Tuesday, 29 May 2012

false friends

Shortly after my return from Canada I had to examine a PhD thesis, which required me to read it thoroughly, and it was 900 pages long. That’s why there was a few days’ delay before I restarted this blog. I was the external examiner, and the viva took place in Cardiff, three hours away by train for me.

It must be getting on for twenty years since I last visited Cardiff, and as you would imagine there have been various changes. One of them is linguistic: not only is the public signage now much more systematically bilingual than the half-hearted attempts I remember from earlier visits, but all the announcements over the public address system at Cardiff Central station (that’s Caerdydd Canolog) are now given first in Welsh, then in English.

As I was preparing to return to London after the viva (the candidate passed, you’ll be glad to hear), there was a problem. Because of a herd of cows reportedly having wandered onto the line at Sain Ffagan/St Fagans, trains coming from the west had to be diverted and my return journey was delayed by over half an hour. So I got to listen to a lot of bilingual announcements.

And I discovered a new Welsh-English false friend. Mae’r trên hwn wedi’i ddileu, said the announcer, or words to that effect. The Welsh word dileu is pronounced diˈlei, as near as dammit identically with the English word delay. Unthinkingly, I mentally translated ‘this train has been delayed’.

But my mental translation was wrong. The meaning of dileu is not ‘delay’ but ‘cancel’ (in this context, that is — it can also mean ‘get rid of, abolish, delete’). The announcement duly continued, in English, This service has been cancelled.

I would never have confused Welsh dileu and English delay in writing, only in speech. So this pair are what we might call ‘phonetic false friends’.

All of us who have studied one or more foreign languages are familiar with the notion of a false friend. For most of the ‘faux amis’ I remember from school French lessons it was the written form on which we concentrated: actuel doesn’t mean ‘actual’ (but rather ‘present, current, topical’), though if you heard aktɥɛl you’d hardly think the speaker had said ˈæktʃuəl.

German Gift, on the other hand, is not only a written false friend of English gift but also a phonetic one, since both are pronounced ɡɪft. (The German word means ‘poison’.)

I suppose you could say that French choix ‘choice’ is a phonetic false friend of English schwa, since both are pronounced ʃwɑ (with perhaps some leeway in the precise quality and length of the vowel). But no one would ever confuse them in writing.

Likewise, for us non-rhotic speakers German Bahn ‘path, track, railway’ is a phonetic false friend of English barn. But no one literate is going to confuse them.

What are the conditions under which we need to be on the lookout for phonetic-only false friends?

69 comments:

  1. Surely orthographic false friends like actuel are more misleading than phonetic ones such as, say, griffe )also French, meaning "mark" or "brand" and pronounced like English grief).

    The latter may sound superficially closer to its English false friend but to anyone who’s noticed the regular correspondences between French and English (as most GSCE French students presumably do) the former is clearly connected to actual, creating a genuine potential for confusion.

    In fact I think the term "orthographic false friend" doesn’t do this phenomenon justice, although it’s probably catchier than "regular-sound-correspondence false friend".

    ReplyDelete
  2. German Gift originally did mean 'gift'; the meaning 'poison' was ironic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Here are some more German-English(= non-rhotic) false friends:
    putz - puts
    Föhn - fern
    Gott - got
    oder - odour
    Beule - boiler
    Ahr - are
    Bild - built
    etc.
    @John Cowan: You can still see this original meaning in the German word 'Mitgift' (= dowry).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My favourite one is 'hose' (=Schlauch) vs. Hose (trousers). Not to speak of 'become' vs.'bekommen' (can I become a beefsteak?), slim vs. 'schlimm', 'sly' vs. 'schlau' (but is this a false friend at all?), 'gruesome' vs. 'grausam', 'bespeak' vs. 'besprechen', 'outspoken' vs. 'ausgesprochen', and a couple of others, etymologically related pairwise. Interestingly 'town' vs. 'Zaun' doesn't count as false friends, maybe because both words are too well-known? But 'tide' vs. 'Zeit' don't either, although 'tide' is not (for aught I know) terribly frequent in contemporary English. And it does mean 'Zeit', for instance in 'Yuletide'... Is 'pit' vs. 'Pfütze' false friends?

