Friday, January 29, 2016

What did Darwin think about Brazilians?

For years I've wanted to read Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary, which he started writing in 1836 when he set sail aboard a homonymous expedition ship to South America. Now I've finally accomplished my undertaking. It encapsules a fascinating perspective on the country in the 19th century, as Darwin adventurously muddled through seemingly uncharted paths throughout the countryside, especially in the outskirts of Rio.

What I transcribe hereunder are the most striking lines he wrote on the country, the people and the culture.

His journey in Brazil started in the Northeast, in the State of Bahia, more specifically in its capital city, Salvador. At first, he struggled with the language:

March 15th Bahia

In the evening I went to the Hotel d Universe, where by the help of the three words "comer" to eat, "cama" a bed & "pagar" my host & myself contrived to agree very well.

Upon arriving in Rio, some twenty days later, he was first introduced to the distinguished Brazilian bureaucracy:

April 6th Rio de Janeiro
The day has been frittered away in obtaining the passports for my expedition into the interior. — It is never very pleasant to submit to the insolence of men in office; but to the Brazilians who are as contemptible in their minds as their persons are miserable it is nearly intolerable.

While in the countryside of Southeastern Brazil, Darwin and his companions stop by an "inn". The following fragment fairly depicts the apparent and superficial generosity which is frequently attributed to Brazilians: 

April 9th
On first arrival we unsaddle our horses & give them their Indian corn. — Then with a low bow ask the Signor to do us the favor to give us something to eat. — "Anything you choose Sir" is his answer. — For the few first times vainly I thanked providence for guiding us to so good a man. — The conversation procceeding, the case usually became deplorable: "Any fish can you do us the favor of giving?". — "Oh no Sir." "Any soup." "No Sir." Any bread. "Oh no Sir." — Any dried meat. "Oh no Sir. — If we were lucky, by waiting 2 hours we obtained fowls rice & farinha. — It not unfrequently happens that the guest is obliged with stones to kill with stones the poultry, for his own dinner.

He then proceeds to describe the "inn" and its landlords:

April 9th
When really exhausted with fatigue & hunger, we timorously hinted we should be glad of our meal. — The pompous, &, though true, most unsatisfactory answer was given, "it will be ready when it is ready". — If we had dared to remonstrate any further, we should have been told to proceed on our journey as being too impertinent. — Their charges are, however, exceedingly moderate, but they will, if they are able, cheat. — The hosts are most ungracious & disagreeable in their manners. — their houses & their persons are often filthily dirty. — the want of the common accomodation of forks, knives, spoons is even common. I am quite sure no cottage, no hut in England could be found in a state so utterly destitute of what we considered comforts.

Four days later, Darwin arrives at a sumptuous farm in a village called Macaé, where he was introduced to typical Brazilian gluttony:

April 13th Macaé
The woods are so full of game, that they had hunted & killed a deer on each of the three days previous to our arrival. — This profusion of food shows itself at the dinners, when if the tables do not groan, the guests surely do. — Each person is expected to eat of every dish; one day having, as I thought, nicely calculated so that nothing should go away untasted, to my utter dismay a roast turkey & a pig appeared in all their substantial reality. 

Of course it wouldn't take long for Darwin to realize the utter despicable state of Brazilian roads:

April 22nd
It continued to rain & we started for our sleeping place, Fregueria de Tabarai. — This interior road is the best I have seen, but it is much inferior to the worst turnpike road. — I do not think a gig could travel on it. — Yet this is one of the principal passes in the Brazils. (…) We did not pass over one stone bridge. they Where any exist, they are made of logs of wood. They were sometimes in so bad a state that we were obliged to leave the road to avoid them. — The distances are inaccurately known, no two people at all agreeing in their accounts. — Instead of milestones, the roadside is often marked by crosses, to signify where human blood has been spilled.

Here is a clear example of how the mixed feeling of being immersed in such social chaos amidst so much natural beauty works on the scientist's mind:

May 9th Rio
Many of the views were exceedingly beautiful; yet in tropical scenery, the entire newness, & therefore absence of all associations, which in my own case (& I believe in others) are unconsciously much more frequent than I ever thought, requires the mind to be wrought to a high pitch, & then assuredly no delight can be greater; otherwise your reason tells you it is beautiful but the feelings do not correspond. — I often ask myself why can I not calmly enjoy this; I might answer myself by also asking, what is there that can bring the delightful ideas of rural quiet & retirement, what that can call back the recollection of childhood & times past, where all that was unpleasant is forgotten; untill ideas, in their effects similar to them, are raised, in vain may we look amidst the glories of this almost new world for quiet contemplation.

And while 20ºC may feel like summer in England, Darwin interestingly realizes that

May 18th, 19th
It is very amusing to hear people complaining of the extreme cold.

