Macedonia revisited, 2

July 24, 2018

In my previous comments on the Macedonia name issue, my argument was based on the concept of synecdoche, whereby a part may take the name of the whole. I adduced the examples of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which occupies only a part of historic Azerbaijan (most of it is in Iran, which has the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan); of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which occupies only a part of historic Luxembourg (most of it is in Belgium, which has the province of Luxembourg); and of the United States of America — often called just America — which occupies only a part of the continent of America. So, I argued, let there be a Republic of Macedonia, while Greece can have its provinces of West, Central and East Macedonia.

But the argument that I have lately seen put forth by Greeks, especially on Quora, is that what they call FYROM is not at all, except for a small strip in the south, a part of historic Macedonia, which they identify essentially with the ancient kingdom of Macedon, and whose population they claim to be Greek (justifiably so, as can be red here and here). They thus accuse the Slavs who now call themselves Macedonians (and who, until  some time in the 20th century, thought of themselves as Bulgarians) of having appropriated an identity that is not theirs.

Because of the fame of Alexander the Great, Macedonian identity has carried prestige. In graduate school I had a friend who called himself Romanian-American, but he emphasized that he was of Macedonian-Romanian origin (what is now called Aromanian) and therefore a descendant of the Macedonians of Alexander.

But there is precedent for people adopting a prestigious identity that is not originally theirs. The Greeks themselves are a good example: in the Byzantine Empire and under Ottoman rule they called themselves Romans ( Ῥωμαῖοι), because of the prestige of ancient Rome; the Turks called them Rum.

Yet another example is that of the French, who assumed the identity of the Franks, a German tribe (or group of tribes) whose homeland is mainly in western Germany (the region known as Franconia or Franken). The Franks did, indeed, form the ruling class of what eventually became France, but French mythology identified French (franceis, français) with Frank (franc) retroactively to the age of Charlemagne (a heroic figure similar to Alexander), starting with the Song of Roland, and as late as Henri de Bornier’s 1875 play La Fille de Roland, the source of the saying (spoken by Charlemagne in the play) “Every man has two countries, his own and France.” (Modern French historiography, to be sure, uses Francie, not France, to denote the Frankish realm.)

So much for identity. I will write about territory next time.

 

Advertisements

Macedonia revisited, 1

July 17, 2018

Last May and June my wife and I took a trip across northwestern and north central Greece, from Corfu to Thessaloniki, with side trips into the neighboring republics of Albania and Macedonia. It was, except for the sometimes-too-warm weather, a most enjoyable trip, with visits to archaeological sites, historic monuments, old cities museums and magnificent scenery, including some beautiful lakes (Ioánnina, Kastoriá, Prespa and Ohrid).

We like to use public transport whenever possible, and only rent a car when it’s the only way to get to places that we want to see. Tanihis time we took a ferry from Corfu to Sarandë in Albania, a local bus to visit Butrint, a long-distance bus from Saranda to Gjirokastër and another one (one of two daily) from there to Ioánnina, the capital of Epirus in Greece.

But in planning the continuation of our trip into Greek Macedonia it turned out that bus service is deficient, unless one wants to go directly to Thessaloniki. There are four buses a week to Kastoriá and two to Flórina, but no direct ones between the latter two cities, or between Kastoriá and the Prespa lakes. All this places were on our route, and so renting a car became a necessity.

I inquired further whether one could take a rented car across the border into what the Greeks persist in calling the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Given the tense relations between this state and Greece, there are practically no public transport links between them. There is one, to be precise: the train that connects Greece to her old friend and ally Serbia (Thessaloniki–Belgrade) has to, by dint of geography, go through Macedonia. (I once took this train from Thessaloniki to Skopje, and the border crossing was not a pleasant experience.) But this is not the part of Macedonia that we wanted to visit: our focus was on Ohrid, in the country’s southwest.

It turned out that, of all the car-rental companies, only Avis allowed for a possible border crossing, and the booking could only be made through Avis Greece, not the international site. At the time I inquired they didn’t know as yet what the rate would be, so I waited. When I finally got the information, it was that the rate for a week’s rental would be over €1,100, as against some €400 for a rental within Greece. So, back to planning.

The plan that emerged was to leave the car parked in Flórina for the time that we would spend traveling to, staying in and returning from the Republic of Macedonia. To that end we booked a hotel in Flórina for the nights before and after the cross-border trip; the hotel’s management kindly agreed to let us park the car at their contract lot at no charge. And the only way to get from Flórina to Bitola is by taxi. We heard, however, that Greek taxi drivers don’t like to cross the border. By a stoke of luck, I got a lead on a driver based in Bitola who could take us across the border both ways at a very reasonable price. The driver turned out to be punctual and skilled at bypassing the lone line at passport control.