      Then, I have often observed that some people, both germanophone and not, believe that 'after-' in such words as 'Aftermuse' does mean 'anus', while (again for aught I know) it retains the original meaning of, like, backward-looking or such, related to the English preposition (and the Dutch 'achter', behind).

      (I think Schiller speaks somewhere of a 'Aftermuse, der wir nicht mehr huldigen' or some such, an antiquated, no longer inspiring muse who is paid no reverence to any longer.)

      Delete
    2. @Wojciech: I guess most of the German words starting with 'After-' are fairly old-fashioned, as are 'Aftermieter' (subtenant) or 'Afterrede' (defamation).

      Delete
    3. Is it pleonastic to say 'ueble Afterrede'? (as is not for 'Nachrede').

      Delete
    4. 'Ueble Afterrede' sounds pleonastic to me, but the noun is not part of my active vocabulary, so I'm not certain about this. As for 'Nachrede' (not in the sense of 'epilogue'): You can't say something positive about someone and call this 'Nachrede'. Nonetheless, you usually combine 'Nachrede' with adjectives like 'schlecht', 'boese' or 'uebel'. Close to this is the verb 'nachsagen' (no derived noun available) , which can either mean something like 'speak ill of s.o.' or 'attribute s.th. to s.o.'.

      Delete
    5. OK. In the relevant context I have known 'Nachrede' only in the syntagma 'ueble Nachrede'. Would it, though, be possible to one day read something like 'Prof. Gruebler hat eine besonders ueble Nachrede zur Dissertation seines Schuelers geschrieben'?

      Delete
    6. No, üble Nachrede is not a countable noun and therefore doesn't go with the indefinite article eine. (However Nachrede meaning 'epilogue' is countable.)
      What's more üble Nachrede only goes with certain verbs which are more abstract that the acts of writing, speaking, etc. Probably the most frequent construction is üble Nachrede über jemanden führen.

      Delete
    7. @homoid: I wouldn't be too sure about the uncount status of 'Nachrede'. Look at § 188 of the German Penal Law, where the phrase 'eine üble Nachrede' is used. Google presents more than 39000 hits for 'eine ueble Nachrede'.
      @Wojciech: Prof. Gruebler sah sich der ueblen Nachrede ausgesetzt, eine Studentin vernascht zu haben seems more likely.

      Delete
    8. @Kraut: The use of eine üble Nachrede really comes as a surprise to me, though upon further reflection a lot of nouns that are uncountable in informal speech can take the indefinite article and a plural in legal use. Anyway the phrase eine üble Nachrede still sounds unidiomatic to me in spoken German. (I am a native German speaker although I must say that I spent many years of my life outside the German-speaking world.)

      Delete
    9. Ad homoid

      'uncountable noun' does not apply to German grammar, afaik.

      Ad Kraut

      I was wondering if 'ueble Nachrede' could occur in the sense of, not slander but 'malicious epilogue' or some such, an epilogue in which Prof. Gr. says zwischen den Zeilen that the work to which the Nachrede is an epilogue is nonsense.

      Delete
    10. @Wojciech: In that case Herr Professor Gruebler would have written ein haessliches Nachwort to 'ze Dissertation'.
      PS: I like your little gp.

      Delete
    11. thank you, but it's not a gp --- it's me, really! That is what I look like, believe it or not...

      Delete
    12. Why wouldn't 'uncountable noun' apply to German grammar?

      Delete
    13. Re uncountable nouns in German.

      Dear chaps, I am not at all sure to what extent if any the transfer of that category onto German grammar be legitimate. In the spirit of English grammar one would have to say 'ein Stueck ueble Nachrede' or some such for one case of slander. But one does not, one says 'eine ueble Nachrede' instead. Methinks this category of countable vs. uncountable nouns be characteristic of English grammar only. Formerly, they projected Latin cases onto English, pretending there be such in that language (a house, of a house, to a house...) now they have taken to forcing other languages to conform to English grammar categories.

      Delete
    14. You're mistaken, I'm afraid, in all points.

      Delete
    15. Such as for instance? I am intrigued...

      Delete
    16. Ad Lipman

      'Why wouldn't 'uncountable noun' apply to German grammar?'

      Because, to the very best of my knowledge, there is no (proper) subset of German nouns displaying characteristics sufficiently like those displayed by the English uncountable nouns.

