Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2009 October 27

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Language desk
< October 26 << Sep | October | Nov >> October 28 >
Welcome to the Wikipedia Language Reference Desk Archives
The page you are currently viewing is an archive page. While you can leave answers for any questions shown below, please ask new questions on one of the current reference desk pages.

October 27[edit]

Rolling Rs[edit]

I am unclear about what rolling Rs involves. If I can pronounce the words "Arthur" or "Rupert" correctly, does than mean I can roll my Rs? Or is rolling Rs more than this? (talk) 00:12, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

There are a couple of things it can mean.
The way we used it when I was little and we played at making noises, was to describe the rolled r. If you visit that article, you'll see sound sample in the box on the right. Click on that to hear it. You make it by positioning your tongue and breathing out in a way that makes your tongue vibrate against the roof of your mouth. Sometimes people use them when they're speaking in a really over-the-top way: it sounds a bit like a cat purring. It's the rolled R used in Spanish.
When I was a bit older, I also heard it used to describe the R in French, but that isn't really the same thing. The French R is in your throat. (talk) 00:34, 27 October 2009 (UTC)'s comment is just right. "rolling your R" refers to the alveolar trill, the most prominent example is probably Spanish (in words like perro). It's formed when the body of your tongue is raised up a bit and held stiff, but the tip of your tongue is kept limp, so when air goes past it the tip of your tongue flaps back and forth against the part of your mouth that's right behind your upper teeth. A lot of people, myself included, can't do it. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 01:04, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
The way I tend to think of it is more of a rapid-fire "d" sound rather than anything related to the "r" in English. I prefer [1] as an example of rolled r's, since it's the only word I can think of that actually uses that twice. The French "r" was best described by Dave Barry as "trying to dislodge a live eel from your esophagus" and can be found at this article. Québécois apparently sometimes uses the "rolled" variant, and at least according to our article it was historically correct. SDY (talk) 01:40, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
I don't know that anyone rolls their R's any more prominently than the Scots. In Spanish there is the single-R which is lightly trilled, maybe kind of the way Indians say it; and the double-R, which is strongly trilled or rolled, and in some Spanish-English dictionaries is equated to the Scottish R. Just as the strong "j" and "g" are compared to the Scottish "ch" in words like "loch". Which makes you wonder why there is this apparent crossover in Scottish and Spanish, but that's another story. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 03:44, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
The Polish word rabarbar ("rhubarb") is even better for practicing the alveolar trill. All Rs are rolled in Polish and this word contains three of them. Kpalion (talk) 08:36, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Audio sample for rabarbar at Forvo. — Kpalion(talk) 21:43, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
In Spanish, and possibly in Scots, the position of the 'r' in the word will affect its pronunciation. An initial 'r' will be rolled much more than an 'r' within the word. Thus the final 'r' in Arthur will be less rolled that the initial 'r' in Rupert. Caesar's Daddy (talk) 09:25, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Welsh pronunciation[edit]

I have a couple of questions about the pronunciation of Manawydan and Rhongomyniad in Welsh. For Manawydan, is the combination 'awy' the diphthong 'aw' followed by the obscure 'y' (schwa), or something else? Is there a general rule for the pronunciation of 'Vwy' combinations in Welsh, where 'V' stands for a vowel? And for Rhongomyniad, is the 'g' pronounced? I understand that 'g' is sometimes pronounced in the 'ng' combinations, and sometimes not. I am looking for the pronunciation in modern formal Welsh. --Iceager (talk) 06:42, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

I would read 'Manawydan' as 'mana-wydan', so with a rising 'wy' diphthong (or alternatively, with semivowel 'w' and the raised pronunciation of 'y'). And there is no letter 'g' in 'Rhongomyniad': there is only the letter 'ng'. (I am not a native Welsh speaker however). --ColinFine (talk) 08:23, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
But note that Welsh does also have sequences of N + G, e.g. Bangor is B-A-N-G-O-R, not B-A-Ng-O-R. +Angr 16:19, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
As Manawydan is closely associated with Manaw (Isle of Man), I strongly suspect that the W goes with the A and not with the Y. Also, the Excalibur article says that the first element of Rhongomyniad is Ron, so this suggests that in this case the N and the G are separate. Ehrenkater (talk) 23:27, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
Thanks for your suggestions so far. At least one on-line reference[2] lists the English pronunciation as 'man-uh-wuh-dan' or /ˌmænəˈwʌdæn/. On the one hand, the syllabification suggests that the 'w' goes with the 'y'. On the other hand, I've read that 'y' is always clear (a high front vocoid) rather than obscure (a schwa) in the diphthong 'wy', as in tywyllwch, so the pronunciation 'man-uh-wuh-dan' suggests that the 'y' is a schwa, i.e., it doesn't go with the 'w'. Given that an Anglicized pronunciation will tend to reflect the vowel qualities more than the original syllabification of Welsh, the latter seems the better explanation. I'd like to be sure that they were working with the correct original Welsh pronunciation in the first place, though.
I also saw that Rhongomyniad is also called Ron (which may be the first element), which is why I'm asking the question. --Iceager (talk) 01:25, 29 October 2009 (UTC)