Once in Bitola there was no problem in catching a bus to Ohrid, after visiting the archaeological site of Heraclea Lyncestis and eating lunch washed down with good Macedonian wine. And Ohrid, which I had visited over 20 years ago, was enchanting, though drastically changed.

One of my memories of that visit (which I undertook by bus from Skopje) was stopping off in a gift shop and hearing a family tell the owner, in English, that they were Spanish, from Majorca. Being curious whether they would be speaking Spanish or Majorcan, I followed them out the store and eavesdropped. There were speaking… Greek!

They probably assumed, rightly or wrongly (probably wrongly, in my opinion) that Macedonians’ attitude to Greeks would not be too friendly, and so they hid behind the common trope that a Greek accent in English sounds like a Spanish one. (It doesn’t: Greeks have a hard time with the consonant represented in both English and Spanish by ch).

The tension that I am referring to has to do with the Macedonia name dispute, which I have been writing about for a dozen years (starting here), and which has lately come to the foreground again, so that I need to write about it again. More next time.

 

Peeve addendum

June 30, 2018

In my last post I suggested that adding accent marks to the Latin transcriptions of names on road signs in Greece would help people pronounce them relatively more correctly.

But watching World Cup matches on American TV has reminded my that accent marks are not necessarily heeded (as I already mentioned with regard to  Bacardí).

I heard players whose jerseys are marked MÚJICA, GIMÉNEZ and CÁCERES referred to by commentators (not all) as moo-HEE-ka, HIM-en-ez and ka-SER-es. And while the name of Roberto Martínez, the manager of the Belgium team, was accented correctly this time, I have a definite recollection of him being called Martinez when he coached Everton in the English Premier League.

Clearly, then, accent marks are no guarantee of correct accentuation. But I still think my idea is good, since there are people who do pay attention to details.

Another alphabet peeve

June 26, 2018

A few months ago I wrote a critique of some versions of the Latin alphabet that have been adopted in the last 200 years by several languages, leading the some conflicts or difficulties that could have been avoided.

My latest peeve results from a trip across northern Greece that my wife and I took a few weeks ago, and concerns the Latin alphabet that is used for the transcription of Greek place names on road signs.

We visited such places as Ioannina, Kastoria, Florina and Edessa. In Greek they are, respectively, Ιωάννινα, Καστοριά, Φλώρινα and Έδεσσα, with accent marks clearly indicating the stress. But, as I have written, English-speakers have the tendency to stress vowel-final words (except those ending in y) on the penultimate syllable, and their default pronunciation — and those of Spanish-speakers as well — for these names (if they aren’t familiar with them) would be Ioannina, Kastoria, Florina and Edessa.

Why don’t the Greeks, then, put accent marks on the transcribed names? It isn’t too late — volunteers could fan out across Greece and with a stroke of a paintbrush make signs that read Ioannína, Kastoriá, and so on.

The better pronunciation resulting from such an effort would be pleasing to hosts and visitors alike.

 

Inspector Luann returns

May 17, 2018

I’ve just read Elizabeth George’s latest, The Punishment She Deserves. This time I didn’t wait my turn to get it from the library but actually bought the book, brand-new, with dust jacket and all. And I noticed that on that dust jacket, above a misty photograph of Ludlow (England), both the author’s name and the title appear in all lower case. But of course no one will refer to the novelist as “elizabeth george.” And l still don’t understand why the writer who calls herself Bell Hooks and also chooses the all-lower-case format for her title pages is almost universally cited as “bell hooks,” as though referring to some devices from which bells are hung. Esthetic choices of title-page typography do not, in my opinion, trump the rules of English, one of which is that in ordinary writing personal names are capitalized.

But I digress.

I managed to go through the book’s almost 700 pages in a few days. The plot is gripping, with several subplots that seem unconnected at first but finally come together logically.

There are, of course the usual recurring characters: DI Thomas Lynley, DS Barbara Havers, DCS Isabelle Ardery, and the others. Elizabeth George clings to the old naming convention, where women are referred to by first name and men by surname (as I have noted, Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin — but not Peter Robinson — have overcome it). And, as usual, the characters’ histories build upon previous novels, but in what I have called Luann time: the events of the preceding novel, published three years earlier, are described as having happened “last year.” Havers is still in her thirties (a character in her late forties is described as having “more than ten years on her”) and Lynley at least appears to be no more than forty: he is seen as “twenty years older” than an eighteen-year-old. (The series, mind you, began in 1988.)