      Of course, it all depends what you count as _sufficiently_ like. In a sense, there _are_ cases in English and what not...

      The very term 'uncountable noun' is somewhat infelicitous and misleading, because not the noun but its designate, the (type of) object is supposed to be uncountable. And there are, of course, nouns for uncountable objects in German, as in every other language, and they may sometimes reflect in their syntactic behaviour the uncountability of their designates. But this is still a far cry from the well-defined English category of uncountable nouns, known, as far as European languages are concerned, in its crispness only in the language of Shakespeare.

      Delete
    17. @Wojciech: Of course German possesses nouns like Vieh and Obst that follow the ein Stück ... pattern which you contend is 'in the spirit of English grammar.' Please note that it is not the designated objects that can't be counted: it is easy to see what fünf Vieh and drei Obst are in the real world; these expressions are just ungrammatical. - Also words like [5 Grad] Kälte and [ein Himmel voller] Glück are uncountable nouns.

      Delete
    18. Gentlemen: This blog post of John's is about phonetic false friends, not about the grammatico-epistemological question of countability. With due respect - your discussion is going astray

      Delete
    19. I know. Yet I'd instist that you can't use these words with numerals (>1) because of what they mean (they mean a dispersed collectivity of certain objects, same with 'Vieh') rather than 'just' because of grammar. This collectivity can be subdivided into more specific, narrower, collectivities, and then questions like this:

      http://www.gutefrage.net/frage/ist-rhabarber-ein-obst-oder-ein-gemuese

      become possible.

      'Kaelte' by contrast means a kind of mass, but this kind can again be subdivided into more specifically defined kinds, and then 'hier herrscht eine solche Kaelte, dass...' becomes possible: http://www.gko.uni-leipzig.de/fileadmin/user_upload/musikwissenschaft/institut/arbeitsgemeinschaft/musikerbriefe/9_SInkewitschkompl.pdf

      Same with 'Glueck', except that metonymicallly you can say 'ein neues Glueck' (like 'eine neue Liebe') in the sense of a new person/thing that makes you happy.

      'Geld' would be perhaps a better, or at least trickier example. You can't say 'ein Geld' (though http://www.philhist.uni-augsburg.de/lehrstuehle/germanistik/sprachwissenschaft/ada/runde_3/f08d/), but you can say 'Gelder' in the sense of several different apportionments of money, different funds.

      Of course there are all abstract nouns, too, which are again uncountable on the basis of what they mean. But the striking property of English grammar is that great many nouns, such as 'furniture', 'soap', 'butter', 'gossip' and so forth are uncountable in it, while the corresponding words in the Continental language display no comparable particularities.

      Delete
    20. I feel that English is very similar to German as far as countability is concerned.
      Compare both to modern Chinese where it is exceptional for nouns to be able to be directly counted. Only a few nouns like nián 'year' and miǎo 'second' can take a numeral, but almost all other nouns including rén 'person', shū 'book' and yǐzi 'chair' cannot.

      I think Kraut is right and we're going astray. Let's put an end to this discussion now.

      Delete
    21. alright. Against the backdrop of Chinese, any two European languages are very like one another in every possible respect. But anyway, to return to the proper topic of this post:

      There seem to be two classes of phonetic false friends, one 'dangerous' (can lead to confusion) and one non-dangerous, and interestingly the former class consists of words which, though far from perfect sound-alikes, are etymologically connected: actual and actuel, gift and Gift, maybe become and bekommen, whereas the second class is that of nearly-pairwise-phonetical-identicals, such as choix and schwa, or Bahn and barn, but not etymologically connected. The John-Wellsian example of 'delay'-'dileu' is very interesting, because it IS dangerous (the 1st class), yet does not seem to satisfy the etymological connection criterion. Now it would interest me if you guys can think of more such examples.

      I think Kraut's examples are _allesamt_ non-dangerous and non-etymologically-connected: Gott and got, Putz and puts, and so on.... maybe 'bild' , as the imperative mood of 'bilden' (Bild dir deine Meinung!) and 'build!' could be a dangerous-etymologically-connected false friends pair.

