A hit! A palpable hit!

Grave robbery, but not as we know it.

19.09.08. I case you’ve turned up here looking for a sample sentence using the word “palpable”, I’ve written an entry about the word here. [20.06.13. Link removed because it referred to a page from when this was a Spaces blog, and I can’t find any post from September 2008 about “palpable”.]

I recently ran into an online grammar [20.06.13. Link removed because it was dead. There is a new page, but it’s little more than an advert.] of the Caucasian language Udi which is related to Lezgian. (I’m name dropping here simply because I’ve actually heard of Lezgian.) Let’s have a look at a sample sentence (slightly modified from the original).

me içen gärämzinax gölö t’ap’nexa

The grammar of the sentence is nothing exceptional. Straightforward SOV with an ergative subject. Actually, it’s the meaning which is curious. The sentence means “The man hits the grave very much”.

All right, it’s obviously decontextualised, but in isolation it seems to be a very strange thing to say. Probably, the man’s wife was eaten by a polar bear [What? In the Caucasus? -ed.], and he’s down at the grave hitting it and saying, “Ah my dear wife! Now that you are dead, who will cook my tea for me?”

All very romantic, I’m sure.

As for the grammar of Udi, the author is clearly a syntactician, hence the phonology is thin on the ground, but the morphology and syntax get a good seeing to. The language is phonologically interesting in that it contrasts dental and alveolar obstruents. It happens, but it’s rare.

However, it should be noted that the table of consonants has the proviso “place of articulation is indicated approximatively [sic!] only”. The real contrast seems to be between dental and palatal which would create a much stronger contrast than apico-dental vs. lamino-alveolar.

Are you sure these are the same guys?

They might look cuddly…

I’ve been reading Peter Fleming’s News from Tartary, which is his tale of the journey that he and Ella Maillart made through Xinjiang to India back in 1935. From a modern perspective it was odd to see the Tibetans referred to as “warlike”, because these days the image everyone in the West has of Tibet seems to be a place which is populated by Buddhist monks and nuns, and is all with the spirituality.

I’ll take a guess that the place got spiritual back in the 1960s when Buddhism became trendy.


The Mystery of the Verbal Adverb

A couple of days ago I encountered the term “converb” which I hadn’t seen before. I know about “coverbs” because they’re in Chinese. A coverb is the equivalent of a preposition in English, but it’s aptly named a coverb because it can be either a preposition or a verb. For example, zai (在) can mean “in” or “be in”.

I found the word “converb” defined as a verbal adverb, which got me scratching my head because while I’m familiar with verbal nouns and verbal adjectives, I couldn’t think what the relationship or even function of a verbal adverb to these might be.

Actually, as I found on further research, “converb” is another term for gerund. In Latin, gerunds are verbal nouns, but they only occur in the oblique cases, the nominative being filled by the infinitive (e.g. nom. parare “to prepare”; acc. parandum “preparing”). Verbal nouns of this particular type (i.e., non-finite verb forms that cannot function as subjects or – but here certain knowledge fails me – direct objects) are found in a wide range of languages.

On the other hand, if verbal nouns in the oblique cases are going to be singled out as a group, then why not do the same to nouns? The oblique cases could be called “connouns” and defined as nominal adverbs (which they sort of are).

As for the name “converb”, I don’t particularly like it because in my mind “con-” is a verbal prefix, not a nominal one. I’d prefer the term “verbal adverb” because it doesn’t upset my grammar.

As a closing remark, this is the second time I’ve posted this. When I tried the first time, I got a message saying that there was a problem with Spaces. I came back later thinking that the original post had at least been saved, but there was nothing here.

The lights went out

The power that doesn’t be

We first have to rewind things to yesterday. A couple of days ago I was told that I was going to the junior middle school to see a public lesson. But just before lunch yesterday I was informed that the time had been changed to 3.50pm and there was something about performances.

