Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2007 October 7

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October 7[edit]

Demonstrating the tones in Mandarin using music notes[edit]

What would be some sequences of musical notes that can be used to demonstrate tone contour patterns in Mandarin? -- 04:16, 7 October 2007 (UTC)

There is just such an illustration in Reading and Writing Chinese by McNaughton and Ying. I don't own the book, but I remember it's somewhere in the introduction. Strad 16:08, 7 October 2007 (UTC)
(after edit conflict) The difference in pitch between the low of a low tone and the high of a falling tone can be as much as a fifth, as shown in Fig 1 of this article. However, it is hard to express the contour patterns as a sequence of notes, because in conventional notation a note holds a steady pitch for a certain amount of time, while here we have continuously changing pitch. Even in a portamento the extremal notes are typically identifiable, but not so here. You can use the referenced figure to make up your own approximating sequence.  --Lambiam 16:10, 7 October 2007 (UTC)
The change in pitch from tones in any language is difficult to represent in musical notation (although it has been done to an extent). The difficulty is that each person speaks with a different range (a major third, a minor 6th, etc) and the range will cover a different part of the musical scale (some will start around a C, others at an F, G, 'Eb, etc). Furthermore, the usual descriptions of Mandarin tones only really applies to when syllables are being read on their own. When they are combined, they affect each other, due to the transition between a low pitch and a high pitch, or vice versa. They are further affected by the syntax of the utterance - the whole change in pitch is structured within the intonation of a sentence (steady and falling at the end for a standard declarative sentence. Kratochvil (1968) The Chinese Language Today provides this explanation with very good diagrams.Steewi 01:08, 9 October 2007 (UTC)


Why is the Spanish word for 'handcuffs' the same as the word for 'wives'? 04:19, 7 October 2007 (UTC)

You're not married then, I take it?  --Lambiam 05:22, 7 October 2007 (UTC)
Both come from the Latin verb spondere, meaning "to engage oneself" or "to promise". So the metaphor of a close bond between spouses was used to describe implements which hold one's hands together. Bhumiya (said/done) 06:46, 7 October 2007 (UTC)
Yes, English bond is the operative term, and is itself no different, in fact: its connotations may be quite positive (marriage bonds, bond between mother and child, bonds of friendship etc.) or quite negative (archaic plural bonds meant "fetters, manacles, ties" etc.). Bessel Dekker 13:03, 7 October 2007 (UTC)

Oh, so it wasn't just a coincidence. BTW, the Swedish word for "married" sounds the same as the word for "poison": gift. --Kjoonlee 14:11, 7 October 2007 (UTC)

Probably related with to give and its cognates. Same in Dutch: gif(t) means "poison", gift means "present, something bestowed", and both derive from the same root, geef- "giv-". It seems that the usage referring to gift="poison" as a gift="present" was originally a euphemism (and rather a forceful one at that).
English, possibly, is lucky in having a rich Romance vocabulary. On second thought, poison derives from the same root as potion, through the French — so let the buyer beware! Bessel Dekker 14:36, 7 October 2007 (UTC)

The Czech word svobodný can mean either "unmarried" or "free." -- Mwalcoff 17:37, 7 October 2007 (UTC)

A word for the realization of one's flaws[edit]

A while ago, I remember coming across a word—possibly one of those composite German nouns—that referred to a literary character's sudden and complete realization of his tragic flaws. An example, I think, would be the ending of Death of a Salesman. Can anyone tell me what that word was, or did I just imagine the whole thing? Cheers, bdesham  17:12, 7 October 2007 (UTC)

anagnorisis? -Nunh-huh 20:30, 7 October 2007 (UTC)
I believe that's it. Thanks a lot! :-) bdesham  20:37, 7 October 2007 (UTC)

what does llueve mean in english[edit]

It means "it rains". It doesn't mean "it's raining", because that would be Está lluviendo. Corvus cornix 20:15, 7 October 2007 (UTC)
I think it can be translated as "it's raining". Translation is not an exact science, and, depending on context, the latter could be more appropriate. a.z. 23:23, 7 October 2007 (UTC)
Tienes razón. Spanish speakers often use the present simple where we would use the present progressive. So the one-word sentence Llueve means "it's raining." -- Mwalcoff 22:51, 8 October 2007 (UTC)

People, Persons[edit]

What's the difference between people, persons, and, for that matter, peoples? — Daniel 23:14, 7 October 2007 (UTC)

