950s”. They would come up with theories that we haven’t and ask questions that we did not ask.
    But I can’t be sure how much progress would be made there and where exactly they would have moved. Perhaps instead of this laudable “stress on syntax” there would be no less laudable stress on some other dimension of human language (syntax is good, but it is not the only good thing about human langauge:)). Or maybe not.

  86. Ayn Rand was, perhaps, largely unknown elsewhere 20-odd years ago, but sadly, not today.

    And regarding Pound, I agree with Hat.

  87. David Eddyshaw says


    What can I say? I like syntax …

    (Didn’t used to, as a kid. I liked declensions best. With maturity, I grew to like conjugations too …)

  88. I like syntax, too. The complexity is beautiful. It’s frustrating that there are no adequate descriptive tools to deal with it.
    Automatic translators and other successful NLP tools tend to use frameworks based on Dependency Grammar, so I hear. That is not enough to make me love it, though.

  89. DE + Syntax = Love

    (using langauge of our first graders… and occasionaly teenage lovers. Seriouly, something like Masha+Petya=Love is the single most popular wall inscription in elementary schools, even more common than хуй)

    Or as they say in ever-rotting West,
    DE ❤️ Syntax

  90. David Eddyshaw says

    I think that should really be love(de, syntax).

    [❤️(de, syntax) if your environment supports Unicode.]

  91. John Cowan says

    Programation en logique, quoi!

  92. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, I did use to live in Edinburgh …

  93. It makes sense to ask what is “syntax”.

    I believe what fascinated Chomsky was not exactly “subject in Nominative, direct object in Accusative, agent other than subject is Instrumental”. It was word order.

  94. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, it is interesting. Especially so in languages with “free word order.”

    (I was disappointed, in this respect though not others, with a recently acquired very detailed and interesting grammar of a certain Pama-Nyungan language, to find that word order was treated quite cursorily. I can quite see why though: in languages of this kind the matter is intimately bound up with issues of focus and topicalisation which are some of the most challenging of all to study and describe.)

  95. @DE, I was just thinking why i’m not so attracted to syntax (but totally excited about information structure).

    Of course it IS interesting that humans have notions like ”agent”, “action”, “patient” etc. And it is interesting that langauges of the world have so many structures whose usage is similar to those.

    But I’m not confident that Chomsky would be so excited if his language instead marked subjects.


    (one of LH posts that I read before I learned who and what is LH and began commenting here).

  96. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, I’m magnanimously prepared to grant that not everyone has to share my own enthusiasms …

    You probably could make an argument that the Chomsky cuckoo squeezed out some research on information structure: the classical investigation-by-introspection-on-written-sentences of the worstest kind of Chomskyism is all but guaranteed to make such things quite undetectable.

    However, research was always going on (appropriately enough) in the background, with major figures like Knud Lambrecht plugging away …

    I think the major reason for the slow progress is that the issues are so damn difficult

    Trying to detect focus in texts involves trying to read the mind of the original narrator without being able to ask them (even if they could remember and explain it to you, which they can’t); trying to elicit examples produces Heisenberg effects where even the context of your query itself alters the way your informant casts her sentence; simply asking informants what different constructions mean is even more useless than it normally is.

    Clever people (like Lambrecht) have found ways round these issues. But I’m not at all surprised it’s taking a while …

    Of course, all this is syntax. The best kind of syntax …

  97. “Well, I’m magnanimously prepared to grant that not everyone has to share my own enthusiasms …”

    Not so attracted does not mean “not attracted”:-)

  98. Every few years I remember that I still don’t know how “Ayn” is pronounced. Please don’t anybody tell me; I’m proud of the fact.

  99. Please don’t anybody tell me;

    You ayn’t gonna listen.

  100. Ayknow!

  101. Stu Clayton says

    On March 6, 1982, Rand died of heart failure at her home in New York City.[118] At her funeral, a 6-foot (1.8 m) floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket.[119]

    I expect money plants were part of the arrangement.

  102. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s what she would have wanted.

    (Indeed, I imagine that this was in accordance with her own instructions.)

  103. John Cowan says

    I pronounce it, naturally, as /ʕɑɪ̯n/. The voiced pharyngeal approximant has the serendipitous advantage, qua semivowel corresponding to /ɑ/, of being pronounceable as a suitable expression of contempt.

    (‘Beautiful,’ said Harriet. ‘Scarcely a word under three syllables and all the names you’ve got.’ —Sayers, Gaudy Night)

  104. Stu Clayton says

    Having read her WiPe article, from now on (“going forward”) I can refer to her as “that Rosenbaum woman”.

  105. J.W. Brewer says

    Rand’s gravestone unusually gives her married name (as “Ayn Rand O’Connor”). She and Mr. O’Connor are buried more or less right next to the legendary Swing-era trombonist/bandleader Tommy Dorsey and his wife.

  106. R. Crumb said it all about Rand.

  107. Bathrobe says

    It’s “anus” without the “us”. Or so I believe.

  108. Some people say it that way.

  109. @drasvi: English actually does mark subjects, at least to the extent that it might mark anything. Pronouns and verbs are essentially the only structures in English that still have any residual inflection. The pronouns mostly still inflect for number, gender, and case. However, the case inflection in present-day idiomatic English has collapsed into two cases, which could be called “common” and “subject.” Notably, the case used for all object constructions (direct, indirect, propositional) is also the default case normally used for pronouns in isolation. (“Who’s there?” “Me.”) There is a separate construction solely for when pronouns are used a subjects.

    But okay, actually it’s not simply subjects. There’s only consistent marking for uncoordinated pronominal subjects. Compound subjects are marked inconsistently, and not obligatorily.

    I went to the store.
    *Me went to the store.
    He goes every day.
    *Him goes every day.

    Him and I went to the store.
    He and I went to the store.
    Him and me went to the store.
    ?He and me went to the store.
    She and him went to the store.
    You and she went to the store.
    Them and you went to the store.
    Her and the bear got ambushed by vampire bats

    Another natural question is whether the common case is also used in vocative constructions. However, colloquial English has lost all inflection, for number and case, in second person pronouns. (So there is really only marking for uncoordinated first or third person pronominal subjects, there being no second person marking at all.) In archaic constructions, there can be non-common-case vocatives (“Oh ye of little faith”), but not modern everyday language.

    @J.W. Brewer: In a discussion about Ayn Rand and her husband, I was expecting that “Swing-” (broken across a line on my phone browser) to end in a different way as I first read it.

  110. David Eddyshaw says

    Rand’s views about relationships between the sexes seem to have been fairly traditional, on the whole (modulo her unshakeable belief that whatever she herself wanted to do was ipso facto right and proper.)

    After all, if the man has more money, he has every moral right to do what he likes with a poorer partner, and only Socialists and other anti-man, anti-mind, anti-life mysticism/altruism/collectivism-pushing looters would even pretend to believe that this was not both inevitable and right. (Obviously nobody really disbelieves in the revelations of Objectivism. They just feign disbelief, the better to further their own subhuman ends.)

    The perversions of Rand are sadly not limited to the US. Our own dear Chancellor-as-was, Sajid Javid, is a devotee (though obviously, as a recent Tory Chancellor, the man is a moral imbecile, he actually now counts as a moderate among that gang of profiteers, toadies, spivs and assorted outright criminals.)

  111. (I don’t understand why DE is pulling his punches wrt the gangsters that’ve been running UK recently.)

  112. “The man has more money”

    No, the man gives all the money to his wife. Then she gives him a small sum every day so he could pay for the lunch. He saves it and buys vodka instead.
    This is what is traditional here (and some other more traditional countries, just without vodka).

