A few days ago I hurriedly typed adaption rather than adaptation. Adaption isn’t wrong – it’s in multiple dictionaries and Pages for Mac accepts it – it’s just far less common than adaptation.
Starting with adapt and adopt, there’s no particular reason why adaptation and adoption are standard, adaption is rare and adoptation is either very rare or wrong (Pages for Mac auto-corrects it to adaptation, then red-underlines it when I change it back.) Perhaps it’s related to the fact that opt by itself is a verb, whereas apt is an adjective. But that shouldn’t matter as long as adapt and adopt are both verbs.
Humans tend to want to say things as economically as possible. Adaptation and adoption are standard, so English speakers are more likely to shorten adaptation to adaption than to lengthen adoption to adoptation.
This got me thinking about the whole process of derivational suffixes in English. Humans will say longer word if there’s a change in meaning or word class. Adapt and adopt aren’t good examples, whereas act gives far more examples:
Some people complain about or reject either or both of zero derivation (action as a verb) and overuse of –is/ze (actionis/ze) (partly because these are associated with business-speak), but these words fill a useful gap. Actioning or actionising a request or order isn’t the same as activating it, or even acting on it. The client makes or submits a request or order and the service worker ____s it. Google Ngrams suggests only receives, grants or refuses, which is not what we’re looking for. Fulfil is possible, but that means completing the action. Is the service worker the actioner? (Not auctioneer, which Pages for Mac just changed it to.)
Our church has been running Sunday and weekday services online for some time. Last week, one prayer leader introduced the prayers with a formula something like “For the world/particular people, we intercess”. I really shouldn’t be thinking about linguistics when I really should be praying, but obviously intercess piqued my interest.
Without doubt, intercede is the ‘correct’ word here, but intercess is clear and makes perfect sense. It’s in Wiktionary, but not any other dictionary I searched. A general Google search takes me to intercede, intercession or intercessor, but using “intercess” in quotation marks finds a scattering of uses in the relevant sense. Also, Google Ngrams shows a flat line rather than ‘no results’, meaning some use, but close to zero compared with intercede. Pages for Mac changes intercess to internees and intercessing to interceding and red-underlines then when I change them back.
Musicians in the English-speaking often use Italian musical terms instead of the English equivalents. Somehow they sound more musical, or maybe we think they are more musical because we usually encounter them in musical contexts. One of these is ritardando, which I’ll explain more in a moment. Some composers, most famously the Australian-American Percy Grainger, preferred or prefer English, specifically Germanic, terms. In Grainger’s case, unfortunately, this was specifically related to his ideas about racial purity.
A few days ago, one of the choirs I sing in sight-read a work by the American composer Leo Sowerby, whose name I knew but whose music I had never encountered. Scattered throughout is retarding, the direct equivalent of ritardando, but still Latinate. Grainger probably used the undoubtedly Germanic slowing. (I don’t know what Sowerby’s motivation in using the term was.)
One of the choirs I sing in has just started rehearsing for a concert performance of Bizet’s Carmen later this year. As part of my diligent preparation, I’m watching a full performance on Youtube, sung in French but subtitled in Spanish.
The first words in French are Sur la place (usually /plas/ but in the opera /pla·sə/) and in Spanish Por la plaza. The English translation provided by our conductor gives On the square, which a) is rather prosaic, and b) doesn’t fit the melody. If the opera was sung in English, this would have to be On the plaza (or possibly (not) In the main street).
English place, French place, Spanish plaza and Italian piazza are all derived from Latin platēa, street, courtyard, area and Greek plateîa broad street and platýs broad, flat, as in platypus (broad foot). Plaza is now a full English word, and piazza would be understood by many English speakers but is probably not a full English word, while French place is not an English word and by itself would probably not be understood by many English speakers.
I might call the main square of Brussels /ɡʁɑ̃ plas/ or “the main square”, but not “the /plas/” and certainly not “the place” (“I’ll meet you at the place”).
Compare sur la plage (on the beach) which is certainly not English.
A number of common spelling problems are also discussed briefly. While the emphasis of this work is on usage in writing, a small number of articles is devoted to problems of pronunciation.
(note: “A number … are”, but “a small number … is”.) I emailed the esteemed Geoffrey Pullum about this, and he wrote about it on the Lingua Franca blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
His most recent article for Lingua Franca is about the south-eastern Indian language Telugu being the fastest-growing language in the USA, mostly because of the high number of people from that area employed in the IT industry, including the chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella. He cites an article in Quartz India, and quotes the following sentence:
A slew of Telugu workers in the US has been shot dead in various incidents, from hate crimes to robbery attempts.