When Mrs Tiggywinkle and I got to the junior middle school, we found that we were watching a school concert in English performed by the pupils. It was the usual sort of fare and had to include China’s alternative national anthem, the mind-numbingly saccharine Take Me To Your Heart. At the end we were asked to say a few words, and then we were asked to give a performance.

When I’d been told about performances, I thought I’d go tooled up with something in case, so I had with me a copy of John Pomfret’s poem The Choice. I read out a short section, and that kept everyone happy. And probably mostly mystified as to the meaning.

We went out for dinner with some of the teachers afterwards and had a somewhat overly convivial evening.

When I got up this morning, I found that the power was off again. A new bridge into town is being built and every so often some electrical work needs to be done. This has meant cutting off all power to the town usually for a period of twelve hours. This was especially annoying today because I mostly had the day off. My little darlings are sitting school exams.

Meanwhile in home news, I see the Dear Leader has ordered the abolition of the Child Support Agency, a <span class = “sarcasm”>much loved</span> or­gan­is­ation which seemed to be a cross between social workers and the Mafia. The idea was that it’d get reluctant fathers to pay maintenance for their children. Instead of going after the bad fathers, it seemed to have a penchant for going after the more responsible ones and then making them cough up more money. Easy hit; quota filled.

Things we overlook

It could’ve been a bang-up job

It’s very easy in China to lose track of time and miss various dates that wouldn’t pass unnoticed in the West. As usual, I’d forgotten about Guy Fawkes Night. Although I half remembered it this year, Michael Quinion mentioned something that I’d overlooked. This year is the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.

But why after 400 years does anyone still bother? On the one hand, we have a group of Catholic conspirators who wanted to blow up Parliament. But in our modern, secular society, anti-Catholicism is an irrelevance (excluding Northern Ireland, of course). On the other hand, we have the triumph of the police state and human rights abuse as a consequence of the failed plot. So it’s all about saying “Boo!” to the Catholics, and “Yay!” to police brutality.

Ah ha! you exclaim. You’re just being a girly revisionist!

Nope. I’m just making an observation from a different angle.

Besides, no one cares what happened 400 years ago. These days, Bonfire Night is an excuse for some fun.

It’s curious, but coincidental that Guy Fawkes should’ve been caught not long after Samhain (1st November), which is the Celtic festival that marks the first day of winter and the Celtic New Year. Firecrackers are one means of scaring off demons at a time of the year when the boundaries between the natural and supernatural worlds were meant to be especially thin.

Oh good grief! you exclaim. You’re not about to come up with some daft conspiracy theory about druids and Guy Fawkes, are you?

No, but it sounds like the basis for some kind of conspiracy theory novel. Just the sort of complete bollocks Dan Brown would write – badly, of course.

Do say: Pass the sky rockets.

Don’t say: 90 day detention period.

Gone fishin’

Waiting with baited hook

At lunch with the headmaster last week, fishing came up for some reason and we were invited to go fishing with him this weekend.

Actually, the headmaster never turned up. He had a “meeting”. Nor did Mrs Tiggywinkle, who used the other stock excuse of needing a rest. Consequence of the shock news on Friday.

We went to a nearby fishing centre which was an artificial lake set in artificial grounds. While the two guys either side of our party reeled in several fish, we caught nothing, although I did get the remains of a small plastic bag. We were told that the other fishermen were using shrimps as bait.

In the end, the school bought us some fish. We had some for lunch at a restaurant, and the rest was cooked up for us to take away.

I see from The Guardian that the government is still banging on about this ID card thing. The irony about living in China, which is a police state, is that things here are a lot more relaxed than they are in the West. If laws in the West are made to be broken, here they’re made to be ignored.

More on those mascots

Freaky babies.

EastSouthWestNorth Blog reports various comments about the mascots for the Beijing Olympics, including a poll on msnbc.com in which the favourite mascot comes a distant second to “They’re all lame”.

I’m sure they’ll be hanging in their millions from the rucksacks of school children across the country.

Actually, even twentysomething Chinese can have some pretty childish accessories on their rucksacks. I once saw a girl with a couple of small inflated hammers hanging from hers, and large numbers festoon their rucksacks with miniature fluffy toys.

