Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

More about things to read in French

June 12, 2019
alain-fournier

Henri-Alban Fournier

So, to continue the story, our client expressed a preference for doomed romance and a decided aversion for the passé simple and suspiciously un-French surnames (so much for Houellebecq!) That led to Modiano and Alain-Fournier.

The latter did not entirely escape censure on Facebook:

I really don’t like Le grand Meaulnes! Hated teaching it! But as ever that says more about me than the book. Should have thought of Le silence de la mer (Vercors) for passé simple if I remember correctly.

I tried re-reading Meaulnes a few years ago and gave up at page 192, oppressed by the thought of another 123 pages of the same…stuff…At least Alain-Fournier is conceptually simpler than Modiano (especially) or Vercors, since he bashes you repeatedly over the head with what he wants to say while they expect you to understand it from what they leave out…

Actually the first 3 paragraphs are not at all bad and helpfully illustrate the use of various tenses in the indicative:

Il arriva chez nous un dimanche de novembre 189…

Je continue à dire “chez nous”, bien que la maison ne nous appartienne plus. Nous avons quitté le pays depuis bientôt quinze ans et nous n’y reviendrons certainement jamais.

Nous habitions les bâtiments du Cour Supérieur de Sainte-Agathe. Mon père, que j’appelais M. Seurel, comme les autres élèves, y dirigeait à la fois le Cours supérieur, où l’on préparait le brevet d’instituteur, et le Cours moyen. Ma mère faisait la petite classe.

You’d almost think it had been written to demonstrate use of tenses!!

Meanwhile, there will be a few Modiano-related events at the Institut français in September…

modiano

Patrick Modiano

 

Recommendations for things to read in French

June 9, 2019
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In order of size…that’s the way

Our friend Kseniya is now feeling bored living in Israel.  I suggested that she ought to read some French literature in the original, which would show she was a person of distinction and refinement who had better things to do with her time than look for a job.

So I assembled the items above from my bookshelves, guided by the principles of contemporaneity and concision, with some hope of impossible romance.  (Actually only Le Grand Meaulnes fits that particular bill).

Some discussion on Facebook yielded in addition:

Maupassant, Boule de suif. Or other short stories

But that’s really French literature as she is known in Russia and BdeS relates to a specific juncture of the Franco-Prussian war.  Also Turgenev, Chekhov and Bunin all did the same kind of thing with much greater subtlety and lightness of touch, or better as we simple souls put it.   But on the other hand ‘Misti’ has a cat in it of course and embodies animal cruelty to humans rather than the reverse, which tends to be the case in Maupassant.

I have recently read a few things by Jean-Christophe Rufin with mixed enthusiasm. But the one I’d really recommend, Rouge Brésil, is definitely long!

608 pages, and it looks like the kind of thing that Robert Nye used to turn out by the yard in the 1970s…

How about Beauvoir Le sang des autres?

310 pages!

And from Twitter:

Gaël Faye, Petit Pays (recent winner of the Goncourt des lycéens)

I think our client, as a right-thinking Russian girl, is interested in Metropolitan France, and in particular Paris, and specifically the few particular streets in Paris that all right-thinking Russians dream of.

JMG Le Clézio, L’Africain (Nobel Laureate)

Actually this looks interesting, but it still takes place in Africa (see on Gaël Faye above).

Further suggestions will be more than welcome!

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Ordered by date this time

 

How to make best use of Conversation Exchange?

April 3, 2019

language-exchange

We have been asked give some advice on the use of Conversation Exchange, based on something like 4 years’ experience of Russian-English exchange with 10 or so partners, both in  person and over the Internet.

Clarify objectives

To start off, you should be clear from the beginning what you were looking to get out of the exchange and what exactly you could offer in return.

