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Tuesday 08 July, 2008

A fish on Mimbres pottery
S E Arizona & S W New Mexico
circa 1100 A.D.



The answer to Terry Redman's inquiry has been supplied by Nigel Greenwood, to whom many thanks.  Paragoge [ˌpærəˈɡəʊdʒi] or [-ˈɡəʊɡi] is the Greek word meaning "leading part, addition" and is defined by Chambers as: an addition to the end of a word, such as t  in against, amidst, amongst, whilst....Chambers also gives the form paragogue [ˌpærəˈɡɒɡ]. The Wikipedia entry for this word is not particularly informative, but does give the example of the English word rack, borrowed into Finnish as räkki and into Japanese as rakku.  Both of these languages must be stuffed full of examples of paragoge, of course. 

It would be interesting, I guess, to investigate exactly which vowel is chosen for insertion by which languages and in what circumstances.  Terry Redman's Korean examples seem to point to some sort of vowel harmony, or maybe the place of articulation of the final consonant determines which vowel is inserted.   Japanese is not much of a problem from this point of view.  The vowel u is added after most offending word-final consonants, but not after t or d where o  is used instead.  This is because the two Japanese phonemes /t/ and /d/ have affricate allophones, [ts] and [dz], which occur when a high back vowel follows. My impression of Italian is that the paragogic vowel is almost always an [ə] quality.  Finnish, I am not sure about.

Steven Weinberger's Speech Accent Archive at George Mason University would be a good place to root around in, if you're interested.


Petr Rösel points out that epithesis [eˈpɪθəsɪs] means the same thing, and Chambers confirms this.
Yoshi Fujino tells us that some borrowings into Japanese add the vowel [i], rather than the vowel [ɯ].  He mentions an older pronunciation for the word ink - [ɪŋki] in Japanese (though now it it is [ɪŋkɯ]) and also the word [peŋki] meaning to paint, which apparently is borrowed from the Dutch word pek.

Thanks to them both.

Saturday 05 July, 2008




And finally.....?

Terry Redman writes:

I teach English in Korea.  My students frequently add an additional, unnecessary syllable at the end of words such as fishee for fish and governmentuh for government.  There must be a name for this very common error but I couldn't find it in your dictionary.  Perhaps I overlooked it but I spent a long time looking for it.  One of my very articulate students stumped me with that question and I'd like to give her an answer.  Could you help me? 

To which I replied:

Your question is an interesting one, but I'm afraid I don't have a very satisfactory answer at the moment.  The general term for the insertion of an extra sound in a word is epenthesis, as you probably know.  There are fancy terms for the addition of a vowel to the beginning of a word (prothesis) and the insertion of a vowel between two consonants in the middle of a word (anaptyxis or svarabhakti), but I don't know of a term for the addition of a vowel to the end of a word.  This is puzzling, because, as you say, the phenomenon is pretty common and is perpetrated by students of English from a number of language backgrounds, including Italian.  The motivation is quite clear, however.  It is a strategy to make English words conform to the structure of words in L1.  In Italian, and I guess in Korean, words cannot end in obstruent consonants (like "sh", "t", "k").  Speakers of other languages have a different strategy -- they simply omit the offending consonant.  Speakers of Cantonese and Thai tend to do this.

Any suggestions anyone?

Thursday 03 July, 2008





The sounds of silence

On the matter of alveolar plosive elision, Petr Rösel writes:

I just re-read your comments on APE. For me as a non-native speaker of English it's easy to delete the /t/ in <handle> and <postal> when I say them fairly fast and and a bit sloppily. I do, however, have problems eliding the /t/ in <hurtle> (unless I go rhotic). You write that you can't go APE in any of these 3 words. CAN  you not or DO you not? The /n/ in <handle> is alveolar like the /d/ and the /s/ is not far from the same place of articulation. So, there  should be no problem deleting the /d/ without ending up with a totally different word, should there?

My answer is that I and, I am pretty sure, the vast majority of native speakers of (at least) British English do NOT elide the alveolar plosives in any of the words Petr mentions.  The interesting question is: why not? This has got me thinking about elision and its relationship to orthography.  It seems to me that we need a well-founded taxonomy of orthographic-phonetic correspondences and also ways of symbolising them.  I don't know if this will be useful, and I may be re-inventing the wheel, but, as they say, here goes nuttin'...

