Monday, 25 March 2013

Ansatz von Senilität

One of the joys of continuing to try to educate oneself throughout life, even as one grows old, is that you’re for ever extending your vocabulary.

My maths education ended at fourteen, when I had done my O levels and entered the classical sixth. I’d had a good grounding in arithmetic, algebra and geometry, extending to trigonometry and calculus. But I have always felt a bit ignorant about, for example, such matters as exponentials and complex numbers and calculations involving them. I can’t process e and i as easily as I can π, sin θ, and x-1.

Recently, beguiled by Prof. Brian Cox’s eloquent and engaging television programmes, I embarked on his recent book, coauthored with Jeff Forshaw, The Quantum Universe (subtitle: everything that can happen does happen).

So I was looking forward to some challenging new ideas that I might struggle to understand. I hadn’t quite expected, though, that within the first dozen pages I would come across a word I had not met before: ansatz, explained as an ‘educated guess’.

Now Ansatz is the sort of German word that I know passively, though I would not claim that it belongs to my active vocabulary. I would take it in my stride if I encountered it in the middle of a German text, perhaps einen neuen Ansatz (zu etwas) machen, ‘make a fresh attempt (at something)’. On looking it up I find that it has a whole range of specialist and technical meanings that need not detain us here.

But as an English word, how would I pronounce it? The trouble with knowing German is that I immediately think to myself ˈanzats. I map a onto a and syllable-initial prevocalic s onto z. This is not appropriate for English, where a maps onto æ and syllable-initial s onto s. I have to force myself to anglicize the pronunciation to the ˈænsæts that British mathematicians would probably say (or possibly the ˈɑːnsɑːts that I imagine American math (sic) specialists might prefer).

The only English dictionary I have to hand that contains the word is the on-line OED. which confirms ˈænsæts as the pronunciation. There’s a Wikipedia article on the subject, but it shows no pronunciation.

And what would we say if there were more than one ansatz? What is its plural? Again, my German is good enough to expect it to be Ansätze ˈanzɛtsə (yes, I’ve checked, it is). But when we borrow occasional German words into English we don’t usually at the same time borrow their plural forms: though we may sometimes refer to a wunderkind ˈwʌndəkɪnd in English (cf German ˈvʊndɐkɪnt), we never speak of wunderkinder, and we get embarrassed about what to call the Länder of the Federal Republic. So I suspect that if you make more than one ansatz in mathematical discourse they’ll be ansatzes ˈænsætsɪz.

A few more pages later in the book, I did have to skip over Schrödinger's equation. (In calculus I didn't get as far as partial differentials.)

I don't even know how to read it aloud.

54 comments:

  1. "Approach" might be another ansatz to translate the word.

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  2. On the other hand, "lied" has the plural "lieder", or so claims dictionary.com. (Which also gives both "wunderkinds" and "wunderkinder" as the plural.)

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    1. Definitely "lieder". Never ever heard "*lieds" -- can't imagine anyone saying it either. The people who are interested in artsong are generally also fans of European languages (particularly German).

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  3. And yet ersatz is ˈɛəzæts in English.

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    1. And abseil has a voiceless s (and a voiced b). ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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  4. As a physicist, I can report having heard both "s" and "z" for the consonant in question (and the latter not only from Germans).

    In print, one sees both "ansatz" and "Ansatz", occasionally italicized. As you can see here: [http://goo.gl/YlYcb], the plural ansätze (often capitalized) is used in English.

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    1. Disregarding the first rule of how German words are treated in English: if there is a vowel letter with funny dots, they must be shifted to another (the "fraülein law"), the farther the better.

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    2. Actually I’ve seen the spelling fraülein in Britain. I thought that someone had mistaken the umlaut for a diaeresis, as in French haïr, which is regularly placed on the second of two consecutive vowels. It is a pity that these diacritics are no longer visually distinguishable. Umlaut used to be a superscript e which in Sütterlin resembles 11 that became two dots in print. However some people still use two short strokes in handwriting, similar to Hungarian double acute ő ű, but more upright.

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  5. For phoneticians, it's also the German for vocal tract, borrowed straight into Swedish as ansatsrör.

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    1. Sidney, I particularly like the {-rör} because in German röhren is what stags do (besides motorcycles, exhaust pipes etc.)

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    2. don't wanna be a kill-joy but is 'Ansatzrohr' not the German counterpart?

      Full true name --- see Profile (Google Profile, that is).

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    3. Yes, of course, vocal tract is Ansatzrohr or Vokaltrakt, not Ansatz.

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    4. Thank you. I tend to take short cuts without warning. Petr R saw where I was heading.

