Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2011 April 3

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April 3[edit]

Proche-Orient vs. Moyen-Orient[edit]

Why does Le Monde refer to the Middle East as le Proche-Orient? Shouldn't it be le Moyen-Orient? -- (talk) 02:59, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Oddly enough in English, the terms Middle East and Near East cover roughly the same area. Le Monde is using the French version of Near East, but for most purposes, they are the same area. --Jayron32 03:08, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Because it is nearer for French-speakers than for English-speakers? Actually, 'Middle East' is a rather vague term - middle of what? AndyTheGrump (talk) 03:14, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Middle of three continents; the U.S. military calls the area part of its Central Command, using a different term meaning "middle". --Jayron32 03:19, 3 April 2011 (UTC) -- In English, the use of the term "Near East" has been somewhat declining over the long term (since after WW2), while French usage of the analogous terms may of course be completely different... AnonMoos (talk) 07:31, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

(Not a reply to AnonMoos) I always believed the area described by the term "Middle East" had migrated from Central Area Asia to where it is now, rather than the "Middle of three continents" explanation, above. Grandiose (me, talk, contribs) 08:51, 3 April 2011 (UTC)Corrected Grandiose (me, talk, contribs) 13:51, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
I hadn't heard the "Middle of three continents" before. I thought that the terms originated in 19th century Europe. Near East was the Levant, Middle East was Iran, Afghanistan and possibly also India, Far East was China, Japan and South East Asia. It was after the Second World War that Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan started being called Middle East, and I think the change was first in American foreign policy documents. Itsmejudith (talk) 13:24, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
HMG made the change at around the same time, according to Parliamentary statements in 1951 and 1952. The Middle East Command in WW2 may have influenced the English language. Matt's talk 10:12, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
This was a change from the previous policy: "There appears to be no agreed definition of these vague geographical terms" in May 1947. I think that we can pretty clearly date the change: people knew the terms, but were confused about their contemporary usage. Matt's talk 10:33, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
The older British English usage seems to have been that the Near East covered the current and former territories of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East was between the Ottomans and India, and the Far East was beyond India. Looking in 19th century Hansard and contemporary texts, the Balkans, Armenia, Crete, and Macedonia were the Near East. The Middle East was not mentioned in Hansard until 1905 (Afghanistan), and another early reference was to "the Persian Gulf...littoral". In 1911, the Middle East was "Persia the Persian Gulf and Turkey in Asia.". The number of references shot up from 3 March 1919 when Sir Winston Churchill used it in a debate. Matt's talk 10:44, 4 April 2011 (UTC)

It can be noted that the area is called Middle East (or more correctly, 'the most middleast East', ash-sharq al-awsat) in Arabic. The area is generally called West Asia in South Asia. --Soman (talk) 17:32, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

The etymology given by the French WP can help. You can read also how Le Monde makes the difference between the two. — AldoSyrt (talk) 06:36, 4 April 2011 (UTC)

Interesting, the conclusion would seem to be that as America emerged as a superpower, the terminology that made sense from an American perspective simply displaced the older one that made sense from a European perspective (after all, the Middle East is in no way "near" from an American point of view). The Germans seem to continue to distinguish Naher Osten and Mittlerer Osten along the old lines, although in recent years their journalists, too, have been parroting the terms now dominant in the Anglosphere ([1]). The Russians normally use the "Near East" to this day ([2]). Interestingly, English-language academia still speaks of the "Ancient Near East" in a historical context, not of the "Ancient Middle East".-- (talk) 19:30, 4 April 2011 (UTC)

The Russian perspective is interesting, especially since Russia extends far further east than any (other) Far East country. --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 01:37, 7 April 2011 (UTC)
I think the Russians borrowed the Western European terminology without thinking about how it applied to them. From their perspective, I guess it would be more appropriate to call it "The Near South". That said, the Far Eastern parts of Russia are part of "the Far East" even to the Russians themselves; the ethnic and political core of the country is in European Russia.-- (talk) 18:39, 7 April 2011 (UTC)
In Russian usage, the "far East" and "Siberia" are completely separate terms, while English speakers commonly have no problem extending Siberia to Vladivostok... AnonMoos (talk) 03:42, 8 April 2011 (UTC)