  113. Brett:

    Pronouns and verbs are essentially the only structures in English that still have any residual inflection.

    ¿Qué? I’m with Payne and Huddleston, in CGEL: “Nouns prototypically inflect for number (singular vs plural) and for case (plain vs genitive).”

    In archaic constructions, there can be non-common-case vocatives (“Oh ye of little faith”), …

    But ye is not specially vocative. It’s the same form as for the nominative case, with you as the accusative case (or whatever you want to call it; and sometimes, as in Shakespeare for example, ye and you serve in each other’s place).The plural (and polite singular) equivalents of thou and thee, respectively. These forms are nowhere discussed in CGEL: but it would be good if they were, to counter the pervasive confusion one notes in attempts at archaic English.

  114. @Brett, yes. I did not think about that.

    But what I mean is that English word order expresses syntactic relations, and it is tempting to think of X-bar schemes when trying to answer a question “why do we order words this way and not that way?” and not when trying to answer a question “why Latin has these cases and why nouns are marked for number and verbs are marked for number and person?”.

  115. Haun Saussy says

    Amy Beach’s Piano Quintet isn’t bad at all:

  116. @Noetica: Yes, of course you are right. I added discussion of number to my comment at late stage, after I had been thinking about the caveats related to the second person pronoun, and didn’t think clearly about what else inflected for number.

    English nouns obviously do indeed inflect for number and for possessives. I don’t normally call those genitive, however, since although the construction descends from the Germanic genitive case, it doesn’t behave so much like a case. Moreover, we have a recognized English word for it (even if it’s happens to be a term derived from medieval Latin), so there’s no reason to use a term carried over directly from Latin grammar.

    In contrast, I use vocative on occasion, because there is no other natural term for that construction in English. Most vocatives in English are in the form of direct address, but, “Oh ye of little faith,” is seemingly different, a more general (but archaic) construction. Direct address in imperatives has partially merged with the optional subjects of such sentences, so it should be no surprise if they appeared in the nominative forms. But that would not seemingly apply to, “Oh ye of little faith,” which is an example of a different kind of vocative (one for which, as I already noted, there is no specific English term, only vocative for the whole class that also covers direct address).

    In any case, however, the point I was trying to make about, “Oh ye of little faith,” is that if it were a vibrant current construction, it would be a counterexample to what I was saying about (non-compound) subjects being marked in English. (Given how muddled my comment was—partially stream of consciousness, partially and ineptly edited to try to make a coherent whole—it’s no surprise that this did not come through clearly.) Precisely because ye is in the nominative, it shows there are can be non-subject constructions that are not in the purported “common” case. However, I don’t think this alternative construction with the nominative is productive in idiomatic, non-archaizing English, so it may be reasonable to discount it.

    As to the singular, familiar (and archaic) thee and thou, I have no feeling for which case should be used. Unlike some archaisms, thee and thou are simply not part of my natural vocabulary.

    ?Oh thee of little faith
    ?Oh thou of little faith

  117. There are a lot of hymns, etc., beginning with “Oh thou.”

  118. Keith Ivey says

    Generally spelled “O Thou”.

  119. Stu Clayton says

    Brotherth where arteth theeth ?

  120. I always have difficulty translating Arabic ya. It is massively more colloquial than “O” (which in Russian is only used as a depiction of exotic eastern or western mediaeval style. O, Great One!)

  121. John Cowan says

    Precisely because ye is in the nominative, it shows there are can be non-subject constructions that are not in the purported “common” case. However, I don’t think this alternative construction with the nominative is productive in idiomatic, non-archaizing English, so it may be reasonable to discount it.

    Formally, vocatives are in the second person where case is neutralized even in pronouns, so we can’t say on the evidence of Hey, you in the red dress! whether this you is nominative (as it historically was) or whether the construction has changed to an accusative one.

    However, I think the evidence of Oh, me! (which is formally a vocative in the first person where the speaker is addressing themselves) shows that the second hypothesis is correct: *Oh I! is firmly ungrammatical. So this tends to confirm the “subject vs. common” analysis of pronouns in general.

    Someone should check whether in traditional Yorkshire one says Eigh tha! or Eigh thee!. Dr. Google is silent. Also, I did some GT checks on the translation of Oh, me! into various nearby languages. Danish and Norwegian (but not Swedish, much less Icelandic) are also accusative, as is Irish (but not Scots Gaelic). French of course uses Oh moi! Welsh doesn’t mark case at all, but O, fi! looks like it might once have been a frozen accusative with soft mutation (but I may be talking nonsense).

  122. David Eddyshaw says

    The initial of fi certainly is a mutated m. The 1sg subject pronoun does appear as i, and I have seen this described as a retention, but this seems very iffy to me. The subject pronoun appears this way mostly after a preceding verb or preposition form which ends in f in older (or modern Literary) Welsh, and it looks like resegmentation to me (which has uncontroversially happened with several other verb and preposition flexions.) The other main use is reinforcement of a possessive, as in (f)y mhlant i “my children”, where the form can hardly be called “nominative” anyhow.

    It seems much more likely to me that Brythonic ditched case even in pronouns very early on (the “possessive” proclitic pronoun forms are distinctive, but there is no compelling reason to ascribe that to “case” as such. Older Welsh has distinctive infixed object pronouns too, and their differences from object pronoun enclitics can scarcely be attributed to case.)

    Moreover, even Old Irish, which apart from not bothering to pronounce every other vowel is distinctly more conservative than even Old Welsh, has no vowel-initial forms for the 1sg pronoun.

  123. I always have difficulty translating Arabic ya.

    Ya habibi doesn’t overlap with any one English phrase suitable for all contexts, but I’m sure many orientalizers happily translated it as “Oh My Beloved”.

  124. …which invites associations with something like Song of Songs (“The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.”).

    But indeed, when I google it i see:

    Purnamasi Yogamaya – Oh My Beloved (2022, Vinyl)
    Oceans of Compassion by Ali Maya – Oh my beloved, you are always in my heart. Now and forever, I am yours. La illah ha il allah, La illah ha il allah hu (Chorus) Shma Y’Israel Adonai Elohenu Shma Y’Israel Adonai Ehad (Chorus)

    (actually i initially googled “h my beloved” and got a german tank: Tiger 1 (H) My Beloved)

  125. Song of Songs

    But all right. There is Fairuz ana la7abībī w 7abībi ilī.

  126. I suppose when ya is used in daily communication you just translate the whole utterance with its functional equivalent (but I’m still amused by that we don’t use anything similar****).

    But there are songs that begin with something like ya [object]-i, ya [attibute]* or [object] ya [object]**, reminscent of Russian folk songs*** like “akh you [object] my [object], [object] [attribute]!”.

    * Kuwaiti
    ** Tunisian, though not quite an object.
    ***Most famously, one about seni (Wiktionary: “(in older log houses) hall, vestibule, entrance hall (a room between the porch and the habitable part of a house where people leave their boots and overcoats; especially in rustic homes. May also be used for storage purposes, also as a room for pets and even livestock and humans)”)

    **** actually we do, e.g. Van’ instead of Vanya when addressing Vanya. But this is very casual (and usually people don’t think of it as a “case”, because how something used informally/casally by adults and also by children can be a Case?) and does not work for ya in songs. Also when drawing Vanya’s attention it can be Van’, a Van’… (maybe slightly rural by now)

  127. Which in Hebrew is דּוֹדִי dôḏî, where dôḏ means something like ‘beloved, desired’, in the romantic or even sexual sense. Its other meaning, ‘uncle’, is the only one which exists in Modern Hebrew, which makes the Song of Songs look weird at first reading.