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  6. John Wells:

    'But when we borrow occasional German words into English we don’t usually at the same time borrow their plural forms'

    I used to think that English usually borrowed words _with_ their respective plural forms, e.g. thesis-theses (Latinised), fellah-fellaheen, kibbuts-kibbutsim, a very rare case amongst the languages of the world. Is that not the case, or if it is, why should German words be an exception? The prestige of the language? But 'fellaheen' is a dialectal Arabic form, the cultured language's being 'fellahoon' (with a long [u]), why should Arabic dialects be more prestigious than German?

    Re 'Ansatz' finally: my impression is that in the German academic literature the word is far more popular than 'approach' or something like it in the anglophone. Germanophones love to 'rave' about 'der Bohr'sche/sprachanalytische or something-other'sche Ansatz' and such-like, which perhaps explains why the word is sometimes borrowed into other languages. This at the very least has been my impression acquired in the course of many many years.

    Re 'the fraülein law': there is also, they say, a 'Münster cheese', actually 'Munster', an Irish kingdom, falsely associated with the German city of Münster.

    True name --- see full Profile (google)

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    1. I always thought that Munster cheese was from Munster in Alsace (France). Alsace, of course, is alzas in French, but usually ælˈsæs in English.

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    2. Latin and Greek words are borrowed (or invented) with their plurals, it's true, but the vast majority of borrowed nouns have native plurals. Other exceptions are sporadic: Italian musical terms (but soli is only used in technical contexts, and only in some of those; in popular music and in common speech it is solos), and cherubim, seraphim, kibbutzim from Hebrew — and even they compete with cherubs, seraphs, kibbutzes. I have only seen fellaheen/hin in the plural; fellah would probably be taken as an informal spelling of fellow. Even classical plurals are subject to erosion with time and use: biologists talk of antennae, but radio engineers of antennas, and penes is found only in hemipenes, the curious forked affairs possessed by male marsupials.

      As for the cheese, it matters little whether you attribute it (rightly) to the monasterium in Alsace or (wrongly) to the one in Westphalia, for in either case the vowel is /y/ in the original language but STRUT in English.

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    3. Ad John Cowan

      probably, an average anglophone person has usually little opportunity of speaking of any one specific 'fellah', if at all then of great many 'fellaheen'. 'Fellow', by contrast, is usually 'fella', without the '-h', wrong?

      Re cheese, I knew only the version with the Old Irish kingdom, it may be wrong, no matter, in any event not the German city in Poland known as 'Monastyr'.

      But that 'Bundeslaender' should never have taken root in English --- this amazes me.

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    4. I reckon if in any doubt, err on the side of an anglicised plural.

      I say, waiter — bring us two cappuccini, two vodki, two ouza, two piñas coladas and some water for the corgwn...

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    5. On second thoughts, make that five vodok...

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    6. Come on, Alan, you talkin' English, not Russian, ain't ya? 'Vodki' is the regular plural form in Russian. 'five vodok' would make sense in a Russian discourse, with 'five' as a quotation from English.

      Full name true --- see Profile

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    7.  The English numeral five requires a plural noun in nominative case, otherwise it’s not English. For English grammar it doesn’t matter if other languages require a singular noun—using the plural in Turkish *beş arkadaşlar ‘five friends’ or in Mandarin *五个朋友们 ‘five friends’ is plain wrong—or a genitive, as in your example taken from Russian.

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    8. but is '朋友们' 'penyoumen' correct by itself in Chinese?

      Since the category of noun-number hardly exists in Chinese (wrong?), I'm not sure if 'ten thousand severely deluded 红卫兵们/hongweibinmen/' would be on a par with 'thousands of unverified hypotheses' or 'thousands of hardworking fellaheen' or 'thousand undrunk vodki'. Thousand dignified effendiler? I'd suspect pengyoumen or hongweibinmen are forced pseudo-plurals, are they not?

      There is an example of an Irish Gaelic noun adopted into English with its plural, but I forget what it is. Something with a palatalisation of the last consonant, methinks. But there is eisteddfod, eisteddfodau, from Welsh, is there not?

      You guys often go to eisteddfodau, don't you?

      Anyway, there is 'lieder' and 'ansaetze' in English...

      Full name -- see profile (google).

      ps have you noticed that these pesky 'captures' had become ridiculously easy, even for a severely postcocious one.

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    9. Alan, the form 'corgwn' does exist, they say, enjoys even moral support from breed-authorities.

