Friday, 15 February 2019

Мне нравится

First published 15 February 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras

For Anglophone learners, abundance of reflexive verbs in Spanish must be overwhelming. Cómo te llamas, no me acuerdo, pórtate, no se para, siéntese, cómo se dice, tengo que irme, no me daba cuenta, que te calles, nos vemos, fíjate bien, and so on and so forth. For me, on the other hand, it was almost a relief. Wow, it is just like in Russian! (It’s always comforting to find similarity where you least expect it.) Of course, there are plenty of differences between Spanish verbos reflexivos and Russian возвратные глаголы, but the concept is the same. How on earth English even works without reflexive verbs?

True reflexive verbs (лично-возвратные / собственно-возвратные глаголы) are the most straightforward: the grammatical agent coincides with the grammatical patient, so they could be easily rendered in English with the help of “oneself”. Russian мыться / Spanish lavarse is a textbook example, but there are lots of others: вытираться, одеваться, раздеваться, переодеваться, защищаться, наклоняться, опускаться, подниматься, прятаться, скрываться, уколоться. Some of these actions are usually done in front of a mirror (so one has a literal “reflection” to look at): бриться, краситься (in the sense “to make up”), прихорашиваться, причёсываться, умываться...

Reciprocal verbs (взаимно-возвратные глаголы) are also easy. Here, English expressions “each other” or “one another”, their clumsiness notwithstanding, are often to the rescue [1]. This class includes встречаться, знакомиться, познакомиться, переписываться, переругиваться, обмениваться, обниматься, целоваться, жениться, разводиться, ссориться, мириться, прощаться and расплёвываться, among others.

In one of The Vicar of Dibley episodes, a comic situations arises from a confusion regarding the request “Will you marry me?”: Mr Campbell asks the Vicar Geraldine Granger whether she would officiate while Ms Granger interprets it as a marriage proposal. No such hilarious ambiguity in either Russian or Spanish: женить / casar is “to marry off”, жениться / casarse is “to get married”, and that’s that.

Beyond these two classes, things get complicated. It could be more useful to talk about “meanings” [2] rather than classes or groups, especially for polysemic verbs. For example, собираться means

  • “to gather” (oneself) as in «Собирайся!» // “Get ready!” (true reflexive);
  • “to gather” (as a group): «мы собираемся по пятницам» // “we gather on Fridays” (reciprocal);
  • “to be assembled”: «ящик собирается из деревянных планок» // “the box is assembled from wooden planks” (passive) [3];
  • “to intend”, “to be going to”: «я собирался поздравить её» // “I was going to congratulate her” (I have no idea how to classify it)
Sometimes the meaning of a reflexive verb is easily guessed from its non-reflexive counterpart. Some other times it is not so trivial: cf. прощать “to forgive” and прощаться “to say goodbyes”, or выбирать “to choose” and выбираться “to get out” (with difficulty). And some other times they are almost opposites, as просыпать “to oversleep” and просыпаться “to wake up”.
«Собака кусается»... Что ж, не беда.
Загадочно то, что собака,
Хотя и кусает ся, но никогда
Себя не кусает, однако...
As Boris Zakhoder points out, кусаться has nothing to do with biting oneself (whereas Spanish morderse means exactly that) but “to bite habitually”, without a definite object [4]; слышаться does not mean “to hear oneself” but “to be heard”; удивляться not “to surprise oneself” but “to be surprised”; родиться not “to give birth to oneself” (how, one may wonder; cloning perhaps?) but “to be born”.

