John Maidment's Blog
Tuesday 5 February, 2008
Gerard Manley Hopkins
My blog of 31 Jan reminded me of a morphological rarity
that occurs in Goethe's poem Der Zauberlehrling. In this, you may
remember, the sorcerer's apprentice, while his master is away, decides to
practice a bit of magic of his own. He puts a spell on a broom and
orders it to run to the well and to fill a tub with water. His spell
is successful, but he can't undo the spell and stop the broom. In
fact, he makes matters worse by breaking the broom in two and both parts
continue fetching water. Finally, the place is swimming in water, when the
sorcerer returns and saves the situation. These are the words he
uses to turn the brooms back to what they were:
In die Ecke,
In the corner
Be what ye were.
The last line of the quotation consists of the plural
imperative of the verb to be, followed by the contracted form of
es (="it"), and finally the past participle of to be. So
literally Be it been, or better: Have been it.
I know of one, possibly two, instances of this present
perfect imperative in English. The first is again in a poem.
Here are the first lines of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins in which he
addresses the departed spirit of the composer:
Have, fair fallen, O
fair, fair have fallen, so dear
To me, so arch-especial a spirit as heaves in Henry Purcell,
In a letter to his friend, Robert Bridges, Hopkins
comments: ‘“Have fair fallen.” Have is the sing. imperative (or
optative if you like) of the past, a thing possible and actual both in
logic and grammar, but naturally a rare one. As in the 2nd pers. we say
“Have done” or in making appointments “Have had your dinner beforehand”,
so one can say in the 3rd pers. not only “Fair fall” of what is present or
future but also “Have fair fallen” of what is past.
One other possible instance of this construction is the
phrase: "Have done with it!" i.e. Quit it!
About my query on the voicing at the end of Knab'
in Heidenröslein, Nigel Greenwood writes:
My immediate reaction was that it must be [b].
By googling "Heidenröslein audio"
you can find several versions, including one by Fischer-Dieskau,
which clearly have
Friday 1 February, 2008
The Pāli text of the Dhammapada
All that we are is the result of what we have
thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.
If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the
wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.
Thus begins The Dhammapada, a Buddhist text
written in Pāli in the fourth or fifth century. The translation is
by F. Max Müller. The text is a collection of 423 sayings attributed
to Buddha gathered into 26 categories, such as Evil, Earnestness, The
Wise Man, The Fool. Most of these categories have to do with living an
Having studied Chinese Philosophy as part of my
undergraduate degree, at one time I knew something of Buddhism. Over
the years with the pressure of modern living I guess I forgot some of the
things that impressed me about it. Now, perhaps, I shall have time
to re-acquaint myself with this. It seems to me that The
Dhammapada is a good place to start.
Here is verse 3:
"He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed
me," -- in those who harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease.
Thursday 31 January, 2008
This and that
Yes, I know the "Avete capiti?!" in the last blog is
wrong and should be "Avete capito?!". It was just my little joke.
Now here is a thing that suddenly occurred to
me about the pronunciation of German. It's a question to which I do
not know the answer. Gasp! Shock! Horror!
We all know, do we not, that word-final
obstruents in German are always voiceless, even when the word is a
non-final element of a compound. However, what is the situation if a
word-final vowel is elided, leaving an obstruent exposed? This can
happen in poetry. Witness the first line of Goethe's poem
Sah ein Knab' ein Röslein stehn
Now, is the consonant at the end of Knab' a [p] or
a [b]? Any information gratefully received.
Finally, on last Monday's University Challenge
there was actually a question involving (rather out-dated) phonetics!
The question was:
What word means both a voiceless consonant in phonetics
and in mathematics an unresolved mathematical expression of an nth root or
an irrational number that can be expressed as such a root of a rational
The answer is: surd.
Tuesday 29 January, 2008
I went to Truro today and on arrival made a beeline for
Costa's coffee shop in Waterstone's bookshop. (It used to be Ottakars.
Are there no bookshops other than Waterstone's now?). I ordered a
double espresso. Why can't people in this country attempt the word
espresso? If I hear expresso once more, I shall weep.
To make things worse, I picked up a sweet thingy to have with my coffee.
The server took it from me and put it on the tray, saying: "One biscotti."
Oh please, pleaaaaaaaaaaase. Biscotti is plural.
Panini is plural (or possibly a half-hearted attempt at the name of an
ancient Indian phonetician). What next? Pizzi?
Tagliatelli? Saltimbocci alli Romani?
It is NOT the case that every Italian word ends in -i.
Mi sento meglio addesso.
Friday 25 January, 2008
The Legend of St Eustace
Painting in Canterbury Cathedral
I have just been re-reading, for the I-don't-know-whichth
time, the novel Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. It is a
nightmarish tale set in the far-distant future in Kent. Society is
just beginning to emerge from a long post-nuclear-holocaust dark age.
The novel was partly inspired by the legend of St Eustace (See
and the original impetus came when Hoban saw the painting of the St
Eustace legend in Canterbury Cathedral.