I'd like to learn that as well. a.z. 23:21, 7 October 2007 (UTC)
"I met three people" is informal and correct. "I met three persons" is quite formal and even more correct, so correct in fact that it sounds stilted. The choice in this context between "people" and "persons" is a matter of disagreement among English-lovers. My opinion is that "persons" is correct and defensible, but "people" has won out and is now the norm in any register. "Peoples" is the plural of the "people" we see in "The Lilliputians are a diminutive people." To say "There are many people in that country" means simply that the country has a large population. To say "There are many peoples in that country" means that there are a number of different ethnic groups living within its borders. --Milkbreath 23:54, 7 October 2007 (UTC)
"Persons" sounds to me like legal language, I wouldn't expect to hear it otherwise. Adam Bishop 01:09, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
Agreed. It's found in legislation, e.g. where it's necessary to distinguish between "natural persons" (i.e. human beings) and bodies corporate. -- JackofOz 01:11, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
(edit conflict) You also see it used by purists who don't like "people" because it has no singular form. You can have "one person" and "two persons", but you can't have "one...", well, see? You can't have it. They contend with some justice that "people" is not the plural form of "person". Of course, they don't seem to mind bucking general usage, which is what decides such matters, and has in this case. --Milkbreath 02:07, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
  • These "purists" who contend that the singular "person" cannot correspond o the plural "people" because they are different words are committing the etymological fallacy. They originated as different words, but that doesn't mean they still are. It's like saying that the past tense of "I go" cannot be "I went" because "went" originated as a form of a different verb ("wend" or some related form). It can be and it is, and likewise with person/people. Of course people have the right to disagree with that. --Anonymous, 04:54 UTC, October 8, 2007.
Person is of course used in a derogatory way. A butler in a story by P. G. Wodehouse might say "There is a person at the door who wishes to see you, sir", meaning there's someone there who looks thoroughly undesirable. Even now, if a grand old English lady were to say "I met three persons", that would be a signal of disapproval. Xn4 02:02, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
Even "man" and "woman" would be derogatory in that way. The Schlegels' housekeeper in Howard's End says "There is a woman who wishes to see you" (rather than "a lady") to indicate her disapproval. —Angr 06:15, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
On the other hand, in the BBC's Question Time, Mr Dimbleby when selection a new questioner invariably says: "The woman in the blue dress... No, in the third row!" (Colours and rows may vary.)
That underlines the subtlety of all these matters. In most social contexts, it's a solecism to call all men 'gentlemen' and all women 'ladies'. People in subservient positions are often expected to do so and may risk giving offence if they don't. Xn4 11:46, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
It seems to me that three people stresses the collectivity of the group to a certain extent, whereas three persons rather emphasizes their separateness or individuality.
Surely people is not the plural form of person — whereas persons is. The meaning of people, however, is plural, and the word behaves as such syntactically. Bessel Dekker 11:29, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
Etymologically, BesselDekker is correct that "people" is not the plural form of "persons". However, in contemporary usage, "people" really does serve as the plural form of certain senses of "person". I am thinking, for example, of references to human beings in a gender-neutral, general way. For example, imagine a training session at a warehouse: "If you a mailing a magazine to just one person in a postal code, use the first procedure in your booklet; but if you are sending the same magazine to two or more people in the same postal code, use the second procedure." There are some senses of the word "person" that require the plural "persons", such as the legal or disparaging usages that others have mentioned. But I think that "people" is the plural form that most English speakers would use for most senses of the word "person". "Persons" could be used in these cases as well, but few would, because it sounds very stilted. Marco polo 12:58, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
Incidentally, it is a funny coincidence that "people" and "person" both probably derive from Etruscan roots. Marco polo 13:00, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
See also Wikipedia:Reference_desk_archive/Language/2006 October 2#People v. Persons.  --Lambiam 15:31, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
I have no quarrel at all with most of what you say, Marco. My main point was that people is not a plural form but a word with plural meaning. I did not so much allude to the etymological background as to the Saussurian distinction between the form and the meaning of a word. Structurally, persons would still be the plural form of person, I'd like to maintain, while if we wished to refer to the plural meaning, we'd admittedly prefer people.
The Etruscan connection is indeed interesting. Of course, meanings in Latin were widely different (persona = "mask", and even today, a person may choose to show a persona to others). Bessel Dekker 17:17, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
Even more than that, we all have our personae, which mask our true selves. This goes hand in hand with the ego. Some personae are more impenetrable than others. -- JackofOz 01:39, 9 October 2007 (UTC)