1 November 2010

Language fashions

I called a friend in Greece yesterday but the connection was not possible due to technical problems. A recorded message announced:
Η τηλεφωνική σύνδεση που καλέσατε δεν είναι εφικτή για τεχνικούς λόγους.
(The telephone connection that you called is not possible due to technical reasons.)
I've been hearing this message for a few years: it has been the standard recorded message of the Greek telecommunication company during the last, say, 6-7 years. What's wrong with this? Well, we do not call a telephone connection. We either call a telephone (number) or we establish a telephone connection. To call a telephone connection is, simply, an absurd expression.

So I will make a prediction: because this message has been on for many years, and because nobody has bothered to change it, this will become a de facto expression in the Greek language: "to call a telephone connection". I don't complain when a language changes (like nite instead of night or gonna instead of going to), but, nevertheless, it seems peculiar when a language changes due to a stupidity. The example above is a change witnessed in action.

Here is another example, a phonological change this time: The double consonant 'γγ' in Greek is sometimes pronounced as 'ng' (i.e. nasalised hard g), as in αγγελος (a'ŋgelos), and sometimes as 'ŋγ' (i.e. nasalised soft g) as in the word
συγγραφέας (writer)  :   siŋγraféas
The reason is simple: the latter word is formed by joining a prefix (συν) with a word derived from the verb γραφω (to write):
συν + γραφέας = συγγραφέας
The nasal consonant ν becomes γ in front of the (soft) consonant γ. While the writing changes, the pronunciation remains unaltered. Nevertheless, many younger Greeks pronounce the word as
i.e. (i) they drop the nasal sound completely and (ii) the harden the γ. So the 'υγγ' in 'συγγραφέας' sounds like the 'ig' in 'dig'. The result sounds both funny and ridiculous.

How did this come about? It appears that several years ago some illiterate TV news broadcaster, or some other popular TV personality, started pronouncing the word as 'siGraféas'. Probably, this became the cool thing to do. And, lo and behold, we have a generation of Greeks pronouncing the word in a funny way. (Please don't ask me for references; this is, simply, my guess...)

Again, it is silly to complain about changes in language (it changes all the time), but it does sound a bit funny when the changes are due to errors that can be witnessed in action.

My final example, again of phonological nature, is the triplet of months
Οκτώβριος,  Νοέμβριος, Δεκέμβριος (October, November, December).
They derive from the latin words octo, novem, decem, meaning eight, nine, ten, respectively. Notice that the nasal consonant 'm' appears at the end of only two of these numerals. Therefore 'October' is not pronounced 'octoMber'. However, modern (i.e. the last 5 years or so) Greeks, and learned ones, supposedly (such as politicians and lawyers), say
Why? Well, I don't know. Apparently, Since Νοέμβριος and  Δεκέμβριος are pronounced as NoéMvrios and DekéMvrios, some not-so-cautious Greeks started inserting a nasal consonant in Οκτώβριος as well, making it, effectively, Οκτώμβριος. And since people like to behave as the ones whom they consider superior to them, the latter pronunciation of our second autumn month has been accepted.

Well, October (or should I say Octomber to be cool too) ended up yesterday. We're already in November and I need to do get some work done....

(Besides, my problem, now, is pronouncing Swedish, which is tougher than Finnish, and, oh boy, how much I have to learn (but can't face it yet).)


  1. I think it's a very common phenomenon in many languages for an "ng" sound to get swallowed up and possibly disappear -- it is a labour-intensive sound and those tend to go.

  2. Maybe so. But the "call a telephone connection" phrase still looks ugly to me.

    By the way, in Swedish, the "sh" sound is often replaced by a "h" sound, almost everywhere in Sweden (except Stockholm). For example, "station", "nation" (identical meanings as in English) are pronounced "stahon", "nahon". (But in Stockholm they still say "staSHon", "naSHon", and, of course, Stockholmers claim that this is the correct way to say things...)

    This could be another example of the labour-intensive kind.



What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant