Thursday, 28 February 2019

Free live music in Las Palmas, February 2019

This February I was still on a (zero) budget. But I’ve got to see all the Musicandos!

  • 9 February: Con-versos with Yeray Rodríguez and Omar Santiago Fuentes @ Parque Doramas
      Academia Canaria de La Lengua defines the word verseador as “persona que improvisa versos”. The 2019 Musicando season continued with brilliant Con-versos, a programme featuring our own Gran Canarian verseador Yeray Rodríguez and Puerto Rican trovador (i.e. troubadour) Omar Santiago Fuentes. The best part, in my view, was the guest appearance of three young verseadoras who managed to outclass their older colleagues and to show that the tradition of versear is alive and kicking!

  • 14 February: Pepe Bao @ Teatro Guiniguada, Plaza F. Mesa de León, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
      Another masterclass organised by Mousikê La Laguna.
      “Pepe, indisputably one of the greatest bass players in Spain,” — even if he says so himself says so himself — “defines himself as pirate by vocation, self-taught by training, eclectic by conviction, funny by nature, professional by dedication, and musician ‘to the deepest of his soul’”
      — no, I was not about to miss him! As much a stand-up comedian (in spite of the fact he was sitting on a stool most of the time) as a versatile bassist with formidable technique, Pepe delivered two hours of pure low-frequency slapping-tapping bliss. I wish his voice was amplified though: the class this time was not in the foyer but in the proper auditorium.

  • 16 February: Olga Cerpa & Mestisay with Joana Amendoeira @ Parque Doramas
      Joana Amendoeira (vocal) and Pedro Amendoeira (Portuguese guitar) joined Olga Cerpa and Mestisay for an evening of bolero, fado and some indescribably magical bolero-fado fusion — shall we call it falero?

  • 23 February: Vivi Pozzebón “Fuego de Tambor” @ Parque Doramas
      After spending two of the three Musicando events without a seat, on Tamara’s suggestion, I took a cushion with me. Also, I came 20 minutes to nine and, to my surprise, was able to find a free chair! (Most probably, this was thanks to carnaval events in Vegeta that day. Don’t worry, the cushion went behind my back.) And so, I enjoyed this show even more than expected. The trio of Vivi Pozzebón (vocal, percussion), Helena Récalde (double bass, electric bass) and Damien Accordémon (accordion), plus guest Totó Noriega (percussion), plus women’s choir, plus batucada... About 10 pm, as revellers were returning from Vegueta (I think), the park started to fill up. The final number, Sérgio MendesMagalenha, with all the guests on stage, made everybody dance.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Давайте познакомимся

First published 26 February 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras
Ланцелот. Как тебя зовут?
Кот. Машенька.
Ланцелот. Я думал — ты кот.
Кот. Да, я кот, но люди иногда так невнимательны.

We start learning a foreign language with easy stuff. Really easy stuff. Say, introducing ourselves. Let’s assume that we all speak in “complete sentences”, that is, the ones containing both subject and predicate — even though we can do without them very well in real-life introductions [1]:

“Liz. Nice to meet you.”
“You too.”
But I am sure your teacher will insist on complete sentences, so let’s try not annoy them, in whatever language [2]:
  1. — I’m Liz.
  2. — Je m’appelle Isabelle.
  3. — Me llamo Isabel.
  4. — Ich heiße Lise.
  5. — Меня зовут Лиза.
Whoa, wait a minute, you say. Are these really the same?

Of course not. The literal translation of the French sentence [2b] will be “I call myself Isabelle”, where we find a form of the reflexive verb s’appeler “to call oneself”. Likewise, in Spanish [2c], me llamo (first person singular of the reflexive verb llamarse) means “I call myself”, except there is no “I” in this phrase. It is possible to put the personal pronoun there, for the sake of “completeness”: Yo me llamo Isabel, but it is not really necessary.

The German version „Ich heiße“ also can be translated as “I call myself”, except there is no “myself” in the sentence [2d]: the verb heißen, although not reflexive, already means “to call oneself”.

«Меня зовут Лиза» [2e] superficially looks similar to “Me llamo Isabel”, or, at least, this was what I thought when I first heard the “Me llamo” construction. But no. There is no reflexive verb in [2e]. Instead, we have a “normal” transitive verb звать. The literal translation would be “They call me Liz”. Except there is no “they” either. And thus, no subject. But is it then a complete sentence?

