Reading this post on Margaret Marks’ Transblawg, I realised I had no I idea that outside Germany, if you have someone cremated after their death, you don’t have to give the ashes a proper burial (in a graveyard, or at sea, or whatever the options are the law provides for).

The land of Saxony-Anhalt is considering relaxing this requirement, and Margaret Marks comments:

I love the way they [i.e. Germans] say people will be able to put their next of kin’s ashes on the bookshelf. This is a sort of stereotype idea of how weird it would be not to bury the ashes.

Sure enough, the very first thought that sprang to mind was, “So they really do keep grandma on the mantelpiece? That’s not a joke?”

This makes me think of the concept of “modern jackass” from a radio show the Tensor just wrote about (and that I happen to have been listening to quite intently lately…).

Oh, and I had to look up hydriotaphia.

Finex ! Pooo !

Interesting (but too short) article on the language of the French military — slang, phonetic idiosyncrasies, and lexicalised initialisms. The source is a semi-confidential manuscript written by an unnamed officer.

Remarkable examples: “PMF” for “woman”, from the collective term “female military personnel”; “IAL” for “drinking straw”, from “interface for liquid food”. And so on.

A general is called a “leek”. Why? Because his head is white, but his shaft still green.

The “translation” of an excerpt from Little Red Riding Hood (that would be “LRRH”, or “PCR” in French) is particularly amusing.

Libé parle langue dans un article de Jean-Dominique Merchet consacré à l’argot militaire (14 juillet oblige).

S’il est assez vague sur sa source, «  un petit document semi-confidentiel » (à mon avis, c’est celui-ci ; voir également ) rédigé par un officier anonyme, cet aperçu de particularités lexicales — lexicalisation de termes et sigles issus du jargon bureaucratique de l’armée — et phonétiques est une agréable surprise :

« Le militaire a l’habitude d’utiliser un grand nombre d’acronymes pour remplacer des expressions compliquées (comprenez plus de trois mots) qui, le plus souvent, désignent une réalité simple que l’on désignerait dans le civil en un seul mot », écrit l’auteur du texte, resté prudemment anonyme. Exemples : PMF = une femme (personnel militaire féminin). IAL = une paille (interface d’alimentation liquide). BAB = boules Quiès (bouchons antibruit). RCIR = ration (ration de combat individuelle réchauffable). VTLR = une brouette (véhicule de transport léger rural).

L’argot sexuel n’est bien entendu pas absent du vocabulaire des soldats.

Et voici la « traduction » d’un bout du Petit Chaperon rouge en « militaire » :

Le loup arriva à l’objectif à H + 1. Il frappe : Boum boum. Halte-là, qui va là ? C’est le PCR, dit le loup en camouflant sa voix. Je vous apporte une RCIR, avec le pain de combat qui va bien. […]

On being an immigrant

Une petite réflexion autour de ces dangereux bilingues, en l’occurrence moi, qui s’aventurent à avoir un jugement instinctif sur la correction grammaticale d’énoncés appartenant à leur langue(s) seconde(s).

Étrangement — étant donné que c’est en France que j’habite — je suis moins à l’aise de revendiquer ce type de jugement en français, genre nominal, subjonctif du passé et terminaisons muettes obligent.

Language-wise, that is.

A question I’ve been increasingly puzzling over lately is whether, and if yes, to what degree, we non-native speakers have a legitimate claim to sprachgefühl#[1] in our second language(s): The process of becoming more fluent and idiomatically correct in whatever tongue we have immersed ourselves in comes with a greater and greater acumen when making instinctive lexical and grammatical choices.#[2] Our judgements may not be strictly speaking pertinent to the study of, say, contemporary English; still we can’t help making them.

Now, I’d be quite happy to be a second-class citizen of the Republic of Anglophonia (and that of Francophonia). It’s the rules linguistic analysis plays by, after all, that decree that my idiolect doesn’t count to the same extent as that of any native speaker. And that’s fine with me. However, I have passed the point where my ideas about what is grammatical or not are merely the quaint observations of a neophyte. Is there any Bill of Rights that says what conditions and restrictions are placed on my staying permit, or when I can put forward my opinion, however insignificant, and when I have to bow to a native speaker’s intuition?