In the customary afterword, George acknowledges her editor, who “set me straight when I went off track in British English.” Not enough, I’m afraid.

I have already commented on George’s pet Americanism, “run interference” (a term taken from American football); it appears twice in this book. A few others crop up: “GPS” for “satnav”; “pressured” for “pressurised”; “Indian” (based on appearance) for “Asian”; and George’s tendency to confuse “due” and “do”: she once wrote “undo” for “undue,” while this time its “make due” for “make do.”

Then there is George’s penchant for eye dialect, intended somehow to reproduce the speech of those who are not toffs like Thomas Lynley and who are quoted, for example, as saying “su’prise”; but of course no English person (except in the West Country) pronounces the first R in surprise; nor would anyone pronounce the phrase problems are as anything like “problems’re”; but there you are.

I also find it jarring to read British spelling with American punctuation, but that’s another matter.

So much for ling-crit. A bigger problem, for me, is the superficiality of Elizabeth George’s acquaintance with British culture. Referring to Thomas Cromwell when Oliver is meant is a small example.

The novel takes place in the small but historic town of Ludlow, in Shropshire, as well as elsewhere in the county and in the neighboring counties of Herefordshire and Worcestershire — the territory served by the West Mercia Police, which figures prominently in the action. The area, including its topography and architecture, is described in vivid detail that adds color to the narrative. It’s clear that George explored the places she describes; she also gathered inside information by interviewing the Chief Constable of the WMP, the mayor of Ludlow (who is — though she doesn’t say so — not an executive mayor but merely the chairman of the town council, a body with very limited authority), and the chairman of the gliding club to which three of her characters belong.

One institution that plays a large part in the story, is a college, which George calls West Mercia College (like the police), but whose description as regards location and buildings matches the actual college located in Ludlow, Ludlow College. Several of the principal characters are students at the college; they are 18 or 19 years old, and appear to be in their first year of studies. They also (with one exception) are heavily involved with drinking and sex.

In other words, the college is supposed to strike American readers as something like what they think of as a college. But the reality is different. (No wonder George renamed the college, and did not interview its head.)

Ludlow College is, in fact, a sixth-form college, a school corresponding chronologically (though not academically) to the 11th and 12th grades of American high schools; students who are 18 will actually be finishing the second of its two years (known as lower and upper sixth).

I am not sure that Elizabeth George knows the concept of sixth form, since she seems to confuse the British form with the American grade. In one place, Isabelle Ardery thinks of the children playing in a schoolyard as being in third form, and thus close in age to her own children, who are nine. In another, a twelve-year-old is asked if she remembers her fourth-form teacher.

As a matter of fact, “form” is used in England to denote grade in secondary school, which begins at age eleven; thus third and fourth form correspond to ages thirteen and fourteen, respectively (they are also called year 8 and year 9), and sixth form accordingly begins at age 16.

Why does Elizabeth George’s British editor let her get away with these things? I don’t know, but in a way I’m grateful. For I enjoy reading her books, but then I get the additional enjoyment of quibbling about the solecisms.

 

 

Ah

May 4, 2018

Some years ago, when I was still writing well reasoned, carefully researched essays (unlike the freewheeling blog posts that I compose nowadays), I wrote one (in fact, my very last such effort) about the various uses to which the letter H has been put in different languages that use the Latin alphabet.

With regard to English, I wrote that “the H in ah (and hah), eh (and feh, meh), and uh (and huh) … indicates that the vowel is different from what it would have been without the H.” But I was not specific; what I meant was that ah stands for /ɑ/ or /ɑ:/, eh for /ɛ/, and uh for /ə/or  /ə:/. Thus ah is often used to represent the typical non-rhotic pronunciation of ar (e.g. dahling), and uh for that of er, ir or ur (e.g. Suh for Sir).

I also wrote the following:

Word-final –ah is also found in English, especially in words from Middle Eastern or South Asian languages (for example mullah, hookah, purdah, verandah), originally intended to indicate that this vowel is to be pronounced /ɑ/ rather than neutralized to /ə/, though the effect has generally been lost.

Indeed, in word-final –ah the H is usually ignored; for example, Sara and Sarah, Hanna and Hannah are considered to be different spellings of the same name. (Endings in -iah are an exception: Maria and Mariah are pronounced differently.)

