Archive for the ‘Personal life’ Category

Take a leek

March 1, 2012

It’s March 1st, St. David’s Day — the Welsh national holiday. A memorable day in several ways, and one dear to me.


Language shards

February 27, 2012

In an earlier posting on Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky), I wrote:

After working in the language lab at Princeton, she had accumulated a stock of examples in other languages, beautifully pronounced: “The wind has come, bearing with it the scent of amber” in Persian (the poetic), “Bring me one beer” in Arabic (the practical), and the like. And phonetically challenging phrases in French, like Ose, zèbre! ‘Just you dare, zebra!’ (the absurd).

Her friend Bonnie Campbell has now clarified and expanded on this note:

I was the one who taught Ann “Ose, zèbre!” as well as “La girafe est dans la carafe” and “Le sage voyage sans bagage” — all culled from my classes with the (eventually ) renowned Pierre Léon at the Institut de Phonétique [in Paris].

From the same source, another example Ann liked a lot:

“Ce vieux quincailler infirme avait la fringale d’un goinfre.” Long-abandoned slang terms — “This feeble old hardware vendor had a glutton’s insatiable appetite.”

And among the non-French language shards: “All the royal elephants are at your disposal” in classical Persian (how’s that for practical bits of language?). Probably from a college classmate of Bonnie’s whose boyfriend was studying Persian.

As for the elephant and its trunk (mentioned in my earlier posting), the example was

Zoo wa hana ga nagai ‘As for elephants [zoo, marked by topic particle wa], (their) noses [hana, marked by subject particle ga] are long [nonpast verb nagai]’, or better, ‘As for (the) elephant, (its) nose is long’.


In Tours

February 27, 2012

(Not about language, except incidentally. Otherwise, this is a first report from Benita Bendon (Campbell) about Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky). This one comes from 1957; photo here.)

I first met Ann at the dining table on the Mauretania where she terrified me — but everything and everyone terrified me in those days. When we were studying in Tours for six weeks (where the Purest French is spoken), preparing us for the transition to Paris, we became friends while putting on a play. I don’t remember the play very clearly — it may have been La Farce du Maître Patelin. I had been billeted in a Balzacian heap of a glacially cold and crumbling mansion, owned by Madame Cozette. She was the mother of a prosperous City Father highly influential in the Sweet Briar organization. To please Monsieur Cozette, Sweet Briar annually sacrificed a couple of girls on the altar of Madame’s unspeakably dreadful boarding house. No running water beyond a sporadic trickle from one robinet (I was given money for three baths a week at the bains publiques) — and a starvation diet. Ann, on the other hand, lived chez les Bourin — a comfortable and warm-hearted family — dans de bonnes conditions. Madame Bourin was the daughter of a vintner — (“only three thousand or so bottles left in the cave” said Monsieur – in melancholy tones) — and had run a restaurant in previous years. A superb cook who loved to surround herself with as many hungry young folks as possible, she asked Ann if she had any friends to invite to dinner. “Oh, yes please, madame,” said Ann. “J’ai une grande amie qui crève de faim.” “Ah, la pauvre petite,” said Madame Bourin. “Elle doit être logée chez Madame Cozette.” All the host families, it seemed, knew of Madame Cozette’s miserable boarders. And so I was invited to two or three dinners chez Bourin — those three meals sustained me for six weeks.

Madame Bourin was an ailurophile who had at least five cats in residence. I remember a pretty gray one called Grisbi, an affectionate purrer called Musique, and a one-eyed bully named Bébé Chou. So one day after class, I set off into the winding streets of la vieille ville, looking for catnip to take as a gift on my next visit. After many false starts, I did find a wonderful medieval herboristorie run by a stout Dickensian chap in a frock coat who pulled out dozens of jars and boxes until we found “valérienne” — catnip, indeed. When I presented the paper cornet to Madame B. she was mystified but gratified – we trotted out into the back courtyard and sprinkled the herbs on the ground where the cats ignored it. Just ignored it. Hunh. But at a moment somewhat later in the afternoon as we sat in sated, vinified stupor around the groaning board, we heard a symphony of caterwauling from the back yard, where the cats had finally succumbed to the catnip in loud choruses of happiness. Back at William and Mary the following year, Ann wrote a short story about that occasion.

