Tuesday 5 July 2011

women's tennis

Two correspondents wrote last week complaining about the way commentators for the Wimbledon tennis tournaments were pronouncing Maria Sharapova’s name. As they pointed out, in Russian her surname bears antepenultimate stress: she is Шарапова ʃəˈrapəvə, so in English we ought to call her ʃəˈræpəvə. But we don’t, we call her ˌʃærəˈpəʊvə with penultimate stress.

Dismayed as purists and my correspondents may be, there’s not much we can do about this. I am told that the tennis player herself is quite content to be given penultimate stress in English and to be known as BrE ˌʃærəˈpəʊvə, AmE ˌʃɑrəˈpoʊvə.

There were two other woman tennis players last week the pronunciation of whose names perhaps deserves comment. One is Sabine Lisicki. She is German, born in Troisdorf, although her name must be of Czech (or some other Slavonic) origin. Neither of my German pronunciation dictionaries ɡives the pronunciation of her name. In Czech it would presumably be ˈlisitski. The English commentators called her lɪˈzɪki, lə-.

The other is the new women’s single champion, Petra Kvitova. She is Czech, and in Czech her name is written Kvitová (with the obligatory unstressed feminine ending -ová borne by all Czech females) and pronounced ˈkvitovaː. Our commentators all had a problem with the cluster kv-, which they solved by inserting an anaptyctic schwa, giving kəˈvɪtəvə.

I am not sure why kv- presents such a problem to English speakers. We seem to manage to produce sv- without anaptyxis in Svengali, svelte, Svalbard and, um, svarabhakti. We manage ʃv- in nazi-era mock-German Schweinhund as well as in Schweitzer and Schwarzwald. And kw- is an everyday cluster for us and not so very different from kv-.


  1. I think this YouTube video tells us that for the Germans she is zaˈbiːnə liˈzɪki(ː).

    I presume Šarapova is mɐˈrijɐ ˈjurʲɪvnɐ ʂɐˈrapovɐ in Russian.

  2. Concerning -icki: In Czech, that would probably, but not necessarily, be Lisický, or less commonly Lysický or Lisycký, all of them pronounced ˈlisitskiː (As a woman, she'd have the name L*s*cká, of course.)

    Many, if not most people with formerly Slavic -cki names in Germany actually pronounce it -ki, unless they're recent immigrants. The stress also tends to fall on the penultimate even if the name's origin is clearly Czech or Sorbian rather than Polish. And any intervocalic -s- is rendered as -z-, so the English commentators probably get it quite right there, ignoring minor differences such as the exact quality of ɪ.

    The kv- cluster is, I think, nothing but a mental block. The same people who struggle with it in the name Kvitová might easily say kvɔː for cavort. We Englishmen can't pronounce consonantal abominations like "hrad" or "Mstislav", but I spose Czechs just have different genes. Mst be hreditry. (Another example here.)

  3. Wikipedia says Lisicki is of mixed German-Polish origin.

    Forvo, on the other hand, says she is saˈb̥iːnə liˈsɪtski(ː).

    Who to trust?

  4. We Englishmen can't pronounce consonantal abominations like "hrad" or "Mstislav", but I spose Czechs just have different genes. Mst be hreditry.

    How about Serbian trn tr̂ː̩n (‘thorn’) or rđa (‘rust’) ř̩dʑa or r̩̂dʑa? Wiki also gives krv (‘blood’) kr̩̂ːʋ and srce (‘heart’) sr̩̂tsɛ. Fun.

  5. But that's the point.

    First of all, there's obviously nothing genetically different, of course. But then there are some features that you're not used to unless you simply are, and which might be very tricky to learn later in life with the background of a differently structured language, and then there are some features you actually pronounce every day in your own language but aren't aware of, and secondary things like the spelling create a block.

  6. Thank you for covering this. I obviously don't expect UK media commentators to produce a perfect Russian accent when pronouncing Sharapova's name, any more than I expect them to pronounce McEnroe's name with an American accent. But if, when McEnroe first came to prominence, UK commentators had called him mə'kɛnrəʊ (which I think is not impossible, given the uncertainty over M(a)c- prefixes), I'm pretty sure they would have been "corrected". The same doesn't seem to be true for "foreign" names like Sharapova.