Yes it is. We can’t add subject to it without changing its sense. «Они меня зовут Лиза» implies that it is only a specified group of people (они) who call me so (while my real name could be different).

So what is complete sentence anyway? I’m afraid this is the moment to delve into Russian grammar a bit deeper.

First, we need to make distinction between complete/incomplete and two-member/one-member sentences. Two-member sentences (двусоставные предложения) are those boring classical ones with both subject and predicate. One-member sentences (односоставные предложения) have either subject or predicate but not both. For instance, nominal sentences (назывные предложения) have at least one subject (подлежащее) but no predicate:

Зима!.. Крестьянин, торжествуя
На дровнях обновляет путь...
Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Чудное море! Чёрное море!
О, этот блеск плюс плеск близкой волны!
Sometimes, nominal sentences consist of just one word (so-called sentence word):
Лето. Жара. Мухи.
In Russian, there are several classes of one-member sentences that only have a predicate (сказуемое) but no subject. For example, impersonal sentences (безличные предложения), which also could be composed of single word:
    Темно. “It’s dark.”
    Вечерело. “It was getting dark.”
    Холодает. “It’s getting cold.”
And yet they are compete, self-sufficient sentences.

In indefinite-personal sentences (неопределённо-личные предложения), the agent is either not important or unknown. The predicate is a verb in third person plural.

    Мне позвонили. “I got a call.”
    Его уволили. “He was fired.”
    Говорят, что кур доят. “They milk chickens, they say.” (Don’t believe every thing you hear.)
«Меня зовут Лиза» belongs to this class too. One can also say «Меня зовут Лизой». What happens here? The name is changed from nominative (Лиза) to instrumental (Лизой). Some argue that using the instrumental case is more correct, or even the only correct. The reasoning here, I imagine, is as follows. The nominative case answers the questions кто? (who?) and что? (what?). Let’s ask Liz:
    Кто Вас зовут?
No, that’s wrong. We already know that in this situation “who” is irrelevant — that’s why they omit “they” from the sentence. The proper way to ask is
    Как Вас зовут? *
This, however, is the domain of the instrumental case which, in a schoolbook, answers the questions кем? (by whom?) and чем? (by what?) but also как? каким образом? (how?). On the other hand, it could be that the nominative in [2e] is in fact the vocative which, by the way, is called in Russian звательный падеж:
    — Меня зовут: «Лиза!»
As the vocative form is identical to nominative and nobody hears the punctuation marks, we just stick to nominative. But, as I said, both forms are correct, it’s a matter of personal taste.
Кавалергард, генерал, сам крупный богатый помещик, и зовут его Павлом Петровичем... [Inst.]
Меня зовут Алексей Васильевич Турбин... [Nom.]
Instead of звать, one can use называть, кликать, величать, the meaning is the same:
В некотором селе жили два соседа: Иван Богатый да Иван Бедный. Богатого величали «сударем» и «Семенычем», а бедного — просто Иваном, а иногда и Ивашкой.
Меня называли орлёнком в отряде,
Враги называли орлом.
Яков Шведов, «Орлёнок»
Веди нас к старшему, какого Александром Анисимычем кличут!
Михаил Шолохов, «Поднятая целина»
More informal, colloquial variant is «Меня звать Лиза» (or «Меня звать Лизой»). This is an example of infinitive sentence (инфинитивное предложение), which sometimes is considered a type of impersonal sentence.
— Как звать-то? — спросил поп, благословляя.
— Фёклой зовут.
Михаил Зощенко, «Исповедь»
Just like French and Spanish, Russian has reflexive verbs, viz. зваться and называться, which mean “to call oneself”. Why can’t we use them?
Я — поэт, зовусь я Цветик.
От меня вам всем приветик.
Николай Носов, «Приключения Незнайки и его друзей»
Я называюсь Колобком, я всем и каждому знаком.
These are complete two-member sentences, with subject (я) and predicate (зовусь, называюсь). Here too, one can put the name in either nominative or instrumental. Цветик seems to prefer former, Колобок latter.

In normal everyday Russian though you won’t hear introductions like «Я зовусь Лиза» or «Я называюсь Лиза». The verb называться is extremely common and is used in connection with the names of objects, living beings, places, organisations, works of art — in short, everything but personal names.