[More to come.]


Remembering Ann

May 9, 2011

Today is May 9, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky’s birthday (she died in January 1985, oh so long ago). In her memory, I’ve added to my website a collaborative piece she and I wrote long ago on “Telegraphic registers in written English” (from a NWAV conference in Montréal), here. Recipes, classified ads, menus, men’s-room sexual graffiti, telegrams, newspaper headlines, and more. Ann got me into the topic, as I constructed materials for my introductory linguistics classes and began to absorb influences from my (eventual) Stanford colleague Charles Ferguson.

Style and register ended up becoming one of my things.

[Ann just detested Mother’s Day, which was yesterday. She hated the whole idea of the holiday, and especially the fact that it regularly intruded on her birthday. On the other hand, both days would always come close to Derby Day (Ann was born on Derby Day) — the running of the Kentucky Derby (Saturday this year), a big event in our household because Ann’s family were horse people, and her father was a thoroughbred racing steward (a judge), eventually the senior steward for the state of Kentucky, which meant that he oversaw the Derby in Louisville (and also Keeneland in Lexington).

Ann herself rode horses from an early age (we have a childhood photo of her on Man O’ War, who went to stud on her great-aunt Elizabeth’s farm), and broke bones all her life on horseback — she turned out to have rather brittle bones — right up to a week or so before that conference in Montréal, which she went to, undaunted, with her left arm in a cast.]

The Xmas leaf

December 25, 2010

Found by Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky on a Palo Alto street this morning, all green and red (and, yes, yellow):

Some nice little presents for me, including a set of seven rainbow penguin erasers (one color for each day of the week) from my grand-daughter Opal, postcards to send to friends, and a penguin corkscrew. From me: a HexBug Nano Habitat and two books: Deborah Fallows’s Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language and Nicholson Baker’s The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber (both chosen because I admire the books and because I know the authors).

Then a long yummy Chinese dinner with the family and a friend and his son, who’s one of Opal’s great buddies (they collaborated on a wonderful drawing, played iPad games together and separately — one iPad per child — and plotted a sleepover for tonight).


Happy/Merry Christmas

December 25, 2010

The seasonal discussion of Happy Christmas vs. Merry Christmas has sprung up again on the American Dialect Society mailing list. The facts, in brief, are that Merry Christmas is now the standard greeting in the U.S. and is far from unknown in the U.K., though Happy Christmas has some history in the U.S. (in “A Visit from St. Nicholas” — “‘Twas the night before Christmas” — the jolly old elf wishes “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night”) and seems still to predominate in the U.K.

David Daniel has now offered this link to an enormously affecting performance, by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir, of “Happy Christmas (War is Over)“, in which Lennon sings “happy” — and the billboards have “happy” on them, as here:

John Lennon’s 70th birthday went by back in October (on the 9th) — he was just a bit younger than I am — and then his 30th deathday came up earlier this month (on the 8th), a moment of great sorrow for me. Back in 2003, while my man was dying, I wrote a poem (included in a posting here) on Yoko Ono’s 70th birthday that was in fact an act of mourning for John (“You damned / Earnest angry / Boy who / Sang for me”), a man who finally found delight and a kind of peace in his partnership with Yoko (they looked ridiculously happy together) and in caring for their son Sean, but then was murdered at the age of 40.

Death is with us. And war is very much not over. Here we weep.

But in an hour my little family will appear, we will exchange a very few presents (mostly for my grand-daughter), and then have our now-customary Christmas meal, dim sum lunch at a local Hong Kong restaurant, enjoying a happy Chinese-Jewish moment.