Darwin elegantly inveigles his readers in many different passages by depicting vivid sceneries of Rio's natural landscape not many people on Earth have the privilege to behold. Here are two of such passages:

May 25th
Walked to the city to procure some things which I wanted, then joined Earl & Derbyshire & we proceeded together to ascend the Caucovado. — The path for the few first miles is the Aqueduct; the rising water rises at the base of the hill & is conducted along a sloping ridge to the city. — At every corner alternate & most beautiful views were presented to us. — At length we commenced ascending the steep sides, which are universally to the very summit clothed by a thick forest. — The water-courses were ornamented by that most elegant of all vegetable forms, the tree fern. — they were not of a large size, but in the vividness of the green lightness of the foliage, & in the beautiful curve of head, they were most classically admirable. We soon gained the peak & beheld that view, which perhaps excepting those in Europe, is the most celebrated in the world. — If we rank scenery according to the astonishment it produces, this [1 word deleted] most assuredly could not be exceede occupies the highest place, but if, as is more true, according to the picturesque effect, it falls far short of many in this neighbourhead.

June 1st
Took a long ride, in order to geologize some of the surrounding hills. — After passing for some time through lanes shaded by hedges of Mimosas, I turned off into a track into the forest. — The woods even at this short distance from the city are as quiet & unfrequented as if a civilized man had never entered them. — The path [2 words deleted] wound up the hill: at the height of 5 or 600 feet I enjoyed one of those splendid views, which may be met with on every side of Rio. — At this elevation the landscape has attained its most brilliant tint. — I do not know what epithet such scenery deserves: beautiful is much too tame; every form, every colour is such a complete exaggeration of what one has ever beheld before. — If it may be so compared, it is like one of the gayest scenes in the Opera House or Theatre.

Charles Darwin also hypothesizes that the climate may indeed have a parcel of guilt in the underdevelopment of the Brazils. Anyone who has experienced summer in the Tropics would supposedly be able to attest to that:

May 27th Botanic Garden
The Tropics appear the natural birthplace of the human race; but the mind, like many of its fruits seems in a foreign clime to reach its greatest perfection.

One of the most striking aspects of the Brazilian society Darwin wrote about was slavery, today aka social inequality:

May 30th
Amongst other things which the anti-abolitionists say, it is asserted that the freed slave would not work. I repeatedly hear of run-away ones having the boldness of working for wages in the neighbourhead of their masters. If they will thus work when there is danger, surely they likewise would when that was removed.

And he goes on to describe how the suburbs differ from the more civilized areas downtown:

June 7th
Rode with Mr Bolger to the chapel of Nossa Senhora de Penha; this being one of the sights of the country. — Our road lay through the North & back part of the city, which covers a much greater space than I had imagined. The suburbs are very filthy & are surrounded by marshes covered with the Mangrove; the tide occasionally flows into them, & is sufficient to cause a continual putrefaction of vegetable & animal matter, which is rendered very perceptible to the nose. — The land surrounding the Bay is generally thus situated for instance Macucu & in consequence unhealthy.

The roots of social inequality always lie in an unfair distribution of wealth. In societies where huge gaps exist between rich and poor, there is nothing to expect other than the rise of crime and corruption:

July 3rd
On landing, found the Palace Square crowded with people round the house of two money changers who were murdered yesterday evening in a more atrocious manner than usual. — It is quite fearful to hear what enormous crimes are daily committed & go unpunished. — If a slave murders his master, after being confined for some-time he then becomes a government one. — However great the charge may be against a rich man; he is certain in a short time to be free. — Everybody can here be bribed. — A man may become a sailor or a physician or any profession, if he can afford to pay sufficiently. — It has been gravely asserted by Brazilians that the only fault they found with the English laws was that they could not perceive rich respectable people had any advantage over the miserable & the poor.

At last, Darwin rounds up his experiences in Brazil and summarizes the Brazilian psyche and the absurdity of slavery. He even tries his hand at prognosing the effects of slavery in the Brazilian social distribution.

The Brazilians, as far as I am able to judge, possess but a small share of those qualities which give dignity to mankind. Ignorant, cowardly, & indolent in the extreme; hospitable & good natured as long as it gives them no trouble; temperate, revengeful, but not quarrelsome; contented with themselves & their customs, they answer all remarks by asking "why cannot we do as our grandfathers before us did". — Their very appearance bespeaks their little elevation of character. — figures short, they soon become corpulent; and their faces possessing little expression, appear sunk between the shoulders.

The state of the enormous slave population must interest everyone who enters the Brazils. — Passing along the streets it is curious to observe the numbers of tribes which may be known by the different ornaments cut in the skin & the various expressions. — From this results the safety of the country. The slaves must communicate amongst themselves in Portugeese & are not in consequence united. — I cannot help believing they will ultimately be the rulers. I judge of it from their numbers, from their fine athletic figures, (especially contrasted with the Brazilians) proving they are in a congenial climate, & from clearly seeing their intellects have been much underrated. — they are the efficient workmen in all the necessary trades. — If the free blacks increase in numbers (as they must) & become discontented at not being equal to white men, the epoch of the general liberation would not be far distant.

I believe the slaves are happier than what they themselves expected to be or than people in England think they are. — I am afraid however there are many terrible exceptions. — The leading feature in their character appears to be wonderful spirits & cheerfulness, good nature & a "stout heart" mingled with a good deal of obstinacy. — I hope the day will come when they will assert their own rights & forget to avenge these wrongs. —

Over 180 years have passed since Darwin came ashore in Brazil. What strikes me as frustratingly familiar is that his depictions are still true. Granted, slavery was abolished in 1888, some 50 years after he left, but the slaves of yester centuries are the favelados of today, the exploitation, the violence and the subduing are unfortunately almost the same. 

