Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

 

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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.

 

Greece and Macedonia… again!

February 7, 2018

I mentioned in my last post that the old squabble between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia over the latter’s name has started up again. I first wrote about this a dozen years ago, but maybe it’s time to comment again.

The Greeks’ (or, as I prefer, the Grecians’) argument is that the Republic has no right to appropriate the Macedonian identity (including symbols like the Vergina star or Alexander the Great), which to them is Greek, and that much of the Republic’s territory (the northern half was never part of historic Macedonia.

Well, let’s see now. In the (vastly oversimplifying) words of the late Benedict Anderson, nations are “imagined communities”, and the Macedonian Slavs’ choice to imagine themselves as Macedonians (after thinking of themselves as Bulgarians until about 100 years go) is no different from choices other nations have made. For a thousand years, under both Byzantine and Ottoman rule, the Greeks thought of themselves as Romans (Ρωμαίοι in Greek, Rūm in Turkish), and reinvented themselves as Hellenes only at the beginning of the 19th century for the benefit of West European philhellenes. In the Middle Ages, the French thought of themselves as Franks (Franci in Latin and interchangeably Francs or Franceis [modern Français] in French), though the Franks’ historic homeland does not lie in France.

Quite a few nations invented themselves in the course of the past century: Luxembourgers, Pakistanis, Palestinians, Montenegrins…

As for Macedonia being a part of Greece: Greeks are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christians, and as such they should know the Greek Bible, also known as the New Testament. If they were to open the Acts of the Apostles, presumably written by the Greek (or Hellenistic Jew) Luke the Evangelist, they would read (in Chapter 20, Verses 1–3) that “Paul… departed for to go into Macedonia… and… he came into Greece… he purposed to return through Macedonia” (ο Παυλος… εξηλθεν πορευεσθαι εις την Μακεδονιαν… και… ηλθεν εις την Ελλαδα… εγενετο γνωμης του υποστρεφειν δια Μακεδονιας).

Clearly, then, to the Evangelist Macedonia is not a part of Greece, and since in the Christian view the Bible is eternally true, the view that “Macedonia is Greek” is heretical, isn’t it?.

Stupid stuff from all over

February 5, 2018

Living in a country whose political system has allowed the election of Donald Trump as its leader, I take a perverse pleasure in noting cases of political stupidity in other places. Some recent examples include:

  • Britain. The Tory government is blundering along, trying to implement Brexit, the result of an ill-advised referendum.
  • Catalonia. The regional parliament, in which the separatists parties hold a majority of seats despite having received a minority of the popular vote, is trying to install Carles Puigdemont in absentia as head of government, though he is subject to arrest on Spanish soil.
  • Greece/Macedonia. The squabble over the Republic of Macedonia’s name (which I commented on a dozen years ago) has flared up again.
  • Poland. As if it weren’t stupid enough to refer (as some Western media do) to Nazi death camps that happened to lie in occupied Poland as “Polish”, the Polish parliament has compounded the stupidity by passing a law making such references criminal.

I’m sure it won’t take long for other examples to come up.

Serendipity

October 24, 2017

I recently read a book that I should have read some forty years ago, when it first came out. And reading that book led to another, by the same author, which turned out to be among the most delightful novels I’ve ever read. And all because of serendipity.

A couple of months ago Mark Liberman published a post on Language Log about a book that had just appeared in English, The seventh function of language, by Laurent Binet. The book’s relevance to Language Log lay in its linguistics-laden contents and in its inclusion as characters of many real-life personalities in linguistics, semiology, literary criticism and related fields. Here’s the list cited by Mark Liberman:

Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Umberto Eco, Noam Chomsky, Louis Althusser, Paul de Man, Jean-François Lyotard, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, John Searle, Morris Zapp, Gayatri Spivak, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Julia Kristeva, Philippe Sollers, Jacques Lacan, Camille Paglia, and more.

I was familiar (if only from having seen them in print) with many of these names, but not Morris Zapp.

