Five and a half years later

Online Piedmontese.
During my research on Piedmontese, I came across an online course in the language, La lingua piemontese. You have to sign up to the site, but that’s so it can keep track of the lessons you’ve completed. There are twenty-five lessons altogether and at the end of it, you get a virtual certificate. I’ve reached the fifth lesson, but my background in linguistics and five and a half years of teaching English to non-native speakers have given me a pretty good idea of what’s effective in the world of language learning and what isn’t. Although the course is, I think, a good idea, it’s flawed.[1]
The course is limited to reading and writing. Sound files would be a bonus, but there may be technical reasons why it’s not feasible to include them. In other words, this is like using Teach Yourself Piedmontese or Colloquial Piedmontese (if there were such books). Even without audio input, it’d still be possible to have a series of functional lessons which would prepare learners for instances when they might have to speak the language. Or such things could be couched in a functional story-based approach in which Nisin-a, Francësca and co. meet each other (introductions and personal information) and do things together (shopping; likes and dislikes; opinions; stating preferences; etc.). Each lesson would continue the story from the previous lesson and in each one there’d be clear goals.
That’s part of the problem with this course. I’ve now reached the fifth lesson, but I have no idea what the goal of each lesson is. Obviously, but implicitly, it’s the acquisition of some element of Piedmontese grammar, but have a look at the grammar notes from the first lesson (paraphrased).
  1. Words for "hello" and "goodbye".
  2. Lòn che "what".
  3. Pronominal subject proclitics.
  4. The imperative.
  5. Vàire "how much".
  6. Negation.
  7. The treatment of sC-clusters.
As well as these points, we also get the present indicative of esse "to be", avej "to have" and savej "to know".
The first point is useful cultural information because adiù is used for both "hello" and "goodbye". We’re also told that ciàu is used much more "in the modern language", which means there’s something I’m not being told. The statement implies that the word is probably displacing adiù in contemporary Piedmontese.
Apart from being told that lòn che means "what", I’m not given any further information. The example sentence, Lòn ch’it die? "What do you say?", tells me it’s a pronoun, but I know that as a linguist.
The third point concludes by saying "For the moment being, just notice that they exist" where it’d seem to be better to give us the list and note that they’re always used with the verb. It’d be a bit like me saying that the subject pronouns in English are sg 1 I; 2 you; 3 he, she, it; pl 1 we; 2 you; 3 they, and then concluding, "But don’t worry about them". These elements are a core part of the grammar and obviously deserve to be drawn to the learner’s attention from the start.
The imperative is a distraction at this point and shouldn’t really be mentioned except as a footnote so that learners might be aware that i andoma means "we’re going" and andoma means "let’s go", but it’s not something they have to register.
The use of vàire "how much" isn’t discussed and, like the subject proclitics, is dismissed to a later lesson. In the second lesson we have
E vàire ‘t pense d’ësteje al mar? "How long do you think you’ll stay at the seaside?"
Vàire ch’it ëstas an montagna? "How long are you staying in the mountains?"
Vàire ch’it n’has ëd fior? "How many flowers do you have?"
From lesson five we have
Vàire a venta ch’i speta ancora?
which I can’t translate with any certainty because I can’t find a gloss for venta.[2] It seems to mean something like "How long have you been waiting again?" or "How long have you had to wait again?" The sense of vàire seems to be "how much/many/long", although this has had no particular mention so far.
There are two constructions – vàire without che and vàire with che. At this time, I can only guess whether there’s a genuine distinction between the two constructions or not. For example, in E vàire ‘t pense d’ësteje al mar?, vàire has emerged from the non-finite clause.[3] Whether this affects the presence of che in the surface form, I can’t say.
In the other two sentences, vàire is part of the main clause. It’s possible that che is optional.
Vàire ch’it n’has ëd fior? is interesting in two ways. One is that vàire has left its complement ëd fior behind; the other is the presence of the proclitic n’ which, I’ll guess, is identical to Italian ne. This stuff might be covered in later lessons.
The sixth point is immediately useful grammatical information, as is the seventh.
If you don’t have a background in the Romance languages or linguistics, it seems that much of this course will frequently baffle beginners. I’m not sure that I’m that much better off because I know too much and am therefore inclined to have too many questions or make too many observations that require a more advanced knowledge of the grammar of Piedmontese.
I don’t know whether I’ll get as far as the twenty-fifth lesson. I should work through the fifth and then revise the first five.
1. Among other things which I haven’t mentioned, the typesetting of the online pages is peculiar with hyphens at the end of each line, which are more usually a source of confusion and nearly always unnecessary. There are errors in the Piedmontese, some of which are easy to spot, while others may escape the reader’s notice through ignorance of the language. There’s a difference between the language of this course and the type on the other site, which may be the language of an older generation or a different dialect.
2. From the grand dissionari piemontèis I find via the Piemontèis-Italian section
venté (vb) 1. bisognare. 2. dovere. 3. occorrere.
3. Underlyingly, …d’ësteje vàire