If you are a Brazilian reading this, take a moment to think about how little things have changed since Charles Darwin explored these lands. If you are a foreigner reading this, you may compare your own experience in Brazil to what the English naturalist has described in his diary. In case you've never been to Brazil before, but at some point intend to travel there, you may start building up an unfortunately accurate, but at the same time quite interesting picture of this unfair, yet fascinating country.

*All passages ipsis litteris
Beagle Diary Source:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Αγαπάς με;

Αυτό είναι ένα ενδιαφέρον παράδειγμα σχετικά με το θέμα αγάπη και με την ελληνική γλώσσα. Εγώ πάντα έδειχνα αυτό το παράδειγμα στους φοιτητές μου στο πανεπιστήμιο στο Ρίο, όταν δίδασκα γλωσσολογία εκεί.

Στα αρχαία ελληνικά και στη γλώσσα της Καινής Διαθήκης, υπήρχαν τουλάχιστον τρείς λέξεις που εξέφραζαν την έννοια της αγάπης, δηλαδή τρία διαφορετικά είδη αγάπης - άγαπη (η θεσπέσια αγάπη, η τέλεια αγάπη), έρως (η σαρκική αγάπη) και φίλος (η αδελφική αγάπη), και καθεμία απ’ αυτές τις λέξεις είχε ένα καθένα της ρήμα. Αυτή η διαφορά χάθηκε στις σύγχρονες δυτικές γλώσσες, συμπεριλαμβανομένου των ελληνικών.

Αυτό το απόσπασμα του κατά Ιοάννη Ευανγγελίου επεξηγεί καλά την δισκολία να το μεταφράσουμε τον πλούτο σημασίων της αρχαίας ελληνικής στις ευρωπαϊκές γλώσσες.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

15Als sie nun gegessen haben, sagt Jesus zu Simon Petrus: Simon, Sohn des Johannes, liebst du mich mehr, als diese mich lieben? Er sagt zu ihm: Ja, Herr, du weisst, dass ich dich lieb habe. Er sagt zu ihm: Weide meine Lämmer!
16Und er sagt ein zweites Mal zu ihm: Simon, Sohn des Johannes, liebst du mich? Der sagt zu ihm: Ja, Herr, du weisst, dass ich dich lieb habe. Er sagt zu ihm: Hüte meine Schafe!
17Er sagt zum dritten Mal zu ihm: Simon, Sohn des Johannes, hast du mich lieb? Petrus wurde traurig, weil er zum dritten Mal zu ihm sagte: Hast du mich lieb?, und er sagt zu ihm: Herr, du weisst alles, du siehst doch, dass ich dich lieb habe. Jesus sagt zu ihm: Weide meine Schafe!

15. Αφού λοιπόν εγευμάτισαν, λέγει προς τον Σίμωνα Πέτρον ο Ιησούς· Σίμων Ιωνά, αγαπάς με περισσότερον τούτων; Λέγει προς αυτόν· Ναι, Κύριε, συ εξεύρεις ότι σε αγαπώ. Λέγει προς αυτόν· Βόσκε τα αρνία μου.
16. Λέγει προς αυτόν πάλιν δευτέραν φοράν· Σίμων Ιωνά, αγαπάς με; Λέγει προς αυτόν· Ναι, Κύριε, συ εξεύρεις ότι σε αγαπώ. Λέγει προς αυτόν· Ποίμαινε τα πρόβατά μου.
17. Λέγει προς αυτόν την τρίτην φοράν· Σίμων Ιωνά, αγαπάς με; Ελυπήθη ο Πέτρος ότι είπε προς αυτόν την τρίτην φοράν· Αγαπάς με; και είπε προς αυτόν· Κύριε, συ εξεύρεις τα πάντα, συ γνωρίζεις ότι σε αγαπώ. Λέγει προς αυτόν ο Ιησούς· Βόσκε τα πρόβατά μου.

15 Ὅτε οὖν ἠρίστησαν, λέγει τῷ Σίμωνι Πέτρῳ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με πλέον τούτων; λέγει αὐτῷ· Ναί, Κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ· Βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου. 16 λέγει αὐτῷ πάλιν δεύτερον· Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, ἀγαπᾷς με; λέγει αὐτῷ· Ναί, Κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ· Ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου. 17 λέγει αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον· Σίμων Ἰωνᾶ, φιλεῖς με; ἐλυπήθη ὁ Πέτρος ὅτι εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον, φιλεῖς με, καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Κύριε, σὺ πάντα οἶδας, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου.

Στο πρωτότυπο στην Κοινή γλώσσα, ο Ιησούς ρωτάει τον Πέτρο αν το αγαπάει με το τέλειο τύπο αγάπης, και ο Πέτρος του απαντάει με το ρήμα “φιλώ σε”, όπως ένας φίλος μου. Ο Ιησούς γίνεται απογοητευμένος με την απάντηση και ίσως γι’αυτό τον ξαναρωτάει αν τον αγαπάει. Ο Πέτρος συνεχίζει να χρησιμοποιεί την έκφραση “φιλώ σε”. Αναμφισβήτητα απογοητευμένος, ο Ιησούς τον ξαναρωτάει για την τρίτη φορά, αλλά τώρα με το ρήμα “φιλώ”. Μπορεί να θέλει να εννοήσει “Αλήθεια είναι πως δεν μ’αγαπάς με την τέλεια αγάπη, μόνο μ’αγαπάς όπως φίλος;” Και ο Πέτρος επιμένει να χρησιμοποιεί το ρήμα “φιλώ”.

