Archive for November, 2010

Magic Flute libretto

November 30, 2010

Just arrived: big book (2011 copyright) of Seven Mozart Librettos, verse translations by J.D. McClatchy: Idomeneo, Abduction, Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così, Clemenza di Tito, Magic Flute. In facing pages, with the originals on the left, McClatchy’s translations on the right.

[Total digression: a few years ago, when I went back to West Lawn PA to get a distinguished alum award from my high school (incredibly gratifying), one of my hosts at the school was a woman who knew McClatchy, and talked knowledgeably and affectionately about him. She was, however, a bit surprised that McClatchy and I didn’t know one another; I suppose she thought (as my man Jacques did, all his life) that I would of course be acquainted with other gay intellectuals. (Well, Jacques at least had some reason for his belief: every so often, somebody he knew only by their reputation or their writing would turn up for dinner at our house.)]

I mention the translation of Zauberflöte because it’s the one Julie Taymor used for her fabulous Metropolitan Opera production of the opera, which I’ve posted about here.

McClatchy really gets the serious silliness / playful seriousness of Papageno (who to my mind is the central figure of the opera, no matter what anyone else says — and my grand-daughter agrees with me). Here’s Papageno in scene 29 of act 2 (close to the end of the opera), playing his panpipe:

Papagena, Papagena, Papagena!
Sweetheart! Dearest! My beloved!
Useless! She is lost forever!
I was never meant to have her.
By chattering I missed my chance.
Here’s the end to my romance.
Ever since I sipped that wine
And saw the girl that should be mine,
The fire in my heart’s severe.
It warms me there, and scorches here!
Papagena! My dove! My darling!
Papagena! My pretty starling!
She doesn’t know the way to find me.
It’s time to leave the world behind me.
Since my love was all in vain,
It’s time to end a life of pain.

He prepares to hang himself, but thinks to use his panpipes and summon the Three Boys, who tell him to use the bells and call his mate Papagena. Bliss ensues.

Fabulous renderings of the libretti into English.

Good Fucking Design Advice

November 30, 2010

From Brian Buirge and Jason Bacher on their GFDA site (“Because sometimes, being your own worst critic isn’t enough”). The poster:

There are t-shirts with the individual pieces of advice, and free downloads of wallpaper for them.

Syntactically, there’s a wide range of uses for fucking on the poster: mostly modifying nouns, but also verbs (“Know when to fucking speak up”) and adjectives (“Make it fucking sustainable”). And as in “my hot self” (here), there’s a reflexive broken into its two parts, with a modifier (fucking in this case) intervening between them — really the only natural way to modify a reflexive, since “Believe in fucking yourself” isn’t going to convey the intended sentiment.

The idea seems to be that every piece of advice is more forceful and memorable with a fucking in it.


More on nicks

November 30, 2010

In today’s NYT, an op-ed piece by Julie Zhuo of Facebook (“Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt”) about anonymity and trolling on the net, with this observation:

Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Road rage bubbles up in the relative anonymity of one’s car. And in the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways. There’s even a term for it: the online disinhibition effect.

Zhuo goes on to discuss ways to combat the wicked consequences of anonymity, suggesting (no surprise) Facebook’s approach:

Content providers, social networking platforms and community sites must also do their part by rethinking the systems they have in place for user commentary so as to discourage — or disallow — anonymity. Reuters, for example, announced that it would start to block anonymous comments and require users to register with their names and e-mail addresses in an effort to curb “uncivil behavior.”

I’m dismayed to see that though I suggested in my “Nicks” posting that commenters on this blog who wanted to continue posting under a nick or with only their first name should sign their (whole) real name to their comments, no one seems to have taken me up on it. Trollish behavior has not been a problem on this blog — though it has on Language Log, where some of the LLoggers go to the trouble to hand-delete inflammatory comments — but there are other good reasons, explained in my earlier posting, for commenters to be identifiable.




The slow upward creep of comment spam

November 30, 2010

A long time ago, I noticed that spam comments on this blog had inched up to being about 10 times as numerous as legitimate comments. Yesterday I checked again, noting 29,181 spam comments and 1,907 legitimate ones; the ratio has slowly crept up to 15.3. Sigh.


VPE mismatches

November 29, 2010

A very brief summary of the English construction known as Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE), from a 2006 Language Log posting of mine:

Background about VPE: this is an English construction in which the complement of an auxiliary verb (a modal, BE, or perfect HAVE, plus a few other things for some speakers) or infinitival TO is omitted:

(1) I can’t juggle knives, but Dmitri can ___.
(2) I’m not going, but Dmitri is ___.
(3) I was attacked by the wolves, but Dmitri wasn’t ___.
(4) I’ll be unhappy, and Dmitri will be ___, too.
(5) I’ve finished my work, and Dmitri has ___, too.
(6) I don’t want to eat the sashimi, but Dmitri wants to ___.

(The “remainder” elements are bold-faced here, and the missing complements are indicated by underscores.)

Though the construction is usually known as Verb Phrase Ellipsis (sometimes Verb Phrase Deletion), the omitted phrase is not always a VP.  In (4), it’s an AdjP.  “VPE” isn’t a bad name, but it doesn’t tell you everything.  The slogan is: Labels Are Not Definitions.

VPE requires a linguistic antecedent — it’s not enough that the appropriate verbal semantics be “in the air” — but it doesn’t require that the omitted complement match the antecedent perfectly.

I’ve been collecting VPE examples for years now. This is a summary report on the relationship between antecedent (ant) expressions and ellipses (ell) in VPE, focused on the inflectional categories of Vs.