Мне нравится, что можно быть смешной —
Распущенной — и не играть словами,
И не краснеть удушливой волной,
Слегка соприкоснувшись рукавами.
This verse from a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva contains two reflexive verbs: нравиться and соприкоснуться. The former is so-called inherent reflexive verb: the non-reflexive form (нравить) does not exist, at least in modern Russian. The expression «мне нравится» is usually translated as “I like”, but it differs from «я люблю» (literally “I love”) in a sense that there is no active “I” (я). Instead, the reflexive verb нравиться (“to please”) in third person causes я to take dative case to become мне. So more literal translation of «мне нравится» would be “it pleases me”. In «мне нравится Париж» (“I like Paris”) the Russian indirect object (мне) corresponds to the English subject (I) while the Russian subject (Париж) to the English object of liking (Paris). One has to keep that in mind when conjugating the verbs:

Person singular plural
1 я никому не нравлюсь nobody likes me мы нравимся зрителям viewers like us
2ты ему нравишься he likes you Вы мне нравитесь I like you
3мне нравится джаз I like jazz ей нравятся Канны she likes Cannes

The verb прикоснуться, just like its unprefixed parent коснуться, means “to touch fleetingly” (something or somebody, but not oneself), while doubly-prefixed соприкоснуться is reciprocal: you need a touching partner (animate or inanimate) to do that.

Other inherent reflexive verbs include бояться, смеяться, улыбаться, надеяться, гордиться, клубиться, трудиться, ерепениться, ёжиться, кукожиться, садиться and ложиться [5]. Finally (and I only say so because I want to finish this post today), some reflexive verbs are both reciprocal and inherent, for instance здороваться “to greet”, препираться “to bicker” and расставаться “to part”.

As a homework, think of (a) perfective and (b) non-reflexive forms of a verb отмухиваться. Can you conjugate them?

  1. The “each other” bit may give an impression that reciprocal verbs should always be used in plural. Not really. One can say «мы встретились», “we met each other” as well as, for instance, «ты мне встретилась» or «я встретился с ней». The former is shorter; the latter variants are better used when one needs to be more explicit about those “we”.
  2. V. V. Vinogradov distinguished at least 15 “meanings” of Russian reflexive verbs.
  3. Качественно-пассивно-безобъектное значение (qualitative-passive-objectless meaning), according to Vinogradov.
  4. Активно-безобъектное значение (active-objectless meaning), according to Vinogradov.
  5. Ложить, the non-reflexive counterpart of ложиться is considered non-standard. It is often used colloquially and/or for a comic effect: «— Ложи,— говорю,— взад! <...> Ложи,— говорю,— к чёртовой матери!» (Михаил Зощенко, «Аристократка»)

Monday, 11 February 2019

Blends, melds, portmanteaux

First published 11 February 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras

The Oxford Dictionary defines portmanteau as

  1. A large travelling bag, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts.
  2. A word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others, for example motel or brunch.
It was Lewis Carroll, or rather Humpty Dumpty, who first used the word in the sense (2):
“Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

Curiously, the word portmanteau (1) is derived from French portemanteau (“coat stand”), which is a compound, rather than a portmanteau (2), of porte (“carry”) + manteau (“coat”). Clearly coat stand is rather different from a suitcase, so French use mot-valise, “word suitcase” (a relatively recent back-translation from English) in the sense portmanteau (2). Confused? I prefer to use much shorter words, blend or meld, this latter itself a blend of melt and weld.

The Wikipedia’s list of portmanteaus (or portmanteaux, if we use the faux-français plural form) includes Benelux, Britpop, Interpol, Medicaid, sysadmin and so on. These are in fact not portmanteaus but syllabic abbreviations, where there is no word part overlap at all. Nor does Brexit belong to this list, although Grexit (from which the word Brexit was probably derived) does. Syllabic abbreviations used to be de rigueur in 20th-century German (Gestapo, Stasi) and Soviet-era Russian (agitprop, proletkult, Mosselprom etc.) which can explain why these somewhat went out of fashion. The word Ostalgie (blend of Ost and Nostalgie) perfectly summarises that complex feeling (yes, we do miss it, but not really) peculiar to the ex-Eastern Bloc citizens.