And ye shall play it on your DVD players, yea, even unto the seventh generation

Battlestar Galactica.

The original series appeared in the late 70s, and appeared to be cashing in on the Star Wars phenomenon. It was cheap sci-fi with library shots for a lot of the action scenes and tinny voices for the cylons. The story was that on the eve of signing a peace treaty with the cylons, the sneaky robots launch a surprise attack, Only the Galactica survives to lead a fleet of ships to the Promised Land. Sorry, Earth. It was one of those interminable American quest series which, you knew, would never reach its destination unless the studio cancelled it.

I resisted checking out the new version of Galactica for some time and now that I’ve seen the first three series, I wish I’d resisted some more. The original series was overlaid with a thin veneer of religion, but it was never that intrusive. In 21st century America, the religious elements of Galatica have come to the fore to such a degree that there ought to be warnings advising atheists to steer clear of it. It’s a little confusing in one way, because the good guys are polytheists and the bad guys are monotheists. On the basis of the original series, I’m going to guess that if we ever meet the god of the cylons, he, she or it is going to turn out to be a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

The characters have a bit more depth to them than they did in the original Galactica, and the fleet is now playing a part. I don’t remember the fleet getting much mention at all in the original series. There’s also a political dimension in the form of a president played by some woman who’s obviously cornered the market in looking smug and superior, which is her entire acting range. Starbuck is now a woman who, like the president, looks smug and superior, but at least has an extra dimension – she’s a troubled girl. You’ll be pleased to know that she gets killed near the end of the third series, but unhappy to hear that she reappears in the final episode. Colonel Tigh is now a bald, white alcoholic with a cheap, slutty, shrewish wife who, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed to do the job he has. And he turns out to be a cylon, one of the final five. Gaius Balthar is no longer some fat sweaty guy, but a slightly deranged Lothario who thinks he let the cylons fly in under the radar and is, therefore, responsible for the slaughter of humanity.

Overall, Galactica still sucks balls. The prominence of religion made me cringe. It was annoying that the one avowed atheist at the start of the series, Balthar, quickly becomes a believer, but only because he was endangered.

‘God and the doctor, men alike adore,
When on the brink of danger, not before;
The danger past, they are alike requited,
God is forgotten and the doctor slighted.’

The series seemed to be filled with story lines about petty squabbling between characters; characters deciding to take matters into their own hands; and general distractions, all of which made you wish the cylons would eradicate the lot of them.

Come back, Star Trek; all is forgiven. (Apart from Enterprise. There’s no excuse for that.)

The Chinglish Files, Vol. 8253, No. 76

Renhe Department Store signs.
Spotted this in Renhe Department Store at lunchtime.
Obviously for "Lingerie". On the ground floor, the sign said "Celebrity finery" meaning "Designer labels". Unfortunately for the people working in the shop, the ground floor is also the coldest floor because the doors to the street are almost always open. The transition in warmth between it and the 1st floor is noticeable.

Snow in Sichuan

Settle down.