Заведение называлось «Улыбка». Я улыбнулся и пошел дальше.
If this verb is ever placed next to the name of a person, it is done for a somewhat comic effect:
Человечек был буфетчиком в Варьете и назывался Андрей Фокич Соков.
Булгаков, «Мастер и Маргарита»
Так что я сейчас называюсь гвардии ефрейтор Вознесенский и служу при майоре Вознесенском связным.
Валентин Катаев, «Сын полка»
The verb зваться can be used to talk about somebody else’s personal names:
Итак, она звалась Татьяной.
«Евгений Онегин»
Звался он Луи Второй...
Леонид Дербенёв, «Всё могут короли»
A beautiful poem by David Samoylov makes use of both reflexive (звалась) and transitive (звали) verbs and, curiously, has names (of winters) in both nominative and instrumental:

Названья зим

стихи Давида Самойлова
музыка Сергея Никитина
У зим бывают имена.
Одна из них звалась Наталья.
И были в ней мерцанье, тайна,
И холод, и голубизна.

Еленою звалась зима,
И Марфою, и Катериной.
И я порою зимней, длинной
Влюблялся и сходил с ума.

И были дни, и падал снег,
Как тёплый пух зимы туманной.
А эту зиму звали Анной,
Она была прекрасней всех.

Another common way to introduce ourselves is similar to the English one. «Я — Лиза» is an almost literal translation of “I am Liz”, except there is no “am”. In modern Russian есть, the present tense form of the verb быть “to be”, is normally omitted.

— Тише, молчать, — отвечал учитель чистым русским языком, — молчать или вы пропали. Я Дубровский.
А. С. Пушкин, «Дубровский»
Голубков. Как? Вы русский? А я вас принял за француза. Как я рад!
Антуан. Так точно, я русский. Я — Грищенко.
Булгаков, «Бег»
— Я — Швондер, она — Вяземская, он — товарищ Пеструхин и Жаровкин.
Булгаков, «Собачье сердце»
In the last quote, Mr. Schwonder introduces not only himself but the rest of his entourage.

Interestingly, the future forms of быть such as будешь and especially будете and будет, can be present when asking about one’s name (origin, occupation etc.):

Бунша (Милославскому). Я извиняюсь, вы кто же такой будете?
Милославский. Кто я такой буду, вы говорите? Я дожидаюсь моего друга Шпака.
Булгаков, «Иван Васильевич»
If it sounded slightly old-fashioned already in the last century, the Strugatsky brothers predicted that by the 23rd century this particular use of будет will die out completely, as illustrated by the misunderstanding between 20th- and 23rd-century interlocutors, respectively:
— А отец ваш, извините, кем будет?
Кем будет? Наверное, так и останется мелиоратором.
Братья Стругацкие, «Попытка к бегству»
“And your father, I beg my pardon, who might he be?”
Who will he be? Most likely, he will remain a land ameliorator.”
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Escape Attempt
So, both two-member and one-member sentences can be complete (полные предложения). Also, both two-member and one-member sentences can be incomplete (неполные предложения). This happens when some formally necessary member(s) such as subject, predicate or object are omitted but the meaning of the sentence is clear from the context or situation.
Женя. Вас как зовут?
Надя. Надя.
Женя. Меня Женя.
Here, only the first sentence is complete (although, as we know, it’s one-member). The rest are incomplete and their meaning cannot be understood out of context.

Let’s start again.

    — Давайте познакомимся.
As mentioned before, Russian reciprocal verbs can lose all elegance in English translation. For example, познакомиться is “to introduce oneselves to each other”, so «Давайте познакомимся» is “Let’s introduce ourselves to each other” or “Let’s get acquainted”. No wonder English speakers never say anything like that before embarking on actual introductions.

This is how the dialogue [1] goes in Russian:

    — Я Саша.
    — Лиза. Очень приятно.
    — Взаимно.
By now you know that one-word sentence «Лиза» could be one of several things. It could be either incomplete one-member sentence «Меня зовут Лиза» or (also incomplete) two-member sentence «Я Лиза». It even could be a complete (one-member) nominal sentence that uses vocative: «Лиза!» In the end, it doesn’t matter: your name in nominative will suffice.
— Максудов, — сказал я с достоинством.
Булгаков, «Театральный роман»
— Изя Кацман, — представился он бархатным голосом. — Мусорщик.
— Сельма Нагель, — лениво отозвалась Сельма, протягивая руку. — Шлюха.
Братья Стругацкие, «Град обреченный»
— Гроссмейстер О. Бендер! — заявил Остап, присаживаясь на стол. — Устраиваю у вас сеанс одновременной игры.