      An amazing case is 'octopus': octopuses (which misleads me into reading it as '...pyooziz'), 'octopi' (like 'motores bi', but it does exist, I have heard it at least once) and the solely (ahem) correct 'octopodes'...


      for full name please look up Profile

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    10.  Yes, vɔi̯t͡ɕɛx, all nouns, except proper names, denoting human individuals can form a plural in -们 (in Mandarin, not in Classical Chinese), although its use is never really compulsory and even wrong when the plural is already marked otherwise, e.g. by a numeral. Other nouns denoting things like hypothesis and vodka can’t form a plural in -们.
       Turkish doesn’t allow for multiple plural marking either, so plurals like effendiler don’t go with 1000 or any other numeral.
       For Irish you’ll have to ask someone else; I only know eisteddfod as a Welsh word.

       BTW the pīnyīn for 朋友们 ‘friends’ is péngyoumen. (NB: In Russian transliteration pīnyīn -ng is , and -n is -нь!)

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    11.  Sorry, effendiler isn’t Turkish. Please read efendiler.

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    12. @Wojciech

      five vodok was meant as even more exaggerated parody than two vodki; neither of them as a suggestion. :-)

      The OED is silent on the plural of cappuccino, though it gives kapputˈtʃino as the only English pronunciation of the singular, which I've already grumbled about here. When in Romford, why do as the Romans do?

      And yes, corgwn really is in the dictionary. So that's all right, then! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm just off to take my nghorgwn for a walk.

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    13. Ad homoid

      I thought, although '1000 efendiler' be wrong in Turkish (like '5 vodki' is wrong in Russian), yet it would be right in English, which calls for the standard foreign plural form.

      I thought '-们' worked just with pronouns, and only exceptionally with nouns, but anyway 100000 deluded hongweibin们 sounds right in the English that I know and love, the English of hypotheses, kibbutsim and corgwn.

      I know about penGyou, I only sometimes leave letters out.

      Incidentally, some weeks ago I spoke with a German intellectual well into his 'seventies (in English) who thought it was 'thesi-' and 'hypothesisses'.

      Ad Alan: how many corgwn have you, I wonder.

      What is the plural of 'csardas' if not 'csardasok'? Sauna - saunat? I took several saunat last year, and I danced many csardasok. Sounds like the English I love, though not the one, alas, you guys really speak...

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    14. Ad Alan: how many corgwn have you, I wonder.

      Not sure. Maybe two gorgi, or three chorgi, or four corgi, or maybe even a hundred of gorgwn.

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    15. it is funny to imagine your corgis changing collective aspect depending on which Welsh mutation they take... a hundred of Gorgons would be definitely too much to this gy... sorry, kynophile.


      Full drue nhame --- see Brofile

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  7. Without having finished reading the whole blog and without having heard the word being pronounced by a NS of English, my spontaneous pronunciation in an English context would have been /ˈænzæts/

    /pɛtr røːzəl/

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    1. Mine would be /ˈænsæts/ or /ˈæns-schwa-ts/. The /z/ variant is already too reconditely Germanic.


      Full true name --- Profile

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  8. John: You pronounce that equation "i h bar delta over delta t big psi equals big h hat big psi", or at least I do.

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    1. I think it's more common to pronounce ∂ as either "partial" or, especially in contexts (such as this one) where there's no risk of confusion, as "d" (i.e., /ˈdiː/).

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    2. Not sure I like "delta" here. There is a distinction between d or ∂, representing an infinitesimal change, and δ, representing a finite (though usually small) one.

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    3. Some call it "curly d", some call it "partial, and others call it "del". I've also heard "der", which must be an abbreviation of "derivative".

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    4. For me, "del" is the pronunciation of the extension of the derivative denoted by a turned capital delta, ∇. The symbol itself, however, is called "nabla".

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  9. "I don't even know how to read it aloud."

    Ooh, it's a while since I've done any QM, but I reckon "i h-bar partial d psi by d t equals h-hat of psi" would do — and take your pick of saɪ or psaɪ (as well as eɪtʃ or heɪtʃ, obviously) — and I've thrown in the "of" to make it clear that Ĥ is operating on, rather than multiplied by, ψ. Saying "h-hat" I think pretty clearly implies Ĥ, but the Hamiltonian is sometimes written just as H, in which case I'd probably say "capital-h" to distinguish it from h, the Planck constant. Also I guess the differential could be read as "partial-d-by-d-t of psi".

    And while on this subject, Schrodinger (ʃɹəʊ-) enjoys a fair bit of use, though of course the OED doesn't condescend to recognise this.

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    1. I'd probably say "capital-h"

      It seems to me that capital isn't terribly common when reading equations aloud; big is more usual. Cf e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_O_notation.