Ούτε από τη μετάφραση στα αγγλικά ούτε στα γερμανικά γίνεται ξεκάθαρη αυτή η διαφορά, δηλαδή, ο λόγος για τον οποίο ο Ιησούς έχει κάνει τρείς φορές την ίδια ερώτηση. Αλλά και στη μετάφραση στα νέα ελληνικά δεν χρησιμοποιούνται το ρήμα “φιλώ”, γιατί έχει σήμερα μία άλλη σημασία.

Μπορείτε να φανταστείτε, από αυτό απλό παράδειγμα, πόσες σημασίες, πόσα συμφραζόμενα στην Βίβλο δεν μπορούμε να καταλάβουμε από τις μεταφράσεις που χρησιμοποιούμε. Αν θέλετε πραγματικά να καταλάβετε τις έννοιες ενός κειμένου, πρεπει πάντα να είμαστε ικανοί να διαβάσουμε το πρωτότυπο.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Old Bulgarian, Modern Bulgarian, Balkanisms

Bulgaria is one of the oldest European States. It was founded in 681 C.E. and its language, as well as its alphabet, are probably the basis for many other Slavic languages.

Cyril and Methodius, Byzantine Greek brothers who were sent to Great Moravia as Christian missionaries, invented the Glagolitic Alphabet between 862 and 863, the first script used to transcribe the proto-language known as Old Church Slavonic.

This marks the beginning of a period in the history of the Bulgarian language known as Old Bulgarian. At that time, and until about the end of the 11th century, Bulgarian was a much more synthetic language than it is today. Its main characteristics are listed below:

1. Use of nasalized vowels
2. Morphosyntactic case-markings: Nouns, adjetives, numerals and pronouns had seven cases
3. Dual forms (singular, dual, plural)
4. Eleven declensions
5. No definite articles, but there were combinations of nouns and demonstrative pronouns that later gave rise to the postposited articles
6. Pronouns only for the first and second persons (singular and plural)
7. Adjectives had short and long forms
8. The comparative forms were synthetic
9. Numerals 1 through 4 were adjectives and had gender variation. Numerals 5 through 10 were singular nouns.
10. Three verb moods: indicative, imperative and conditional
11. No specific future form
12. Infinitive and supine

In many senses, Old Bulgarian was much more like other modern Slavic languages than Modern Bulgarian. Throughout the centuries, that highly inflected language became a mostly analytical language.

From the 12th century until the end of the 14th century, a period known as Middle Bulgarian, many of today's features were introduced. Nasal vowels disappeared, the case suffixes gradually suffered lenition and the language clearly showed signs that it was bound for analyticity.

From the 15th century on, during the rise of the Modern Bulgarian language, many of the most influential Bulgarian authors started to declare their cultural independence from the Turkish political oppression and the Greek religious dominance. The texts produced at the time, known as будители, favored the everyday language and its dialects. This is probably the reason why today's Standard Bulgarian is closer to what people really speak than most of the other Slavic languages.

Modern Bulgarian differs from other Slavic languages in many aspects, including:

1. In Bulgarian, voiced consonants may not constitute the nucleus of a syllable
2. Bulgarian is the only Slavic language, together with Slovene, that has kept the Old Church Slavonic [ə] sound
3. There are no distinctions between short and geminated vowels in Bulgarian
4. The particle да has made the infinitive form obsolete and it is no longer used
5. The future form uses the particle ще
6. There is no dual form, except with masculine nouns preceded by cardinal numbers
7. There are no more case markings, except for a moribund vocative, used almost exclusively with masculine nouns
8. There are postposited definite articles, -ът/-а, -та and -то for masculine, feminine and neutral nouns, respectively
9. The numeral един (one) is used as an indefinite article. Indefiniteness may also be expressed by 0-article
10. Comparative forms are analytical, по- (for comparative) and най- (for superlative)
11. There is a clear distinction in usage between aorist and perfect
12. There is the so-called "renarrative mood", used to account for facts one has not self-evidenced

However, some other aspects of Old Church Slavonic were kept, namely:

1. Three genders: masculine, feminine, neutral. Bulgarian has more neutral nouns than other Slavic languages, but there seems to be a recent tendency to replace them with masculine or feminine nouns
2. Bulgarian is the Slavic language that has kept most of the original temporal and aspectual system of its proto-language: There are more past tenses in Bulgarian than in the other Slavic languages
3. The distinction in aspect, a general feature of Slavic languages, is clearly marked in Bulgarian: свършен вид (perfective aspect) and несвършен вид (imperfective aspect) account for various nuances in meaning. In the Slavic languages, perfectiveness is accomplished by means of prefixes. The only differences among them is the inventory of those prefixes. Imperfectiveness, a more recent feature, varies greatly among Slavic languages. In Bulgarian, the only way to form imperfective verbs is by attaching suffixes.