      From my student days, I remember this 'un: Taine (Hyppolyte), as an answer to a who-question, sounded exactly like 'ten' in Polish, the latter meaning 'this un':

      --Who (something or other, perhaps wrote a certain work)?
      --Taine!
      --But who 'this one'? Who d'you mean?
      --I am telling you: taine (misheard as 'ten' keeps this exchange repeating itself several times).

      Another one: One undereducated referred to Ortega y Gasset as 'two Spanish philosophers', mislead by the 'y' part of the one person's name, which sounds exactly like 'i' in Polish, that is: and.

      Delete
    22. Etymology itself doesn't play a role.

      Delete
    23. C'mon, why so cryptic and Pythian today? Elaborate, please. In the examples we've all gone through (actual/actuel, gift/Gift, barn/Bahn) it did. Besides, I am not saying 'itself', of course. Can YOU think of more non-etymologically connected, but likely to confuse word, such as John's delay-dileu? Your eagle/Igel was entertaining but somewhat atypical, I'd say.

      Delete
    24. Well, to rekindle this dying discussion a bit:

      etymology is to some extent relevant as etymologically connected words are likely to be syntactically exchangeable (unlike Kraut's puts and Putz, or Gott and got) and semantically close enough to look like one-another's translations, which they are not. Actual and actuel, gift and Gift. A scourge of great many very quick Polish translations of English texts is substituting look-(and sound-)alikes for one another, e.g. they translate 'aggressive' as 'agresywny' (=violent), or 'division' as 'dywizja' (=division as a military unit). It's a disaster, a mayhem as we say in Poland. I remember having read somewhere in an English book (some 40 years ago) Dutch hounds=Deutsche Hunde.

      But I agree that such cases, tho' frequent, are rather boring.... . Much more interesting are cases like John's delay/dileu, or mine (I flatter myself) Taine/ten (this one), which, tho' etymologically unrelated are 'friendly' (though falsely) enough, i.e. can be confounded with one another, mistaken for one another.

      Delete
    25. I think there's also not a category of "noncountable nouns" in English. We have noncount nouns. And most noncount nouns can also be count nouns.

      Delete
    26. @Ellen:
      According to the online Oxford dictionaries, countable noun is ‘another term for count noun’ and is defined as follows:
      ‘A noun that has both a singular and a plural form. Most nouns are countable, because they refer to things that can be counted. A small number of nouns do not regularly have a plural form and are called uncountable.’
      The opposite is uncountable noun.

      Delete
    27. Sometimes they're also called 'mass nouns', which is again misleading, as only some of them refer to amorphous lumps, or masses. English noncount(able) nouns refer quite often to a dispersed collection of things, not to amorphous masses: furniture, soap, behavio(u)r. This makes them an interesting grammatical category.

      Delete
  4. In high school Spanish class, a lot of boys would get flustered in impromptu oral speeches, and often try to admit that they were embarrassed, but would say 'embarazado' meaning 'pregnant.' I suspect the urge to quickly find a foreign word that maps directly onto the English version causes mistakes with false friends by bilingual speakers.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @John: Not as much ironic, as euphemistic, after Mediaeval Latin "dosis" which replaced older "venenum"; or so say various ethymological dictionaries I consulted.

    ReplyDelete
  6. John is asking: 'What are the conditions under which we need to be on the lookout for phonetic-only false friends? '

    There are great many phonetic-only false friends between Polish and Czech, because there are many common words which have developed different meanings and the spellings of both languages are so widely and wildly different. E. g. 'czerstwy' means dry, old (of bread) in Polish and (spelled in a toto coelo different fashion) fresh (of bread) in Czech. Confusion is likely because the semantic fields of both words, and consequently the occasions and contexts of use, are so close. So that is part of what these conditions (John asked about) are.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I would expect that phonological false friends would arise where two languages (or dialects that aren't too closely related) blend along a border, with lots of bilinguals. In that situation you'd tend to get a partial or complete merger of phonologies, with the different lexicons carrying the weight of keeping the languages separate. In the famous (to linguists) village of Kupwar in Maharashtra province of India, the inhabitants speak local varieties of Marathi, Kannada, and Urdu. They correspond not only phonologically, but syntactically: you can make literal translations word by word, phrase by phrase, but the vocabularies remain distinct. "Three languages, one grammar."

