Archive for September, 2018


September 30, 2018

I am a big fan of Marina Hyde. Of Marine Le Pen, not so much.

I have known, or heard of, a fair number of women named Marina, and a few named Marine. But I only know of one named Marin: the conductor Marin Alsop, whose forename is, according to Wikipedia, stressed on the first syllable, unlike the homographic county in California, stressed on the second.

Oddly enough, two TV series that recently concluded their American runs had female characters named Marin. One was the BBC series The Miniaturist, where all but one of the characters (including Marin) are Dutch, and Marin is paroxytone (/’mærən/, rhyming with Darrin). The other was the  second season of USA’s The Sinner, in which Marin was pronounced like the county: /məˈrɪn/.

The BBC’s version is to be expected, since the British in general have an aversion to oxytones. Even French names like François or Monet are most likely to be heard in Britain as FRAHN-swah or MOH-nay. Here, of course, Marin is supposed to be a Dutch woman’s name, and by Dutch rules it would also be paroxytone, but as [‘ma:rin]. But the series makes no effort to pronounce Dutch names with anything but their English reading pronunciation, and the word schout /sxɑu̯t/ is pronounced like shoot.

It isn’t just the pronunciation, by the way. As is quite common in British shows taking place in other European countries, the characters behave in a thoroughly English fashion (for a recent example, see this movie review).

In any case, Marin is extremely rare as a Dutch woman’s name, and according to the relevant database it is not found before 1960 (the series takes place in the 1680s), and then often among those born in Turkey. I have no idea how Jessie Burton, the author of the novel on which the series is based, came up with it.

I similarly have no idea how Derek Simonds, the showrunner and writer of The Sinner, came up with the same name for a girl in a small town in upstate New York. As regards its pronunciation, it’s most likely due to the fact that, while originally from Connecticut, he moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and he was thus exposed to the California county name.

That name in turn comes from that of an indigenous Californian known in English as Chief Marin, though his entire life (c. 1781–1839) was spent under Spanish and Mexican rule, and he was named Marino, the Spanish name of two saints known in English by their Latin name, Marinus. The English form, with its oxytone accent, seems to be due to the Spanish-speaking General Mariano Vallejo, who may have modeled it on the not unusual Spanish surname Marín (which in turn may come from the Galician town of that name).

But then again, when it comes to two-syllable words ending in a consonant other than a simple s, Americans in general prefer, when in doubt, to stress them on the last syllable. The contrast with the British preference can be seen in common words such as harass, and such names as Bernard, Maurice, Barnett or Parnell. (This is not to say that the opposite does not occur in some well-known words.)

But with words ending in n the situation is not clear. Names ending in –in that are known to be Russian (Lenin, Stalin, Putin…) are stressed on the first syllable, but Yitzhak Rabin’s surname was usually stressed on the last (as in formal Hebrew). On the other hand, an anglophone surnamed Rabin will most likely have his name pronounced RAY-bin (/’rsbɪn/. Similarly Carl Sagan’s surname is sounded /ˈsɡən/, but Peter Sagan (/’sagan/ in Slovak) is usually referred to as /səɡɑːn/.  Irish surnames ending in –an usually stressed on the first syllable (Dolan, Dugan, Nolan…), as they are in the British Isles, but for some reason Doran and Moran are not. Could the intervocalic r be a factor? That would help explain the seeming naturalness of Marin.

By the way, I’ll have more to write about The Sinner.





Piano dance

September 1, 2018

A recent New York Times article about alleged discrimination against Asian-Americans by Harvard’s admission officers concludes as follows:

But if Harvard were race-blind, the plaintiffs say, its freshman class would be about 40 percent Asian-American, like the University of California, Berkeley, a public institution that has to abide by a state ban on racial preferences.

I remember hearing, during my tenure at UC Berkeley which ended two and a half decades ago, from a high-ranking campus official that if admissions (at least to the engineering programs) were based on academic criteria only, then the percentage of Asian-Americans would be closer to 100. And in my own experience of screening applications into the highly selective bioengineering program, I had to struggle to find two or three places (out of 25) for applicants of non-Asian ancestry.

And, in the long course of my attendance at various musical events at the university, I have never ceased to be amazed at the abundance of musically talented Asian-Americans who were also gifted in scientific disciplines. A description like “double major in music and molecular and cell biology” (sometimes followed by “due to begin medical studies at Harvard”) is not all that unusual.

I was privileged to attend a piano  recital by just such a student at last Wednesday’s noon concert.

The pianist tossed off some devilishly difficult pieces by Debussy and Franck with effortless technique. But she was also a strikingly attractive young woman, clad in a stylish black sleeveless gown that showed off her slim figure and shapely arms. And it’s the arms that I mean to write about.

In my more than seventy years of concert-going, I don’t recall ever experiencing a piano recital or concerto performance as a visual spectacle. The body language of conductors or violinists, yes. But pianists? They just sit.

But this young pianist’s arms performed a graceful dance as they moved over the keyboard, especially — but not only — during the copious hand crossing that some of the pieces required. The experience was not so different from watching a ballet.

I have seen many pianists in my lifetimes. Most of them have been male — from Rubinstein, Backhaus and Gieseking to Thibaudet and Lang — and so of course their arms are encased in tuxedo sleeves. And it seems to me that the women pianists I’ve seen (Alicia de Larrocha, Martha Argerich, Mitsuko Uchida…) have also worn sleeved dresses. Though one can find online photographs of a sleeveless young Larrocha or Argerich, I have no memory of watching a pianist’s arms dance as she played.

It’s a memory that will stay in my mind.