Many of the changes observed throughout the history of Bulgarian may be explained with the notion of the Balkan Sprachbund, the 500+-year period in which the Balkans were dominated either by Turks, Greeks or Bulgars that brought their languages, Greek, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Romanian and Albanian together to form a "linguistic league" (belonging to the same language family, the Indo-European languages) whose members do not share the same Elementarwörter (core vocabulary), but do share many of its syntactic and morphological features. I will detail Balkanisms in a future post, but compare some of the aforementioned features with corresponding forms in other Balkan languages:

1. Postposited articles

friend (n.) > the friend
приятел > приятелят
prieten > prietenul (Romanian)

2. Particle + subjunctive/no infinitive

I have to go now.
Трябва да отида сега.
Πρέπει να πάω τώρα. (Greek)
Trebuie plec acum. (Romanian)

3. Future with particle

I will sleep now.
Сега ще спя.
Acum o să dorm.
Τώρα θα κοιμηθώ.

4. Analytic comparative forms.

This house is bigger than that one.
Тази къща е по-голяма от онази.
Această casă este mai mare decât acea.
Αυτό το σπίτι είναι πιο μεγάλο από εκείνο.

5. Aorist vs. Perfect

Have you been to Sofia? Yes, I went there last Summer.
Бъл ли си в София? Да, отидох там миналото лято.
Έχεις πάει στη Σόφια; Ναι, πήγα εκεί το περασμένο καλοκαίρι.

Thanks for reading this.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Typology of Motion Verbs

Typological studies of word order (SVO, SOV, VSO etc.) are mainly syntactic, while the typology of motion verbs also involves semantics and lexicalization of meaning.

There are two main categories of languages when it comes to the use of motion verbs: verb-framed and satellite-framed languages.

Motion verb phrases in satellite-framed languages like English typically convey not only motion, but manner or cause as well.

The man ran into the house.
(manner and direction)

Theoretically, Indo-European languages (except Romance languages), Finno-Ugric languages and Chinese are satellite-framed languages.

Verb-framed languages, however, typically use motion verbs that do not convey information about the manner or cause, but express the path of motion:

O homem voltou para casa correndo.

In this case, the manner is conveyed by means of the gerund "correndo", a peripheral element that is not really part of the motion verb.

Romance languages, Semitic languages, Japanese and Korean, for instance, are considered verb-framed languages.

This is not to say that a satellite-framed language like English does not have motion verbs that convey the path rather than the manner, but most of them are borrowed from French: enter, exit, pass, among many others. On the other hand, verb-framed languages are fully capable of expressing manner by means of the aforementioned peripheral gerunds, for instance. Then, what is the exact distinction between the two categories?

This question may be answered with the notions of foregrounding and backgrounding. Whenever verb-framed languages include information about manner, as in the case of "correndo" in the example in Portuguese, this information is highlighted, foregrounded. Nonetheless, when satellite-framed languages include information about path, the information may still remain backgrounded. The inclusion of foregrounded information in a sentence is "more energy-demanding", and it is said that speakers are less prone to do so. Because of that, while verb-framed languages like Portuguese and Spanish seldom include information about manner, satellite-based languages like English and Hungarian often include information about both manner and path.

I've designed an experiment to test this hypothesis and published it in a Facebook Group called "Polyglots". I asked volunteers to describe the pictures below in their native languages:

Illustration by Cynthia Lanzetti

Here are some of their responses:

European Portuguese: O cão tentou morder o homem.
Mas o homem conseguiu fugir para dentro de casa.

French: Sur la première photo, un homme est poursuivi par un chien. Sur la deuxième photo, cet homme se réfugie dans une maison.

Hungarian: 1. a férfi fut a kutya elől a ház felé, miközben a felhő nevet. 2. a férfi befut a házba a kutya elől, miközben a nap nevet.

German: Der Himmel ist bewölkt und der Hund jagt den Mann in Richtung des Hauses. Als der Mann in das Haus flüchtet und der Hund ihm hinterher bellt, beginnt die Sonne zu scheinen.

Dutch: De hond achtervolgt de man naar het huis, terwijl de hemel bewolkt is. Zodra het de man is gelukt om in het huis te vluchten, blaft de hond hem achterna en de zon begint de schijnen.

Spanish:  Un hombre es perseguido por un perro, por lo que corre para entrar a su casa.

Polish: 1. Facet ucieka do domu przed wściekłym psem. 2. Facet dobiegł do domu, a pies przestraszył sie wejść do środka.

Italian: Nella prima vignetta, un uomo sta scappando da un cane e le nuvole sono felici. Nella seconda, l'uomo è riuscito ad entrare in casa ed è il sole ad essere felice.

(Thanks to everyone who participated in the experiment! I've recorded all of your responses for future use.)

NB: Unfortunately, the faces on the cloud and the Sun have attracted more attention than they should and, because of that, some respondents did not emphasize the motion element in their sentences. Not their fault, though, the faces are pretty funny!

And here are some questions I'm asking my students:

1. Do you think these responses match the categorization described above?
2. Think of more examples in your native language. Do motion verbs in your idiolect convey manner, path or both? Does your answer match the categorization for your language?
3. Can you perceive any change in usage over the last few years? Is your language becoming more verb-framed or satellite-framed?

Becoming aware of this distinction is of special importance to translators who translate from a satellite-framed language to a verb-framed one or vice-versa. In most cases, professional translators must use periphrases to convey manner or path in languages that belong to different categories. This is, by the way, one more reason why a particular translated text may sound "strange" or "awkward" - because the (perhaps unseasoned) translator has kept the same syntax/motion verb/conveyance of manner or path as in the original language.