Control discomfort

It is useful to have defined topics of conversation to avoid either having the same conversation time after time or getting into details of one’s life, thoughts and feelings that one would not necessarily want to share with a stranger or chance acquaintance.  The aim is really to keep a level of linguistic discomfort that helps you to learn things that might not be entirely straightforward.  One way of doing this is to set a target of I am going to learn (say) five new things during this conversation–if you meet your target, it really doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make or how stupid you feel.

Exchange between equals

I think you need either a reasonable level of the target language (I think that the site used to say that you needed Upper Intermediate for conversation to be any good–compare the definitions) or a degree of linguistic sophistication so as to make use of material you didn’t necessarily understand immediately.

It is probably also a good idea to explicitly agree on how long the session is going to last and to split the time so that half of it is spent in language A and half in language B.  There is always a tendency to drift into chatting in the language with the stronger learner (let’s say it’s language A), which of course minimises overall effort but then not speaking to foreigners at all reduces it still further.  So you should have discussion of points in language B and correction of mistakes in language B in language B, to avoid getting into language A as a lingua franca.

There is a tendency for some people to want their conversation partners to teach them language X, which is generally not realistic unless the partner is a language teacher by trade–and if they are, then they ought to be paid for their work.

Politeness and safety

Following the general rules for meeting people on sites of various kinds, you should avoid criticising other people you have met there (because the person you are talking to will fear you criticising them to others) and certainly give it up immediately if what is going on makes you feel uncomfortable at a personal level.  More on this here.

Time matters

There are also a number of practical points, which may apply especially to sessions of Internet contact.  It’s best to have a set time each week, because then you’re subconsciously preparing yourself for it.  It’s very difficult to arrange things on the fly with someone who is essentially a stranger–you don’t know what constraints they are operating under or what their conventions are regarding punctuality.  If you’re dealing with somebody from  another cultural background, while it may be clear to you that at five o’clock means some convenient time before 5:30–how are they meant to know that?

Rachel’s Hebrew Class 2018-19

March 30, 2019
joseph

Joseph and Mrs Potiphar, so it seems

Rachel Montagu is again running an Advanced Biblical Hebrew course as detailed below.

These classes work in the time-honoured fashion: each student in turn reads a verse aloud and then translates it, with input from the teacher as necessary. She also provides some background and interpretation from traditional Jewish teaching.

The emphasis is certainly on understanding the text rather than grammar as such. In my experience, there have been perhaps an average of seven or so students coming to lessons. The level things are taken at tends to depend on who the students are, while the fee per term might be something around £110-£130, depending on circumstances.  At about £ 10 per 2-hour session this certainly looks like good value!

In principle, students should have covered the material in the First Hebrew Primer from Eks before starting this class. If you know the qal conjugation (perfect and imperfect) pretty well for verbs with three strong roots (the ‘regular’ ones if you like) and have some idea about hiphil and niphal and verbs with weak roots, that will probably do.

If you want to know more, you can email Rachel.  I’ve also shared just about everything I know about studying Biblical Hebrew with the world here.

Wednesdays 6.30-8.30 p.m., at Liberal Judaism, 21 Maple Street, London, W1T 4BE

Autumn Term

 Abraham’s journeys (and Hagar’s)

26 September             Gen. 11:26-32, 12:1-20

3rd October                 Gen.13:1-18, 14:1-7

10th October                Gen. 14:8-24, 16:1-8

17th October                Gen. 16:9-16, 17:1-2, 18:16-33

[24rd October   half term]

31st October                Gen.20:1-18, 21:1-7

7th November             Gen. 21:8-34

14th November             Gen. 22:1-19, 23:1-3, 17-20

Jonah, the Unforgiving Prophet

21st November            Jonah 1:1-16, 2:1-10

28th November            Jonah 3:1-10, 4:1-10

Nahum and Obadiah, Servants of God

5th  December             Nahum 2:6-14, 3:1-14

12th  December           Nahum 3:14-19, Obadiah

Spring Term

 All is Futile (Except The Soul….)