There are a couple of exceptions: the words hurrah and huzzah are indeed pronounced with a stressed final /ɑ:/. Perhaps these examples were in the minds of those who, in the early 19th century, first wrote about the country to the east of India, which they spelled Burmah in order to represent the native pronunciation /bə’mɑ/ (“buh-mah“). But it didn’t work: readers disregarded the h, and the (non-rhotic) English came to call the country “buh-muh”. Eventually the h was dropped from the spelling; according to Google Ngrams, Burma overtook Burmah in the 1970s.

Nowadays /bə’mɑ/* officially designates the name, not of the country, but of its majority ethnic group, also known (in English) as Burmese. But the countries authorities resorted to a different trick in order to preserve the original pronunciation: rather than an h, they put an r at the end, seemingly knowing that English-speakers are more likely to stress a two-syllable word on the second syllable if there is a consonant letter (even if silent) at the end, and so the spelling now is Bamar.

In order to differentiate the name of the country from that of its majority ethnic group (and thus to acknowledge the presence of other ethnicities, such as the Karen, Shan and others), they chose an alternative form, pronounced /mjə’mɑ/, for which they chose(on the same principle)  the spelling Myanmar, with the representing the semivowel /j/, as it often does in English. But it doesn’t usually do so in this setting, with the result that most English-speaking readers interpret it as the vowel /i/ (“ee“) and the word thus gains a third syllable. With trisyllabic words ending in a consonant letter, the overwhelming tendency (as I have discussed) is to stress them on the first syllable, resulting in what is now the most common pronunciation in anglophone media: /’miənmɑ(r)/.

So much for trying to represent native pronunciation in English.

_________________________

*I can’t show the Burmese writing, the price I’m paying for sticking with Windows 7.

(Semi-)final thoughts

April 23, 2018

The upcoming UEFA Champions League semi-finals will be the first since 2010 in which all four teams are from different leagues. The time before that was in 2004. In that year Porto was one of the semi-finalists. The following year Eindhoven was one. Since then, only teams from the Big Five (England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) have made it to the semis, and out of the 52 teams in the last 13 semi-finals (including this week’s) only two have been French  (as against six Italian, nine German, 15 English and 20 Spanish), so maybe it’s really the Big Four.

The second leg of the quarter-finals was exciting, except for Liverpool’s repeated sweep of Manchester City. Both Roma and Juventus managed to overcome their three-goal deficits, with Roma beating Barcelona on away goals and Juventus losing  to Real on a second-half stoppage-time penalty that saw none other than Gigi Buffon, in what was probably his last appearance on a global stage, given a red card.

The other semi-finals, those of the FA Cup, were less dramatic. My Spurs disappointed once again; after a first-half goal by Eriksen they let themselves be dominated by Manchester United in the second half, and Harry Kane was as useless has he has generally been since coming back from his injury. He was nowhere to be seen in midfield action, and in his semi-fixed position near the opposing goal he flubbed several chances on good crosses. I was hoping that I might cheer the Spurs on against Chelsea (who won easily as expected) when I am on a stopover in England on finals day (which also happens to be the day of the “royal wedding”), but I’m afraid I’ll have to root for Chelsea — any team against one coached by the execrable José Mourinho.

Spurs have been disappointing in league play as well, since Kane’s return. Their winning streak was snapped when they lost to Manchester City 3-1 (their only goal being also by Eriksen) and they only managed a 1-1 draw with 13th-place Brighton (their one goal was, to be fair, by Kane).

But in general soccer has been fun to watch, with mostly close games, since I first wrote about it.

Good Friday

April 10, 2018

Today is not Good Friday — or any Friday — but it’s the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.  And none other than Hillary Clinton published an article about it in The Guardian.

While she mentions her and Bill’s attendance at a Christmas tree lighting in 1995, and the participation of a number of women in the preparations leading to the agreement, she does not mention the man without whose negotiating skills the agreement would probably not have happened: George Mitchell.

When Mitchell,, from Maine, retired from the Senate — where he had been majority leader — in 1995, President Bill Clinton named him the United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, and it was under his leadership that the agreement took place.

But Mitchell’s tenure as majority leader included the period during which Clinton tried to introduce a national healthcare system, and it’s very likely that someone with the skill to overcome decades of bloody hostility in Northern Ireland might have had some success. Mitchell even declined an appointment to the Supreme Court in order to take on this challenge.

But it was not to be. Bill Clinton made his wife the point person in the healthcare fight. And we know the sad result.

No wonder Hillary Clinton doesn’t care to mention George Mitchell.