1.  Orthographic representations:  These are commonly marked by enclosing in < >, so <bed> is an example of an orthographic form, [bed] of a phonetic form and /bed/ of a phonemic form.
2.  Silent letters: We must be clear what we mean by silent letters.  This is what I mean by the term.  Consider the <p> at the beginning of <pterodactyl>, say.  No matter what we do to this word in the way of adding suffixes, or anything else, the <p> is never going to be pronounced.  It is silent, and ever more shall be so.  I propose indicating silent letters by enclosing them in ( ).  So: <(p)terodactyl>, <(w)rist>, <com(b)> etc.  How then to deal with differences between accents?  Take for example the words farm and hat.  To write <fa(r)m> would be very non-rhotico-centric, if you see what I mean, and <hat> would ignore h-dropping accents.  I propose indicating this variability among accents by means of the notation ( )a
So: <fa(r)am>, <(h)aat> etc.
3 N-graphs: English orthography is notorious for using two, three, or sometimes even four letters, to represent a single sound.  These are n-graphs.  My proposal is to enclose n-graphs in { }.  So: <{th}in>, <br{ea}d>, <ma{tch}>, <ki{tsch}> etc.
4 N-phones: English also occasionally uses a single letter to represent a sequence of sounds. I propose calling these n-phones.  The prime example of an n-phone in English is <x>.  However, it is not always used as an n-phone, so we need a way of distinguishing the different usages.  I propose using a following : to indicate an n-phone.  So: <six:>.  <x> can represent a single sound in words like <xeno{ph}obic}, and can also be silent as in
5. Inert letters: Consider the <n> at the end of the word <hymn>.  It's silent, huh?  Well, yes.  But now consider the word <hymnal>.  It's no longer silent.  So, unlike the <(p)> in <(p)terodactyl> or the <(b)> in <clim(b)>, this inert <n> can be activated by the addition of a suffix.  I propose using [ ] to indicate an inert letter. So: <hym[n]>, <mali[g]n> (cf. <malignant>.

This post is getting rather long, so I'll leave the rest of my musings on this matter, and also the question of what all this has to do with elision till a later date.  Dinner time approaches...


Monday 30 June, 2008

Heamoor is where I live




Mazey Day

This year the three main days of the Golowan Midsummer Festival in Penzance were celebrated on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 27-29 June.  The name Golowan derives from the Cornish goell (="feast") and Iowan, the Cornish form of the name John, and celebrates the Feast of St John, the patron saint of Penzance. St John's day is actually 23rd June, but inconveniently this year that fell on a Monday, so Mazey Eve, with bonfires, fireworks and the election of the  Mayor of the Quay, took place on Friday 27.  Mazey Day itself was the following day and the centre of Penzance became a vast street market cum fair, with food stalls, face painters, book stalls, rock bands, dancing, classical music groups and all manner of other activities.  The day was punctuated by a series of processions from St John's Hall down the main street and then back again.  The pictures below are from the "Dinner Parade" which took place at 1:00pm.  Local schools, community groups, arts groups and the like parade their creations.

Golowan was celebrated up until the 1890s, but increased fire insurance premiums and the perceived risk of a conflagration from the burning tar barrels, fireworks, bonfires and torches, which were features of the celebrations at the time, led the local borough council to ban the festival.  It was revived in 1990 and has now grown to be an extremely successful event, which attracts thousands of visitors each year.  Golowan ended on Sunday, which was Quay Day, with all the activity moving from the centre of town to the waterfront area.


On a different matter, Petr Rösel writes:

I just re-read your comments on APE. For me as a non-native speaker of English it's easy to delete the /t/ in <handle> and <postal> when I say them fairly fast and and a bit sloppily. I do, however, have problems eliding the /t/ in <hurtle> (unless I go rhotic). You write that you can't go APE in any of these 3 words. CAN  you not or DO you not? The /n/ in <handle> is alveolar like the /d/ and the /s/ is not far from the same place of articulation. So, there  should be no problem deleting the /d/ without ending up with a totally different word, should there?

My answer is that I and, I am pretty sure, the vast majority of native speakers of (at least) British English do NOT elide the alveolar plosives.  The interesting question is: why not? I'll leave that problem for a different day.  I would just add that the possibility of ending up with a totally different word has no bearing on whether APE takes place or not.

Thursday 19 June, 2008






This is Nui, doing one of the things he does best.  His name is Māori for "big" and he is a seven-year-old tabby point Siamese.  That's all for today.

Wednesday 18 June, 2008




An etymological Celtic knot

My thought for the day: Dictionaries are dangerous!  And when they are combined with Google and Wikipedia they are triply dangerous.  I can no longer remember why or where this particular dictionary trek started, but here goes anyway.

On 27 May I posted some idle musings about borrowings from Irish and Scots Gaelic.  I didn't include the word leprechaun.  Well, we all know that comes from Irish and it refers to the exclusively Irish "Little People", don't we?  Well, I know I thought I did.  However, things are not quite that simple.