To my taste, the best melds are those where the phonemic overlap is maximal and the change to each lexeme is minimal, as in adorkable, bromance, hepeating, pregret, sexting, textpectation and, of course, chocolack. They also happen to be humorous. Philip Hensher noted that misunderestimated, an accidental (as is the case with many Bushisms) masterpiece,

is one of George W Bush’s most memorable additions to the language, and an incidentally expressive one: it may be that we rather needed a word for “to underestimate by mistake”.
According to Russian Wikipedia, word blending (known as контаминация — a horrible word, let’s never use it) is not typical in Russian. One might speculate that Russian, with its rich arsenal of prefixes and suffixes, is doing just fine without blends. On the other hand, Korney Chukovsky wrote in his book «От двух до пяти» (From Two to Five) that it is extremely common in children’s (Russian) language. In Chukovsky’s view, children modify the new/difficult words to make them meaningful, for instance
Maybe. However, I simply can’t believe that the young author of the wonderful word отмухиваться was not aware of the meaning of отмахиваться. A single word for «отмахиваться от мух», “to wave flies away”, is practically begging to be created — and so it was. I totally agree with Chukovsky that children’s word creation is not any different from “folk” one (cf. спинжак = спина + пиджак or хрущоба = хрущёвка + трущоба).

Кот отмухивается // The cat is waving away the flies

As for “literary” Russian, there are plenty of examples of melds too. Velimir Khlebnikov was designing words such as грезитва, жарири, лебедиво and пушкиноты full-time. Nabokov introduced шлепоток и хлебет, Brodsky invented Верзувий, Vysotsky gave us пороговно, Yuri ShevchukЕдиночество, Andrey Knyshev came up with остролог, парторгия, псевдонимб, генеральный секрецарь... And did you know that Ilf and Petrov used to publish their stories under the pen name of Ф. Толстоевский (F. Tolstoyesvsky)?

See also: Portmanteau words taboo game

Monday, 4 February 2019

La carne

by Rosa Montero

On her sixtieth birthday, Soledad hires a male escort to accompany her to, wait a minute, Tristan und Isolde, which seems to be a rather contrived (and expensive) way to take revenge on her ex-lover. Surely enough, what was supposed to be just that, a night at the opera, does not end there and then, or there wouldn’t be a book. And so our protagonist promptly embarks upon a tragicomic love affair, all the while thinking how to best organise an exhibition in the National Library of Spain. A premise so unlikely it only could be a true story.

I enjoyed the interplay of pseudo-fictitious with pseudo-real: guest appearances of the current director of the aforementioned library, Ana Santos Aramburo, and Ms Montero herself, in third person; a galore of mostly real “accursed writers”, the subject of said exhibition; and even Cabo Machichaco disaster. Rather disappointingly, Adam, the carnal interest of our heroine, comes across more as a caricature than a flesh (oh irony!) and blood person. Even so, it really made me cringe that Soledad kept mentally referring to Adam as “el gigoló” or “el ruso” as if forgetting his — incidentally, not your typical Russian — name. Or maybe she was meant to be that way. A little bit racist, and not a little bit judgemental. Also, vain and needy, but still, loving and, hopefully, loved.

A cierta edad, plantearse hacer el amor con alguien exigía una planificación y una intenden­cia tan rigurosas como la campaña de África del general Montgomery. Y así, lo primero que hizo Soledad fue probarse medio ropero, tanto ropa interior como exterior, y evaluar su aspecto por delante y por detrás con ayuda de un espejito de mano para verse la espalda. Ese juego de sujetador y braga color fuego tan bonito ¿no le sacaba por desgracia una antiestética molla en la cadera? Se quitó y se puso, se vistió y desvistió, mientras a su alrededor iba creciendo una rebaba de prendas descartadas, como las cenefas de algas en la playa. Terminó poniéndose el conjunto de lencería de encaje verde y, por encima, una camisa de seda verde musgo, el pantalón gris perla de corte perfecto y los botines Farrutx de medio tacón. Una vez aprobada la elección de las prendas, volvió a desnudarse íntegramente y se metió en la ducha.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Жил один рыжий человек

First published 3 February 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras
Жил один рыжий человек, у которого не было глаз и ушей.
У него не было и волос, так что рыжим его называли условно.
There was a red-haired man who had no eyes or ears.
Neither did he have any hair, so he was called red-haired theoretically.