    I can understand native (i.e. in this case English) phonotactic constraints influencing UK pronunciations of names such as Kvitová; but is there any phonological/linguistic explanation for the stress shift in Sharapova?

    Presumably the English pronunciation of Roger Federer (usually 'fɛdərə in the UK, German 'fe:dəʁɐ) can be attributed to the influence of spelling? (by analogy with federal, federation, etc.)

    Lisicki is, according to Wikipedia, of Polish origin; presumably in Poland she would be Lisicka?

    On a similar media-related point, does anyone else feel that Jeremy Paxman's rendering of Großglockner on last night's University Challenge was so poor that it may have influenced the teams' ability to answer the question? http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b012hbx3/?t=3m20s

  7. Sorry, Lipman made the point about LisickA while I was composing my epic ;-)

  8. On a recent trip to Novi Sad (northern Serbia) I had fun with the initial cluster in tvrđava tʋrdʑaʋa "fortress" (as in Petrovaradinskaja Tvrđava "Petrovaradin Fortress").

    But of course kv- presents difficulties for English speakers. In English, sibilants combine to form clusters far more readily than plosives so sv-, while phonotactically illegal, is at least similar to sn- or str-, and so "less illegal" than kv-.

    As an anglicisation for initial kv-, kw- would probably be a more appropriate than kəv-, especially for languages that have no distinction between v and w.

  9. On a similar media-related point, does anyone else feel that Jeremy Paxman's rendering of Großglockner on last night's University Challenge was so poor that it may have influenced the teams' ability to answer the question?

    On Sunday, Fiona Bruce & her team kept misaccentuationg the word procuress. To them, she was ˈprɒkjurəs.

  10. Funnily enough, I was wondering the same question about the difficulties with kv-. I did notice that not all commentators had as much of a problem with this as others, though.

    Too bad there isn't a Czech tennis player called "scvrnkls". What fun could be had with that...

  11. Is it really a kv- cluster? That wouldn't be possible in Polish. It would have to be kf-. Are Czech voicing habits different?

  12. Words like 'girl' or 'bird' or 'first' in a rhotic variant of English, say standard American English --- aren't they as 'consontantal' as are 'smrt' or 'krk'? Of course, the quality of the 'r' is different, but nonetheless. And 'frilled' sounds very much as if it were spelt 'frld' in Slovenian.

    Does anyone know how Federer and his co-linguals pronounce his name? German 'fe:dəʁɐ is not likely either in Swiss German or in Standard German of Switzerland (Schweizerhochdeutsch) as in neither the reduction of the final -er to -ɐ is accepted.

    Look to Georgian for really 'sexy' consonant clusters, like 'grvrkls' or the like.

  13. Paul, yes, that's particular to Polish among the Slavic languages.

  14. The BBC Pronunciation Unit must have suggested 'correct' or at least ideal ones, but it seems like spelling pronunciation tend to be easier and thus, much more popular.

    >the tennis player herself is quite content to be given penultimate stress in English and to be known as BrE ˌʃærəˈpəʊvə, AmE ˌʃɑrəˈpoʊvə.

    Or she simply doesn't know that there can be another one. In any case, it's rare to see people complaining about how their names are anglicised outside the UK probably. Speech consciousness may be more of a British thing.

  15. So, Wojciech, I presume in Polish, Lisicki is simply lisitski. But where does the stress fall?

    Also, I've only noticed it now: is ɑr the new way of transcribing what was once ɑːr?

  16. Ad Duchesse de Guermantes

    li'ɕit͡ski. The penultimate. The female form is Lisicka, li'ɕit͡ska. The stress in Polish is almost always on the penultimate, save certain foreign words and certain verbal forms.

  17. Thank you. I should have known that ‹si›, together with ‹ś›, stands for ɕ.

  18. At least for myself, the /sv/ of svengali or svelte is [sf], even though I perceive it as [sv]. The difference between, let's say, [sf] and [kf] (assuming voicing assimilation) might be licensed by the presence of [sf] in at least one English word -- we have "sphere" after all. On the other hand, [sf] clusters are so infrequent in English that it might be more useful to posit an appendix for word-initial or -final alveolar fricatives (as both Toni Borowsky and myself, among many others, have done). This would explain why [sf] is fine, but [kf] is bad.

