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.

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