During the week I edited an article which quoted a company spokesperson talking about the company’s pizza which included an “Edam, mozzarella and Cheddar” topping. Edam and Cheddar are real places (in the Netherlands and England, respectively), and their cheeses originally had an upper case letter (and often still do). Mozzarella is not a place; the name is derived from the Italianmozza, a slice. So do I really have to have that mix of upper- and lower-case letters? Fortunately not. The Macquarie Dictionary styles edam and cheddar (the cheeses) with a lower-case letter, so the magazine will have “edam, mozzarella and cheddar”.
Various food and drink products have “protected designation of origin” status; for example, only sparkling wine from that region of France can be called (upper case) Champagne. There is, in the European Union, at least, no such thing as (lower case) champagne.Continue reading →
An article I edited during the week quoted a person connected to a certain organisation saying that a recent event was “heartening and encouraging”.
Hearten and encourage are, basically, ‘the same word’. Courage is derived from French cour/coeur, which in turn is derived from Latin cor, heart which is related to Italian cuore, Spanishcorazón, and Portuguese coração. Heart is related to Dutch hart, German Herz, Danish and Norwegian hjerte and Swedish hjärta. Both words have the morpheme en, on the end of hearten and the beginning of encourage.
In fact, the further back in history you go, the more literally ‘the same word’ heart etc and cor etc are. The Proto-Indo-European word was *k̂erd. In some languages, the /k/ remained as /k/ (Greek καρδιά kardia, Latin cor and its Romance derivatives). In others, it became /h/ (English heart and its Germanic cognates) and in some it became /s/ (Polish serce, Russian сердце serdtse). These changes are not random, and can be seen in a number of other words such as Latin cornu and centum (originally and still classically pronounced with a /k/) and English horn and hundred. Experiment a bit, and you will hear and feel how similar /k/ and /h/ are – a matter of a few millimetres at the back of the throat. /k/ and /s/ might seem further away, but consider electric and electricity. These changes have happened many, many times, which is how scholars have been able to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European from the evidence of modern and documented historic languages.
I have written several blog posts with the tag ‘lost in autosubtitling’, most recently three days ago, so you may think I have a dim view of technological approaches to language. But sometimes technology gets it right, even when humans have made the mistake in the first place.
Yesterday morning I read a Facebook post in which someone complained about the “peroquialism” in a certain book sometimes considered an Australian classic. My first thought was that it was related to colloquialism – that is, “characteristic of or appropriate to ordinary or familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing”, but the lack of a first l made that unlikely. (All the speech-related words have loqu– or loc-, from Latin loquī to speak.) When I searched for it, a well-known search engine suggested “Did you mean: parochialism” – that is “excessive narrowness of interests or view” Continue reading →
A few days ago I had to ring a government department. I hate ringing government departments, but I couldn’t find anything on their website about this particular issue. The call took an hour and 44 minutes in total, being about one minute talking to the first person, about one minute talking to the second person who the first person put me through to, about three minutes talking to the third person who the second person put me through to, and about an hour and 39 minutes listening to ‘on hold’ music, announcements about the information I could find on the website, and automated recordings telling me that I was now the [number]th caller in the queue, starting from 59th between the first person and the second person, and 68th between the second and the thirdand gradually counting down.
I mentioned this on Facebook, and one online friend who lives in another English-speaking country commented, using the spelling que three times in an otherwise perfectly written comment. I sent her a private message asking whether that was her usual spelling, or was widely used in her English-speaking country. Continue reading →
One recent grammar activity in the textbook was building abstract nouns from a given concrete noun, verb or adjective plus one of give set of seven suffixes: –hood, –ship, –dom, –ity, –ness, -(a)tion and –ment. One of the given words was celebrate. The expected answer is celebration, but one student wrote celebrity. In real life, yes, in this activity no. Maybe in these days of manufactured famous-for-being-famous “celebrities”, we lose sight of the fact that we (should) celebrate celebrities and celebrities are, literally, celebrated. A celebrated tv star is very different from a celebrity tv star (though in one or two cases I won’t name, it could be arguable exactly which side of the coin s/he is on).
But in this activity celebrat(e) + ity results in celebratity, which is wrong. But are we limited to root + suffix, or can we make other spelling changes? There’s the drop-the-e rule, obviously, and another example was possible > possibility, which needs the insertion of an i. And is celebrity an abstract noun? No and yes. We most often talk about a celebrity (concrete), but we can also talk about the idea of celebrity (abstract).Continue reading →