  128. The plant translated (uncertainly) as ‘mandrake’ is דּוּדָאִים dûḏā’îm, associated elsewhere with fertility and sex. The similarity in sound surely isn’t an accident, and perhaps comes through folk etymology.

  129. David Marjanović says

    actually we do, e.g. Van’ instead of Vanya when addressing Vanya

    The absolutely fascinating Russian neo-vocative is systematically used in Servant of the People, BTW.

  130. Allan from Iowa says

    In linguistics, a zero or null is a segment which is not pronounced or written.

    Would this be like the T at the end of the French word a ?

  131. David Eddyshaw says

    More like the “p” in “bath.”

  132. As to the singular, familiar (and archaic) thee and thou, I have no feeling for which case should be used.

    O wild West Wind,

    thou breath of Autumn’s being,

    Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven, … :

    O thou, Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed The winged seeds, …

    Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;

    Destroyer and preserver;

    hear, oh hear!

  133. Is “Oh, me!” a vocative, or in some way a compression of “Oh, what has happened to me!” or “Oh, look at me!” or something like that. Cf. Latin “Me miserum!”

  134. J.W. Brewer says

    How common is “oh me” in contemporary speech outside the fixed combination “oh me oh my,” which I frankly am not sure how to parse logically. Freestanding “oh my” seems like maybe a (euphemizing?) clipping of “oh my God,” but perhaps there are other possibilities?

  135. I’ve never encountered “oh me” outside “oh me oh my”. I do know “ah me”.

    Do copy editors distinguish exclamatory oh from vocative O any more?

  136. I started searching for “Oh me” on Google Books. The first hit, from Experimental Approaches of NMR Spectroscopy: Methodology and Application to Life Science and Materials Science, reads (in the summary quote):


    I didn’t know analytical chemistry could get so emotional.

  137. I don’t really, use, “Oh me!” (which is presumably part of why I didn’t think of it as another example myself), but like John Cowan, it reads to me as a self-directed vocative. However, with unusual or archaic constructions like this, we cannot necessarily expect all native speakers to have exactly the same intuition about what they represent, structurally.

  138. Stu Clayton says

    I’ve never encountered “oh me” outside “oh me oh my”.

    I believe they have both been displaced by “well, fuck this for a game of darts”. [Bonfiglioli, Don’t Point That Thing at Me]

  139. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t hold with these neologisms. “Bugger this for a lark” was good enough for my grandfather, and it’s good enough for me.

  140. John Cowan says

    Or “… for a game of (toy) soldiers”.

    “The end of a lark is the Beak.”

  141. mollymooly:

    I’ve never encountered “oh me” outside “oh me oh my”. I do know “ah me”.

    David Eddyshaw has used “Ah me!” as I recall. We should ask him if he was thinking vocatively at the time. I don’t take any of these (or “O me!”) to be vocative. Grist for analysis:

    “O Alice, will you go to sleep?”
    “O me, will [I,you meaning oneself] go to sleep?”
    “O Toto, are you that stupid?”
    “O me, am I that stupid?”
    “O me, are you [meaning oneself] that stupid?”
    “O myself, [are you,am I] that stupid?”

    Do copy editors distinguish exclamatory oh from vocative O any more?

    This one prefers not to. For me there’s no good case for “oh”, though the trend since ~1990 is strongly against “O” even for apparent vocatives. I normally prefer “O” if it is in my brief to determine the matter (and if larger context doesn’t already settle it). If both are considered available the choice might be hard, since vocative and exclamatory functions can both be in play:

    “O Toto!”
    “Oh Toto!”
    “O … Toto!”
    “Oh … O Toto!”
    “O Toto, where are … oh, Toto! Do it on the grass, please.”
    “Oh what are we to do, Toto?”
    “O Toto, what are we to do?”
    “Oh, Toto! What are we to do?”
    “Oh! O Toto! Put down that cat at once.”

    I don’t find a need for “oh”. “O” could be substituted without loss at each occurrence above, setting aside other editing that may be called for. (Of course re-wording is not always an option. The task might be subtitling, or making a transcript.)

  142. I remember from Wodehouse, “Ah Me” spoken by a stuffy aristocrat in a rare moment of emotion (on recalling a poignant dime novel), and “O” used as a vocative by a very formal clergyman, addressing his cat, in high emotion as well.

  143. Owlmirror says

    Whenever I see the vocative “O”, I recall Alice in Wonderland.

    “Would it be of any use, now,” thought Alice, “to speak to this mouse? Everything is so out-of-the-way down here, that I should think very likely it can talk: at any rate, there’s no harm in trying.” So she began: “O Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool? I am very tired of swimming about here, O Mouse!” (Alice thought this must be the right way of speaking to a mouse: she had never done such a thing before, but she remembered having seen in her brother’s Latin Grammar, “A mouse—of a mouse—to a mouse—a mouse—O mouse!”)

    Although it looks like the vocative for mouse is the same as the nominative, presumably for Reasons.

  144. The Latin vocative is the same as the nominative except for the 2nd declension singular. Mūs is 3rd declension.

  145. Alice’s mouse is the second thing I think of when I see vocative “O.” The first thing is “O Best Beloved.”

  146. the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris has the big advantage that you can’t see the Centre Georges Pompidou from it

    am i right to remember that the locus classicus for this is the eiffel tower? (i can’t remember who’s supposed to have come up with it, though i believe i once knew – baudelaire died too early, aragon feels too late, nobody else rings a bell – okh un vey iz mir)

  147. am i right to remember that the locus classicus for this is the eiffel tower?

    Yes, it was Charles Garnier:

    The design was originally met with significant opposition from other prominent french [sic] designers, particularly Charles Garnier – architect of the Paris Opera – who held protest events under the towers 4 legs because it was “the only place out of sight of the wretched construction”.

    I must say I was overwhlemed with admiration in Garnier’s opera house. A luxurious red-plush box, we had. But there’s a lot to be said for Eiffel’s effort also. Brahms thought Bruckner an imbecile, and himself to be at an opposite artistic pole. But from this distance they have far more in common and we can revel in both equally.

    Garnier and Eiffel had in fact collaborated: on the Observatoire de Nice.

  148. January First-of-May says

    am i right to remember that the locus classicus for this is the eiffel tower?

    According to Quote Investigator, this is indeed true, though the exact origin of the quotation is unclear.

    Apparently the famous person to which it is attributed is Guy de Maupassant (d. 1893), who did have other attested complaints about the Eiffel Tower, but the first known attribution of this particular quip to him is very late. The article I linked doesn’t mention the Charles Garnier version, which is an interesting variant.

  149. According to the laws of quotation attribution, it must have been Wilde, Shaw, Einstein, or Churchill who said that.

  150. I take any opportunity to evangelise for the useful term “quote magnet”, coined I think by Fred Shapiro, though it might have been Shaw.

  151. David Eddyshaw says

    Sir William Osler fulfils this role in medicine.

    I treasure an attribution to Osler that I saw in one of the BMA’s comics once, of

    Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive
    Officiously to keep alive.

    Osler himself would probably have found the error very funny. He seems (among other character defects) to have been very fond of practical jokes.

  152. I find Moscow-Citi rather ugly (an attempt to build skyscrapers in the center of Moscow) but what is the most annoying about it is that it can be seen from everywhere. So I think I agree about the Eiffel tower even though the tower itself is nice.

  153. The Tour Montparnasse does offer a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower

  154. January First-of-May says

    There’s a nice-ish view of the Moskva-City towers from Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya street (near Kiyevskaya metro station), where the towers are nicely framed by the houses of the street; here’s an attempt (does it work for you?) of recreating this perspective in Google Street View.