As you can see from the pictures, last night’s snow actually settled, although it was little more than a dusting. I had a phone call from Linda this morning asking me to come to school and take some photos of her and Rose. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, the snow on the running track had vanished and was rapidly disappearing elsewhere. It hasn’t completely vanished. As I was coming home from Zoe’s this evening, I spotted a snowman that someone had made on top of one of the cars back along the street.

A dusting of snow Rose and Linda cavorting in the snow

How do you pronounce it?

Jérôme Kerviel.

Someone washed up here looking for the pronunciation of Jérôme Kerviel. I’ll take a guess that in French it’s something like


My pronunciation in English is (with very rough approximation to French)


but I find that I really want to pronounce his surname as


or perhaps


with the rather lightly stressed diphthong in the initial syllable verging on shwa. Because I know nothing of Breton, I don’t know which is closer to the usual pronunciation of Kerviel. I find that whole /vje/ sequence in his surname awkward to pronounce because I’m used to /vj/ being followed by /u/ in English (e.g. view). I can say /vjel/, but I find I want to turn it into /vjal/ for some reason. The obvious choice in English is unstressed


which you get in the second syllable of words like “copious”.

Is that underlyingly

je ?

Speakers of English don’t seem to like this sequence, hence “manufacture” is often pronounced as


although I still put the /j/ in.

The waiting game

3 o’clock on the dot of 5.

The washing machine and the hot water are working again. The latter was a matter of replacing the batteries which power the igniter and cleaning out the taps which had accumulated a lot of grit from the pipes. Probably every time anyone does some work in the building which involves hammering on the walls, the rust in the pipes comes loose.

The former was a faulty control panel. It seems that when it got jolted by the motion of the washer, it was causing the machine to turn itself off.

When the repairman came round on Friday, he said he’d be round at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon to sort it out. He also wanted Linda to be here to translate. She arrived in good time yesterday and time passed. I showed her pictures of other places I’ve been in China and the website of the British Antarctic Survey where I worked in the early 90s. I had a look through the names of the people working there and recognised a few from my time.

But time continued to pass and although no repairman is ever on time, time was passing and I was getting fed up with the delay. Linda managed to contact the guy and he turned up at about 5 o’clock. Remember how he’d been to the flat the day before? Well, he walked in and headed towards the bedroom or the study, and had to be pointed in the right direction. When he’d finished, he emerged from the laundry (sans his gloves) and again headed towards the bedroom or the study to try and get out of the flat. Doh! And I thought my sense of direction was dreadful.

Transferred to the screen via the magic of lasers


Chuck was a curiosity buy from one of the DVD shops in Computer City. It’s fortunate such things are cheap here because Chuck is a fairly mediocre, second-rate comedy starring a veritable who’s that of stars you mostly don’t recognise and may never see again, except as bit parts in films.

Chuck works at the Buy More, a fairly non-descript electronics shop. He lives in the same house as his hot sister and her studly boyfriend who are the complete antithesis of Chuck himself. Actually, Chuck had been at Stanford until he was expelled for a crime he did not commit. (See The Big Book of American TV Clichés, Vols. 6-37 for details.) An old friend of Chuck’s who’s now a spy sends Chuck a mail message. When Chuck reads the message, all of America’s intelligence secrets are subliminally down­loaded into Chuck’s brain. Whenever he sees a bad guy, the information about that person becomes available.

This suddenly turns Chuck from a mere cog in the machine to an important intelligence asset, protected by Casey, who is all bone and muscle, and Sarah, who’s all blonde and busty.

You’ve lost interest, haven’t you? I know I have. Because even if you’ve never seen Chuck, you know that there will be a thing with the hot girl agent; Agent Bone-and-Muscle is merely there to be the butt of gags; Chuck will always behave like an idiot; but no matter what, somehow he’ll save the day.

Perhaps this is another series the writers’ strike will kill off. No great loss if it did.

And what’s the deal with him living with his sister and her boyfriend?