    ReplyDelete
  8. A phonetic false friend between English and German that led to a different kind of misunderstanding: a schoolmaster in my school was asked "What's iːgl?" and he kept answering "Adler", not understanding that the boy wanted to know what the English for Igel was (hedgehog), not the German for eagle (Adler).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I personally would have kept answering 'Adler' if the question had been 'Was ist iːgl?' To yours I would have answered 'hedgehog'. Strange. But maybe the 'i:gl' was articulated very English, with a dark 'l' and without a trace of a shwa.

      I have been in situation where some people did not know whether to interpret the sound [ja] as the Polish 'ja' (I) or the German 'ja' (yes), or the sound [tak] as the Polish 'tak' (yes) or the Swedish 'tack' (thank you). In all of these cases, including your eagle/hedgehog, the phonetic friendship is not perfect, the words do not sound a hundred p.c. identical. But this does not provide a clue as most parties to the confusion anticipate some kind of foreign accent.

      Ad John Cowan. Going by my observations, the phonology merger is hardly, hardly ever, complete or nearly-complete. Maybe with your Kupwar, where I have never been.

      Delete
  9. So would you be able to tell in isolation whether a person was saying czerstwy or its Czech sound-alike? What if the person was a Polish/Czech bilingual?

    By the way, I think your toto coelo should be toto caelo; it is the width of the sky, not the intestines, that illustrates the magnitude of the difference.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. I'd bet in most cases I _would_ be able to tell in isolation. For one, the Polish 'cz' and the Czech 'č', both vaguely 'ch' like in 'chore', are not identical (Mr. Wells has observed this several times on his blog), even for a layman's ear. The final vowel of both words is not the same, either, then, Pl has progressive devoicing (stw->stf), which Cz has not (afaik), etc. In case of bilinguals such differences might admittedly be more difficult to hear. Yet still --- Lipman's 'eagle' and 'Igel' are not identical either, and even German-English bilinguals won't pronounce them exactly the same (I'd bet.) But I was referring to languages like say Polish and Czech, Spanish and Portuguese, and the like, which despite border zones are not yet spoken predominantly by bilinguals. Then, Western Frisian is spoken by 100 p.c. Frisian-Dutch bilinguals, and yet, strangely, its phonological system is strikingly non-identical with that of Dutch. But mine was just an empirical generalisation, if you prove me wrong I'll be just as happy.

      Re caelum, coelum, thank you, Herr Oberlehrer. The latter form is not quite unmet-with, if this be something of an excuse... . Besides, I have recently been in the Sardinian linguistic world, where it's 'chelu' (kelu).

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. Of course, G 'Igel' and E 'eagle' aren't identical, but they might well be for somebody who isn't bilingual enough, and a teacher's ear probably will autocorrect, provided the teacher can tell the difference in the first place.

      Delete
    5. The funny thing about your anecdote was that unless presupposed that the teacher was a German teacher, and the occasion was a German lesson, you cannot explain why he replied with 'Adler' to 'what is [i:gl]?' rather than with 'aquila', 'aguila', 'aigle', 'orzeł', 'örn' or whatever.

      Delete
    6. Coelum (cœlum) for caelum (cælum) seems to be very frequent in older musical scores and this presumably reflects a common post-classical practice. OED gives cœlestial(l) as a variant of celestial from 15th-17th cc.

      Delete
    7. Thanks, all. Apparently coelo for caelo is indeed quite common, including the unintentionally comic motto of the American college fraternity Phi Delta Theta that Kraut mentions. I'm reminded of the sour letter that the brother of the English novelist Anthony Trollope wrote when Anthony attempted a Life of Cicero, to the effect that he wished Anthony had let him check the proofs, because "by Oeschilus I know — what others could only guess — that you mean Aeschylus."

      Delete
    8. Of course the Anglo-Latin pronunciation would be /silo/ in either case.

      Delete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  11. What are the conditions under which we need to be on the lookout for phonetic-only false friends?

    Surely phonetic false friends are like the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects them.

    Nor can they do much damage unless we notice them.

    So we can't really be on the lookout for them. Indeed, a skilled listener in a foreign language will be on the lookout for something else —prominent words whose meaning is guessable. Prominent because it's reasonable to conclude that if the speaker contrived to make them prominent (e.g. by full stress, utterance-final or pre-pausal positioning etc) then he or she quite probably intended the word to convey significant information.