14th January                (Obadiah 1:3-21) Ecclesiastes 1:1-6

21th January                Ecclesiastes 1:7-2:14

28th  January               Eccl. 2:15-3:13

4th February                Eccl. 3:14-4:17

11th  February             Eccl. 5:1-19, 6:1-6

[18th February – half term]

25th February              Eccl. 6:7-7:22

4th March                     Eccl. 7:23-8:17

[11th March – extra break week]

18th March                   Eccl. 9:1-18, 10:1-7

25th March                   Eccl. 10:8-11:10

Brothers in Genesis – In The End, Things Improve

1st April                       (Eccl. 12:1-15) Genesis 37:1-10

8th April                        Genesis 37:11-36

 Summer Term

29th April                      Genesis 39:1-23

[6th May           no class – Spring Bank Holiday]

13th  May                     Genesis 40:1-23

20th  May                     Genesis 41:1-24

[27th May         no class – Half term]

3rd June                       Genesis 41:25-57

[10th  June       no class – 2nd day Shavuot]

17th  June                    Genesis 42:1-38

24th June                     Genesis 43:1-34

1st  July                       Genesis 44:1-34

8th July                         Genesis 45:1-28

15th July                      Genesis 47:1-31

 

The NYT Dialect Quiz and Me

February 18, 2019
nytmap

reaction to First version

My first reaction to this was The NY Times dialect quiz  suggests I come from Middlesbrough or Carlisle–well I’ve been stuck at Carlisle station a few times…

And furthermore it’s a question of what age you acquire the characteristics of your speech, so for me you’ve got Teesside (ages 8-18 say) and possibly the Isle of Man (5-8 perhaps) but nothing for Sarf London (2-3 ish and 29-58).

But in summary–for my case–since even the existence of Teesside is only weakly acknowledged in Yorkshire and County Durham and hardly at all further afield, I find this seriously impressive!

nytmap2

Version 2

Of course, it also helps if you read what it says, which is The map shows places where answers most closely match your own, based on more than…respondents who said they were from Ireland or Britain.

My inititial view was that you acquire your accent/pronunciation from the other children you go to school with, but I don’t know whether that applies quite so definitively to vocabulary.  

The rubric, however, gives a more nuanced account:

The way that people speak — the particular words they use and how they sound — is deeply tied to their sense of identity. And it’s not just about geography. Education, gender, age, ethnicity and other social variables influence speech patterns, too.

These dialect markers are so ingrained into people’s sense of self that they tend to persist well after they move away from home. “Identity is what underlies most people’s retention of at least some of their local features,” said Clive Upton, professor emeritus of English language at the University of Leeds, “because ultimately what we say is who we are.”

nytmap3

Version 3

And you can always try again–I don’t think it shows you exactly the same 25 questions each time and you can change your mind about doubtful cases. I ended up with an overall conclusion of the North in general, the North-East in particular and specifically Teesside.

Conversation Exchange, use and abuse

November 21, 2018
celangspic

FIGURE 1:  COMPARATIVE M/F INDICATORS BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

Once my Conversation Exchange partner Kseniya (from the provincial town of X, well-known in 19th century literature) and I discussed the proper use of that resource.  I had some opinions as set out here.

Kseniya felt that these points were of frightening irrelevance. She thought that it was very difficult to find an English speaker who wanted to practise Russian and many of those you did find were in fact just looking for a woman.

I said that there were plenty of sites for that and these days you could surely speak to your intended via Skype on one of those. She had asked one of her undesired contacts about this and he had said that all the women there were crazy. I also said that she could look for female conversation partners, but they were apparently likely to want to talk about clothes and cosmetics.

She asked me why such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.  I said that since I wasn’t one of them I didn’t really know.

Anyway, the aim of the present study is to see whether there is evidence of men looking to use CE specifically to make contact with women from Russia/Ukraine (that is, Russian speakers) rather than to enhance their language skills.