In September and October

November 23, 2010

The story starts in September, with a YouTube video “It Gets Better” by Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller (married in Canada, as described in Savage’s wonderful book The Commitment), aimed at giving hope and support to lgbt teens and other persecuted young people.


Commencement photo

September 26, 2010

(A little personal posting, with no content of linguistic value.)

From back in June, a photo of me at the Stanford Linguistics graduation ceremony. These departmental ceremonies take place after the big event in Stanford Stadium, with its Famous Speaker and the hordes of graduates performing their Wacky Walks. The graduates actually get their diplomas at these departmental events, and our department is small enough that we can provide an encomium for each student, delivered by the student’s adviser. It’s a wonderful custom.

The photo was taken by Laura Staum Casasanto, shortly before she received her Ph.D. diploma and an encomium from Penny Eckert (I was merely the co-adviser for her dissertation, Experimental Investigations of Sociolinguistic Knowledge). It catches me in a spot in the shade — on an extraordinarily hot day — that Daniel Casasanto, Laura’s husband, thoughtfully set up for me. I don’t like most photographs of me (and sometimes go to some trouble to avoid having my picture taken), but I like this one.

And it catches me in the fag-lavender shirt that I’ve mentioned twice on this blog (here and here), with its color somewhat intensified by my manipulations of the jpg file that Laura sent me a few days ago.

It’s been a week of In Your Face t-shirts for me. Starting with a simple Pansy shirt (advertising Pansy Brand citrus fruit) on Monday, then on Tuesday my F Word shirt (advertising Jesse Sheidlower’s book, in silver block letters on basic black), on Wednesday back to to pansy advertising (but more in your face, a Pansy Brand label with the added caption “Pansy Brand Homo Grown Premium Fruits Available Worldwide”), on Thursday “Be All You Can Be: Militant Homosexual”, on Friday a t-shirt with the Gran Fury “Read My Lips” image of two sailors kissing, and yesterday a shirt with the Gay Pride “Visible” shirt (with a pink triangle for the V). I guess that the wrangling over the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and over marriage equality in California finally got to me.

Some images for your amusement: two Pansy Brand labels (not the ones on my t-shirts):

Then the Gran Fury poster:

And the Visible graphic:

Notes on shapenote singing

September 23, 2010

The story starts in late-18th-century New England, with four-part hymns set by America’s first composers (in particular, William Billings of Boston).  Though pretty clearly related to English “artistic” hymn-writing, this music was “rustic” and “naive” in various ways — the lines often travelled in parallel fourths and fifths, and the harmony was “dispersed”, with lots of open chords (not always filled with thirds, and very rarely with seconds) and with the voices distributed over as wide a range of pitches as possible.  Although sometimes sung with instrumental or organ accompaniment, the music was arranged so as not to need accompaniment; this allowed it to be sung in places that lacked the instruments.  As an aid to learning, composers began writing the music with different shapes for the different notes of the scale; the shapes had the additional virtue of freeing the music from the particular key chosen by the composer (or, more often, printer), so that the songs could be sung in any key that fit the voices of a group of singers.

Music masters could then travel from place to place and quickly teach the techniques, and then locals could pass them on; soon, professional musicians could be dispensed with entirely, as they have been for nearly two hundred years now.  Originally associated with church services, the singing soon became a communal event for occasions when there was no church service (two or three sundays out of four, in many places).

Printed books of songs sprung up, hundreds of them eventually, most in the oblong shape that allowed a whole line of text and tune to be fitted into a single printed line. The now-dominant book — the one I sing from — is The Sacred Harp (Denson Revision, first ed. 1844, last rev. 1991), though there are also singings from the “Cooper Book” (The B.F. White Sacred Harp, revised Cooper edition) and from The Christian Harmony (with a 7-shape notation shared by a number of other books). And from auxiliary books like Northern Harmony and Northampton Harmony, which provide a constant source of new songs, some of which are eventually incorporated into the “Denson book”. (Other added songs are revivals from the 18th and 19th centuries. Billings keeps expanding over the years; in my opinion, Boston — “Methinks I see a heav’nly host of angels on the wing” — deserves a place in the next revision, but then I’m very big on angels and trumpets.)