      --
      Armando di Matteo

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    2. Thanks, yes, you're right. I realised after posting that I probably meant to say big. The main point was that I wouldn't bother say it with h-hat (just as I wouldn't say "big e equals m c squared", even though of course e is widely used elsewhere).

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    3. Well, whenever you have "e equals", the e must be big, unless what follows is a formula for e.

      I blundered above: my first instance of delta should of course be big psi. d works for me as a variant of delta, since true d is impossible here, and I would certainly understand curly d and partial, though I wouldn't say them. Then again, my last dealings with pee dee ees were at least two decades ago, if then.

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    4. e = sqrt(4*pi*alpha), where e is the elementary charge in natural units and alpha is the fine structure constant.

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  10. aɪv ˈædɪd ðə ˈdʒɝmən prənʌnsiˈeɪʃən tu ðə wɪkiˈpidiə ˈɑrt̬ɪkl̩, bʌt aɪ meɪd noʊ əˈtɛmpt ət ən ˈɪŋɡlɪʃ prənʌnsiˈeɪʃən.

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  11. And let me just add that TV is not only full of incorrect pronunciations, it is filled with ugly voices: unpleasantly nasal, strident, harsh, sometimes you don't know whether a person is choking or pronouncing... I just hope that at least German TV keeps some sort of standard.

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    1. Ad J.M.R.

      My impression is that most BBC radio announcers (I have not a TV set) do a decent job pronouncing foreign names while most German ones sound very German, especially when it comes to Dutch, Flemish, Afrikaander or Scandinavian names (which they regard, apparently, as their zone of 'interpretative supremacy'). Our Polish ones are fine too, not so good as the English ones, perhaps, but better than the Germans. Re strident, harsh voices: well, this is what their throats are built like, their _naturel_, which is something up with which I would put. But I understand on one's compatriots one is tougher than on non-compatriots.

      Full name ---> PROFILE

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    2. Let me just clarify my point, which should have been the last comment I typed, but somehow ended up on top, before the other two: I wasn't referring to the correctness of pronunciations, I wouldn't know what to say about it apart from what I already did, but how I believe once you picked pleasant voices to work on TV (and radio, but I wasn't mentioning the radio). I think I've heard or read somewhere that on German TV they choose their announcers not only on the base of the beauty of their voice, but they must know grammar. I don't know if that is the case.

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    3. Well, German radio announcers (it is like 20 years ago that I last saw some German TV) they have nice voices, good grammar, and extremely German inflections and pronunciations --- am deutschen Wesen will die Welt genesen, that is, the world desires to become substantially German in order to be a better place to live. I am referring to the public radio only. German=perfect, nothing left to be desired, with a slightly mocking tone, so as to express the sense of superiority.

      True name --- Profile.

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    4. Well, after all, Polish is essentially a light form of Russian that even Germans can understand.

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    5. Ah, wait, there is a German public TV news speaker, one Marietta Słomka, whom I have seen recently, maybe like 5 years ago. She 1. speaks perfect; 2. looks perfect 3. stares you in the eyes all the time and pouts, and whatever she says sounds mocking ('spoettisch') as if she desired to say 'well, this is from abroad, meine Damen und Herren, we Germans would have handled a similar thing much better'. This strikes me as 'substantially German', and I must say I definitely prefer (to that) your British 'sperm whales' (_kaszaloty_), as we say in Poland, of radio- or TV announcers, with all their imperfections.

      Ad John Cowan,

      I'd rather say: Russian is essentially a light form of Polish that even Germans... (etc.).

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    6. What, do Poles think their language is hard, as Japanese people do? I thought Poles thought Polish was an easy language, especially compared to Russian.

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    7. Russian is less irregular, and teems with Germanisms from the times of German emperors.

      Full name --- see Profile

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  12. This is just awful. That comment should have appeared after the first one I posted, but that is now gone.

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  13. Anyway... What I wanted to say is:

    The trouble with knowing German is that I immediately think to myself ˈanzats.

    Thank you for stating that. It happens to me all the time, with the languages I do know and with those I know something about.

    So Sally Bundock kept annoying me with her pronunciation of the name of the Cyprus Popular Bank, in Greek lɐiˈci, which she pronounced as ˈlɛjki. Today the Burmese town of Meiktila was pronounced as ˈmɛktɪlə, but should probably be something like ˈmɛjtɪlə, according to Wikipedia, at least.

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  14. Well, ˈmɛktɪlə for meɪttʰìlà isn't as bad (in my opinion) as ˌmaɪ.ænˈmɑr for mjəmà.

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