 

Close encounters

April 9, 2018

Over the past several weeks, almost all the soccer games that I had been looking forward to, both in the EPL and in the Champions League, turned out to be uninteresting one-sided romps. Even might Manchester City didn’t just lose to Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-final, but lost by 3-0.

It all changed this past weekend. Of the ten EPL matches played, five were draws and the other five were won by one goal, including some dramatic comebacks like the Manchester derby, in which City were coasting 2-0 at half-time only to be overcome by United’s three goals in the second half. And these results happened even in such disparate encounters as Chelsea (5th place) vs. West Ham (14th), 1-1; Arsenal (6th) vs. Southampton (18th), 3-2; and Stoke (19th) vs. Spurs (4th), 1-2. It was hard to get away from the TV.

I hope that this trend continues in the Premier League. In the Champions League, on the other hand, the only thing that will make this week’s second-leg matches interesting is one-sided romps by the losing sides of the first leg (Man City, Roma and Juventus, all behind by three goals; I’m not expecting much from Sevilla against Bayern in Munich, though they trail by only one goal).

And I’m looking forward to the FA Cup semi-final between my Spurs and the team managed by a man whom I once compared to Donald Trump.

 

My Spurs

April 8, 2018

The other day, as I was filling out an online form that required a security question, the first suggested question was, “Of what sports team are you a fan?” Almost without thinking I put down “Spurs”.

Why? Well, I have been following the English Premier League religiously since its telecasts became available in the USA. And, in talking with other such followers, I discovered that one is expected to be a supporter of some specific team, and something instinctively drew me to Tottenham Hotspur. One reason was that it’s the only major London team (and I couldn’t see myself supporting one outside London) not owned by some foreign billionaire or other, whether American (Arsenal) or Russian (Chelsea). Besides, Tottenham’s owners are Jews like me, and there is an old tradition of the team being supported by the Jews of London, to the extent that the fans have taken on the slur “Yids” as a badge of pride.

There is also the fact that Tottenham Hotspur has a presence in the place where I live: the El Cerrito Futbol Club (ECFC) calls itself Tottenham Hotspur East Bay, and banners bearing the iconic rooster can be seen all along San Pablo Avenue. (I don’t know what the connection is between ECFC and the actual Tottenham club. When I asked if they had any Harry Kane jerseys at their stand at last year’s El Cerrito’s Fourth of July celebration, they didn’t know what I was talking about.)

It happens that my self-identification as a Spurs fan began in 2014, around the time Harry Kane became a full-time member of the team, and became quite enthusiastic about him as his spectacular goal-scoring career took off. Some of his shots seemed worthy of a Messi or a Ronaldo.

(Speaking of Ronaldo, the TV commentators of last week’s quarter-final match between Juventus and Real Madrid were nonplussed by the fans in Turin applauding Ronaldo’s acrobatic goal, saying that it was highly unusual. But maybe not so unusual in Italy. In 1970 I happened to be in a bar in Venice watching the “match of the century”  in which Italy held a 1-0 lead from the 8th minute until the 90th, when Schnellinger scored a goal for Germany to tie the game. The Italians in the bar, to my great surprise, did not groan in disappointment but applauded, saying è ben meritato (it’s well deserved), since Germany really did outplay Italy in the second half.)

Back to Kane: over the past year I have become rather disenchanted with him. He is an opportunistic striker, like Jamie Vardy. He does not participate much in attacks. His record in assists is dismal: only two so far this season (alongside 24 goals), while other top scorers like Salah (29 goals) and Agüero (21 goals) have 9 and 6, respectively, and as far as I recall the two assists were accidental, not the beautiful crosses that Kane’s teammate Christian Eriksen provides. While Kane did provide the winning goals in Spurs’ two 1-0 EPL victories in February (against Arsenal and Crystal Palace), he was quite unproductive in the home loss of the second leg of the Champions’ League match against Juventus, and since his injury in the Bournemouth match (in which he also failed to score) the team has won every much, with Dele Alli and especially Eriksen providing the scoring.

Eriksen is, in fact, a first-rate striker (particularly when playing for Denmark) as well as a brilliant midfielder. I didn’t get to see yesterday’s game at Stoke in which he scored two goals to win the match 2-1, but in the video replays they seem beautifully done, the first from a fine assist by Dele, the second from a free kick, in which Kane appears to have tried to help with his shoulder but the ball seems to have gone in without touching him. In what seems to me a case of poor sportsmanship, Kane has demanded credit for the goal, yet another contribution to my disenchantment with Kane.

For me, henceforth, the face of my Spurs is that of Christian Eriksen.