  19. Ad Duchesse de Guermantes

    Strictly speaking, 'si' stands for ɕ OR ɕi, depending on whether there is a vowel following or not. If no vowel, it's ɕi, for instance lisi, liɕi, vulpine, fox's, (adjective). Otherwise the 'i' is just palatalisation sign, a bit like in Gaelic.

  20. It'd interest me if you think that all Anglophones would have trouble pronouncing various Norwegian words starting with kv- and corresponding to English words with wh-, such as 'kva' (what), 'kvar' (where), or 'kvit' (white). The pronunciation in Norwegian is kv-

  21. Am I alone in 'hearing' stress on the final vowel of Czech -ová names? Yes I know the stress isn't really there, but I have trouble persuading my wayward ear.

    And Kvitová is relatively easy to say when compared with Navrátilová

  22. David, do you hear that as well in avatar or in cinema for those who say cinemah, stress on the first syllable, long ah in the last?

  23. "kvetch" doesn't present a problem for many English speakers.

  24. I'm a native AmEng speaker, and indeed I have no trouble with monosyllabic "kvetch", which I pronounce with something that's either [kv] or [kf].

  25. Monosyllabic kvetches are rare, except for "oy".

  26. OK, but would any of you guys have any problem with the Norwegian word 'kva' (pronounced 'kvah' in Norwegian), and/or would any of you pronounce it as 'kf-'? Would you be tempted to say 'kuvah' or some such? (The word means 'what', the Protogermanic hw- developing into kv- in Norwegian, i.e. nynorsk.)

    Ad David Crosby

    'Am I alone in 'hearing' stress on the final vowel of Czech -ová names'

    I too hear such names this way, sort of. Though I know they have initial stress. I'd think of this explanation as a layman: word-stress being a mixture (differently weighed) of energy, loudness, peak and length, in my language (Polish) length is more promiment than it is in Czech, --- that is to say, we drawl stressed vowels a bit, not that much as (sometimes) Italians do, but still --- and hence I hear long vowels as stress-carrying. I don't know if this explanation if true holds good for your native language (Scottish?), though...

    In Polish there is a strange phenomenon: words carrying logical emphasis are stressed on the first syllable, even though the regular stress in Polish is almost always on the penultimate. This is sometimes satirised by poets, comedians, cabaretists and such... . However, the logical-emphasis initial stress is not quite like the regular stress on the penultimate, and so the two occur together, the former not obliterating the latter. The former is more energy-and-peak, in the latter the length of the stressed vowel seems to be more prominent.

  27. Wojciech

    Yes I think we agree. The way I frame it is that there a general feature of prominence realisable as stress, length, pitch movement etc. In English
    [No I'm not in any way Scottish, I just live here]
    many of these fall together — at least in my accent and the accents I'm familiar with.

    I haven't observed other English speakers attempting to pronounce Czech, but the data is clear from generations of us trying to read Latin and Greek verse aloud. Apart from a tiny group of specialists, we all read the long syllables as stressed. Worse, we pronounce Classical Greek words with stress on the long vowels, and with not the slightest attempt to reproduce the pitch accent that John recently discussed here.

    I comfort myself that native speakers of Latin and Greek must once have shared this confusion — culminating in the stress patterns of Modern Greek and the Romance languages.

    The stress shift you describe in Polish reminds me of the way English speakers sometimes place emphatic stress on the first word of a phrase — most famously at the end of Gone with the Wind:
    Frankly, my dear, I don't GIVE a damn.

  28. How WOULD you pronounce avatar, provided you stress it on the first syllable?

  29. Ad David Crosby

    Are you talking about poem scansion, not reading aloud prose, aren't you?

    We Poles do like you; in prose we try to apply accentuation patterns (Latin) or marked accents (Greek), without attempting intonations.

    Scansion practices might have little influence, tho', on the way stressed developed on in Greek and Romance; at least in Italian, Latin's most faithful heir, it stays where it was in Latin, except some verbs such as m(u)overe, n(u)ocere, sapere, ardere....

  30. Woyciech

    I'm talking about actual reading aloud, and about 'auding' to my mind's ear. To me that's true scansion. I don't see why authentic reading should be attempted only of verse — surely there are things to be learned of the rhythms of Cicero, and all the other literature which was delivered aloud to audiences.