These were the thoughts that went through my mind when I stumbled upon a sentence in a Guardian article and had an involuntary grammatical WTF reaction (see also here):

But the naming of Best was delayed so that his lawyers could make today’s last ditch bid to remain anonymous.

The problem with this sentence is not quite the same as the hang-ups of the dangling modifier type. The dangling part is not a modifier, for starters, but it is at least an adjectival.#[3] The messy bit (”to remain anonymous”) does, however, somewhat resemble an attachment ambiguity, in that the subject of the predicate /remain anonymous/ needs to be inferred from the context.

In constructions of the type

  • X makes a bid/request/choice/pledge/etc. TO VERB_BASE (+ required elements to complete the predicate)

the subject of the last verb is, according to my grammatical feeling, expected to be the same as that of the verb phrase “makes a bid/request/choice/pledge/etc.” Which, in this case, is “his (young Mr Best’s) lawyers” — obviously not the intended reading. It’s Mr Best who wants to remain anonymous, not his lawyers.

There are several ways to fix this. Let’s look at two candidates:

  1. But the naming of Best was delayed so that his lawyers could make today’s last ditch bid for him to remain anonymous.
  2. But the naming of Best was delayed so that, today, his lawyers could submit his last ditch bid to remain anonymous.

The first one is “grammar manual English”, i.e. the way I would rewrite the sentence by drawing on what I have been taught, including implicitly via literature and other bits of “exemplary” English. This, per se, doesn’t make 1. questionable by any stretch of the imagination. A possible point of contention might arise from reading the newly introduced “for him” as belonging to “made today’s last bid [for him]” instead of to “[for him] to remain anonymous”.

Yet literary standard English isn’t the be-all and end-all of grammatical felicity. In the second example I tried to improve on the original sentence without re-introducing the missing subject via the FOR Y TO VERB_BASE construction of 1. The adverb “today” needed shifting around (it could be placed elsewhere in the sentence), there’s a new verb (”make his bid” doesn’t work well for me), and the subject (”Best”) is virtually present as the antecedent of the second “his”, which is much closer to the predicate “remain anonymous” than the nearest reference to the subject was in the original. Two personal pronouns with the same antecedent so close to each other may be considered a bit ugly, though.

So, what’s the verdict on 1. and 2.? Does 2. still elicit a WTF? (I’m kind of okay with it; at least I consider it an improvement.)

And am I out of my depth, swimming out in the ocean instead of the tranquil pond I believe myself to be in?

[1]: Surprisingly, Merriam-Webster Online’s pronunciation sample sounds, apart from a slightly shorter /a/, nearly identical to the pronunciation of the word in standard German.
[2]: In my experience, non-native speaker judgement (mine, anyway) tends to have more false negatives than false positives. In other words, I am more likely to feel that a sample that is rejected as ungrammatical by native speakers might not be that bad after all than to be weirded out by one they consider fine. [3]: All right, I’m not quite sure about this. My terminology is a bit shaky and tends to get confused by the simultaneous presence of several terminogical systems.

  • 2004-12-28
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Suw at Chocolate and Vodka posts a link to a site that displays a shrunken head of George Washington. With instructions how to make one.

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  • 2004-11-30
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The French National Library proposes, among a wealth of digital documents that are available on their site, a beautifully done online exhibition: The Bestiary in Medieval Illumination. English and Spanish versions available. Via Viewropa.

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Analysons Brassens

A site full of analyses of Georges Brassens’ songs is back after repairing the database.

  • 2004-08-10
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Analyse Brassens est de retour! J’y ai fait référence dans le passage sur vénus callipyge dans le billet qui parle d’épithètes homériques et autres. (Oui, l’article est en anglais, mais faites défiler et regardez la fin!) Mais leur base de données a connu un accident vasculaire cérébral, me semble-t-il, vite signalé au webmèstre. Il l’a […]

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  • 2004-07-19
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You stumble into a room, by chance, and before your eyes appears a wondrous display. As you get closer, amazing events start to unfold. You savour the sounds, words, images, and when they seem wind down you think the curtain is about to fall. But no, the scene just shifts, and new marvels materialise. And […]

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