I've discovered that "Rhon Gomyniad" gets a fair number of hits. Unless this is just a popular mistake, this strongly suggests that the 'g' is indeed pronounced. --Iceager (talk) 10:11, 31 October 2009 (UTC)


In comics, when a character's speech bubble says simply "?" or "!", what is the character actually saying? jc iindyysgvxc (my contributions) 07:42, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

[Huh] ? [Oh, %#@!%] ! DOR (HK) (talk) 08:00, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

As far as anyone can tell, they're not saying anything. But it might be way of indicating they're expressing doubt or lack of comprehension (?), or something like amazement (!), in their facial expression, which might be relatively hard to draw. -- JackofOz (talk) 08:02, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
The responses "Huh?" and "Hah!" seem to fit. I'm not so sure it's because of difficulty drawing facial expressions, but maybe it's because comics are drawn with space for the speech balloons, and you need to put something there... and a mere punctuation mark is funnier than a word. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 12:26, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
  • I always take it to mean that the character would say something like "Huh?" or "Hah!" but actually is speechless. Incidentally, there used to be an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for "shortest correspondence". The author of a new novel (I forget who, maybe Victor Hugo) wrote to his publisher to ask how it was selling. His letter read: "?" And the publisher conveyed the good news by answering: "!" --Anonymous, 23:18 UTC, October 28, 2009.
  • He's "saying" it in his head and/or with his expression, and the punctuation mark merely punctuates it. :) ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 11:15, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
  • Yes, it was Hugo -- I should have followed my own link to confirm it. --Anon, 23:20 UTC.
  • Yes, it was Hugo, and it was his novel Les Miserables, the only one of his novels I have read. JIP | Talk 21:17, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
I would like to agree with Jack, as comics don't always automatically come with speech balloons. The artist usually has to manually put them there and in this case they are probably there to convey something which could be more difficult to convey using a static image - i.e. a facial expression, or to add some 'flavour' to the existing image. --KageTora - SPQW - (影虎) (talk) 22:12, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Sometimes even in animated cartoons. Go to about 6:15 of this one:[3]Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 22:49, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Cultural differences make this question impossible to answer universally. In the UK, "Huh" is a rare equivalent to "?", with perhaps "Eh?" or "What the...?" etc. More fundamentally, I think that the questioner has got the wrong end of the stick here - the symbols are being used by the cartoonist because they want to avoid using a word. Choosing one to replace the symbol is the reader's interpretation, and that's what the artist wants in the first place. --Dweller (talk) 16:10, 28 October 2009 (UTC)

I remember thinking characters were actually saying "gasp" when the dialogue boxes said *gasp*. So when my mother one day showed me she'd made a pie for dessert that night, I said "gasp." She thought it was pretty funny, but it could've easily come off as sarcastic. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 17:44, 29 October 2009 (UTC)
This is an example of the written word driving the spoken word, instead of the other way around. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 18:23, 29 October 2009 (UTC)
... Indeterminate (talk) 06:44, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

I wondered about this a great deal as a child. But then later I realised I had been taking things too literally, and not treating comics as fictional enough to allow me to suspend disbelief. I knew it wasn't possible to say "!" or "?" without actually saying any words before that, but I didn't know it wasn't supposed to. This reminds me of some Finnish comic I once read (I forget which comic), where some man's wife is saying to him: Blah, blah, blah.... blah, blah, blah... do you have anything to say for yourself? and the man replies: Yes, I do. What does "blah" mean? JIP | Talk 21:17, 30 October 2009 (UTC)


Planning a machine translator, I'm looking for a set of three Chinese words (each of which can also be an "empty" word) which fulfill all of the following five conditions:

Let's mark those words by <X>, <Y>, <Z>, and let's assume that each bold English word below - represents the parallel chinese phrase/term. So:

  1. The chinese sentence: I try <X> go, means (in free English): "I try to go".
  2. The chinese sentence: I know <Y> he comes, means (in free English): "I know that he comes".
  3. The chinese sentence: I <Z> <X> sleep, means (in free English): "I want to sleep".
  4. The chinese sentence: I <Z> <X> he comes, means (in free English): "I want him to come".
  5. The chinese sentence: I <Z> <Y> he comes, means (in free English): "I think that he comes".