    I'm not in the least proficient at reading either Latin prose or Latin verse aloud, but I wish I was. The problems of reading Classical Greek aloud are almost too daunting to contemplate.

  31. I think David's point was that we tend to read Latin (and Greek) verse in a different way from prose, stressing syllables according to the scansion rather than the ordinary word-stress, thus:

    arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris

    instead of

    arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris

  32. Ad David

    There is a Dr. Stephen Daitz, I think a Classics Professor at CUNY or some such, who has published an audio-book on what (he thinks)is the ancient Greek pronunciation, length, intonation and all. I found him on the Internet. The book is quite entertaining. Good read, good listen, should I say.

    Ad Steve,

    yes, that is quite a common practice, here (Pl) too, but David's point extended to reading (aloud) 'prosaic' texts as well, like De Bello Gallico and what not. See his posting above yours.

    My point, by contrast, was that---for aught I can see---the accentuation in the Romance (most faithful to the Latin in Italian) is probably NOT influenced by scansion patterns. For instance, the last-syllable stress in the Sp. 'sen~or' is most likely just letting it fall where it fell in the Latin 'seniorem', scansion accent shift, ictus and what have you being irrelevant here. Am I, d'you think, terribly wrong?

  33. Steve

    I wasn't actually thinking of the prose/verse contrast, but I take your point. If a passing Tardis were to give me a lift to Maecenas's salon with Virgil himself reading that line, I fear my ears would misperceive the fall of the stress — just as they misperceive the fall of the stress in Kvitová.

  34. Ad David

    Latin word-stress was peak, they say. I.e., peak was the most prominent component of it. Chances are, therefore, that neither you nor I would recognise word-stress in a comedy of Plaut or just ordinary street-conversation. There is something like it in contemporary Welsh, methinks.

  35. Wikipedia transcription of Sharapova's name: [mɐˈrʲijə ˈjurʲjɪvnə ʂɐˈrapəvə].

  36. arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris

    So, what would this be in Latin? ˈarma viˈrumkʷɛ ˈkaːno ˈtrojaj kʷi ˈpriːmus ad ˈoris?

  37. @Duchesse:

    Wikipedia gives

    [ˈarma wiˈrũːkᶣe ˈkanoː ˈtroːjjae kᶣiː ˈpriːmus ab ˈoːriːs]

    I'm not sure exactly when Classical Latin [w] lost its velar component to become [β~ʋ~v]: there is some evidence of this in the 3rd century AD Appendix Probi.

  38. My browser doesn't make clear what your superscript symbol is meant to be.

    If it's a stress mark, then, yes that's what Wojciech indicated through bold in the 11:57 posting on 8 July.

    If it's a pitch mark, I'm not so sure. Yes, the pitch would have been high, but perhaps another symbol would better represent the movement.

  39. Yes, vp, I know I've made a mistake in that u is nasalized, v is w and that k is labio-palatalized. And I wasn't sure about the lenghts in oris.

    However, are you sure about Troiae? Isn't ae aj and oi should be oj?

  40. @Duchesse:

    I think that you're right that [ae] is a typographical error. Maybe one of us could fix it.

  41. Duchesse

    My system won't play the sound file in Wikipedia, but I can hear how my native-speaker wife pronounces Мария Юрьевна Шарапова.

    1. The initial consonant of her surname doesn't sound like a retroflex ʂ, and my wife considers it to be just like an English ʃ.

    2. The symbol used for the unstressed а vowel preceding stressed syllables in both Мария and Шарапова looks very much like the IPA symbol for the English vowel in RP pronunciations of LOT words. Many of us prefer ʌ to represent this allophone. However, it's so close in value to unstressed of allophones of а and о in other positions that the use of ə, as in John's OP, is arguably just as informative — especially as so many English-speakers fail to make a distinction between an unstressed STRUT vowel and a lettER vowel.

  42. vp, Duchesse

    I've fixed Wikipedia, I think. Perhaps you should check.

  43. But is it outdated wisdom that the poetic stress (ictus) is a different thing than the regular word-stress in classical Latin? The former being energy, the latter peak? So that both can occur and get along well in one and the same word... . Have you, guys, any new findings in this area?

