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Posts Tagged ‘lingusistics

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”*…

 

A view for the 1950s…

Interviewing Governor Rockefeller recently on Station WMCA, Barry Gray, the discless jockey, felt the need to ask his guest a certain question. He also felt a clear obligation to put the inquiry in radio-televese, the semi-official language of men who promote conversation on the air. Though it is more or less required, this language is a flexible one, leaving a good deal to the user’s imagination. ‘Governor,’ Mr. Gray said, after pausing to review the possibilities of the patois, ‘how do you see your future in a Pennsylvania Avenue sense?’ I thought it was a splendid gambit. Another broadcaster might have said ‘How do you see yourself in the electoral-college picture?’ or ‘How do you project yourself Chief Executive-wise?’ The Gray formula had the special flavor, the colorful two-rings-from-the-bull’s-eye quality, that I have associated with the work of this interviewer ever since I began to follow it, several years ago. For the record, Governor Rockefeller replied, ‘I could be happier where I am.’ He might have meant Albany, he might have meant the WMCA studio. As you see, radio-televese is not only a limber language, it is contagious.

The salient characteristic of remarks made in radio-televese is that they never coincide exactly with primary meanings or accepted forms. For instance, Mr. Gray, a leader in the postwar development of the lingo, has a way of taking a trenchant thought or a strong locution and placing it somewhere to the right or left of where it would seem to belong. ‘Is this your first trip to the mainland? How do you feel about statehood?,’ I have heard him ask a guest from the Philippines on one of his shows (the program runs, at present, from 11:05 P.M. to 1 A.M.). On the topic of Puerto Ricans in New York, he has said, ‘How can we make these peo­ple welcome and not upset the décor of the city?’ …

Artie Shaw, a musician, in describing the art of another per­former to Mr. Gray, said, ‘He has a certain thing known as “presence” — when he’s onstage, you can see him.’ Another guest declared that the success of a mutual friend was ‘owing to a combination of luck and a combination of skill.’ ‘You can say that again,’ Mr. Gray agreed, and I believe that the guest did so, a little later. The same eloquence and the same off-centerism can be found today in the speech of a wide variety of radio and television regulars. ‘Parallels are odious,’ Marty Glickman, a sports announcer, has stated. ‘The matter has reached a semi-head,’ a senator — I couldn’t be sure which one-said at a recent televised Congressional hearing. ‘I hear you were shot down over the Netherlands while flying,’ a video reporter said to Senator Howard Cannon, a war veteran, on a Channel 2 program last winter. …

Perhaps the most startling aspect of radio-televese is its power to move freely in time, space, and syntax, transposing past and future, be­ginnings and endings, subjects and objects. This phase of the language has sometimes been called backward English, and sometimes, with a bow to the game of billiards, reverse English. Dorothy Kilgallen, a tele­vision panelist [above], was wallowing in the freedom of the language on the night she said, ‘It strikes me as funny, don’t you?’ So was Dizzy Dean when he said, ‘Don’t fail to miss tomorrow’s doubleheader.’ Tommy Loughran, a boxing announcer, was exploring the area of the displaced ego when he told his audience, ‘It won’t take him [the referee] long be­fore I think he should stop it.’ …

Ted Husing was on the threshold of outright mysticism when he reported, about a boxer who was cuffing his adversary smartly around, ‘There’s a lot more authority in Joe’s punches than perhaps he would like his opponent to suspect!’ It is in the time dimension, however, that radio-televese scores its most remarkable ef­fects. Dizzy Dean’s ‘The Yankees, as I told you later … ‘ gives the idea. The insecurity of man is demonstrated regularly on the air by phrases like ‘Texas, the former birthplace of President Eisenhower’ and ‘Mickey Mantle, a former native of Spavinaw, Oklahoma.’ I’m indebted to Dan Parker, sportswriter and philologist, for a particularly strong example of time adjustment from the sayings of Vic Marsillo, a boxing manager who occasionally speaks on radio and television: ‘Now, Jack, whaddya say we reminisce a little about tomorrow’s fight?’ These quotations show what can be done in the way of outguessing man’s greatest enemy, but I think that all of them are excelled by a line of Mr. Gray’s, spoken four or five years ago: ‘What will our future forefathers say?’