    The only way not to be caught out is to be very familiar with the false friend in question. For most words that's best done by studying the written form along with the pronunciation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. David, you are right and wrong at the same time.

      Right: in a sense John's question is like: when can we reasonably expect to be surprised? (self-defeating).

      Wrong: and yet, some general description of the type(s) of situation where we can be surprised can sometimes be given.

      Here is one: conducting a bilingual conversation in two languages close enough to allow for such. We must be prepared for false friends to take us unawares, if such a locution be allowed. I know this from my occasional Polish-Czech conversations. I remember one such when my Czech vis-a-vis used a verb that in Polish meant something like 'attract attention to something inacceptable, forbidden' or some such. I had, watching out for such to-be-expected surprises, to translate the verb morphem-by-morphem into German (there are lots and lots of such concealed Germanisms in Czech) and then the verb in question unveiled to me its true meaning: to attract attention purely and simply.

      Of course you must be paying attention to the whole context very intensely not to be duped by such false friends.

      Delete
    2. This blog post reminds me of an earlier one by John of the 8th of October 2008 from which I quote the first part:
      "Wie war das?
      As I finished checking in to my Berlin hotel, the receptionist asked me Möchten Sie ˈveːlan? ‘Would you like [something not understood]?’.

      The nearest word that I could think of here was wählen ˈvɛːlən ‘to choose’, but that didn’t seem to make much sense.

      It turns out what she had said was W-LAN, the German for Wi-Fi, the facility for connecting a laptop to the internet wirelessly."
      'wählen' and 'WLAN' - etymologically unrelated, but conversationally dangerous

      Delete
    3. Nice example. Well, it would have been very difficult to have been on the lookout for something like THAT.

      Reminds me though of this rather very seasoned joke:

      A. Kennen Sie Ibsen?
      B. Nein, wie geht das?

      (Do you know Ibsen? No, how does it work? But the joke is untranslatable.)

      Ibsen analysed as a verb: ibs+the infinitive ending -en. A name as a false friend of a merely hypothetical verb.

      Delete
    4. The English version of that is:

      "Do you like Kipling?"

      "I don't know, you naughty boy! I've never kippled."

      where kipple is a non-existent verb.

      Delete
    5. Sweet.

      However, there are more spirited ways out of a similar predicamen. An English colleague, once asked if he knew a verb like 'whelm' (given that it has become fashionable not just to be over- but also to be underwhelm) responded dignifiedly: 'I whelm myself everyday to the right extent; otherwise I would be heavily underwhelmed.')

      'to whelm' used to mean 'to capsize', they say, so 'overwhelm' would be an intensivum.

      Delete
    6. I have seen it used once in literature: an island that was whelmed by the sea. English is full of such conscious archaisms, probably because of the King James Bible.

      Delete
    7. Common Prayer Book, Shakespeare, the metaphysical poets ... you name them. That is one of the many, many charms of English, which make it a very lovable language, despite its horrible spelling and idiosyncratic phonology.

      Sometimes archaisms are, or become irksome mannerisms, though, such as 'albeit' (sorry, I cannot help feeling this word is a cute little darling of some writers). In 'King's English' the Fowler Bros reprove such archaisms. One author they censured vehemently was enamoured of 'to guess' under the pretence it was from Chaucer, not from American English:

      but such an errour vpon God to gesse
      wer fals and foul and wicked cvrsednesse. (Troilus and Cryseide).

      No, you have from the Yanks, they said, not from Chaucer. (Which was an accusation under the pens of the formidable Brothers.) An interesting case of false friends, then: 'to guess' and 'to guess', from Chaucer (good), vs. from the Yanks.

      I personally quite often employ archaisms but that is because 90 p.c. of my English reading time is archaic English, not because I particularly love archaisms.

      Delete
    8. The joke only makes sense if you understand that "kennen" is understood as "können". (insert extensive discussion of unrounding)

      Delete
    9. yeah, I think the unrounding was supplied-for as a makeshift means (Notbehelf) of making sense of the otherwise inintelligible question. (in- or un-intelligible to the person who did not know the Norwegian poet.) Anyway, John Cowan's joke is better.