Lastly, one should be aware that any typological statement must always be taken with two grains of salt. Languages are much more organic than the corpora-based quantitative results used in Language Typology, and usage may vary widely throughout time and space. However, these linguistic stereotypes are useful to understand why groups of languages use similar structures to convey the same meaning and to realize how meaning and linguistic structure spread by means of language contact.

Thanks for reading this!

Rafael Lanzetti

Friday, March 7, 2014

Language Learning Materials

Hello everyone,

after having used a plethora of language learning methods and materials, I maintain that the ideal ones for me are language books designed to be used in class, either at a language institute or in school.

I definitely cannot recommend any of the "Teach Yourself" solutions I've seen and used so far, and they were plenty: Assimil, Pons, Langenscheidt, Hueber, Lextra, Colloquial..., Teach Yourself..., Pimsleur, among some others.

The fundamental problem with any Teach Yourself material is space: It is definitely not possible to summarize a whole language in a book, let alone in a 100-page book full of illustrations. Too many things must be neglected in order to "help the learner reach level B2". And by things I mean grammar structures, pragmatic chunks, intonation patterns, cultural aspects and useful vocabulary that are just not there, which ends up making the learner look for third-party resources anyway.

The pace the learner has to keep while using a Teach Yourself is just too quick for any meaningful learning process to occur, while the vocabulary inventory is in many cases strange, if not useless: My Bulgarian Teach Yourself taught me how to say "rape", "kidnapping" and "murder" in lesson 5.

When I start learning a language, my ultimate goal is to become functional in the language in all four basic abilities: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Most Teach Yourself materials focus just on the oral abilities while completely neglecting the written ones (at least writing, if not both).

In order to become functional in the language, I must be able to use it for any purpose I might need it, such as (from easiest to hardest) communicating with friends, traveling, researching and working. In my specific case, I might need to be able to write academic papers in the language, which requires quite a fair amount of fluency. Up until now I have learnt (or am still learning) 14 languages. I know I may not reach my desired C1 level in all of them, but that remains my ultimate objective, no matter how far I may be able to advance. I've realized very early in life that setting clear goals for myself tremendously increases my chances of getting there.

Having said that, I would like you to do a self-brainstorming exercise right now and ask yourself why you are learning the languages you have chosen to learn. What are your general objectives and specific goals? What do you want to use your languages for?

Let's suppose for one minute, for the sake of argument, that your objectives are similar to mine. Now, look at your Teach Yourself - Can you sincerely picture a scenario in which you achieve such goals just by using that? If your answer was no, we've come to the same conclusion.

Having realized that myself, I started looking for "more serious" materials, books that would really take me further than those linguistic summaries.

I've been using course books for a while now, and I'm probably not going back. They are much more in-depth, vocabulary-rich resources. The pace they keep is slower, just as a language learning process should be. Such books have multiple volumes, usually one for each level. They are much more thought-out works than Teach Yourself books, and here's why: Course books are written by (Applied) Linguists, professionals who know exactly what they are doing, even when they do it wrong.

For a course book to be adopted by a language institute, its method must fit the teachers'/course coordinators' beliefs in language teaching/learning approaches and methods. The books are therefore inspected and analyzed before being put to use. For a course book to be adopted by a nation's Ministry of Education the process is much longer and more thorough. Designing a course book is an unbelievably complex endeavor that takes (in many cases) years to accomplish.

On the other hand, Teach Yourself authors sprout in droves and manage to publish their works, in many cases without anyone's proofreading them (I can't stand the typos in my Teach Yourself Persian anymore). But most aggravatingly, many of such authors are simply not qualified for the job. Just yesterday someone sent me the link to "an awesome Teach Yourself Greek" for Brazilian Portuguese speakers. I then accessed the website and clicked on the "About the Authors" tab: "Mr. John Doe is a Civil Engineer who..." (...) Mrs. Jane Doe is an Electronics Engineer who..." and I quit reading right there.

I'm not saying people without academic credentials simply cannot produce anything of value, it is just extremely hard to find such a thing. Language teaching is not an art which someone may master without ever receiving formal instruction on it - it is a science, a very complex human science whose basis is an inventory of millions of pages of linguistic theories, peer-reviewed articles, Doctoral Theses, action-research, focus group analyses and triangulations that have up until now been grouped into 4 main language teaching approaches and dozens of corresponding language teaching methods, each of which has been tried and tested by hundreds of teachers and thousands of learners in every continent.

There is certainly something there that you simply cannot find in many Teach Yourself books. Again, mutatis mutandis, there are some Teach Yourself books that are scientifically designed. They are, however and unfortunately, few.

Nonetheless, when using a course book, one must be aware of a specific set of strategies in order to get the work done by himself. As a general rule of thumb, the more structuralist the book is, the better it works with me. Structural methods do not rely much on communication among learners, especially at the beginning. If you use a more communicative-based method, the conversation exercises should be done entirely by yourself, by means of self-talk or inner-talk, which means you will be practicing the language twice as much as if you were actually in a learning group. The main problem with that is lack of feedback - it is very hard to learn a language without an instructor because you really don't know whether you are doing it right until you receive such confirmation. For that, the only thing I can recommend is that you find yourself a language partner (preferably a native speaker, preferably a teacher) to correct you whenever needed.