    My mom used to work in that area, and multiple times per week for several months she took photos of that view from her phone – at different times, in different weather. The best pics ended up exhibited at her workplace. Apparently when she stopped working here other people took up the tradition. It really is a pretty view – or at least significantly prettier than most other perspectives on that particular bunch of skyscrapers.

    Moscow actually has several other towers that can be seen from approximately everywhere, notably the Ostankino Tower (over 500 meters tall). Moskva-City is a lot less narrow, though.

  155. Yes, it does.
    Cf. also La Defénce

  156. Somewhere in The Diaries of Samuel Marchbanks, there’s an incident in which the diarist begins an address to the furnace in his basement with a vocative ‘O’, on the grounds, if I remember correctly, that balky mechanical equipment must be approached with a degree of supplication.

  157. one of the BMA’s comics


    (Surgeons are such cut-ups.)

  158. J.W. Brewer says

    There’s some suggestion from my quick googling that vocative O in English is a Latinism (altho’ Latin may have gotten it from Greek), but borrowed fairly early on in Middle English if not Old, perhaps because of the need to render Biblical* and/or otherwise religious texts? Does anyone have a more authoritative answer? Did proto-West-Germanic or whatever lack a similar vocative particle, or did it have a native one that was replaced by the Latinism?

    FWIW in one Gospel passage (Mt. 15:28) where Tyndale has “O” the Anglo-Saxon versions have “eala,” which wiktionary tells me is the “interjection oh,” apparently meaning not the “vocative O”?

  159. thanks, Noetica & J1M! i’m pretty sure my vague memory was of (de) maupassant!

    and nyc’s equivalent was, of course, the world trade center. but at this point i look back on those hideous buildings nostalgically whenever i see what now stands on the site (the best name i’ve heard for that exercise in aesthetic malpractice is “giuliani’s dick”).

  160. David Eddyshaw says

    So big? Surely not …

  161. John Cowan says

    There’s some suggestion from my quick googling that vocative O in English is a Latinism (altho’ Latin may have gotten it from Greek), but borrowed fairly early on in Middle English if not Old, perhaps because of the need to render Biblical* and/or otherwise religious texts? Does anyone have a more authoritative answer?

    The OED3 says:

    In Old English liturgical use probably < classical Latin ō (see below); in subsequent use probably < Old French Ô, vocative marker, expression of emotion or surprise (end of the 10th cent.) and its etymon classical Latin ō, vocative marker, (also ōh) expression of emotion or surprise.

    Compare ancient Greek ὦ (also ὤ ), vocative particle ( > Old Church Slavonic o), ὤ (also ὦ ), expression of surprise or emotion, Early Irish, Irisha, vocative particle, Old Welsh, Welsh a, vocative particle, Lithuanian ō, vocative particle, expression of surprise or emotion, Latvian a , ā, expression of surprise or emotion. Although it is possible to regard all these forms as ultimately cognate with each other, the possiblity of independent formation of such a natural utterance is very likely. Similar expressions of appeal, surprise, or emotion are also widely attested in non-Indo-European languages.

    Middle Low German ō, Old High German ō (Middle High German ō , German o, oh), Old Icelandic ó, Old Swedish o , oo (Swedish o), Danish o, all as vocative markers and as expressions of appeal, surprise, or emotion, are probably also at least in part ultimately borrowings from Latin (many of the earliest examples appear to have been influenced by uses in Latin biblical texts), although Old High German ō may in some instances represent a variant of au, expression of surprise or pain (Middle High German ou , German au), and once again the possibility of recurrent independent formation is likely; compare also Gothic o (two attestations: once translating Greek ὦ, vocative particle, and once translating οὐά vah int.) […].

    In Old English o occurs frequently as a vocative marker in the interlinear gloss of the Latin Hymns preserved in MS Durham B.iii.32 (often when O is not present in the Latin). Apart from occurrences in this text Old English o is rare […]. In Middle English O often varies with a int.1, especially in northern writers. Wyclif has O (or A) only when O is in the Vulgate.

    FWIW in one Gospel passage (Mt. 15:28) where Tyndale has O the Anglo-Saxon versions have ēalā, which wiktionary tells me is the “interjection oh,” apparently meaning not the “vocative O”?

    The particle ēa is the vocative. The OED2+ s.v. lo says:

    The evidence of rhymes in Middle English poetry shows that the spelling lo or loo represents two distinct words.

    (1) Middle English < Old English , an exclamation indicating surprise, grief, or joy, and also used (like O!) with vocatives.

    (2) Middle English lo with close ō , probably a shortened form of lōke (Old English lóca), imperative of look v.; compare Middle English and modern dialect ta ‘take’,ma ‘make’, also the modern dialect loo’ thee ‘look you’. […] The peculiar early Middle English forms lou, low(e may stand for lo we = ‘look we’.

    The present pronunciation /ləʊ/ would normally represent Old English , but it may be a mere interpretation of the spelling, as the modern lo corresponds functionally to the second of the two words, which should normally have become *loo /luː/ in modern English.

  162. @Haun Saussy: I meant to comment earlier that I listened to that piano quintet and liked it. It was interesting, in that while it was still definitely datable to particular musical period, it was not so obviously imitative of the style of any specific contemporaries of Beach. In that respect, it had more creativity than most of her other work that I have listened to—although that does not necessarily make it better, merely more individual.

    One reason that it probably does not get played a great deal is simply that piano quintets in general do not get played a great deal. Historically, there have been lots of classical compositions for string quartets, going back to well before development of modern, high-quality pianos. For a performance of a piano quintet, it is necessary to bring together a string quartet and a piano virtuoso—not a combination that will normally tour together. To start with, there was not an established piano quintet repertoire; and so unified piano quintets never formed; and so relatively few new pieces were written for that kind of ensemble—a vicious cycle. The same problem does not exist with piano concertos, since they are normally performed by a visiting pianist with a local orchestra, and there are lots of local professional orchestras (even if their financial positions have become increasing precarious in recent years). So there is a much richer repertoire of music of piano and orchestra. (However, I even so, I think that there are problems with the piano concerto format in the way that it is actually implemented. In the abstract, I think a piano and symphony orchestra playing together should be the most versatile and powerful classical music ensemble, but in spite of that, it seems that there are many more great symphonies than great piano concertos. I think the reason is that composers and piano virtuosos want to write and play pieces in which the piano has to be the stand-out star, rather than having it merely be a “first among equals,” as the most flexible and versatile instrument.)

  163. it seems that there are many more great symphonies than great piano concertos.

    De gustibus non disputandum and all that (and this isn’t ConcertoHat), but that is some copper-plated nonsense.

    (Also what’s wrong with the piano being the stand-out star? There’s plenty of concertos for other instruments in which that’s the case. Sounds like you haven’t followed music since the Concerto Grossi era. OTOH there’s enough piano concertos with that more organic ‘first among equals’ structure. Not all piano concertos are by Rachmaninov or Chopin.)

  164. I too am dubious about the “many more great symphonies than great piano concertos” claim. (And I am quite fond of piano quintets.)

  165. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t like the piano as an instrument, myself. However, I am the Zeppo of my family when it comes to music, as all of the others can and will enthusiastically confirm. They can all play the piano like pros. I got to Grade Two.

    I blame recessive genes. I am homozygous.

  166. Amy Beach’s Piano Quintet isn’t bad at all

    Thanks @Haun, and apologies: I listened to it briefly, meaning to come back to it. So thanks @Brett for reminding me.

    Yes, “isn’t bad”; but unlike Brett, I hear a lot of influences/echoes. In particular a mashup of Debussy’s String Quartet (with a bit of Ravel’s) and Brahms’ chamber works. So it’s not enough to be “not bad”; you also have to be saying something new. By 1905, Bartok was producing string quartets, a piano quartet and quintet.

