AEIOU

What you can see in the picture is an instance, on the wall of the castle in Graz, of the personal motto of Friedrich III (1415-1493), Holy Roman Emperor from 1452 until his death. The A.E.I.O.U. sequence appears on many of the buildings commissioned by Friedrich and also on such things as his tableware. Its meaning remained his secret until shortly before his death, when he announced, it is said, that it stood for Alles Erdreich Ist Österreich Untertan, which means “All The World is Subject to Austria”. According to Wikipedia there are alternative meanings to the motto, but all have the same rather grandiose import.

I learned this curious fact from the first episode of a three-part BBC series on the history of Vienna and the Habsburg dynasty. I learned a good many other things from the programme, but I also suffered many bouts of aaaaaaaaaaargh. These were entirely due to the presenter, Simon Sebag Montefiore, who has appeared on this blog before. Honestly, the man is a menace. One would think he makes it a policy to cram as many ridiculous pronunciations of English and other languages into the shortest possible time. There were far too many for me to remember, but here are a few of the outstanding onesː

Österreich is pronounced ˈuːstəraɪk
Hohenfall, the title of Filip Fabricius, a survivor of the Second Defenestration of Prague, was pronounced ˈhəʊənfɔːl
The English word cadaver was pronounced ˈkædəvə

SSM was gracious enough to admit at one point that he was “no scholar of German”. To which the only possible response is “You don’t say!”

Photo credit: Andreas Praefcke. Used under this licence.

Reverse rhotacism


One meaning of the word rhotacism is the phonological process which changes a consonant into a r-sound in certain environments. The consonant affected is usually alveolar and most frequently s or z. The particular realisation of r depends, I suppose, on which language is involved

What got me thinking of this process is my recent efforts to learn some Cornish. The Middle Cornish for “I am” is yth esof vy (ɪθ ˈezə vɪ is the pronunciation I have heard for this). A variation is yth esoma (ɪθ ˈezəmə, I assume, though I have never heard it). In Late Cornish the phrase is th’eroma or th’erof vy. This is a good example of rhotacism.

Then it struck me that in certain parts of the English-speaking world there is a process of reverse rhotacism, whereby r → z. Barry sometimes gets called Baz or Bazza, doesn’t he? And Jeremy, if he is unlucky, may be called Jez or Jezza. I tried to think of more examples, but all I could come up with was soz, which I have occasionally heard for the word sorry. Does Gary ever get called Gaz or Gazza?

It also occurred to me that rhotacism does not appear in SID. I must do something about that, and about lambdacism, but that is a matter for another post.

Mousehole memories

As you can see from the map, the village of Mousehole is due south of Penzance and is about 2.5 miles (4km) away. The name is pronounced ˈmaʊzl and is thought to be a reference to a cavern in the cliffs nearby. The original Cornish name is Porthenys (pronounced pərˈθenɪs), which means “island cove”.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about Mousehole here before , but what has prompted me this time is the discovery of an interesting short film about the place. It was made by The British Council and was released in 1943. The film is part of a large collection of films made by The British Council and can be viewed for free here. The village is not actually named in the film, but there is absolutely no doubt that it is Mousehole.

The British Council website looks very interesting, but I haven’t had time to investigate it thoroughly yet. Apart from the historical interest of what life was like in the 1940s in England, there is the added bonus that some of the narration for the films is in beautiful antique RP.

Map credit: Google Maps.