Course books always have accompanying exercise books, which, though monotonous, are the key to language learning. Whatever you do, remember this: Our memory works by means of the establishment of neuron pathways. These pathways are created by repetition, confirmation and association. Have I mentioned repetition?

Sometimes the exercise books don't include the key to the exercises. In this case, you have to look for the Instructor/Teacher's Edition of the book and you'll find all the answers there. As I have access to a very comprehensive library in my city, what I do is to borrow the Teacher's Book and copy the answers. The most practical way I've found to do that is to use an app called "CamScan" on my phone and take pictures of each page, which I can then convert to text or save as a PDF file.

There's also no need to mention that every course book nowadays comes with CDs, DVDs or MP3 files with dialogue recordings. These are essential for autodidacts because without a teacher (or knowledge of the IPA) learners have no basis to build their pronunciation upon.

What follows below is a very short review of the course books I am using at the moment or have used in the past. If you would like to get more info on any of them, don't hesitate to ask. This list will be particularly useful to those who already know German, as many of the books on my list are published in Germany and in German.

English - New Interchange (all levels) in English
This book by Jack C. Richards is widely used in language schools in Brazil. It follows the communicative approach and is a very comprehensive, well-designed book.

German - Themen (all levels) in German
I've finished my German course at Goethe Institut more than 10 years ago and Themen was one of the few available books at the time. It's quite structural, but keeps a nice and slow pace and the vocabulary inventory is very rational. By the time I got to C1 level, a new edition was published, Themen Neu. As far as I know, it's not been used much these days and it may be hard to find it. I can also recommend Tangram, Schritte and Moment Mal!

Dutch - Taal vitaal (A1-A2), Taal totaal (B1-B2) in German and Dutch
Unfortunately, there aren't many materials for Dutch published in Germany and this book is certainly not the best I've ever used, but it does its job. It follows the Communicative Method and, in order to use the book for autodidactic learning, you'll have to use a lot of the self-talk strategies I discussed above.

Swedish - Rivstart A1+A2 and Rivstart B1+B2 in Swedish
This is one of the best I've used so far. Rivstart is very comprehensive, yet very simple to follow. It is not meant to be used by autodidacts, but it may (almost) perfectly be used this way.

Spanish - Hacia el español (A1-B1) in Portuguese and Spanish
This one is aimed at speakers of Brazilian Portuguese, so you might find it a bit difficult to follow if you have any other language as your native language, due to the similarity between Portuguese and Spanish. I've mainly used open-learning resources to practice Spanish, so I can't really recommend any course books.

Italian - In Italiano (A1-B2) in Italian
A very, very structural book, with a massive amount of exercises for each lesson. It works if you are the kind of person who tolerates reading, saying and writing the same thing over and over.

Brazilian Portuguese - Falar... Ler... Escrever... Português (A1-B1) in Portuguese
This Brazilian Portuguese book is used in many universities and language schools in Europe. It's labeled a structural-communicative method, but it's mainly structural, as evidenced by its many exercises on verb conjugations. It may be used without many problems by autodidacts.

French - Grammaire Progressive du Français (all levels) in French
Not a course book per se, more like a grammar with exercises, but it's used in language schools nonetheless. I like the way this book is structured, grouping grammar topics and related vocabulary. This is ideal for self-learners, but it hardly allows for any speaking practice (even by means of self-talk).

Unfortunately I can't recommend any course book for Romanian because I've yet to find a good one. If you are a German speaker, please stay away from both the Lehrbuch der rumänischen Sprache and Rumänisch für Sie. They are, simply put, intolerably bad. What I use is a grammar by Pons called Pons Power-Sprachtraining Rumänisch. It's quite good, contains grammar as well as vocabulary sections and exercises and comes with a CD.

Greek - Ελληνικά Τώρα 1+1, Ελληνικά Τώρα 2+2 (A1-B2) in Greek
It's the most structural book from this list. This course book offers tons of exercises, a grammar section in English at the end, vocabulary lists, lists of verbs and very nice dialogues that portray the story of a group a characters from the beginning to the end of the book (SPOILER ALERT: the protagonists marry at the end!)

Same thing as Romanian. The book I have used is a horrible Teach Yourself by Pons. I currently have weekly online lessons with a native Bulgarian and she designs her own material.

Persian - Persisch für Anfänger (A1-A2), Persisch für Fortgeschrittene (B1-B2) in German and Persian
The lack of materials for Persian made me buy this book and unfortunately I can't recommend it with a clear conscience. There are two main problems with this book: 1. It teaches you formal Persian, while my main interest is to learn the colloquial, everyday language and 2. Its vocabulary inventory is quite ridiculous. Lesson 6 includes words like "donkey", "to flow" and "garlic", not in their corresponding semantic fields, but as single words! One thing good course book designers have long understood is that if you are going to teach a word, teach the whole semantic field and have your learners memorize everything by association. It works, trust me!

Hindi - Hindi Bolo 1 (A1-A2), Hindi Bolo 2 (B1-B2) in German and Hindi
This is a very well-written book, with tons of dialogues and exercises, it keeps a nice development rhythm and may be easily used by self-learners.