The novel entwines and confuses the legend with the
search for the ingredients of gunpowder, with Punch and Judy, and with
vague confused memories of the nuclear disaster which took place at least
2000 years before the time of the novel. Its most striking feature
is the language it uses. This is mostly comprehensible (with a
little effort), but is certainly not like any English you've seen before.
There are all sorts of puzzles and jokes played with language. My
favourite is exemplified by the sentence:
We vackt our wayt out of there and roading for
This is based on a wonderful
misunderstanding/mishearing of evacuate as vack your weight
or something like that, so I vack my weight, he vacks his
Other examples are: a nylan (an island),
party cools (particles), galack seas (galaxies), parbly
(probably), persoon (pretty soon).
Friday 18 January, 2008
The Scholar & his Cat
Here is a wonderful poem, written in Irish in the 9th
or 10th century AD. The manuscript was found in St Paul's
Benedictine monastery on Reichenau Island in Lake Constance in Austria.
And here is a translation:
Pangur Ban my cat,
Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.
Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net
the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
Saturday 5 January, 2008
Goodbye P & L
On 1 January this year the Department of Phonetics and
Linguistics at UCL ceased to exist. Details of this piece of
academic vandalism can be found in
John Wells's blog.
I think it best I keep my opinions to myself for the time being, but I am
sure you can imagine that I am not overjoyed at the demise of the
department where I spent most of my working life.
Instead of a rant, however, here is a little
anecdote told to me by A C Gimson (Gim), who was head of department when I
arrived in the 70s and whose research assistant I was for a year, helping
him with the proofreading of the new edition of his Introduction to the
Pronunciation of English.
Gim came to the department at a time when Daniel Jones
was the head. In 1938, J R Firth decamped from the Department of
Phonetics (as it was then) at UCL and moved to The School of Oriental
Studies (as it was then), taking a number of UCL staff with him. Firth had
become firmly opposed to Jones's view of phonology and the concept of the
phoneme and set about developing his own theory -- Prosodic Analysis --
which was a fore-runner of the modern theory known as Auto-segmental
Phonology. As you may imagine, after this Jones and Firth were not
the best of friends.
One Christmas, Gim told me, he was in Heal's department
store close to UCL doing some Christmas shopping, when he saw Firth
striding towards him. Gim was expecting a seasonal greeting, but
instead Firth grabbed him by both lapels and bellowed: "GIMSON! THE
PHONEME IS DEAD!!!" and then strode off. Obviously, J R Firth was
not a man for trivialities like politeness.
Wednesday 2 January, 2008
The Isles of Scilly
One place quite close to Penzance that I haven't
visited in many years is the Isles of Scilly. This is an archipelago
of around 140 islands lying 28 miles off Land's End. Only six of the
islands -- St Mary's, Tresco, St Martin's, St Agnes, Gugh and Bryher, are
populated. According to the 2001 census, St Mary's has a population
of 1,666 and Gugh has a population of 3.
At this time of year, the only way to get to and from
the IOS is by helicopter, but from March/April to November a passenger
ferry called Scillonian III runs from Penzance to Hugh Town on St
Mary's. My only visit to the IOS was before this ship was in service
and I travelled on the Scillonian II, a much smaller and less
stable vessel. The journey out was fine, but return journey was the
only time I have ever felt seasick.
Although the islands are not far off the mainland,
their climate is quite different. The gulf stream means that they
are practically sub-tropical, and indeed on Tresco there are the Abbey
Gardens which contain only sub-tropical plants. However, the islands
are also very exposed to the Atlantic and suffer some spectacular storms.
They were, in the past, a well-known danger to shipping.
The area of sea between IOS and Land's End is the
supposed location of the legendary land of Lyonesse, which has disappeared
beneath the waves. There is little doubt that the sea level has
risen and parts of the islands have been submerged. Ancient field
walls are visible below the high tide line on some islands, notably
Sunday 30 December, 2007
A Survey of Cornwall
I have been reading A Survey of Cornwall by
Richard Carew. This was published in 1602 and is fascinating.