The music traveled in this way down the Appalachians, picking up other musical influences along the way (English folk traditions; European art music; Scots-Irish folk music; the music of the many American revivalist movements and camp-meetings); setting itself off from (or being actively rejected by) other musical waves of the period (Lowell Mason’s “good music” movement; what came to be American gospel musics, white and black); retreating to rural communities of the deep South, especially in Georgia and Alabama, especially in Primitive Baptist and Primitive Methodist churches, where it served as an ecumenical bond between churches riven by their endless doctrinal schisms.

This history gave rise to at least two of the characteristic 20th-century features of the tradition: a resolute anti-doctrinarian stance (which has made it possible for non-believers, Jews, Quakers, Mormons, and other outlandish types to find some kind of place under the larger Sacred Harp umbrella) and the communitarian ethos manifested most clearly in the tradition of “dinner on the grounds” after a singing, typically supplied pot-luck style by the participants, sometimes by the host.

Along with these traditions go the many democratic customs of shapenote singing, in particular, passing the leadership for songs from person to person (the leader selects a song, announces which verses and which repeats will be sung, pitches the song, and beats the time — or assigns some of these responsibilities to someone else); and the amiable negotiation of pitches.

As the music came to be seen by some people as irredeemably old-fashioned and rustic, there was a real threat that it might have vanished, but an assortment of forces combined to preserve and invigorate the tradition — among them, long-standing efforts between communities to join together in singing conventions, now made easier by modern communications, and growing outside interest in the tradition, from displaced Southerners and from “folkies” in the East, the upper Midwest, and California.

I came to shapenote singing through a boyfriend in Columbus, Ohio, who got it from his housemate Fred (they were both English country dancers), and Fred got it from the Christmas folk celebrations in Berea, Kentucky, that his parents participated in. So my boyfriend said to me, “Fred’s starting this singing group, and I think you would really like this stuff.” He’d already introduced me to Bare Necessities — one of the great pleasures of a much younger boyfriend is finding out about things you might never otherwise have come across — and to his assortment of local friends, including his best female friend Barbara, who eventually, through the modest mediation of my partner Jacques and me, met and then married Geoff Pullum.

So I trusted his judgment, and boy, did I like that stuff. Put it down to the folk movement and gay liberation.

I think this is a truly wonderful story, all parts of it, and I’ll never tire of telling it, in variants both brief and embellished with personal details.

The Bay Area has a Sacred Harp group in San Francisco, one on the peninsula, two in Berkeley/Oakland, and one in Santa Cruz. So in addition to my very tiny local family of blood (my daughter and grand-daughter), I have a shapenote family as well as a linguistics family and an lgbt family. And they overlap. We’re singing on Sunday for the linguists, and the singers will include my daughter and several gay friends.


May 9, 2010

This posting is mostly about my personal life, but there is a (small) linguistic point. If you don’t want to read about my personal life, bow out after the preliminaries are over.

It starts with a Zits cartoon from last month:

Jeremy’s parents are on diets — low-fat and high-fiber and probably more — and I sympathize. I’ll explain, but first a few comments on the word diet.

In modern English this has two principal meanings (there are others), an older one and a more recent one that’s a specialization of the older sense. NOAD2 glosses them:

[older] the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats

[specialized] a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons

Compare “Kim’s diet is low in fat” [sense 1] with “Kim’s diet allows only a few grams of fat a day” [sense 2]. In sense 2, a diet serves a purpose other than providing simple nutrition or sensual pleasure; it’s treatment rather than just food — a fact that has led many critics (Michael Pollan, for instance) to criticize diets-2, sometimes passionately.

Here end the preliminaries.