    (I have much the same reaction to New Zealand’s only real claim for a Classical composer, Douglas Lilburn. His ‘Phantasy for String Quartet’ isn’t bad; but isn’t distinguishable from any amount of early C20th chamber music. So written in 1939, it has nothing to say that hasn’t already been said.)

  167. I occasionally have discussions with my brother about that. He doesn’t see why composers can’t write works in, say, the classical style that sound like Haydn, Mozart, & Co. rather than having to sound “modern.” I tell him artists have to say something new, they can’t just copy the old, but he doesn’t really get it. If something sounds nice, why not keep doing it? (I would guess he has in mind the groups that play Preservation Hall–style jazz, but jazz of course is a different kettle of composition/performance.)

  168. Well, groups that play Preservation Hall–style jazz play old compositions. No one (practically) writes new ragtime, do they? Now I think about it, Blues is the only musical genre I can think about in which people keep composing in an old style.

  169. An Essay on Piano Ragtime Composition by Bill Edwards:

    Over the years I had received increasingly larger numbers of requests for composition tips, as well as compositions to evaluate, and nearly all of them seemed to ask for some kind of guide to make things easier. Even as an award-winning composer, for which I am grateful, I can’t exactly ease the process of ragtime composition. However, I have the experience in the genre to at least provide some guidelines to follow or things to avoid, while leaving lots of room for personal choice and potentially improving the end result.

  170. I guess if you are an aficionado for a certain style of music and follow its development, then freshness may become important. For someone like me who listens to stuff based on the simple criterion that I like it, it’s not important whether something was original and fresh when it was composed or whether it was already 20 or a 100 years behind the curve.
    Now I think about it, Blues is the only musical genre I can think about in which people keep composing in an old style.
    Depends on what you call “old”; there are certainly acts that compose the same kind of music they did decades ago; my Spotify algorithm recently fed me some new songs by Jethro Tull about which I wouldn’t have been able to say whether they were written now or 20-30 years ago by just listening to them.

  171. I guess if you are an aficionado for a certain style of music and follow its development, then freshness may become important.

    It’s not about aficionados, it’s about creators. I’m sure a whole lot of people would like new works in the style of Bach or Mozart, but composers don’t want to write them. (Presumably AI will be able to supply the market eventually.) Art isn’t like textiles, you can’t order it by the yard.

  172. there also must be composers who would love to compose in the style of Bach. But it won’t make them famous:)

  173. @LH: The examples mentioned (Amy Beach, Lilburn) were about people creating music that was behind the curve, so there are composers who don’t mind composing in an existing style without daringly exploring the new, the same way as there are painters today who paint in the style of the Dutch masters or the French impressionists. Aficionados may dismiss them as uninspired epigones or commercial hacks, but if I like what they produce, I will listen to it.

  174. I’m sure a whole lot of people would like new works in the style of Bach …, but composers don’t want to write them.

    Specifically, if anyone could complete that last contrapunctus of the Art of Fugue, I know a whole load of people would trample down their door.

    Many have tried; no-one has produced anything convincing. They sound too much like Bach, is the problem: Bach would have written something that both sounded like Bach and didn’t sound like anything Bach had written before.

    Same with Beethoven: Op. 111 is the final word on Piano Sonata form.

    I think Jazz is somewhat different: it’s defined by performance. Although (say) Oscar Peterson has ‘over-learnt’ phrases and decorations, each performance decorates each tune in different combinations. So each performance is a new composition in that sense. (And of course, Blues mentioned above is a sub-genre of Jazz. There the lyrics are as important as the tune.)

    If something sounds nice, why not keep doing it?

    And the concert repertoire is exactly that. Though if something new sounds ‘nice’ like Rachmaninov, from which concert-goers get a warm feeling of familiarity, why would they want to hear something that stirs just the same emotions but isn’t familiar?

    OTOH I was sitting alongside regular concert-goers at a centenary — _centenary_ — of ‘Rite of Spring’. They did not like it at all. Oh, we don’t go to this modern stuff.

  175. Oh, we don’t go to this modern stuff.

    It is truly bizarre that people’s conception of and appreciation for “classical music” (whatever the hell that means now) froze over a century ago, with a few exceptions (Prokofiev, Bartok, etc.). Why are music-lovers stuck in the 19th century? People used to want to hear the new stuff!

  176. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t know that “music-lovers” in general are stuck in the 19th century, and it seems peculiar to use “music-lovers” as a short-hand way of referring to the small minority of living human beings who enjoy a certain style of dead-white-guy-in-powdered-wig music.

    But within the classical-music subculture, it’s not the least bit bizarre that people would prefer to listen to enjoyable (in their subjective judgment) music than unenjoyable music. Whatever it may have done (at different points in time) to literature or painting etc., make-it-new modernist ideology led as the 20th century proceeded to the world of “new” classical composers being a bunch of navel-gazing narcissists who wrote shit that most people (of the sort of people so hopelessly middlebrow as to buy season subscriptions to money-losing concert halls etc.) reacted unfavorably to once they heard it. The shit-generators were then persuaded by their own ideology that being rejected by the vulgar masses just proved that they were, in fact, geniuses. For much of the 20th century, however, you could make a decent living writing enjoyable-to-listeners music in the older “classical” styles if you went to Hollywood and did soundtrack music, although of course you would have to live with being considered artistically inferior by the members of some avant-garde clique with less money and smaller audiences than you had.

    Both jazz and rock have now largely followed blues (arguably on somewhat different timelines) in giving up on formal stylistic innovation as the sine qua non of creativity, with most people actively working in the genre content to ring changes within a formal vocabulary that has not dramatically shifted in the last 25-30 years (for rock) or the last 45-60 years (for jazz).

    FWIW, I earlier this year went to a performance at Carnegie Hall for the first time in several decades. It was the N.Y.C. premiere of the third of Philip Glass’ symphonies based on late-Seventies David Bowie albums, performed by those noted Bowiephiles the Filhamonie Brno. I did not think it was as good as the prior two entries in the series, neither of which had seemed like they would have been beyond the capabilities of a competent Hollywood-soundtrack hack. (Glass was on hand to take some bows in person, looking very much like a retired banker in a three-piece suit. He had just turned 86, a few days after my father had turned 85.)

  177. I played some stuff by Darius Milhaud for my sons in the car this morning. That’s not especially new, of course; Milhaud died in 1974. However, the reason was that my older son had put on some Dave Brubeck, and I mentioned that Brubeck had studied under and been very close to Milhaud,* whose own compositions (which are extremely numerous) really straddle the boundaries of what are normally thought of as classical music and jazz.

    Today, there is an emphasis on improvisation in jazz that is usually absent in classical music. However, soloists in classical concertos often used to extemporize their cadenzas, and I think it’s actually too bad that they essentially never do anymore. Alan Hovhaness was also a recent classical composer who favored a certain amount of improvisation in performances; it may or may not be significant that he was also happy to write both avant garde works, as well as compositions that would not have sounded out of place in the 1890s.

    * Darius Brubeck, also a talented jazz musician, was named after Milhaud.

  178. J.W. Brewer says

    Milhaud was in his youth one of Les Six, who got attacked as bourgeois crypto-reactionaries by the purer modernists because they were not interested in twelve-toneism or whatever manifesto-driven bullshit was the flavor of the month and indeed seemed suspiciously interested in composing music that normal non-avant-garde people might want to listen to. My own reaction to most but not all of that “Third Stream” stuff that tried to bridge the jazz and classical worlds is akin to Hank Hill’s reaction to “Christian rock” (viz “Can’t you see, you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock and roll worse”), but YMMV.