HOOTmag (talk) 10:34, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Infinitive "to" (your X) and complementizer "that" (your Y) do not really exist. These sentences would literally be said 我试着去 "I try go", 我知道他来了 "I know he comes", etc. Your Z would be xiǎng, which can be translated as both "want" and "think". 睡个觉 = "I want to have a sleep", and 他来了 = "I think he's coming". (for "I want him to come" it would have to be a little different, maybe literally "I hope he comes"). rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 13:21, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Would the following analysis be correct (in most of the cases):
Chinese doesn't have one single word for "want", and doesn't have a word meaning "think" only. Instead, it has (which means something like: "feel that...", or "feel like..."), and it also has 希望 (which means something like: "hope that..."), so that:
  • "I think that..." is simply "I feel that..."
  • "I want to...", is simply "I feel like...";
  • "I want it to...", is simply "I hope that it...".
HOOTmag (talk) 16:51, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Not really. does mean 'want' (only with a verb complement--"I want to do something"). yào also means 'want', and can be used with nouns as well as verbs (as in 你的! "I want you!"), and they can be combined to 想要 which has more or less the same usage. Neither one can mean 'want' with a sentential complement, though (as in "I want him to do something"), which is why I suggested 希望 (a native speaker might be able to offer a better translation. With a sentential complement, is more like 'think' (他来了 "I think he's coming") and is more like tell or force, although it can also mean 'want' in the right context. (他来 could be translated as "I want him to come", but the connotation is that you actually have the power to make him come, so it can be more l ike a command.) rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 17:07, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Does Chinese make any distinction between "I think that (you're drunk)" and "I feel that (you're drunk)"? HOOTmag (talk) 17:25, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Both would probably use 觉得 (觉得你很老), which has more of a subjective/"feelings" connotations. Of course, there are other ways to get around saying it (changing the sentence structure a little rather than swapping words—for example, now that you've changed the sentence to "I think you're drunk", that could be said as 看来,你醉了 "it looks like you're drunk"), or might be used in some other contexts. Unfortunately, there is rarely any one-to-one correspondence between Chinese and English words; they can be translated to and fro in many different ways. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 17:29, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
What's the sematical difference between 他来了, and 觉得他来了, and 覺得他来了 ?
Similarly, what's the sematical difference between 你很老, and 觉得你很老, and 覺得你很老 ?
HOOTmag (talk) 18:58, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
觉得 and 覺得 are exactly the same thing (one is in simplified characters, the other in traditional characters). 想 is more unmarked and is most often used for thinking about something factual (ie, "I think he's coming"), whereas 觉得 can be used in subjective/opinion situations (as in "I think that movie is really great"), although it still can be used for non-opinion things (as in “他今天晚上来吗?” “我觉得吧” -- "is he coming tonight?" "I think so"). But as always, the way you'd translate each one depends a lot on the context. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 19:09, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
So, "I think/feel that" (when referring to something factual), and "I want to", are (or can be) generally said the same way in Chinese, right? HOOTmag (talk) 20:18, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
No, that's an overgeneralization. The word 想 has both of those meanings, but in different sentential contexts—and it is far from being the only word that can express these, either. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 21:41, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Can you examplify what you mean by: "in different sentential contexts"? i.e.
Can you think of contexts in which 想 shouldn't be used for "I want to"?
Can you think of contexts in which 想 shouldn't be used for "I think that" - even when thinking about something factual?
HOOTmag (talk) 22:26, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
It's just like I said--the grammatical context (specifically, the complement that follows 想) helps determine how you would translate it. In a sentence where it's followed directly by a verb (as in 我想吃饭 "i want to eat"), it would almost always mean "want to...". In a sentence where it's followed by a full close (as in 我想他来了, "I think he's coming", and others), it would almost always mean "think that..." rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 22:53, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
So my original theory had been correct! Note that I'd asked about whether "I think/feel that" (when referring to something factual), and "I want to", are (or can be) generally said the same way in Chinese. You've just approved of my theory, providing that the word "generally" in my original theory is replaced by "almost always". Ok, that's what I'd meant by "generally"! HOOTmag (talk) 23:05, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
No, like I said, your idea was an overgeneralization. The 想 examples just from one word out of many different words that can be used to express this, and more importantly, they don't show that the two things are being said "in the same way"—they may sometimes use some of the same words, but the grammar is quite different. And this is just one, somewhat forced, example of overlap; in reality, there are many many other ways to say these things and get around it. There certainly is no "generally" or "almost always"; it's more like "sometimes, if at all". It is fine to observe that 想 can be translated in several different ways, but jumping from there to saying "Chinese generally doesn't make a distinction between 'think that' and 'want to'" is too much of a leap. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 23:19, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
You don't quote me correctly! Again, I'd asked about whether
"I think/feel that" (when referring to something factual), and "I want to", are (or can be) generally said the same way in Chinese".
Note that:
  • By saying "or can be", I'd just meant that 想 is not the only possible word, and that if one chooses other words - then the phrase "I think/feel that" (even when referring to something factual), and the phrase "I want to", aren't said the same way in Chinese. However, these two phrases can be said the same way - i.e. providing that one chooses to use the word 想.
  • By saying "the same way" I'd only referred to the Chinese phrase which means "I want to" and to the Chinese phrase which means "I think/feel that". However, I did not refer to the grammar, which of course is different, because "I want to" must be followed by a verb, whereas "I think/feel that" must be followed by a clause.
Again, my original theory had been as follows: If I choose to base the following phrases on the word 想, then the phrase "I want to" (which of course must be followed by a verb, as it must be so in English as well), and the phrase "I think/feel that" (which of course must be followed by a clause, as it must be so in English as well, the clause being about "something factual" as you had put it), are generally (i.e. "almost always" as you had put it) translated into Chinese by the same words (i.e. by 我想). What's wrong with that? If that's wrong then I'm still waiting for refuting examples.
HOOTmag (talk) 00:13, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
You're taking things backwards. I said that, in given circumstances, 想 is almost always translated as one or the other—not that those phrases are almost always translated as 想. Things do not go both ways. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 00:21, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
Again, you don't quote me correctly! When did I say that those phrases are almost always translated as 想? I'd just said that "in given circumstances" (as you had put it, or in my words: when the phrase "I think/feel that" is followed by a clause about "something factual" as you had put it), both the phrase: "I want to" (which of course must be followed by a verb, as it must be so in English as well), and the phrase: "I think/feel that" (which of course must be followed by a clause, as it must be so in English as well), are (or can be) almost always translated as 我想 (why just "are or can be"? because the word 想 is not the only possible word for expressing the phrase "I want to" and the phrase "I think\feel that" followed by a clause about "something factual" as you had put it). Again, I don't refer to the grammar but rather to the very phrases mentioned above only. If you still think that I'm wrong, then please give me refuting examples which show that it's not "almost always" the case, i.e.
  • Give an example in which "I want to" (followed by a verb) can't be translated as 我想.
  • Or: give an example in which "I think/feel that" (followed by a clause about "something factual") can't be translated as 我想.
HOOTmag (talk) 00:57, 28 October 2009 (UTC)

