Friday, 27 June 2014

The the style style

Ages ago, I wrote about centre-embedding. I saw a different, much less common, example of it when I went to the excellent Mondria(a)n exhibition currently on at Turner Contemporary in Margate. The exhibition shows a thematically/chronologically-organised selection of his works, and in his later period, he was an important part of the movement known as 'de stijl'. In describing how this group worked, a display board used the phrase the 'de stijl' style. De stijl is of course Dutch for 'the style', meaning that the translation of this is the the style style!
One of Mondriaan's red and blue paintings
This kind of centre-embedding could only happen in a very particular context like this, where one phrase is in another language, because double articles, even when there's a legitimate reason for them, are really really ungood in English grammar. For example, I always have trouble with the Philip Pullman series The 'His Dark Materials' trilogy because the his is not a well-formed English string. The de stijl example even sounded wrong to me - that's why I remembered it.

Footnote: I bracketed the a in Mondria(a)n's name because it was originally Mondriaan, but sometime in around 1905-7 he dropped an a, perhaps to sound more French. One website suggests it was to sound more Armenian, which doesn't seem very likely to me. However, this 'names end in -ian' characteristic of Armenian is something that's really part of public awareness of Armenia - perhaps the only thing. It might be to do with Kardashians, though two other Armenians spring readily to mind: Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian, and Principal Skinner is of course really Armin Tamzarian. An acquaintance of mine actually told me, when we were discussing the exhibition, that Mondrian's name was Armenian, on account of ending in -ian.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Department research day

We had another event last week, this time a research day for ELL staff and PGs, and friends (a colleague from psychology, Christos Pliatsikas, and our visiting scholar Marzena Zygis). As well as our 'friends of ELL', we had one PhD student (Sam D'Elia) and one MA research student (Iida Mahlio) present, and four of our staff members (me, Eleni Kapogianni, Christina Kim and Tamara Rathcke). I live-tweeted as usual, and Storified it:

Monday, 16 June 2014

English and American

I happened to be on a site where someone had asked what the difference is between Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano (which are the same thing), and they got this answer:
Parmesan is the English and American translation of the Italian word Parmigiano-Reggiano.
This isn't the first time I've seen something like 'the English and American word for X' or similar, but it is jarring to me.

The thing that makes me have to stop and re-read it is of course that I'm interpreting English as the language, while the writer seems to be treating it as the country, and simultaneously conflating England and Britain/the UK. I know that to people in other countries, it doesn't seem very important that England and Britain are not the same thing (in Britain, we do a similar thing with Holland/the Netherlands) and furthermore, there is no adjective relating to the UK (UK-ish?), which would really be the more correct name anyway (to include Northern Ireland). But to me, England and the UK are not at all the same thing, and it is odd to say that something is English when it's clearly also British. This is a pragmatic implicature: you should give as much information as you are able, and here you're withholding some information (namely that the term is also used in other countries). And then what about Canada, Australia, Ireland and so on? Surely it's better to refer to English as a language here than to be unnecessarily specific about countries.

But I think there's more to it. Look at how it says 'English and American translation'. Most Americans are not idiots, contrary to the national stereotype that we like to believe in, and they know that they speak English rather than American. But a mixture of strong patriotism and some genuine confusion (actual people I know have been asked what language they speak when visiting America) means that it's sometimes tempting to write 'and American' to avoid people thinking you're just talking about England. I think many people probably do half-think of American as a language, even if they know that it's English really. And, of course, we might classify it as a separate language, if we so chose: language boundaries are not only determined by mutual intelligibility, as any linguistics student knows.