I was able to get the French original (published in 2015), La septième fonction du langage, from my university library. It turned out to be a fun read, and the first part, taking place in Paris and Bologna, seemed like historical fiction. While this term is not usually applied to books taking place in the recent past (here it’s around 1980), there is no reason why it shouldn’t: actual events (the death of Roland Barthes, the Bologna massacre) form the background, and fictionally treated actual persons mingle with fictitious ones — that’s what historical fiction is. But when the scene shifts to Ithaca, NY, things go haywire: Derrida and Searle die (the former lived till 2004, the latter is still with us), and the flamboyant Morris Zapp makes his appearance.

When I tried to find out about Morris Zapp, I discovered that he is a fictitious character created by David Lodge in his novel Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses. I looked this up on Wikipedia, and found out that one of the two campuses involved is modeled on UC Berkeley, the university where I taught for most of my adult like. My public library has nothing of David Lodge, and the one at UCB had it  only as part of a trilogy, which I duly checked out.

To say that the State University of Euphoria (also called Euphoric State) is “modeled” on Berkeley is an understatement. While the state of Euphoria is supposedly “a small but populous state… situated between Northern and Southern California” — that is, the greater Bay Area is imagined as a separate state — the site of the university, “Plotinus” is an obvious stand-in for Berkeley (both are named for philosophers), and is across the Bay from the “glittering, glamorous city of Esseph” (SF, get it?). The “right-wing Governor of the State” is (this is 1969) “Ronald Duck, a former movie-actor.” Berkeley’s Euclid and Shattuck Avenues become Plotinus’s Pythagoras Drive and Shamrock Avenue, while UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall is Euphoric State’s Dealer Hall. San Francisco’s North Beach is Esseph’s South Strand, and the Golden Gate Bridge is the Silver Span.

(To be continued)

 

Addendum to “Google Maps and stress”

June 20, 2017

In asserting that “vowel-final words with a single consonant between the final and penultimate vowels, but a doubled one or a cluster between the penultimate and antepenultimate, are more likely to have the stress on the antepenultimate,” I made an over-hasty generalization. It is clear that when the word has an ending that’s perceived as characteristically Italian (e.g. ina/i/o, ona/i/o, ola/i/o, ara/i/o) or Spanish (e.g. ito/a, azo/a) then this ending will be stressed, on the penultimate, regardless of any preceding consonant cluster: Martina/i/o, Portola (Spanish Portolá), and so on.

Oh…

June 3, 2017

I never got around to seeing the movie Elle when it was released last year. Though I have long been a big fan of Isabelle Huppert, and usually try to see everything she is in, for some reason I missed Elle. It isn’t the first time I missed seeing a movie I had meant to see. But then I have usually made up for it by seeing it in a revival or on video, sooner or later.

But something made me want to see it sooner rather than later. It so happened that on some recent flights on Air France I got to see a couple of movies with an actress named Virginie Efira, hitherto unknown to me, and I was quite impressed by how skillfully she managed to move between the serious and comical aspects of her characters, unhampered by her spectacular looks. When I found out that she had a supporting role in Elle, I became eager to see it soon.

It turned that I was not the only one. The Contra Costa County Library has 15 copies of the DVD, and not only are they all checked out, but I placed a hold a month ago and I am still in 54th position in the queue.

While waiting, I checked out (from another library) the novel that the film is based on, Oh… by Philippe Djian, about whom I have written before. (Hence the title of this post.) I was, of course, curious about  the character named Rebecca, played by the new object of my fandom.

To my surprise, Rebecca makes only the briefest of appearances, and is described by the narrator-protagonist as an mousy (by implication) little redhead. Well, Virginie Efira is a spectacular-looking (as I said) tall blonde. (In the films that I saw she did not display her assets as prodigiously as she does in her publicity shots, except in one comic turn in Victoria.) The screenwriter must, then, have expanded the part to accommodate Virginie Efira’s commanding presence.

I am getting curiouser and curiouser.