Data points: back-formation 11/28/10

November 28, 2010

In the Pope and prostitute news (some Language Log discussion here), occurrences of the simple back-formed verb contracept (based on contraception/contraceptive) unearthed by Paul Frank and discussed on ADS-L:

“As Sacred Heart Major Seminary professor Janet Smith put it in The Catholic World Report, ‘We must note that what is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the homosexual act itself. In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can be thwarted.’ There’s a logic here, but it’s the loopy follow-the-dots logic that led an Egyptian imam to declare that a woman can work in the same office as men who are not her relatives, as long as she breastfeeds them first.” (The Nation, December 13, 2010)

“But some theologians argue that the condom was not being used to contracept but rather to lower the risk of spreading AIDS.” (Philadelphia Enquirer, November 28, 2010)

Frank noted that contracept isn’t in the OED (it isn’t in NOAD2 or AHD4 either); that he found 6,040 raw ghits; and that One Look Dictionary says that it’s in the Random House Dictionary. David Barnhart found over 100 articles with contracepted in the Nexis database.

Larry Horn added the more complex back-formation contraceive (with a reconstructed stem -ceive), for which Barnhart found about 10 Nexis hits.


November 27, 2010

In the NYT today, a story (by Elisabeth Malkin) about the Spanish Academy’s forthcoming spelling reforms and the reactions worldwide to them, focusing especially on objections from Spanish-speaking nations in the Americas to what is seen a dictate coming from abroad (headline: Rebelling Against Spain, This Time With Words). And a certain amount of silliness over one much-discussed aspect of the reforms, the elimination of CH and LL as separate letters of the alphabet, with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela weighing in on the issue:

If the academy no longer considers “ch” a separate letter, Mr. Chávez chortled to his cabinet, then he would henceforth be known simply as “Ávez.” (In fact, his name will stay the same, though his place in the alphabetic order will change, because “ch” used to be the letter after “c.”)

The elimination of the digraphs CH and LL as letters of the alphabet won’t change the spelling of any word, just the order of words in alphabetic lists — though that will entail a massive re-working of dictionaries (for new editions) and armies of copyeditors to ensure consistency in them and in other alphabetical lists. (Other reforms will entail re-spellings.)

Here’s the current Spanish alphabet, with 29 letters:

The revision will reduce the number of letters to 27; palatal Ñ will remain a separate letter.

For contrast, look at the current Welsh alphabet, with 28 letters:

Here there are plenty of digraphs — CH DD FF NG LL PH RH and TH — most of them representing “mutated” forms of basic phonemes; CH, for instance, represents the fricative /x/, a mutation of /k/. (One exception is FF, which represents /f/; the letter F represents /v/.)

The letters K Q V X and Z from the Latin alphabet are not used, since there are other spellings for borrowed words that have these letters in their spellings in source languages; for instance, K and CK from other languages, where they are pronounced with a /k/, are spelled with C, which represents /k/ in Welsh orthography, and PH from other languages, where it’s pronounced with /f/, is spelled with FF, as in FFÔN ‘phone’.

For consonants, the only real complexity is that there are two spellings for /f/: FF for a basic /f/ and PH for /f/ as a mutated form of /p/. (Vowels are another story.)

Actually, a pretty straightforward system, though it looks odd to people used to other spelling systems based on the Latin alphabet.

Data points: gapless relatives 11/25/10

November 25, 2010

From a commercial for Mr. Clean (a household cleaning agent), seen recently on tv:

(1) He’s cleaning things that we don’t even know what they are.

The relative clause, boldfaced above, has no gap of “extraction” in it; instead, the pronoun they is anaphoric to the head of the relative, things. The gapped version is stunningly worse:

(2) He’s cleaning things that we don’t even know what ___ are.

In (2) the gap is inside an “anaphoric island”, a WH clause, and worse, it’s a subject gap, so using a “resumptive pronoun” instead of a gap, as in (1), repairs the problem in processing the relative clause — yielding something that’s not standard English but is comprehensible.

So (1) is an example of what I called in a Language Log posting from three years ago a ResIsland gapless relative (with a resumptive pronoun repairing an island violation). They are pretty common, and many of them have a somewhat vernacular and playful feel to them, an effect that might make the Mr. Clean commercial noticeable and memorable.


Another Blunt Card

November 25, 2010

Another gay-related Blunt Card, this time with the back-formed verb gay marry:

With a bonus, the playful division of the compound pronoun myself into its possessive modifier (my) and nominal head (self) parts, with an intervening adjective modifier (hot) of the head. Some such divisions of reflexives with intervening modification are pretty common: my former self, my future self, my true self, my better self, your sorry self, etc., many of them serving as alternatives to also somewhat awkward nominals with an adjective plus an ordinary pronoun (the former me, the true me, etc.).


imposter vs. impostor

November 25, 2010

Maureen Dowd’s op-ed column in the NYT yesterday was headed

The Great Game Imposter

and later references to the Afghan man who passed himself off as a top Taliban commander used the spelling IMPOSTER. The day before, the headline in the news section went

Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor

and this front-page story used the spelling IMPOSTOR throughout.

The -ER spelling has appeared on Language Log, most notably in the title (and body) of a posting by Mark Liberman on 7/18/08:

Ranking fields by the difficulty of imposter detection (link)

(with comments addressing the spelling).

The facts are these: the -OR spelling is older, but the -ER spelling has been gaining on it, to the point where most current dictionaries give the -ER spelling as an alternative; both spellings are found in great numbers; but some people still consider the -ER spelling to be a mistake.

It was a bit of surprise to find the New York Times, which generally tries hard to enforce One Right Way, especially in mechanical matters, willing to let Dowd (or her editor) have the -ER spelling, and even to carry it over to the head.