The Foclóir Gaeilge-Bearla (Niall Ó Dónaill, ed., 1977. Dublin: Oifig An tSolatháir) indeed has an entry for the word leipreachán, but it starts: 1 = Lucharachán ...So turning to that entry we find: Puny creature, pygmy, dwarf; elf .....(Variants: lucharbán, luchargán, lucharpán, luchramán). Unfortunately, this dictionary is silent on etymology, so off we go to Chambers Dictionary.  This suggests: prob OIr  luchorpán, from lu small and corpan (sic, JM), corp a body.  Well, maybe.  The Foclóir Gaeilge-Bearla entry on lucharachán also contains the instruction See also Práta, turning to which word (meaning "potato") .....2. ~ clutharacáin, lucharacháin, pignut. We sigh gently and turn to clutharacán (the -in endings, by the way, are the mark of the genitive case, in case you're interested).  Here we find: = Lucharachán, See also Píopa. So off we go to Píopa (meaning "pipe") and discover to our delight that 4. ~ clutharacáin, ~ geancánaigh, means "acorn-bowl".  However, the word cluthar is an adjective meaning "secret, secretive", so maybe Chambers has it wrong, because this seems a plausible root for a word denoting a member of the little people.

Maybe Wikipedia can shed some light.  But no!  However, a link from the Wikipedia page leads us to an online copy of Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry edited by W B Yeats.  Here we read that the word lepracaun (Yeats's spelling) derives, according to Mr Douglas Hyde, from the Irish leith brogán, which according to Mr Hyde, means "One-Shoemaker", though how he arrives at that conclusion I cannot see.  It is true, however, that far from being the Disneyfied "sprite or creature who helps Irish housewives...", as Chambers asserts, the leprechaun is usually depicted Irish folk tales as a miserly curmudgeon who makes a fortune out of mending shoes and hides pots of gold all over the shop.

Finally, back to whence we started, and the Foclóir Gaeilge-Bearla entry for leipreachán. This concludes: 2. (Of figurine) Leprechaun. Well, gee thanks!

I have no idea how long that particular dictionarywikiwander took, but at the end of it I had no real ambition left to investigate the Far Darrig (Irish: fear dearg = "red man"), who, unsurprisingly, wears red, and is fond of playing gruesome tricks on people, nor to look into the secrets of the Cluricaun, whose favourite pastime is breaking into gentlemen's cellars and getting plastered on their booze, which has led some to the opinion that he is nothing more than a leprechaun on a binge.   Hmmm, binge.  Now there's an interesting word.  I wonder...

Monday 16 June, 2008



“O south wind of the gentle rain,
You banish winter’s weather,
Bring salmon to the pool again,
The bees among the heather.

If northward now you mean to blow,
As you rustle soft above me,
God-speed be with you as you go,
With a kiss for those that love me!”

“From south I come with velvet breeze,
My work all nature blesses I melt the now and strew the leas
With flowers and soft caresses.

I’ll help you to dispel your woe,
With joy I’ll take your greeting
And bear it to your loved Mayo
Upon my wings so fleeting!”

“My Connacht, famed for wine and play,
So leal, so gay, so loving,
Here’s a fond kiss I sent to-day,
Borne by the wind in its roving.

These Munster folk are good and kind,
Right royally they treat me,
But this land I’d gladly leave behind,
With your Connacht pipes to greet me!”
The poet's name would translate as Freckled Donald Macnamara.  I have no information about him at the moment.  I think the rather free translation is by Donald O'Sullivan. The graphic is mine.

Friday 13 June, 2008





Tristan McLeay, to whom many thanks, writes in response to my last post:

the word "silhouette" comes via French from Basque and apparently means "abundance of holes", possibly "caves". At least, that's what Wikipedia says, although I've heard the theory from other people too, before Wikipedia  was as popular as it is today.

The Wikipedia article says that the word derives from the name of the controller of finances under Louis XV, Étienne de Silhouette, and that he imposed such harsh economic demands on the people that his name became synonymous with anything done cheaply.  Chambers Dictionary agrees that the guy was the source of the word, but says that the reasons are disputed.

The name apparently is a Frenchification of a Basque name, Zilhueta.  The Standard Basque form of the name is Zuloeta, which is made up of the word zulo (="hole, cave") and the suffix -eta (= "abundance of").  Étienne de Silhouette's father, Arnaud, was from Biarritz in the French Basque Country.

The silhouette to the left is of a Tristan McLeay. I hope I found the right person. Tristan may be interested to know, as may you, that 30-40 miles from here, near Fowey (pron [fɔɪ] ), there is a large stone pillar with an inscription (very weathered), which is thought to read DRVSTANS IC IACIT CVNOMORI FILIVS (Drustans lies here son of Cunomorus).  Legend (and not much else) has it that this is the resting place of Tristan of Tristan and Iseult fame.  Drustans (or Drustanus) is apparently the latinisation of a common Pictish name.