    Re Russian 'sh' versus English 'sh': this-—alveolar, that—-dental, perhaps? This difference sets English apart from some continental languages,such as Polish (sz), Hungarian (s), German (sch) — all of these are dental, sound 'dark', 'hard', 'rough', whereas the English 'sh', being alveolar, sounds rather palatal-ish, 'soft', 'fine'...

  44. vp, what would you like me to fix? Your typo in ˈtroːjjae (second j and a should switch places and the final e is redundant)? I can't, but it doesn't matter, I think we clarified it. :)

    David, I think you should follow the official Wikipedia IPA for Russian. In my browser [mɐˈrʲijə ˈjurʲjɪvnə ʂɐˈrapəvə] still appears as the transcription. What exactly did you edit?

    If you read the article on Russian phonology, you will see that [ɐ] is an allophone of the phoneme a (and o) in pre-tonic and absolute word-initial positions. So I think it shouldn't be changed to the STRUT vowel. Wikipedia doesn't usually modify the IPA to suit the English speakers.

    I think ʂ is OK here. There are plenty of other baffling IPA choices, such as using ʃ for Italian sc or , which to me sound more like Polosh ɕ and Chinese .

    Given the number of Russian allophones, I'm not surprised you wonder about certain choices.

  45. Ad Duchesse de Guermantes

    I think ʂ is OK here. There are plenty of other baffling IPA choices, such as using ʃ for Italian sc or dʒ, which to me sound more like Polosh ɕ and Chinese dʑ."

    I think ʃ for Italian 'sc' (lasciare, fascia ecc.) is quite correct. The sound is quite different from the Polish ɕ (LiSIcki)and is to all ends and purposes identical with the Polish ʃ (spelt 'sz‘). Which, again, is NOT identical with, though similar to, and by Polish speakers often substituted for, the English 'sh'.

  46. Duchesse

    What exactly did you edit?

    'tro:jaj — It seemed to be what you and Wojciech were agreed on.

    I don't particularly object to the Wikipedia transcription of Russian but I don't see it as 'official'. I prefer the way John transcribed Sharapova.

  47. I just don't agree. Although ʃ, and in Italian are classified as postalveolar, to me they are vastly different from, say, Czech š, č and Serbo-Croatian . In Polish ɕ, ʑ and are palatal and to me, that's how Italian phonemes sound.

    Though, I have to say Forvo's Lisicki comes close, but it's not perfectly Italian. On the other hand, Lech Kaczyński is positively atrocious. The retroflexes don't sound retroflex enough and ɲ isn't really the same as Spanish ɲ, which, I guess, it should be?

  48. Official as in official for Wikipedia, not on the planetary level. But I think John is wrong and Wikipedia is right.

  49. Ad Duchesse de Guermantes

    Forvo Lisicki doesn't sound native at all. Maybe some dialectal pronunciation. As I said before, Italian 'sc' and Polish 'si' ARE, in very deed, quite different, whereas the former and Polish 'sz' (or ʃ, as it is usually transcribed) are quite close, though I am not now sure if really identical.

    The theory that Polish ʃ is retroflex is one of those oversmart theories whose chief merit is supposed to reside in having found weird properties in 'exotic' languages. IMHO, at least. As I said I am not sure it if its 100 p.c. identical with the Italian 'sc', but it is with the German 'sch' or the French 'ch'. Let's not look for complexities where there are ... well ... hardly any.

  50. I just don't agree. Perhaps you were taught to say ciao with a Czech č and sciare with a French ch, but that doesn't mean it sounds like that. Because it doesn't.

  51. Ad Duchesse de Guermantes

    Your Ducal Majesty,

    Of course, given that our ears are trained differently, we just can't hear the same similarities and differences, no matter how hard we try. I wasn't taught either, no. I was taught to pronounce 'ciao' with a Polish 'cz', and 'sciare' with the Polish 'sz', and this works fine because both sound (pairwise) are virtually indistinguishable. However, I hear (much as you don't) a world of difference between the Italian 'sc' and the Polish 'si' (ɕ). The latter is a rare sound in Europe; no other Slavic tongue has it, the closest to Poland is Danish ('sj' like in 'Varsjava', Warsaw), then maybe the Japanese 'sh' ('oshima', island), and maybe maybe the Chinese 'x' like in 'xiao' (small). In any event it is nowhere like the Italian 'sc'.