In Russian, adjectives agree with the noun in case, gender, and number. For instance, «рыжий кот» (ginger cat) in nominative [Example 1m]:

adjective noun
singular рыжий кот
Nom / m / s Nom / m / s
plural рыжие коты
Nom / pl Nom / m / pl

If we change the noun to genitive, the adjective follows suit [Ex. 2m]:

adjective noun
singular рыжего кота
Gen / m / s Gen / m / s
plural рыжих котов
Gen / pl Gen / m / pl

Replacing кот (tomcat) with кошка (female cat), we have [Ex. 1f]:

adjective noun
singular рыжая кошка
Nom / f / s Nom / f / s
plural рыжие кошки
Nom / pl Nom / f / pl

And in genitive [Ex. 2f]:

adjective noun
singular рыжей кошки
Gen / f / s Gen / f / s
plural рыжих кошек
Gen / pl Gen / f / pl

Luckily for learners of Russian, the plural forms of adjectives are the same irrespectively of gender. (It was not always the case.)

Now let’s add some cardinal numerals to our ginger tomcat [Ex. 3m]:

numeral adjective noun
1 один рыжий кот
Nom / m Nom / m / s Nom / m / s
2 два рыжих кота
Nom / m Gen / pl Gen / m / s
3 три рыжих кота
Nom Gen / pl Gen / m / s
4 четыре рыжих кота
Nom Gen / pl Gen / m / s
5 пять рыжих котов
Nom Gen / pl Gen / m / pl

What just happened? As you can see, the numerals other than один cause the nouns and adjectives to change the case to genitive. But if with пять (and above) both nouns and adjectives become, logically enough, plural, with the numerals два, три and четыре the noun stays in singular. We already mentioned that these three numerals behave as if not quite plural. The reason is, Proto-Indo-European and its descendants, in addition to singular and plural, had a grammatical number called dual (in Russian, двойственное число), which was used for pairs only. In modern Russian only a few traces of dual remain. However, some properties of dual were somehow extended to groups of three or four. I recently learned a (not widely known, but useful) term маломножественное число (literally, “few-plural number”), but I’d like to have something shorter. On Tamara’s suggestion, we can call this number “fewral” (pronounced /ˈfjuːrəl/; never mind that there is an identically spelled Turkmen word for February) or, for Spanish-speaking learners,“pocal” (from poco; please ignore the Romanian word meaning “goblet”).

Now, once again, let’s change the cat’s gender [Ex. 3f]:

numeral adjective noun
1 одна рыжая кошка
Nom / f Nom / f / s Nom / f / s
2 две рыжих кошки
Nom / f Gen / pl Gen / f / s
3–4 три-четыре рыжих кошки
Nom Gen / pl Gen / f / s
5–20 пять рыжих кошек
Nom Gen / pl Gen / f / pl

Comparing the masculine and feminine examples, you might have noticed that the pattern for 2 is not exactly the same as for 3 and 4. This is because the feminine form две is different from masculine (and neuter) form два, just like одна is different from masculine/neuter form один. Otherwise, we see the now-familiar story here: “fewral” nouns are in genitive singular, adjectives in genitive plural.

And this could be “it”... if it not were for the fact that another way is possible [Ex. 4f]:

numeral adjective noun
1 одна рыжая кошка
Nom / f Nom / f / s Nom / f / s
2 две рыжие кошки
Nom / f Nom / pl Nom / f / pl
3–4 три-четыре рыжие кошки
Nom Nom / pl Nom / f / pl
5–20 пять рыжих кошек
Nom Gen / pl Gen / f / pl

That’s right, both «две рыжих кошки» and «две рыжие кошки» are correct. But why? Going back to Examples [1f] and [2f]: did you notice that the genitive singular form, кошки, is identical to the nominative plural? Well this is how Russian feminine nouns behave, as a rule. So in “fewral” we can have either «рыжих кошки» (both genitive) or «рыжие кошки» (both nominative, both plural). Makes sense? Kind of. I think it is a matter of personal preference. I, for example, prefer «две шуточные песни» to «две шуточных песни». Perhaps my internal grammarian just likes to maximise the number of nominatives. Shame I can’t do the same with masculine and neuter.

You may ask, why did I write “5–20” rather than “5 and more”? Because when we reach 21, we say «двадцать одна рыжая кошка» (back to singular), then 22 «двадцать две рыжих кошки» or «двадцать две рыжие кошки» (back to fewral), and so on. Every time we hit a numeral ending with один/одна, два/две, три or четыре, we repeat the singular and fewral spiel again and again.