Hebrew transliteration[edit]

I know we've got articles that give the various schemes for transliterating Hebrew into the Roman alphabet, but how about the other way? For instance Modern Hebrew has several letters for the same sound (t, s, etc) so which one would you choose? More generally, are there established conventions for transliterating English or other names, places etc into the Hebrew alphabet? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:13, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Hebraization of English may help. --Lesleyhood (talk) 17:48, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Hence, as for the first OP's question:
  • k/q (when sounded, i.e. excluding the 'k' in "know" etc.) are always transcribed ק.
  • s (when sounded, i.e. excluding the 's' in "island" etc.) are always transcribed ס (for the "s" in "us" etc.) or ז (for the "s" in "use" etc.) or ש (for the "s" in "sure" etc.) or 'ז (for the "s" in "usual" etc.).
  • t (when sounded, i.e. excluding the 't' in "castle" etc.) are always transcribed ט.
  • c (when sounded like 'k' or like 's') - see above for k and for s.
As to the second OP's question: No difference between Hebrew, Russian, Greek, etc. I.E. there are established conventions in many cases, mainly for well-known names (e.g. Paris, London, Moscow, Frankfurt, Jesus, Albert, William, James, Clinton), but when the name is unfamiliar and contains new unfamiliar consonants/vowels, then there can't be any "established conventions". Instead, the IPA method (rather than the Hebrew alphabet) is recommended, just as in Russian, Greek, etc.
HOOTmag (talk) 18:08, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Could you clarify what you mean by the "IPA method"? (also by the way I found the Hebraization of English article very confusing!) --rossb (talk) 12:35, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
IPA. HOOTmag (talk) 13:11, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
Yes I know what IPA is. But what has it to do with transliteration from English into Hebrew? --rossb (talk) 13:29, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
When transcribing from English, the Hebrew writer would usually use the regular method (in Hebrew alphabet) as described above. However, when transcribing into Hebrew from any "exotic" language whose words are written in an "unfamiliar" alphabet and contain unfamiliar consonants/vowels, then using the Hebrew alphabet is not recommended, especially when one wishes to be precise, e.g. in professional literature (mainly in linguistics), so the Hebrew (professional) writer is likely to use the IPA alphabet for the specific foreign word. HOOTmag (talk) 13:43, 28 October 2009 (UTC)