Hebrew - עברית מן ההתחלה חלק א (A1-A2) and עברית מן ההתחלה חלק ב (B1-B2) in English and Hebrew
This is a nice book, specially the first volume. It contains a lot of texts and comprehension exercises, as well as very well-written grammar explanations. The main problem with this book is that it is meant to be used at the Ulpanim in Israel for those who make Aliyah. For that reason, it contains too many religious topics in its texts. As I am not directly interested in the Jewish religion, I can't help finding the texts that are exclusively dedicated to introducing religious vocabulary extremely boring and quite useless to me. But other than that it is a great book.

There are many constraints in using course books as self-learning materials, some of which I have discussed above, but the fact that they are much more comprehensive than Teach Yourself books compensate for many of their flaws.

One main problem, though, is the irritating lack of materials for advanced learners (C1+). The gap between B2 and C1 is in my opinion the most important achievement for a language learner. It represents the difference between being able to converse in the language with native speakers for two hours about amenities and being able to work in the language, formulate complex arguments and sound "smart", even in demanding conversational environments. Unfortunately, the only way to overcame this gap is by using the language as much as you can, getting feedback from native speakers and ideally working with a language instructor, because there are simply not enough written materials for advanced learners in many of the world languages, even in popular European languages like Italian and Spanish, let alone in languages like Greek, Swedish, Persian and Bulgarian.

I should also mention that course books are not the only things you need to learn a language. For every language I learn, I look for the following materials (usually in this order):

1. Course books
2. Bilingual dictionary (English-X for languages like Persian and Hebrew, German-X for Germanic languages, Spanish-X or English-X for Romance languages)
3. Monolingual dictionary (generally at a more advanced level)
4. Verb dictionaries with conjugations (not for the Germanic languages)
5. Vocabulary lists and Semantic-field dictionaries

Other than that, as soon as you reach a certain level, you'll start to need more comprehensive, original sources, the so-called open-learning sources: newspapers, magazines, TV shows, songs and anything written or spoken in the language you're learning. Fortunately, with the Internet, such content has been popularized as much as it can be, and the ubiquity of free open-learning sources is perhaps the biggest difference between a 21st-century learner and a 20th-century learner.

Lastly, always keep in mind that your choice of materials will depend exclusively on the goals you want to reach. Don't fool yourself, though. Properly learning a human language will certainly require much more than an illustrated 100-page booklet.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Rafael Lanzetti

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tidbits of Philology #6

Rafael Lanzetti's Tidbits of Philology #6


The word for nightmare has an interesting etymology in many languages. In English, although one might think "mare" refers to a female horse, the term really comes from Old English "mære", a female demon (sometimes called by her Latin name, "Incubus") whose job was to kill sleepers.

The word in Dutch, "nachtmerrie", comes from the same Germanic roots.

In Swedish, "mardröm" has the same Germanic root, "mar", combined with the word for dream, "dröm".

In French, the term is "cauchemar", and the stem "mar" has probably the same origin as the Old English "mære" (or was borrowed from it), while "cauche" comes from Old French "chauchier" and means "press (down)", that awful, tense feeling we get during a nightmare when it feels like something is pressing us down the mattress.

Both Romanian and Bulgarian adopted the French word, "coșmar" and "кошмар", respectively.

The Portuguese ("pesadelo") and Spanish ("pesadilla") [note that the Portuguese word is masculine, while the Spanish one is feminine] also contain this allusion to "pressing down", as "pesado" means "heavy".

The Italian word ("incubo") refers directly to the Latin demon, no euphemisms needed!

The Persian word کابوس ['kɒː.bus] also alludes to the Latin demon.

In German, "Alptraum", which contains the stem "Traum" (dream), refers to the "Alben", the elves responsible for giving people bad dreams.

Finally, the Greek word "εφιάλτης" does not seem to have a precise origin, but the probable etymology is Ancient Greek "επί + άλλομαι”, which can mean a number of different things, from "a grain of salt", "leap" and "soul" (compare with Lat. "alma").

So, how do you say "nightmare" in your language? Can you tell us anything about its etymology?

Have a nice nightmare-free week, y'all!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tidbits of Philology no. 5

Welcome to this week's Tidbits of Philology!

Many languages have special ways for the speaker to say "my name is ____". In English, apart from this simple predicative structure, one could say, although not so pragmatically, as it seems, "I'm called _____" or "People call me ______".

Some languages, notably the Romance ones, use (I) reflexive structures:

Portuguese: (Eu) me chamo ____.
Spanish: (Yo) me llamo ____.
Italian: (Io) mi chiamo ____.
French: (Je) m'appelle ____.
Romanian: (Eu) mă numesc ____.

Such structure denotes a certain power of one's name: people call me this way because I chose to do so.

In some other languages, it seems the "decision" over one's name lies in the usage other people make of it. These languages use a direct object/passive/medium voice structure (II), as exemplified below:

Greek: Με λένε ____. ([they] call me ____.)
Hebrew: קורים לי ([they] call me ____.)

Other languages, notably the Germanic ones, have special verbs (III) for that purpose:

German: Ich heiße ____.
Dutch: Ik heet ____.
Swedish: Jag heter ____.

Curiously enough, English lacks such a verb.

How does your language cope with this meaning? Does it use I, II, III or is it only possible to express it using the predicative construction "My name is ____."?