  179. @Hat Why are music-lovers stuck in the 19th century?

    To echo @JWB, I was careful to say ‘regular concert-goers’. That does not qualify as ‘music-lovers’ in my book. I daresay they’d find The Art of Fugue much too hard going as compared with the Brandenburgs. And Beethoven Op. 111 would probably scare them terribly with all it’s fugal entries.

    So ‘dead-white-guy-in-powdered-wig music’ isn’t the right characterisation either. (Did Mahler or Rachmaninov ever wear a powdered wig? Gershwin is still wildly popular.)

    There are those who want to hear familiar stuff. So Beach/Lilburn is in the style of familiar stuff, but isn’t familiar. There’s those (like me) who want to hear edgy stuff. Beach/Lilburn’s stuff might have been edgy had they written it a few decades earlier.

    But yeah, to JWB’s point: there has to be something more than ‘edgy’. A cacophony purely for the sake of getting the audience to rage in the aisles (as happened with Rite of Spring — or so Diaghilev wanted everybody to think) leaves me cold.

    (BTW there are still people trying to produce edgy Jazz — and they even seem to be getting audiences now that the pandemic has receded. It’s not all bebop regurgitated.)

  180. but YMMV

    MM certainly does V. wrt Les Six, I was going to quote specifically (ref some point lost way above) Poulenc’s keyboard concertos as exemplifying organic first-amongst-equals structure.

    And without twelve-toneism, we wouldn’t have gotten Shostakovich. No pain no gain. The slow movement to Shost’s 2nd Piano Concerto would be another example of organic collaboration with the soloist. It is also breath-takingly beautiful, in an austere post-Stalin emptiness kinda way. Who’d-a guessed it’s twelve-tone?

  181. BTW there are still people trying to produce edgy Jazz — and they even seem to be getting audiences now that the pandemic has receded. It’s not all bebop regurgitated.

    Exactly, so why are classical-music-lovers (sheesh, sorry about my excessively abbreviated phrase, I assumed people would grasp from context what I was talking about) still so afraid of edge?

  182. still so afraid of edge

    One of the ineffable questions of the human condition. There’s plenty of jazz-lovers who think even bebop is too ‘advanced’ for them “all that Chinese shit” [L. Armstrong].

    Some listen to music to be shocked and affronted. Some to be comforted. Same with all art, isn’t it?

    Shall we tackle why some people spend good money on Mills & Boon? Far more people than would even open the latest Booker winner.

  183. J.W. Brewer says

    As part of my recent personal #ListeningQuest self-explanatorily titled #73Albumsfrom1973 (in which I listened in their entirety to 73 different albums first released in 1973) I thought I should throw one quote unquote avant-garde classical title into the mix if I could find something that was sort of rock-adjacent. So I stumbled into this one:

    The young-Steve-Reich piece that takes up the whole second side apparently elicited some negative audience feedback at a 1973 Carnegie Hall performance, as amusingly recounted here:

    I think it’s hard (especially outside of typically-failed let’s-somehow-combine-it-with-hiphop experiments) to come up with an “edgy” approach to jazz that does not closely resemble some already-extant mode of edginess first attempted somewhere in the approximate 1958-to-1975 timeframe (Ornette, then Cecil, then Ayler/Saunders/Kirk/etc., then the AACM dudes plus Anthony Braxton, to give a partial lineage). Last summer I saw a performance in Tompkins Square by Archie Shepp, now an octogenarian but back in the Sixties one of the noisiest skronkiest edgiest experimental players out there. By some point in the Seventies he had decided he had gone in that direction as far as could productively be gone, and went in other directions, with an interestingly recurrent focus on the pre-WW2 styles that bebop had purported to sweep away. He ended his set by first playing a Fats Waller thing from the late 1920’s and then two “spirituals” by unknown/anonymous composers which are attested back to the 1870’s but may well be older than that.

  184. @AntC: I think we fundamentally disagree with what constitutes a true integration of the piano with the other instruments. That Shostakovich movement is beautiful, but it is very focused on the piano part. When the soloist is playing, they have the melody, and the piano part has adornments that are never matched in the accompanying parts. The piano has long obligato passages, while the strings are mostly constrained to playing a slowly moving harmony, sometimes emerging as more of a countermelody, but never attracting more attention than the piano part. It does not have the alternating of soloist and orchestra found in many concertos; both are playing more or less the whole time. However, that on its own is not the kind of full integration that I would like to hear in a piece for piano and orchestra.

    Incidentally, “Mills & Boon” seems to be one of those references that is universally understood in Britain, yet slmost totally unknown in America.

  185. David Marjanović says

    Exactly, so why are classical-music-lovers (sheesh, sorry about my excessively abbreviated phrase, I assumed people would grasp from context what I was talking about) still so afraid of edge?

    Because they’re already the very people who aren’t listening to Taylor Swift or to heavy metal, black metal, death metal, doom metal, power metal or the other metal subgenres I mostly learned of a few days ago. Edge is against their personality.

    For much of the 20th century, however, you could make a decent living writing enjoyable-to-listeners music in the older “classical” styles if you went to Hollywood and did soundtrack music

    I don’t actually think I could draw a line between “classical music” and John Williams or Ennio Morricone.

  186. J.W. Brewer says
  187. Another thing my elder son has in his playlist is a smooth jazz version of “Princess Leia’s Theme” by Williams.

  188. Uh, Europeans sure liked to fight…

  189. @Brett I think we fundamentally disagree …

    So it seems. What I thought you meant is aiming more for the soloist to fascinate playing hide-and-seek amongst the orchestra, rather than dazzle. Are there any concertos for any instrument that would illustrate what you mean?

    not the kind of full integration that I would like to hear …

    Did you try my other suggestions of the Poulenc keyboard concertos? In particular the Concerto Champêtre for Harpsichord.

    I was also going to suggest (this’ll go over like a lead balloon) the slow movement of the Ravel 2nd Concerto. (Yes I know the first 2/3rds is solo piano: but the orchestra lifts it up seamlessly.)

    Also reaching back chronologically, Beethoven’s 4th concerto slow movement. (The first movement also is nicely integrated, with that piano intro.)

    I rather imagined you were restricting your surview to the orthodox mid/late-C19th repertoire; in which case I agree Chopin/Liszt/Brahms/Rachmaninov are too much dazzle. (Indeed one of Chopin’s alleged ‘concertos’ the orchestra has only a few bars where the piano is silent. I’ve heard that played as a piano transcription; I couldn’t hear the joins. And Alkan just left out the orchestra all together, but still called them ‘concertos’.)

    Oh, BTW many of Shostakovich’s symphonies feature piano parts — some including quite lengthy ‘solo’ passages. Is that more what you mean? At some point of integration, the piano ceases being soloist, so calling those concertos would be misleading.

    “Mills & Boon” seems to be …

    Yeah, but I was replying to @Hat. He’ll know.

  190. @David M I don’t actually think I could draw a line between “classical music” and John Williams or Ennio Morricone.

    Easy: take away the movie and play those works in the concert-hall. The theme from Schindler’s List does work as a stand-alone arrangement. (I defy you to remain dry-eyed with this one.) But the whole soundtrack? I don’t think so.

    Compare Mendelsohn’s arrangement of the suite for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: pretty music taken individually, but not a symphony; more a cast looking for a plot. Contrast Beethoven’s 6th for telling a bucolic story.

    It’s coherence of the large-scale structure.