* I prefer «Как Вас зовут?» to «Как тебя зовут?» because it is more polite: you really have to know another person’s name before even thinking of switching to ты or “тыкать”.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Андрей Рублёв

a film by Andrei Tarkovsky

In February and March, there is a screening of Tarkovsky’s films in Teatro Guiniguada organised by Filmoteca Canaria. I learned it from Tamara who, in turn, learned it from somebody else during one of Arawak excursions, because there was nothing on Teatro Guiniguada’s own page. After reading some info about the film and remarking on a profusion of Andreys therein, Timur decided against watching it (three hours of black and white epic in Russian with Spanish subtitles on a weekday is not everybody’s cup of tea*), so I went on my own.

€2 per ticket (€1 students and OAP) is a bargain, don’t you think? Yet the audience was no more than 30 people, which could be explained by the aforementioned lack of publicity. Thankfully, the version they had shown was a 183-minute theatrical release rather than 205-minute «Страсти по Андрею» (The Passion According to Andrei). Even more thankfully, there was a five-minute break between the two parts of the film, to give some of the audience a chance to escape with dignity.

It’s been at least 15 years since I watched Andrei Rublev last time — and at least 25 since I last watched it in the cinema — but I remember it remarkably well. Apart from (untranslated) banter of Italian ambassadors in The Bell, from which I now understood roughly a half: first, expressing doubts about the bell’s ability to ring, then switching their attention to a beautiful girl.

I found the film’s epilogue, shot in colour and accompanied by a highly disturbing music, as irritating as I remember it back then. As if instead of a steady hand of Vadim Yusov (who was to further perfect his trademark slow shots in Solaris) the camera was held by an apprentice. And what’s the point of it?

In spite of all the criticism and censorship, the movie was nevertheless shown, if not widely, but in its (183-minute) entirety, in the Soviet cinemas of the 1970s and 1980s. I think it is amazing. It is even more amazing that the characters who bring the most light to the, let’s face it, rather grim film, are neither Rublev himself (Anatoly Solonitsyn) nor his fellow painters with their endless talk about Christian faith but those who don’t show any signs of this faith: the Jester (Rolan Bykov), a pagan woman Marfa (Nelly Snegina) and Durochka (Irma Raush). In particular, Marfa, in only a few words, seems to talk more sense than Andrei in all his (pre-Silence) diatribes.

Марфа: А ты чего головой вниз просился? Совсем худо было бы. И нас зачем ругал? Огнём грозил пожечь.
Андрей: Так ведь грех это так вот нагими-то бегать и творить там всякое грех.
Марфа: Какой же грех? Сегодня такая ночь. Все любить должны. Разве любовь грех?
Андрей: Какая ж любовь, когда вот так хватают да вяжут?
Марфа: А то как же? Вдруг дружину наведешь, монахов, насильно к своей вере приводить будете. Думаешь, легко вот так в страхе жить?
Андрей: А вот и страх кругом потому, что либо совсем без любви, либо срамная она да скотская. Одна плоть без души, а любовь братской должна быть.
Марфа: А не всё едино? Любовь же.
Marfa: Why did you ask to be put upside down — it would have been even worse. And why did you abuse us — threatened to burn us in the fire.
Andrei: But it is sinful to run about naked like this, to do all sort of sin.
Marfa: Why sin — tonight is such a night — everyone must love tonight. Is love really a sin?
Andrei: What sort of love is this when they capture and bind me so?
Marfa: How else — you might bring the guard — the monks. You will start trying to convert us to your faith by force. You think it’s easy to live like this in fear?
Andrei: This is why there is fear all around, for people either live entirely without love or with a shameful, bestial one, love for the body without the soul. Love should be brotherly.
Marfa: Isn’t it all the same? It’s love.
(English translation by Vera Koshkina)

* It reminded me of a 1980s Soviet anecdote, perhaps based on the overheard dialogue in a box office queue:

— А кто это Андрей Рублёв?
— Художник такой.
— Это что ж, чёрно-белый, две серии, и всё про одного художника?
“And who is this Andrei Rublev?”
“A painter. ”
“Why, a two-part, black-and-white, and all about the same painter?”

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 Entinтрубадурочка, 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].