    That Polish 'sz' (sh) is retroflex I can't believe, maybe they built their theory on the basis of a sole native speaker who had a speech-defect. I hear very well the retroflexivity of the Chinese 'sh', but the Polish sound is not like that. Neither is it like the English 'sh', which to us sounds like intermediary between our 'sz' and our 'si' (ɕ).

  52. "no other Slavic tongue has it"

    Some accents in Montenegro and western Serbia coalesce /sj/ to /ɕ/.

    So imperative form of the verb 'to sit' is /'sedi/ in ekavian varieties, /'sjedi/ in most ijekavian varieties, and /'ɕedi/ in others.

    As regards the Polish 'sz', it is to my ears the same as the Serbian sound, in which I definitely detect a degree of retroflexness. I would call the English sound [ʃ], and the Serbian and Polish sound halfway between that and the properly retroflex [ʂ], found in Chinese and some accents of northern Serbia.
    Seeing as how neither Polish nor Serbian have a ʃ - ʂ opposition, either symbol is fine I suppose.

  53. Ad gassalascajape

    thank you for this interesting piece of information on the MN and WS dialects.

    Also some accents in German have the 'si' (ɕ) sound, like in 'ich' or 'Chemie'. Non-accepted, though, in literary German, scoffed at in the theatre and TV. Alternates with 'sch' in some other accents, so that there are speakers of German for whom 'Kirche' (church) and 'Kirsche' (cherry) are perfectly homonophonous.

    Personally, although I speak a near-native German, I can't help, being irremediably, irredeemably and irreparably Polish, substituting the Polish 'si' for the German 'ich-Laut', for instance in 'ich' or 'Kirche' even though I know better.

    Re retroflexive and stuff---may be that my ears simply ain't fine enough---as distinct from Her Ducal Highness'. Yet I do hear the retroflexiveness for instance in the Chinese 'shi ' (ten, dragon, stone). But Wikipedia says it's laminally retroflexive in Polish, and if Wikipedia says something, it must needs be true...

    I like, too, your proposal concerning ʃ - ʂ in Polish/Serbian or whatever else was left of the erstwhile Serbo-Croatian... .

  54. Duchesse

    But I think John is wrong and Wikipedia is right.

    'Wrong' is not an appropriate word here.

    John was writing to English speakers (native and fluent non-native) on the pronunciations made by (native) English-speaking broadcasters. Wikipedia is a total irrelevance.

    The broad-ish transcription ʃəˈrapəvə gives easily enough information to make the point that ʃəˈræpəvə might be a more appropriate anglicisation than ʃærəˈpəʊvə or ˌʃɑrəˈpoʊvə.

  55. David,

    so, you refuse to bow to the not-to-be-questioned authority of WP, the modern Church-Father of us all?

  56. Wojciech

    When I know they're rubbish, I try to put them straight. Of course the operative word is 'know'. I wouldn't dream of correcting their phonetics, but I've corrected some idiocies on the subjects of Blues and the apostrophe.

  57. Steve

    Part of the problem is that WP is committed not to truth or accuracy or informativeness but to the current state of received opinion, communis opinio doctorum, self-appointedorum doctorum in many cases... . Of course, truth and all is somehow implied or rather presupposed by this, but yet... In that sense, it is rather than a Council (or rather like a local synode) than like a Church Father.

    Sometimes you can do useful things on WP, eg I once authored a paragraph on Polish female forms of surnames (our -ova', like) --- a topic that seldom fails to baffle a non-Slavic native speaker --- for the German WP. Besides, Discussions on various WP Entries can be extremely entertaining.

  58. This comment has been removed by the author.

  59. Initial /kv/ for an English speaker doesn't really seem that difficult provided that you are allowed to realise it as [kf], but trickier if it has to be [kv].

    Esperanto of course has initial "kv" in many words. Fortunately initial "kf" doesn't exist, but the usual claim about Esperanto having phonemic spelling, if true, would tend to imply that you have to pronounce initial "kv" in a way which would contrast with a hypothetical initial "kf", adding needless difficulty for many speakers.

  60. Having initial kv- in the first place causes needless difficulty for many speakers. The poor Japanese stuck with kɯb-, for a start. They must all find it very trying, seeing how many qu sequences in French and other languages are have been adopted with k instead of kv.


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