 

Stress “misrule” expanded

May 4, 2017

When I recently wrote that a kind of default rule for stress in unfamiliar words encountered by English-speakers is to stress the penultimate in words ending in a vowel, I had not come to grips with two major exceptions. (I am not referring to familiar words whose pronunciation is well established, such as America or Africa, which do not obey the rule.)

The first is that, if the penultimate vowel is /i/ (whether spelled i, e, or y, but not ae) and there is no consonant between it and the final vowel, then the stress falls on the antepenultimate, as in words like radio, rodeo (but not when the e is read as /eɪ/), mania, trachea, TokyoRomeo, names ending in -ia (Sonia, Tania, Slovakia, Peoria etc, with some exceptions like Maria, Sophia, Tanzania, and Lucia when given an “Italian” reading, as well as some idiosyncratic surnames like Scalia and Renteria) or –ya (Sonya, Tanya, Marya, Kenya, Libya). Among common words, idea is another exception to the exception; among names, Korea is another; Althea is ambiguous.

The second is that when the penultimate and antepenultimate vowels are separated by more than a simple consonant (even a doubled consonant), while only a simple one separates penultimate and final, then the default stress is also on the antepenultimate. I will discuss this in an upcoming post.

Accents

February 28, 2017

As soon as I entered the title I realized that it could be understood in several different ways, even if only relating to language. Without checking any dictionaries, I would posit that accent can mean one of the following:

1. Stress on a syllable.

2. A way of pronouncing a language, indicating (a) a regional variant or (b) the influence of a foreign language.

3. A diacritic mark on a vowel, which may indicate

(a) Syllabic stress, as in (i) Greek (in all words), (ii) Italian (on final syllable only), (iii) Spanish (only in words that don’t follow the default stress rule, (iv) Swedish (mainly in surnames)

(b) Vowel length, as in Czech and Slovak

(c) Vowel height (openness or closeness), as in French

(d) A combination of (a)(iii) and (c), as in Catalan and Portuguese

(e) Tone (as in Mandarin pinyin)

Here I mean to write only about 2(a), specifically with reference to the BBC series Line of Duty.

British writers of detective fiction often use fictitious locations, but when this happens they are usually within well-defined regions, such as Peter Robinson’s Eastvale (in Yorkshire), Ruth Rendell’s Kingsmarkham (in Sussex), or Caroline Graham’s Causton (in fictitious Midsomer, but within commuting distance of London). And in the television adaptations of these novels the characters – if they are local – speak with the appropriate regional accents, just as they do in series where the locations are real. It’s different, of course, when the location is London, because one expects to find people from all over the UK ending up there; practically every London-based show has its token Scot.

Line of Duty is anomalous. It takes place in a nameless big city that is clearly not London: no London landmarks are ever shown, and one of the characters is a Deputy Chief Constable, a rank that doesn’t exist in the Met. The first series (“season” in US parlance) was filmed in Birmingham, and though the subsequent ones were filmed in Belfast, there are some hints that the city is something like Birmingham (though no actual Birmingham locations are ever shown). For one thing, according to Wikipedia, “maps of Birmingham appear on walls, and telephone numbers use an 0121 area code.” For another, there are references to “East Midlands Police” as being a neighboring police area (in reality the East Midlands cover six counties with six police areas, though not exactly one per county), while Birmingham is in the West Midlands.

However, no one speaks with anything like a Birmingham accent (such as can be heard, for example, on WPC 56). Instead, it seems as if every actor speaks with their native accent: Adrian Dunbar (Hastings) — Northern Irish, Mark Bonnar (Dryden) and Allison McKenzie (Akers) —  Scottish, Vicky McClure (Fleming) — Nottinghamshire (which sounds quite a bit like Northern to a non-expert like me), Lennie James (Gates) – London, and so on. Most of the others speak with what to me sounds like a kind of neutral RP-like accents, including, strangely enough, Martin Compston (Arnott), who is a Scot and has spoken like one in other television appearances (for example in an episode of Death in Paradise). I don’t know why.

I have never been in Birmingham, so I don’t know if such a variety of accents is heard there in reality, but I have my doubts. It ain’t London.