  191. @JWB This is an amusing assortment:

    Heh heh omits Prokofiev Piano Concerto 1, 1911. Caused a falling-out of the jury for the Rubenstein Prize, St Petersburg Conservatory. Playing your own composition was dubious to start with; and only 15 mins duration — against a Rachmaninov concerto? Then all those crass scales and repeated notes: they couldn’t be sure if he was taking the piss. A DeepL concerto?

    Disclaimer: this is not a suggestion for @Brett’s ‘first-amongst-equals’ concertos: this is the pianist showing off ruthlessly and trampling all over the orchestra.

  192. @JWB I think it’s hard (…) to come up with an “edgy” approach to jazz that does not closely resemble some already-extant mode of edginess first attempted somewhere …

    I agree Miles got seriously lost in the thickets in later years. But “Giant Steps’ is still a fresh challenge for any performer or any audience.

    I’m following Adam Neely (whose music criticism podcasts got me through the lockdowns) and Sungazer this is how they build their performance. They claim to be more Brubeck than Brubeck — try tapping your toes to any of it.

  193. @JWB one quote unquote avant-garde classical title into the mix if I could find something that was sort of rock-adjacent …

    Er, thanks. I feel for the maracas player. Otherwise leaves me cold.

    I did trek to the Institute of Contemporary Arts on The Mall in the early ’70’s to hear Stockhausen lecture, followed by a performance. Kontakte, Momente, Stimmung. Those pieces seemed to convey more in his presence.

    Here’s a thought experiment: Bach himself transcribed many of his works for other instruments — for example the mighty Chaconne of Partita No. 2 actually sounds better for lute to me.

    Bach survives Jacques Loussier quite well, and even the moog synthesiser.

    How would the Cage sound on (say) a non-prepared piano? Is there anything edgy to it except that irritating plinky noise? Or the Reich for String quartet?

    “Rock-adjacent”? I don’t hear it.

  194. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m not sure what transcriptability (or whatever the word is) demonstrates. If you can write some sort of melody/harmony/rhythm combination that works well for different instruments or combinations thereof that’s certainly one sort of accomplishment. But writing a ditto that is intended and optimized to take advantage of the specific timbre and other characteristics of a given instrument (and thus works predictably less well if adapted to a different instrument) is also a genuine skill. My sense is that Reich’s thinking behind “Four Organs” was that the cheaper electric organs of the time (if they had their various vibrato and other show-offy features turned off) offered the most “neutral” or “unmarked” timbre of anything available and thus would show off the relationships among pitches that were (very … very … slowly …) unfolding over the course of the piece with the least extraneous distraction. Maybe four Minimoogs with whatever the most-neutral-timbre setting might be would have worked better, but they weren’t yet practically available (at least not on his budget!) when he first developed the piece circa 1970.

    “Rock-adjacent” as I perhaps idiosyncratically use it, is primarily a sociological category and only secondarily a stylistic one. If an adventurous “rock music” fan of 1973 felt the desire to see what was happening in the world of quote unquote avant-garde classical, where would he start? Either with people who’d worked with or been name-dropped by rock musicians (La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and of course Frank Zappa was always droning on about Varese and John Tavener’s early work got released on Apple Records) or ones who sounded by reputation “cool” by rock-world standards of coolness, which might get you Cage and perhaps Reich. Maybe Xenakis? You would not have thought Elliott Carter or Morton Feldman or Charles Wuorinen sounded likely to be cool. There was of course a further complication that the very-successful-at-the-time prog-rock bands who were using “classical” elements in a loud-rock setting were generally drawing from very non-avant-garde 19th-century-Romantic-repertoire sorts of classical music. Like the film-soundtrack guys. Or the 25-second instrumental intro to this before the vocal comes in (I think maybe no actual orchestral instruments, just Bob Ezrin overdubbing several layers of mellotron):

    Among whom (the soundtrack guys) one might mention E.W. Korngold, who got his start as a child-prodigy serious composer in Vienna but never wanted to follow the path of Schoenberg et al. where they diverged from Strauss, then relocated to Hollywood to avoid the political difficulties afflicting Austria in the 1930’s, and was almost immediately a smash success scoring movies starring Errol Flynn.

  195. It’s coherence of the large-scale structure.

    Exactly. I am in agreement with AntC about most of this.

  196. David Marjanović says

    I defy you to remain dry-eyed with this one.

    Sorry, I really am that introverted. The movie didn’t leave me dry-eyed, though, and I didn’t read the comments before watching this video.

    It’s coherence of the large-scale structure.

    So… indistinguishable unless long enough?

  197. So… indistinguishable unless long enough?

    Yes: a full movie’s-worth of music is long enough. An interesting case is the soundtrack for ‘Death of Stalin’. During the movie, it taunted me: this sounds like Shost, but I can’t think which piece. Turns out the composer was deliberately reaching for Shost-pastiche.

  198. I had the same experience.

  199. John Cowan says

    Bach survives […] even the moog synthesiser.

    Per WP, “Bach provided only the two chords of a Phrygian Cadence for the second movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, intending that the musician would improvise on these chords. Carlos and Folkman carefully constructed this piece to showcase the capabilities of the Moog.”

    It so happens that this was the first Brandenburg #3 I ever heard. When, years later, I heard someone else’s performance on the piano (or possibly the harpsichord), I looked forward to hearing the keyboard player’s improvised second movement: obviously it would not sound anything like the submarine-ish noises of Switched-on Bach, and I thought it would be interesting to compare it with my memories of the album. But all I got was this lousy T-shirt the two chords! Burn!! Couldn’t the performer do better than that?

  200. the two chords! Burn!! Couldn’t the performer do better than that?

    Hehe this comes right back to @Brett’s complaint about egotistic keyboardists.

    I have a recording (on vinyl, from some ‘teach yourself Classical music’ collection — probably the same vintage as the moog) where the harpsichord extemporises at some length. (Listening to it many years later, I was unconvinced. But then what could possibly convince me [**]?)

    The modern thinking is that since noone could possibly attain Bach’s standards (see above re the last Contrapunctus [***] of the Art of Fugue), it would be only distracting to try. So the bare two chords is what you typically get.

    [**] I fess up to being one of those tedious bores who put Bach at the pinnacle of Olympus (speaking only of the Western canon), with all other composers at best reaching the upper slopes with one or two works. Most are in the foothills. There’s an awful lot of the standard mid/late-C19th repertoire I’d class as molehills, relatively. Which is why I don’t often go to our local Subscription Concerts.

    [***] There are some who say Bach intended that is also deliberately left as an exercise for the reader. When the publisher for the Collected works asked how many pages to leave blank for the completion, Bach said just a couple. As the BACH theme has only just appeared at the point the score breaks off, this seems ridiculously short for a four-part double-fugue treatment. But then who could guess his plans? All we could predict is it would sound like Bach but not like anything yet known: he broke the rules continually; but always knew how it would merely define a different set of rules.

  201. @AntC: I hadn’t listened to that Poulenc concerto in a very long time. I like parts of it, but it never made a particularly strong impression on me. However, I do agree that it does an especially good job of integrating the harpsichord with the rest of the orchestra, giving both plenty of time to lead. I think it may actually be key that this is a harpsichord concerto, not a piano concerto though. The harpsichord is a versatile instrument, but it lacks both the distinctive tone quality, quite unlike that head from other stringed instruments, and the dynamic range of the pianoforte. It is simply difficult to overpower a full orchestra with a solo harpsichord, and the critics and audience (consciously or no) understand this and are not anticipating the kind of virtuoso performance that is typical in a more modern piano concerto.

  202. the two chords

    Here‘s about as much of a extemporisation as you’re going to get from a C21st performance. Starting about 5:10, to 5:40 (sorry). Claudio Abbado, so it’s gold-standard.