From John Lardner’s “Thoughts on Radio-Televese” in The 50s: The Story of a Decade, via the always-worthy Delanceyplace.com.

* George Orwell, 1984

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As we cover our ears, we might send transformative birthday greetings to Publius Ovidius Naso; he was born on this date in 43 BCE.  With his older contemporaries Virgil and Horace, Ovid was one of the three canonical poets of the Golden Age of Latin literature.   His poetry was much imitated in late antiquity and in the Middle Ages, and has had a tremendous influence on Western arts and culture; for example, his love elegies (Amores and Ars Amatoria) are the ur-model of love poetry.  But his impact was surely greatest with the Metamorphoses, an  epic poem in 15 books of hexameter that catalogues transformations in Greek and Roman mythology from the emergence of the cosmos to the deification of Julius Caesar; it remains a key source document of classical mythology– and a great read.

The first taste I had for books came to me from my pleasure in the fables of the Metamorphoses of Ovid. For at about seven or eight years of age I would steal away from any other pleasure to read them, inasmuch as this language was my mother tongue, and it was the easiest book I knew and the best suited by its content to my tender age.

– Montaigne

Ettore Ferrari’s 1887 statue commemorating Ovid

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Written by LW

March 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Learning languages is like learning history from the inside out”*…

 

In a way that’s analogous to the evolution of morphology via mutation, the changes in the languages that we speak are driven by “mistakes” that get baked into practice.  For instance…

AMMUNITION

projectiles to be fired from a gun

It is common to misanalyze an article that precedes a word as if it were part of that word. Here the French phrase la munition was misanalyzed so the “a” of the article became part of the word, becoming l’ammunition

ARCHIPELAGO

a group of many islands in a large body of water

The etymology of archipelago seems like it should be from Greek arkhi meaning “chief” andpelagos “sea,” suggesting the importance of a sea with so many islands. The problem is that this form never occurs in ancient Greek, and the modern form is actually borrowed from Italian, with the intended meaning being “the Aegean Sea.” If that’s the case, then the archi- inarchipelago is actually a corrupted version of Aigaion, which is how you say “Aegean” in Greek…

More words that originated in error.

* Eric van Lustbader

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As we misspeak creatively, we might spare a thought for Baruch (or Benedict) de Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher who lived a quiet public life as a lens grinder– but whose rationalism and determinism put him in opposition to Descartes and helped lay the foundation for The Enlightenment, and whose pantheistic views led to his excommunication from the Jewish community in Amsterdam.  He died on this date in 1677.

As men’s habits of mind differ, so that some more readily embrace one form of faith, some another, for what moves one to pray may move another to scoff, I conclude … that everyone should be free to choose for himself the foundations of his creed, and that faith should be judged only by its fruits; each would then obey God freely with his whole heart, while nothing would be publicly honored save justice and charity.

Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

 source

 

Written by LW

February 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are”*…

Lars Yenken‘s “The Great Language Game” is an interactive game, being played worldwide, that challenges users to distinguish among (currently) 87 languages based on their sound alone.  As Lars explains,

There are perhaps six or seven thousand languages in the world. Even so-called hyperpolyglots, people who learn to speak six or more fluently, barely scratch the surface. You and I will never be able to communicate in all these languages without machine aids, but learning to identify what’s being spoken near us, that’s within our reach…

Besides, it’s fun!

[TotH to reddit]

* Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As we prick up our ears, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Alfred North Whitehead; he was born on this date in 1861.  Whitehead began his career as a mathematician and logician, perhaps most famously co-authoring (with his former student, Bertrand Russell), the three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910–13), one of the twentieth century’s most important works in mathematical logic.

But in the late teens and early 20s, Whitehead shifted his focus to philosophy, the central result of which was a new field called process philosophy, which has found application in a wide variety of disciplines (e.g., ecology, theology, education, physics, biology, economics, and psychology).

“There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us.”

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