Irregular verb

Basque: can you get one in Zara?

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Molly and Polly / Are two of a kind / They look both the same / When they’re seen from behind / But when they turn round / It’s easy to see / That it’s Molly with an M / And Polly with a P

That came back to me in a flash from more than thirty years ago earlier this week.

What if television programming for small children included little songs about integration by substitution, the appendices to Kennedy’s Latin Primer, or the ribosomally-encoded amino acids? It would make very little difference to the children as small children, but might help avoid dull rote learning later on.

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Glottalization and aspiration in Georgian: evidence from user interfaces

If you type into the search box on the Georgian-language Wikipedia, you may be surprised to see Mkhedruli, the modern Georgian alphabet, appearing instead of Roman. That means you can search for ამაზონი without having to copy and paste.

What interests me here is the choices made for t, k and p. Capital T, the marked case, corresponds to თ (aspirated) whereas lower-case (and hence unmarked) t is ტ (glottalized). k is კ (glottalized). There is no K, because q is ქ (aspirated). p პ (glottalized), f ფ (aspirated), and lastly y ყ (glottalized uvular stop, because they look alike).

At least in spelling if not in pronunciation, there is no assimilation of aspirated consonants to adjacent glottalized ones. ფტორი “fluorine”, from the Russian фтор, is an example of this.

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Hidden degrees of economic freedom

Some people in the UK are very keen on the imperial system of weights and measures as a symbol of national identity, even though each of the units is pegged to the SI system and in fact affords the government little in the way of policy options.

Imagine if Greece, instead of leaving the Euro, left the SI and brought in floating exchange rates for the metro, the hiliogrammo and the defterolepto. I suspect the first result might be a massive revaluation of each of them. Now, you might accept the case for Greeks selling you 15 m of cloth (in SI) when you’d only asked for 10, but still argue that a country can’t redefine time on its own. However, surveys of time actually spent in the office show that the UK workers’ hour is really more like 4000 s than the officially mandated 3600 s, so something similar is going on unofficially here.

We can go further. We could introduce different peggings for different substances. At present, a tonos of feathers has the same mass as a tonos of spectrometer parts. If we introduced slightly different units for different substances, then we might find that a tonos of feathers has roughly the same mass as 1000 kg SI of feathers, but a tonos of Greek spectrometer parts was substantially heavier.

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Where one part of the body stands for another part of the body

It’s an old sexist convention that you can sell your product with a picture of a woman with her mouth slightly open because having one’s mouth slightly open is reckoned to indicate sexual availability. Not by me, of course.

Why do they keep showing Michael Gove with his mouth slightly open?

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Ejective affinities

This title was prompted by having seen As You Like It in Georgian.

Say ‘t’. Now make a glottal stop. Now do both at once. It’s a bit like pronouncing a word-final ‘t’ normally and enunciating it at the same time.

That’s an ejective. Georgian has six ejectives: პ (p’), ტ (t’), კ (k’), ყ (q’), წ (c’) and ჭ (č’). The peculiar thing about these ejectives is that they show up in loanwords from our common stock of Graeco-Latin-scientificocultural vocabulary. ტელევიზია (t’elevizori), or ინტერნეტი (int’ernet’i) for example.

I had a complicated explanation for why this might be. I thought it might reflect a stressed syllable in whichever source language because not every borrowed unvoiced stop, for example the initial თ in თეატრი (teat’ri) is glottalized.

There is a simpler explanation, though.

Georgian has three sets of stops, voiced and unaspirated, unvoiced and aspirated, unvoiced and glottalized and unaspirated. Russian, on the other hand, has four sets based on two features, voicing and palatalization. They are all unaspirated. I am going to assume that the borrowings have come in through Russian or from English on a Russian pattern and that palatalization is lost on borrowing.

The best match for a Russian т is in fact ტ, being unaspirated, rather than თ. Likewise with the other members of the series. Glottalization seems to be easier for Georgians than aspiration.

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Interlude d’autoroute

59… 62… 75… 75… 62, 62…. 13… 59… 59…

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Carsickness is not like homesickness

I’ve never liked choral syncopation much.

If you read in the back of a car, rather than looking out of the window, you will be carsick. I did this as a child to the accompaniment of Radio 2. But out of the many awful things on Radio 2, it was only the music by the likes of the Swingle Singers that troped my own discomfort.

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Short words in North Sámi

You can form questions by putting the verb at the beginning of the sentence and adding -go. ja is “and”, ahte is a subordinator, ii is “is not”, dat is “it”, dan is “its”, juos is “if”, I think.

More on this in due course.


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Materialism and magic bottles

Organic chemists know about the “magic bottle” effect. This is where if you use a particular bottle of stuff, the reaction goes, and if you use a different, though nominally identical one, the reaction doesn’t.

I can think of at least two hypotheses for why this might be. I have a materialist hypothesis, which is that there are very small amounts of impurities in the “magic” bottle which catalyse the reaction. I also have a non-materialist hypothesis, which is that the “magic bottle” is inhabited by the benign ghost of a departed experimenter.

I have a very good reason for wanting to test the first hypothesis really very thoroughly before the second hypothesis, and it’s nothing to do with any philosophical biases or preconceptions I might have. I have a reliable method for making solutions of stuff with given amounts of impurities, and can even state error bars, given other experiments, on what those amounts might be.

What I have no idea of how to do reliably is to manufacture, or even to get in touch with, benign ghosts of departed experimenters. I can certainly ensure departedness. Ethics committees would disapprove.

And I don’t think the ghosts would be terribly benign.


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