Words from paradise

One of the choirs I sing in is rehearsing a work consisting of five movements each setting one word from the Bible. The words – holy, hallelujah, selah, hosanna and amen – are from Germanic, Hebrew, Greek and/or Latin, and are now different degrees of ‘English’.

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Country, country

Today is Saint David’s Day. He was an early Welsh bishop and is the patron saint of Wales. No doubt many renditions of Mae hen wlad fy nhadau will be rendered from Cardiff to Holyhead. I am not an expert in Welsh, so I will keep this to my own experience.

When I was young, one of my piano tutor books had many songs from many countries, including this one. I remember that the title was given as O land of my fathers and the words entirely in English. The first line was O land of my fathers, O land dear to me, but I can’t remember enough of the rest of it to attempt to reproduce it, and the internet doesn’t seem to have it.

The first two words of the chorus were Great land. I now know that the original is Gwlad, gwlad, meaning country, countryside, nation.

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On the plaza

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. 

The first post for a while

I haven’t posted much recently for several reasons. In September my new job (as a magazine subeditor) unexpectedly came to an end. On my way home, I contacted the academic manager of my previous English language college, who said she’d arrange some classes for me, but that took some time. That afternoon, I looked at job advertisements, saw one for a subeditor position with another magazine, and applied. That also took some time, but I have now done two days casually, with a view to part-time ongoing then full-time permanent from next year. 

Around the same time, we were in the process of selling our existing house and buying a new one, which we have now done.

Then last week, my father died, so there were many things to be organised, most of which were done by my two sisters who live in that city. My wife and I, and another sister and her family, flew to that city for the funeral on Wednesday. 

I got a lot of my interest in English from my father. He was a regular crossword puzzle doer, preached in church almost every week, and would often go and get the dictionary if we challenged him over Sunday lunch about something he’d said. This did not extend to other languages, though; he failed Biblical Greek multiple times. One of his grand-daughters/my nieces has great interest in and aptitude for languages, but that might be through her father, not our side of the family. Continue reading

slew

A few weeks ago I posted about the following sentence which I spotted in the preface to Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage:

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.

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O great mystery

One of the choirs I’m singing in is rehearsing the motet O magnum mysterium by Tomas Luis da Victoria.

The text is:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Iesum Christum.
Alleluia!

One more-or-less standard English translation is:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

Every time I’ve sung it, I’ve been struck by how many of the Latin words have engendered English words. English is officially classified as a Germanic language, but many of its advanced words are derived from Latin. In fact, two of the words are Greek and two are Hebrew through Greek. Some words came into English via French rather than directly from Latin. Continue reading

‘The Bells’

In 1849, the American poet Edgar Allan Poe died and his poem ‘The Bells’ was published.

Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the Russian poet and translator Konstantin Balmont “very freely” translated it into Russian.

In 1913, the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote a setting for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, choir and orchestra, originally titled (in Russian) Колокола, Kolokola (Russian WikipediaEnglish Wikipedia).

Some years ago (first guess 2001-2003) I bought a CD of this work. The booklet calls Balmont’s translation “more precisely, a re-interpretation” and includes his text transliterated into the Latin/‘English’ alphabet and translated into German, English and French. Whether the unnamed translator was equally free in translating Balmont’s Russian back into English or not, the result is very different from Poe’s original. Continue reading