The sounds of Piedmontese

The usual bunch.
I thought I’d listen through the sound files of Piedmontese words in the Piedmontese and Italian section of the site and see whether I could determine the phonemes and compile a list using the IPA. This is what I came up with.
The vocalic inventory is the usual sort of Romance set plus shwa, /y/ and /ø/. Shwa is written ë. Although it’s not realised orthographically, it sounds as if shwa also occurs word finally when a word ends in a geminate (e.g. magg "May"). /y/, like French, is written u and /ø/ eu. The patterning of high mid vowels in open syllables and low mid in closed syllables has been partly obscured by various other changes.
Vowels are (audibly) long in stressed syllables, but I don’t think this is phonemic distinction in spite of stressed vowels in certain syllables being orthographically marked.
Diphthongs are a slightly trickier bunch because the list on the site includes ua/uà in words like quàder "painting". To me, the pronunciation sounds like
but the difference between /kwa/ and /kua/ may be a little marginal. I don’t know whether there’s anything to suggest that /(C)wa/~/(C)ua/ actually forms a phonological unit in Piedmontese. I doubt it.
ùa, on the other hand, represents /ya/ (e.g. bùa "dente di attrezzo"). But sequences such as ùa, ùe, ào tend to sound disyllabic to my ears.
ai is omitted from the list, apart from iài in piàit "preso", but I find it in fàit "made", quàich "some", quaidun "somebody". iài sounds trisyllabic. Actually, these sequences tend to sound neither properly tautosyllabic nor properly heterosyllabic, although that may be my phonology obscuring the Piedmontese.
Most of the consonants can also be geminate, although /f/ appears to be simple only. There are various complications with /v/ which has become vocalised in certain instances (e.g. cativ /ka’tiu/ "cattivo"; gavte /gaute/ "togliti"; rova /rua/ "wheel"). There also appear to be certain instances when geminates are simplified such as causset /kauset/ "stocking", where there may be a constraint on syllable size in effect.
n is realised as /ŋ/ word-finally (e.g. pan /paŋ/ "bread"; povron /puvruŋ/ "pepper") and in the coda of certain syllables (e.g. zanzìva /zaŋziva/ "gum"). /ŋ/ is also distinguished orthographically by n- in some words such as lun-a /lyŋa/ "moon", bon-a /buŋa/ "good".

Happy Birthday, Dad

70 not out.
I’d like to wish my Dad a happy 70th birthday today.
I had a chat with him online this morning, during the course of which learnt that he’d had a small celebration (although there’s a bigger one on Saturday). There was alcohol involved and the conversation probably went like this:
Dad: I haven’t had any wine in ages.
Omnes: You had some about five minutes ago.
Dad: What happened then?
Omnes: You had some wine.
Dad: I haven’t had any wine in ages.
I would’ve posted this sooner, but lunch was a slightly prolonged affair followed by a trip to the office where I had to sort out the results sheet because of some odd student numbers which had messed up the Class 16 results. Mind you, solving most of that then revealed another problem which seemed to have been caused by new pupils in the class. And it was only then that I went to Carrefour to do some shopping.

We’ll have no trouble here

The League of Gentlemen.

Quincy lent me The League of Gentlemen which I spent much of yesterday and today watching my way through. I managed to miss it when it was first on telly probably because of one of the more irritating features of cable TV – I couldn’t watch one programme and video another. I must admit the canned laughter in the earlier episodes was annoying and artificial. It seems all right when the action is based solely in a studio, but when it’s done on location, a laugh track seems unrealistic and forced.

The series is about the remote village of Royston Vasey, a place populated by grotesques from the homocidal inbred local shopkeepers whose merchandise is only available to local people to the vet who kills every animal he treats to the transsexual taxi driver to the butcher who’s selling something under the counter to certain select customers to the toad-obsessed people who live according to obsessively finicky rules and regulations to the etc. I knew I’d get to see The League of Gentlemen eventually; now I have; bloody good thing too.

Now that I’ve seen the series, I must watch the film again because it’ll make much more sense.