20.06.13. Tidied up the text alignment and added tags. The London Olympics didn’t manage to do any better with their weird symbol which looked like Lisa Simpson giving oral pleasure.

I didn’t really have a particular opinion about the mascots myself, but the Olympics, like all sporting events, is a massive shrug to me.

Ave atque vale

Goodbye Gao San?

I see that I’ve had a visit from a random passer-by. I suppose I should remember that I’m not just talking to myself. That’d be crazy.

It’s been a busy day today because an inspector called from Beijing. Once again I’ve managed to dodge that bullet, but other issues came up which distracted the inspector from her poking and prying.

But there’s news as well. Mrs Tiggywinkle and I were to have a meeting this afternoon with the Senior 3 teachers about what we’re doing with the students in the college entrance exam classes.

As an aside, I should explain that Chinese high schools cover the final three years of schooling. At the end, students do the college entrance exam which determines whether they go to university and which university they will attend. It’s the only exam at high school level that counts for anything, although overall they do more exams than I’ve had hot dinners.

Anyway, students have been complaining about going to Mrs Tiggywinkle’s classes (and, no doubt, mine), and the results from the midterm exams had come in. The students in our classes had shown no improvement. Now that’s no big surprise. It takes quite a bit of time for students to improve their proficiency in a foreign language.

It’s clear that the Chinese want our classes to stop, but they were persuaded to let us try for another couple of weeks, but doing reading, not writing. Students have been complaining about all the writing they’ve had to do.

I can understand things from the Chinese perspective. I was surprised when we were told we were going to teach college entrance exam classes because that’s a wholly Chinese enterprise. I’m not surprised that the Chinese want to put an end to it. I doubt that they wanted us to be teaching such classes in the first place.

We have to the end of the month, but it’s not going to make any difference. Already in Class 15, it’s been clear that the students don’t want to be doing the class. At best, we might be left with a small rump of students, but I doubt whether it’ll be enough for two teachers.

So what happens next? I don’t know, but the school appears to have some idea about getting us to teach some other classes, possibly Senior 1. I smell “con­vers­ation” classes. Ack!

A Dream of Red Mansions I

Precious children

I’ve come to the end of the first volume of A Dream of Red Mansions. Like the other classic Chinese novels I’ve read, this one seems to be rambling and aimless. In fact, volume 1 is about 600 pages long. I know where things are meant to be going, but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to get there.

So far, it’s really been a tale of precious (in the bad sense) adolescents living in a world of painfully petty social etiquette. It’s an odd sort of world, too, in which everyone has a bunch of maids running around after them, but the maids are not exactly subservient.

What’s the deal with Baoyu? He’s definitely a girly boy, but perhaps not in the gay sense. It’s hard to tell. He’s only marginally less precious than the consumptive Lin Daiyu who spends most of her time, it seems, blubbing and having tantrums. As is typical with the Chinese, there seems to be no reaction that’s not an extreme reaction.

Overall, this is a world of the immature. The main characters are in their mid-teens, which means that their parents are probably only in their thirties, and the Old Ancentress (as she is called) is probably about 48.

Well, there are three more volumes to go so things may get better. Actually, I should say, “become clearer”, because right now the story remains aimless.

The first three classic Chinese novels haven’t received my seal of critical approval. They all suffer from being long and rambling. The Three Kingdoms fell flat once the original protagonists had died. The Journey to the West was boringly repetitive once you got to the journey itself. Outlaws of the Marsh turned into a repeat screening of The Three Kingdoms (having been written by the same person).

The fog

Cutting it with a knife.

I’m not sure whether it’s a long time since I’ve seen fog this thick, or whether I’ve never actually seen fog this thick. The visibility is down to about 5m at best.

[19.06.13. I well remember this, and crossing the road to the school with some trep­id­ation because the cars and trucks didn’t seem to be slowing down or turning their lights on. Again, how were people not splattered all over the road?]

Life and whatever in the imperium sericum.