Fixing errors[edit]

I'm a user from Argentina and I know english well enough as to know how to read and write, and talk or write articles as I may need. However, as it isn't my native languaje, my writing is hardly as "nice" as it should be if I intend to write real good articles. Can you suggest me some web site where I can place a big text and detect errors with it, such as wrongly written words or expresions in an incorrect gramatical order? I know it won't be enough just by itself, but it would be helpful at some degree. MBelgrano (talk) 12:38, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Microsoft Word / OpenOffice automatically does grammar-checking, although it is often wrong. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 14:54, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
In my own experience the grammar checker in Word is very unreliable.
Our article on grammar checkers has a few links at the end. AlmostReadytoFly (talk) 15:05, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
@MBelgrano: actually, since this is a wiki, you have a much better option that using a grammar checker. Wikipedia is full of native English speakers, all of whom will do a better job than a grammar checker. If you make friends with a good collaborator (or try placing requests at WP:Editor assistance or the Copyeditors' guild), then you could write your proposed articles/additions in your userspace--at a page like User:MBelgrano/Sandbox--and then have a native speaker look over it before you move it to the main article. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 17:20, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
I thought it was Joel Spolsky who wrote once that his hypothesis was that the grammar checker of Word was so bad that nobody has ever used it and that it exists only in order to be a bullet point on a marketer's product feature list. Comet Tuttle (talk) 23:22, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
I find it to be useful as a reminder, but don't take it on blind faith. There is no substitute for already knowing how to use English reasonably well. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 11:13, 28 October 2009 (UTC)
There are websites where you can find an English-speaking e-mail pen pal who could agree to correct your messages. When I was learning Spanish, I had a Spanish-speaking e-mail pen pal, and I once served as an pen pal for a Russian learning English. -- Mwalcoff (talk) 22:52, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

For what it's worth, MBelgrano writes better English than do a lot of native-English speakers. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 23:30, 27 October 2009 (UTC) ZS 03:22, 2 November 2009 (UTC)


The Wiktionary entry clearly states what a filmology is: "A 1950s–60s movement of theoretical study relating to film." However, in many of our articles (and probably elsewhere), the term is used as a synonym for "filmography". I'd be happy to hear your opinion on whether such usage is acceptable as a new contemporary meaning, or whether it should be disregarded as a misnomer. decltype (talk) 16:28, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Looks like it's being used incorrectly. It wouldn't be hard to clean up; based on this search, the word only appears in 57 articles and some of them are ones where it's used correctly, so there aren't a whole lot of replacements that would need to be made. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 17:33, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
-ology words are often bandied around incorrectly. The worst offender is the use of "methodology" instead of simply writing "method". -- JackofOz (talk) 20:23, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Yeah, like 'scientology' which was first coined as a term akin to "pseudoscience", but which is now used ... On second thought, I retract that objection. :) --Pykk (talk) 23:44, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Along the same lines is one of my pet peeves, "usage" vs. "use". rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 21:38, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Medial consonant clusters in Spanish[edit]

How many medial consonant clusters has the Spanish language? -- (talk) 18:08, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Anunciar and avanzar have the same medial consonant cluster, but not anunciar and blanco. -- (talk) 18:16, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

I imagine quite a few. Just off the top of my head, s+nasal is acceptable (as in durazno, Porteño Spanish), as is stop+liquid (abreza), and probably many others. rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 18:24, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

I want a list of all medial consonant clusters in the Spanish language. -- (talk) 19:07, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

The study of what sounds may cluster in a language is called phonotactics (in Spanish, fonotáctica). So, you might be able to find a list of possible consonant clusters if you google "spanish phonotactics". rʨanaɢ talk/contribs 21:53, 27 October 2009 (UTC)