      Delete
    10. I must be wrong then. (Funnily enough, some weeks ago in the comments here, I said I found perfect puns funnier as a rule.)

      Delete
    11. Right, Lipman, that’s why it took me quite a while to get it. Few contemporary accents of W Germany lack the front-rounded/front-unrounded distinction, but most E German and especially E European accents still do.

      Delete
    12. Hang on. 'Kennen Sie Ibsen?' could --- misinterpreted --- mean 'are you familiar with the (presumably leisurely) occupation of ibsening?' rather than 'are you able to indulge in ibsening?' The latter would be 'können Sie...'. You can be familiar with (kennen) a kind of behaviour (or 'a behaviour', this noun becoming po' a po' a countable one) without being in any ever so wide sense able (koennen) to indulge in it.

      The Swiss canton of Uri seems to have abolished in part the said (by homoid) distinction. Once saw this sticker: Urner Land isch sooo scheen. Most Swiss dialect know it, though, me seemeth at the very least. Contrary to what homoid is saying, I'd have the impression that the farther in Germany you go the rarer the distinction gets, probably under the influence of Slavic languages, which do not have it at all. Have a look a the 'Weber' by G. Hauptmann, for instance. Wrong?

      Delete
    13. sorry, I now realise that was what homoid WAS saying. Missed the reference of 'do' at the end of his post ('do lack', not 'do have this distiction' as I misread it.)

      Delete
    14. You knew what, sorry?

      Another topic: shall one demand that in public announcements in foreign languages various inavoidable items in the local language should be pressed into the (sometimes Procrustean) bed of foreign phonetics (to secure that the foreigners understand them at all) or pronounced natively?

      E. g. on a German tram, shall they pronounce 'Bad Godesberg' the English, or actually German-English way, i.e. as 'bäd göudesbög', or the German way ('bud gawdesbairg'?) I'd be for the former, but that can provoke humorous results, such as misunderstanding the name as 'Godesberg' prefixed by the English word 'bad'. I mean announcements like 'the next station is B.G.'. On the other hand, this is my main point, for Anglophone folks without a knowledge of German phonetics, the German-German noise is obscure and need not call forth any associations with the inscription 'Bad Godesberg' (which is anything but what the Germans pronounce them like).

      Delete
    15. sorry, I meant: ... which to them --- to the Anglophone folks --- is anything but what the Germans pronounce them like

      Delete
  12. The English philosopher Peter Thomas Geach says somewhere (I believe in his 'Mental acts') that it is unthinkable that anyone should, by producing the noice 'yah' be saying at the same time 'I' in Polish and 'yes' in German. But I, living in a mixed Polish-German family have actually experienced such situations, incredible though they may seem. It is not at all so rare or weird: a Germanophone member of your family asking you a 'yes-no' question and a Polonophone member asking at the same time a who-question: AT THE SAME TIME. If the answer to the first one is 'yes' and to the second 'I' you can save yourself some effort and respond to both at once with the same noise, thus fruitfully exploiting a false phonetic friendship. So the latter is not always a bad thing...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, philosophers often say that something is impossible in principle, even when it is actually happening somewhere in the world.

      Delete
    2. I cannot but agree, alas, myself being one. The snag is, that which happens and is the case, somewhere in the world or in any of the worlds there are (if there are many, which is an empirical question), is _ex officio_ outside the scope of their (philosophers') competence. Philosophers, even if self-professed Empiricist, are entrenched in their apriori principles, which are the sole basis on which they can erect their buildings.

      Another example of an effort-saving German-Polish exchange: 'tu'. The German is asking you 'shall I do this or that?', the Pole is asking 'where (is something or other)?'. Saying just 'tu' you say 'do!' and 'here' at the same time. Plus, an Italian, a Romanian, a Spaniard, a Lithuanian and a Latvian could be asking you 'who (did something or other)?' and you'll be saying 'you' by means of the same noise. How economical!

      Delete
  13. I meant to mention that trains in AmE, at least in professional argot, are not canceled but annulled if they never leave the origin point.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Interesting that the "phonetic false friend" persisted even after initial consonant mutation to ddileu (with ð). Also, this was Cardiff; I wonder if it would persist in north Wales, where the second syllable would be leɨ.

    ReplyDelete