It is a wonderful mix of detailed fact about life in Cornwall in
Elizabethan times and fantastic tales and wild theories. It is
written in the most beautiful English with a complete disregard for
consistency of spelling. Below is an extract about the attack of the
Spanish on Mousehole, Newlyn and Penzance in 1595. The Spanish were
still pretty upset about the defeat of the Armada, I guess
The three & twentieth of July, 1595. soone after the
Sun was risen,and had chased a fogge, which before kept the sea out of
sight,4. Gallies of the enemy presented themselues vpon the coast,ouer-against
Mousehole, and there In a faire Bay, landed about two hundred men, pikes
and shot, who foorthwith sent their forlorne hope, consisting of their
basest people, vnto the stragled houses of the countrie, about halfe a
mile compasse or more, by whome were burned, not onely the houses they
went by, but also the Parish Church of Paul, the force of the fire being
such, as it vtterly ruined all the great stonie pillers thereof: others
of them in that time, burned that fisher towne Mowsehole, the rest
marched as a gard for defence of these firers. The Inhabitants
being feared with the Spaniards landing and burning, fled from their
dwellings, and verie meanely weaponed, met with Sir Francis Godolphin on
a greene, on the West side of Pensance, who that forenoone comming from
his house, for pacifying some controuersies in those Western parts, and
from the hils espying the fires in that towne, Church, and houses,
hastened thither: Who foorthwith sent to all the Captaines of those
parts, for their speedie repaire with their companies, and also sent by
Poast to Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Iohn Hawkins (then at Plymmouth with
a fleete bound for the Indies) aduertisement of the arriuall of these
foure Gallies, and of their burnings, aduising them to looke to
themselues, if there were any greater fleete of the enemies at Sea, and
to send West with all haste, what succours by sea or land they could
spare. Then Sir Francis Godolphin aduised that weake assembly, to
retire into Pensance, and to prepare it for defence, vntill the comming
of the Countrie forces that hee had sent for. But they finding
themselues in number something aboue a hundred, wherein were about
thirtie or fortie shot, though scarce one third of them were seruiceable,
insisted to march against the enemies, to repell them from farther
spoyles oftheir houses.
But while they were marching towards them, the Spaniards returned aboord
their Gallyes, and presently remooued them farther into the Bay, where
they anchored againe, before and neere a lesser fisher towne, called
There againe with all speede they landed, and imbattelled in the slope
of a hill, about foure hundred pikes and shot, sending about two rankes
of soldiers, three in a ranke, vp to the top of the hill, to discouer
what forces or ambushes of the Countrey might lye in view: who espying
none but those that were returned with Sir Frauncis Godolphin, from
their forementioned fruitlesse march, gaue notice thereof to their
imbatteled company. Wherevpon they forthwith marched towards
Vpon their moouing, Sir Frauncis Godolphin moued also, to enter Penzance
before them: and as soone as that weake number were entred into the open
greene being of three quarters of a mile length, the Gallyes ceased not
to ply them all that way with their ordinance from their prowes, as
busily as they could. Of which shot, though none were hurt, but
onely a Constable vnhorsed without any harme, sauing the shew on his
doublet of the bullets sliding by his back, yet many in fearefull
manner, some fell flat to the ground, and others ranne away.
The Spanish caused havoc in Penzance and then left
after a couple of days.
Friday 28 December, 2007
The Mad Hatter
As X as Y
In an idle moment it suddenly occurred to me how odd
some phrases of this form are. Some of course are transparent:
as dead as a Dodo
as light as a feather
as meek as a lamb
as quick as a flash
but what about
as dead as a doornail
as deaf as a post
as fit as a fiddle
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable was no
real help with these. It did however suggest a couple of reasonably
plausible explanations for:
as mad as a hatter: (1) Mercurous nitrate was used in
the making of felt hats and could cause trembling diseases such as St
Vitus's Dance (2) Robert Crabb, a 17th century hatter living at Chesham,
gave up all his worldly goods to the poor and lived on dock leaves and
By the way, Lewis Carroll did not invent the phrase.
It appears in Pendennis (1850) by Thackeray and Alice in
Wonderland did not appear until 1865.
I wonder also if there are many regional variations in
these phrases. One phrase I have only ever heard from New Zealand
speakers is as mad as a meat-axe.
Monday 24 December, 2007
A Happy Christmas
to you all
a peaceful New Year
Thursday 20 December, 2007
A Texas accent
The hiatus was caused by a heavy cold.
Lately, I have been listening to a CD of country/folk
music by the Texan singer Nanci Griffith and have noticed a couple of
interesting things about her accent. These may not be new to you,
but they are certainly new to me. By all accounts she grew up in
The first concerns the GOAT vowel.
When she is singing, and most of the time when she is speaking (there a
couple of spoken introductions to songs on the CD), the quality of this
is a clearly monophthongal [o:]. However, in a few words, such as
Coke the quality is a diphthong, something like [ʌʊ]
I am not yet sure if this is part of a consistent pattern, but possibly
this is a case of allophony with the diphthong triggered by the the
following velar consonant.
The second thing concerns /l/. Her
distribution of [l] and [ɫ] is the same as mine, that is,
clear before a vowel and dark elsewhere. However, in one of the
spoken introductions there is the following:
She was afraid that the dust would blow so
hard one night that she would wake up of a morning and find herself
living in Oklahoma, and she by God didn't wanna \[ɫ]ive in Oklahoma.
The /l/ in blow, Oklahoma and
living is clear. That in herself is dark. The /l/
in live is very dark indeed. This must be the use of
velarisation for emphatic purposes, I think. The placement of the
nucleus on live, so soon after the occurrence of living is
also interesting. I think I would have to place the nucleus on
By the way, Nanci Griffiths' songs are very