Last but not least: all these strange things happen only when our cardinal numerals are in nominative. As soon as we put them in any other case, the whole construction declines in a totally regular fashion, e.g. «одному рыжему коту» (dative) or «двумя рыжими кошками» (instrumental).

For homework, please take Kharms’ «один рыжий человек» and see what could happen with two, three, eleven and fifty-one theoretical red-haired men using Example [3m].

Friday, 1 February 2019

Free live music in Las Palmas, January 2019

This January I spent precisely €0.00 on entrance tickets, and extracted quite a value from my modest investment.

  • 17 January: Javier Sánchez @ Teatro Guiniguada, Plaza F. Mesa de León, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
      From 5 to 7 pm, Javi Sánchez gave a free masterclass of jazz guitar organised by Mousikê La Laguna. Without knowing much what to expect from it, I brought guitar with me (as did a few other attendees). It turned out that we have different ideas what a “masterclass” should be. OK, we had a master and we had a class. To me, it was a two-hour lecture, with a lot of examples played, on jazz guitar rhythm, harmony and improvisation, with practically zero interaction and, obviously, no students strumming their axes (so one could be better off watching this kind of class on YouTube). Saying that, I really enjoyed Javi’s playing. I have to admit that guitar scales never sounded as fascinating before.
  • 20 January: Marinah @ Parque Doramas
      Unbelievably, the very first concert I attended this year was that of Marinah performing in broad daylight (from 12 to 14 and yes, it was sunny for a change) as a part of the Música en el Parque series. (In December, it was Dobet Gnahoré!) Featuring Marina Abad (lead vocal), Regis Molina (sax and flute), Miguel “Muchacho” Serviole (flamenco guitar), Jose “Montaña” (percussion), Diego Coppinger (electric bass) and Justin Miranda (drums).

    More photos of Marinah @ Shutterstock

  • 26 January: Gran Canaria Big Band @ Parque Doramas
      The Gran Canaria Big Band opened the 2019 Musicando season with the show Esencia latina, featuring the voices of Beatriz Alonso Hernández, Rebeca Mora and Virginia Guantanamera. Argentine, Brazilian, Cuban and Mexican standards and even one song in Valenciano!

  • 27 January: Marta dell’Anno and Andrea Marchesino @ Clipper La Puntilla, Calle Caleta
      The duo of Marta dell’Anno (vocal, viola) and Andrea Marchesino (guitar) played the first Isleta Sunset concert of 2019, their versatile repertoire ranging from traditional Italian songs to gypsy swing.
  • 31 January: Roland Satterwhite and North Sea String Quartet @ Paraninfo de La Universidad de Las Palmas, Calle Juan de Quesada, 30
      Roland Satterwhite is an American singer-songwriter-violist-violinist living in Berlin; NSSQ is Rotterdam-based ensemble consisting of Karin van Kooten (violin), Pablo Rodríguez (violin), Yanna Pelser (viola) and Thomas van Geelen (cello). I first heard about Roland+NSSQ just after Marta dell’Anno and Andrea Marchesino on Sunday (see above): they were about to jam at Fabrica La Isleta the very same night. I did not go there. Instead, Timur and I went to see them at the Auditorium of the ULPGC (the same venue where I saw Ariadna Castellanos Trio almost five years ago). It was magical. I’ve never heard or seen this kind of string quartet before. The variety of techniques they use and styles they play is mind-blowing, and yet they have their own (and beautiful) distinctive sound. Roland Satterwhite is all right singer but it is his particular way of bluesy pizzicato viola playing that impressed me the most.

      There was a group of kids with violins and/or bows sitting in the auditorium who turned out to be the members of Barrios Orquestados. In the end of the concert, they all came on stage and played: first Billie Jean on their own, then C Jam Blues and Take Five with NSSQ, and finally, one more song, Autobiography with Roland and NSSQ. Apparently, the guests were practising these songs with children from 4 pm. What a wonderful way to end the month.