The hypotheses to be tested as indicators of this behaviour were:
i) There is an excess of M over F for ENG->RUS;
ii) This surplus is more marked below Upper Intermediate;
iii) This excess is greater for ENG->RUS than for comparator languages.

Here by ENG->RUS and so on we mean English speakers seeking to exchange with Russian speakers.  From the data at https://wp.me/pBfTB-28k we take Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Japanese as comparators, because they seem to be languages of similar importance and popularity to Russian among English speakers and also to avoid excessive labour in counting instances.

We give some results below.  (Data was collected on 18/19 November 2018.)

TABLE 1:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR RUSSIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-RUS via chat M F
Beginner 1205 219
Elementary 276 52
Pre-intermediate 160 41
Intermediate 153 35
Upper intermediate 65 13
Advanced 40 15
Proficient 11 2
TOTAL 1910 377

A comparison of males and females as in Table 1 above certainly showed an excess of males, which is strange in view of the belief that the vast majority of students of modern languages in English-speaking countries are female.  However, this anomalous pattern was repeated for the other languages considered, for instance Italian as in Table 2 below:

TABLE 2:  NUMBERS OF CE USERS LOOKING TO EXCHANGE ENGLISH FOR ITALIAN BY SEX AND LEVEL

ENG-ITA via chat M F
Beginner 675 570
Elementary 332 249
Pre-intermediate 265 154
Intermediate 264 173
Upper intermediate 125 66
Advanced 82 44
Proficient 26 9
TOTAL 1769 1265

Now then, Italian is really only spoken in Italy and Switzerland, so it is hard to see the excess men here all looking for an exploitative relationship with a woman from a poor country.

We can also see from the data above that a great many of the users of CE do not claim to be at a level to make use of it effectively.  But we can compare the difference in the percentage of M and F declaring themselves to be below Upper Intermediate level.  For instance, with regard to those seeking Russian speakers (Table 1), 93.93 % of men assign themselves to a level below UI as opposed to 92.04% of women, a difference of +1.88%, indicating that the men report themselves as less linguistically advanced than the women.  Similarly, the ratio of M to F here is 5.07.

Table 3 below shows these indicators for English speakers seeking the languages indicated:

TABLE 3:  COMPARATIVE INDICATORS OF M/F RATIO AND PERCENT <UI BY LANGUAGE SOUGHT

RATIO PCDIFF
ITA 1.40 -3.76
POR 2.87 -4.71
RUS 5.07 1.88
TUR 2.12 -6.81
JAP 2.23 -2.03

These results are illustrated in Figure 1 above.  We see that by comparison with the other languages considered, those seeking Russian are marked by a large number of men relative to women and a large number of these men assigning themselves to lower levels of proficiency.

To summarise:  this study provides support to the hypothesis that such men were looking for women particularly from Russia or Ukraine.

Perm-36 at Pushkin House

October 4, 2018

This film looks very interesting, especially if you have visited the site as it used to be.  Aleksey Kamenskikh says:

It’s a brilliant film! Its author is my friend Sergei Kachkin.  The film itself is not about “politics at present”, it’s theme is “past perfect” of the museum: in 2013-14 Perm-36 was invaded by a pro-governmental group, its conception was radically modified. 

Sergei himself adds:  well, everything is politics and yes, Aleksey is right, my film is not about politics, let’s call it this way – about a human inviroment in nowadays Russia.

I will certainly be going along to this.  Event details are here.

Update:  there will also be a screening at QMUL the following day.  It seems as though you can also stream it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/video/detail/Perm-36-Reflexion/B07CR8KD2R 

Красный цвет, “червонность”, и “Смерть Сталина”

September 26, 2018

 

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Данный киноплакат из Любляны (в июне) интересен тем, что:

а) в Словении также издеваются над кириллицей;

б) русский и словенский отличаются от всеж других славянских языков тем, что у них красный цвет никак не червонный.