    Richter from about 6:05 has a fair crack. (Ignore the ‘2011’: Richter died 1981.) Whatever he’s doing to it is not Bach — maybe Mendelsohn? Yeuch! far too heavy-handed.

  203. John Cowan says

    Whatever he’s doing to it is not Bach

    Of course it’s not Bach. If Bach had intended for it to be Bach, he would have written out whatever he intended. Since he didn’t write it out, he intended the music to be whatever the performer decided to improvise, and by not improvising, the performer is failing to conform to Bach’s intentions, just as much as if he had failed to perform the notes written down by Bach in the thorough-composed parts.

    Of course, there is no reason why any listener should like any particular performer’s improvisation, any more than there is any reason why anyone should like the style of the rest of the performance. But to reject a performance because the improvised part is not Bach does not make sense.

  204. You’re being way too literal. AntC obviously didn’t mean it wasn’t literally by Bach, he meant it didn’t sound appropriate for Bach’s piece. I can see what he means, though I’ve heard far worse — cadenzas and improvisations in baroque or early classical pieces that sound like they were by Liszt or Reger or somebody.

  205. John Cowan says

    That depends, I guess, on if Bach thought he was writing for an age (his) or for all time.

  206. Well, for me Bach is for all time – whether or not he intended to be.

    I do what I can to emulate him, most recently in a set of seven short preludes and fugues for keyboard (OK, best on piano) that I hope to complete before senescence supervenes. One of my completed fugues uses note-for-note exactly the same subject as the C major fugue from WTC1, but I interpret it is as being in F rather than in C. (Bach’s first two measures keep the key ambiguous; F major as the key of the piece is entirely plausible till we get F# in measure three, a fact that I’ve never seen anyone remark upon. The occurrence of B natural in measure two is neither here nor there, because at that point we must move from F major to the dominant key: C major.)

    Among other motivations, I am able in this way to pay homage to the Great Master.

  207. Clearly Bach thought he was writing for all time. He was very aware Baroque was on the way out. Even his sons were latching on to this new-fangled more Romantic sensibility, with much less dense contrapuntal writing.

    The number of his secular pieces named for different national styles (Italian Concerto, French suites); tributes/reworkings of earlier composers; using folk tunes in his religious works; working the rhythms of courtly dances (Passacaglia _and then_ a fugue on the same theme, the gobsmacking Chaconne for single violin in BWV 1004, …). He was compiling a compendium. He so nearly finished.

    The ‘Art of Fugue’ says it all: it’s a manual. ” the culmination of Bach’s experimentation with monothematic instrumental works.” [wp]

    Even if that’s not what he was thinking; it’s what I (and more important every composer and performer since early 1800’s) think.

    improvisations in baroque or early classical pieces that sound like they were by Liszt or Reger or somebody.

    Yeah, That was still common in the recording repertoire when I first came across Bach. So I was slow to realise what Bach really intended — not helped by my father being a church organist and playing Reger at every opportunity; nor by my piano tutor being deeply into late Romantic cruft.

  208. Andrej Bjelaković says

    I am reminded of that Douglas Adams quote:

    Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe.

  209. John Cowan says

    He was very aware Baroque was on the way out. Even his sons were latching on to this new-fangled more Romantic sensibility, with much less dense contrapuntal writing

    Exactly. Which means that he must have anticipated that as people continued to perform his music, the improvisational parts would be less and less in his own style. He would have expected performers (and he himself was above all a performer, by all reports) to have been improvising their second-movement-of-third-Brandenburg, as the Igor-Tale says, in the style of their own time, whether that is C.P.E Bach or Liszt or Reger or Carlos. The last thing he’d expect would be a J.S.B. pastiche.

    (FWIW, I would describe Bach as the last gasp not of the contrapuntal style, though that is incidentally true, but of the monothematic style.)

  210. The last thing he’d expect would be a J.S.B. pastiche.

    There’s a big difference between not-a-pastiche and a completely different style of music. While intellectually accepting that music would of course change, I don’t think he would have enjoyed a Reger-style cadenza one little bit. Cole Porter may have thought anything goes, but I doubt that Bach did.

  211. John Cowan says

    Well, fortunately for him he’d be dead.

  212. David Marjanović says

    I fess up to being one of those tedious bores who put Bach at the pinnacle of Olympus

    You’re in good company.

    Nicht Bach, sondern Meer sollte er heißen
    “Not ‘creek’, but ‘sea’ ought to be his name”
    – Goethe

  213. and he himself was above all a performer, by all reports

    Indeed. Many of his solo works are thought to be just writing down an extemporisation.

    I would describe Bach as the last gasp not of the contrapuntal style, though that is incidentally true, but of the monothematic style.

    Neither is true: Contrapuntists: Beethoven (late chamber works), Mendelsohn, Liszt, Elgar (“the very devil of a fugue”), Shostakovich (I think I already mentioned his P’s & F’s), … Counterpoint never really went away.

    Bach’s most celebrated ‘deep’ contrapuntal pieces are single-themed (but by no means all) — and then at the very end of the last statement-for-all-time, a second theme appears. How does it even fit inside the denseness he’s already created?

    Late Romantic went through a phase of deriving a whole work from a single theme: Brahms’ 3rd Symphony F-A♭-F (Frei Aber Froh); Franck Symphony in D. Does Rhachmaninov’s Paganini Variations count as single-themed? Would you guess that breath-taking slowed-down inversion is the ‘same’ theme?

    (I have a small continuing project to find counter-examples to any broad sweeping claim anybody makes about music.)

  214. David Marjanović says


    He’s Welsh now! That reminds me of the fully Armenianized Prighozian I saw a day or two ago. ^_^

  215. Bach was Welsh all along!

  216. Keith Ivey says

    Nid Bach, ond Mawr, dylai ei enw fod.

  217. Bach was Welsh all along!

    ‘Mighty Bach!’ in Under Milk Wood/Organ Morgan.

  218. John Cowan:

    I would describe Bach as the last gasp not of the contrapuntal style, though that is incidentally true, but of the monothematic style.

    I disagree, even if we accept that there was ever a contrapuntal style (it’s much broader than that). There was a later-18C pendulum swing against what may be seen as the all-pervasiveness of intricate contrapuntalism, but that doesn’t mean counterpoint as a dimension of western music ever collapsed and gasped its last. Apart from the canon (Mozart, Beethoven, and so on) a hard core of contrapuntal liturgical music was never interrupted. And Schubert never stopped seeking out experts in counterpoint to improve his own art. Likewise Bruckner, well into his mature career: and we must suppose that his organ improvisations were thoroughly contrapuntal. Not one was ever written out (damn!), but by all accounts they were surpassingly brilliant. Many were fugal. In my own micro-corner I find it hard to compose other than contrapuntally.

    As for monothematicity, that is characteristic of the later works of Haydn (1732–1808).


    However, soloists in classical concertos often used to extemporize their cadenzas, and I think it’s actually too bad that they essentially never do anymore.

    Perhaps not cadenzas invented on the spot; but there are a few classical pianists now who solicit themes from the audience (written and placed in a box at the start of the recital) and then improvise on them. A couple of Australian pianists have done that in recent years. Can’t remember the names. Others one comes across casually like to improvise, in some “classical” genre or other. Should be more of it of course.

  219. John Cowan says

    Counterpoint never really went away.

    Of course not. It’s a permanent resource of music, along with melody, harmony, rhythm, etc. By the contrapuntal style I mean a musical style in which counterpoint is the dominant resource, in the sense that (say) rhythm is the dominant resource in rock music. By the same token, of course there was monothematic music after the Baroque, but it was never dominant again.

Speak Your Mind