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Language Miscellanea

Random observations on some languages I know or am acquainted with, the longest on separate pages indicated at left.

French & German

Why do we all call it "the French R"? This guttural consonantal sound is not present in any other Latin or Celtic language, and is really of Germanic origin - as are the names of the country and its inhabitants: Gaul was conquered in 6th century AD by the Franks led by Merovingian kings, who eventually evolved into the Carolingians.

We should call it "the Germanic R" - the Germans, too, produce exactly the same sound .

English, German & Greek

The Saxon genitive: this possessive syntactic construct was present in the language of the Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes who invaded Celtic Britannia in 5th century, and an equivalent survives in modern German (e.g. Die Werke Bachs, the works of Bach, Bach's works) and in some Scandinavian languages.

However, this construct was already present in Ancient Greek, where a sentence like "the commander of the soldiers" would have been:

O ton stratiòton strategòs = the of the soldiers commander (the soldiers' commander)

Therefore a designation like Greco-Germanic genitive would be more accurate historically .

Italian, Venetian & English

Urban Toponomastics

Another interesting linguistic area is how the various categories of public city spaces are designated in different cities and countries.

Italian uses basically the same terms everywhere except in Venice, where roads are actually waterways:

VialeWide street, usually tree-linedRio (river)
CorsoAvenue, major/important streetCanal
ViaStreetCalle (as in Spanish)
LargoMajor/important square or streetCampo (field)
PiazzaSquareCampiello (small field)
GalleriaMajor/important arcaded streetPortego
PorticoArcaded streetSotoportego
VicoloAlley, short/narrow street(No equivalent, most Venetian Calli are short/narrow anyway)

Street sign of the Venetian 'sotoportego' "Gate of the Moors"

London is the city where I found the widest variety of denominations, with terms like:
Street, Road, Way, Avenue, Close, Arcade, Garden(s), Mews, Walk, Grove, Row, Lane, Terrace, Square, Crescent, Circus, etc.

Chinese & Music

Many Far Eastern languages are tonal, i.e. their words take different meanings depending on the pitch used when pronouncing them. Not totally surprising then, is that these 'musical' laguages have an effect on certain musical abilities of their speakers.

Chinese Mandarin has 4 tones - 5 if one also counts its "neutral" tone.

For example, the Mandarin word "MA" means "mother" when the vowel is a constant high pitch (1st at right), but quite something else when pronounced with any other pitch.

The 4 different MAs give: "Did mother scold the horse?"

A 1969 UCSD research, reported in 2004 by the Scientific American, compared 115 advanced music students from Rochester, NY with 88 equivalents from Beijing.

The 4 tones of Mandarin

The researchers found that the Mandarin speakers were much more likely to have absolute musical pitch than were English speakers who had started musical training at the same age: 60% of Beijing students who had begun studying music between the ages of 4 and 5 passed a test for absolute pitch, whereas only 14% of the American students did.

Absolute or perfect pitch is the ability to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of an external tuning reference.

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