Tu so barve, po slovensko, angleško in v Sanskrtu. Dodal pa sem še sanskrtske glasoslovne vzporednice (fonetične paralele) z angleškim prevodom: 
Slovensko English Sanskrit // English – Sanskrit
Barva – color varna // to digest – bharv
Bela – white – balakša // power, the sun – bala
Rumena -yellow – hariman // yellow – hariman
Oranžna – orange – naranga varna // orange tree – naranga
Rdeča red – rakta, lohita // growth – rddhi 
Violična (lila) – violet – nila lohita // blue – nila
Modra (plava) blue – nila // sea (swim)-samudra (plava)
Zelena – green -samula // fluid, water – jala
Rjava – brown – kadru // honesty, nobility -aryava 
Siva – grey -dhumra // bright – šveta 
Črna – – black -kršna // powder – čurna

Интересно, спасибо. Думаю, что red/rdeča восходят к праиндоевропейскому корню *h₁rewdʰ-, означающему то же. По каким причнинам русские и словенцы отказались от червей (и от братских славян) в этой связи мне остается неизвестно.

Česky by to šlo napsat jako čer(ven)ná komedie. Černa = black, červená = red. Opravdový český titul je ale “Ztratili jsme Stalin” (We’ve Lost Stalin) se sloganem “Komedie, při které uvidíte rudě” (A comedy which will make you see red).

Смотрел фильм здесь в Лондоне, никак не фигурировал красный цвет. Кажется, что интерес к этой теме возник впервые в Восточной Европе. Не знаю, насколько такая любовь к красному цвету харатерна для всех славян (оставляя в стороне русских).

The Burial at Thebes, CSSD 25 July

July 26, 2018

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burial1

Picture acquired from Twitter

A large audience of thin and good-looking young people followed with interest this version of Antigone, which struck me as a mainstream translation without added Heaney.  The theatre was also quite Greek, with its curved and raked rows of seats and a bare playing space.  The production alluded to Greece at the time of the War of Independence and some effective choruses were sung in a language that was not Attic or Greek or Irish.  The production concept worked rather well and effectively captured the necessary scale of the public and the communal. Our Antigone was probably mad, certainly dangerous to know and definitely her father’s daughter.  I was not sure that Heaney’s version captured the contrast between her language and that of Creon, though he did get some dead monsters of metaphors.

Our Antigone was certainly vehement, but especially at the beginning I had difficulty following her words.  The same kind of thing applied to Ismene, and it meant that Antigone tended to come off worse in her confrontations with Creon.  Creon and Eurydice were the performers who actually dominated the stage.  The Messenger for some reason had a Scottish accent that sometimes turned Irish, especially for constructions like I was after…The production was not entirely in control of time–the narrated deaths of Antigone and Haemon passed by rather quickly, then Eurydice’s death became one more thing after another.

All in all, a production that recognised the issues in staging Greek tragedy and dealt with them thoughtfully, though it did not always succeed in resolving them.

 

An interesting shop sign in Ljubljana

June 5, 2018

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At first sight, this sign has two points of interest.  It turns out that trg pronounced ˈtə́rk is just square, like torv in Danish say or torg [trade] in Russian–trade happens in a square.

It does seem at first glance that GERM is an unfortunate woman’s surname though… 

On further investigation, we find that Germ is a Slovenian surname, but the less-worrying echt-Slovene form is Grm (grm being Slovene for bush), which may have arisen from somebody localising the German surname Busch: https://www.dnevnik.si/1042412578

Gosh, how exciting!

On a less happy note, the mention of Danish led a friend to point out that Sick is a surname there.  A site devoted to German surnames says that was originally the same kind of thing as Siggi, a nickname derived from the root Sieg/victory: http://www.deutsche-nachnamen.de/index.php/herkunft-a-z and it’s common in Schleswig-Holstein, which is next to DK.