Is it "a" or "an" before "heuristic" (and similar words)?[edit]

An editor has just altered Occam's razor to change "a heuristic..." to "an heuristic...". I guess it depends on how one pronounces heuristic, or does it? "a heuristic..." seems right to me. Thoughts? HiLo48 (talk) 04:09, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

This is clearly an WP:ENGVAR situation; so a) he shouldn't have changed it but b) now that its done, it shouldn't be changed back. In other words, its highly dependent on which variety of English you speak, and its standard in some varieties, so whatever... --Jayron32 04:44, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Even within one variety of English, there are two different pronunciations, one with the "h" sounded (thus taking "a") and one with the "h" silent (thus taking "an"). Take your choice. Dbfirs 08:11, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Premier vs. premiere[edit]

The first screening of a film is called its premiere. When one performs a musical work publicly for the first time, one is said to premiere it. Intransitively, a film or play or a musical or a symphony is said to premiere on a certain date in a certain place. These terms all borrow a feminine French adjective and turn it into a noun or a verb.

But a first performance itself can also be called the premier performance. That's the masculine version of the same French adjective.

Why the inconsistency?

  • (PS. I know we love inconsistencies in English, but there's still usually a reason why in each case. It's not just inconsistency for its own sake.)
  • (PPS. I've deliberately not used French diacritics on my examples, as I consider they're fully absorbed into English now and are no longer foreign words.) -- Jack of Oz [your turn] 07:21, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
    • This EO entry[3] tacitly indicates that the use of "premier" for a first performance is incorrect. And for what it's worth, "performance" is feminine in French. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 08:08, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Premier actually has an older history in English, both in the meaning "first in importance" (1500) and "first in time" (1652). Later came première/première: "first in time" (1768), "first in importance" (1844). The noun première meaning "first performance" arrived in 1877, as a borrowing of the French première (représentation). About the spelling of the adjective premiere, the OED says "The reason for the borrowing of the feminine form (alongside earlier premier adj.) is unclear; in later use apparently frequently after première n.2 or première n.1" (première n.1 is short for première danseuse and is listed as "rare".). Lesgles (talk) 18:51, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
Thanks. Can you explain première/première, pls? -- Jack of Oz [your turn] 20:24, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Oops, I meant to put premiere/première, in deference to your anti-diacritic views, but I guess my own French inclinations got the better of me. Lesgles (talk) 21:07, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
No worries. I see this is one of those murky cases. Thanks for the refs. -- Jack of Oz [your turn] 19:51, 5 April 2011 (UTC)

What is a revival?[edit]

When a play or musical is successful in its initial production, other theatre companies will produce that show. A very successful show may be produced hundreds or even thousands of times.

On occasion a new production is billed as "a revival".

I wonder what the difference is between "another production" and "a revival". Is the term revival just a marketing ploy or is there something more?

Thanks, Wanderer57 (talk) 14:57, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Personally, I think "a revival" refers to a re-run of an original production in the original theatre. So a Jonthan Miller opera production first put on at the English National Opera might be revived five years later in the same theatre (the London Coliseum). If the same production went around the country, I don't think it could count as a revival. Note that, IMHO, a revival can be directed by a new director - the "revival director" - who gets to make a few changes but nothing as dramatic as to make a new production. (talk) 18:20, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
If it hasn't been performed anywhere at all for, say, 50 or more years, then any new production, anywhere, could validly be termed a revival. -- Jack of Oz [your turn] 20:11, 3 April 2011 (UTC)


I was recently using the website "Translation Party", which translates phrases back and forth between English and Japanese to produce humorous results. When I entered the phrase "It's a weird game and you can tell just by the cartridge. It's one of those weird baby blue cartridges so right away you can tell that it's a big piece of fucking shit." (a quote from the Angry Video Game Nerd) into the translator, the result it produced contained the word "Gunihatawagotonohotondoha". I have thus far been unable to find any information about this word. Does anyone know what it means and/or how it could have gotten into the translation?-- (talk) 15:55, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

It's a romanized Japanese of "ぐにはたわごとのほとんどは" above. (す)ぐには is the translation of "very soon" above and たわごとのほとんどは is "most of the shit". Oda Mari (talk) 16:58, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Looking for a learners' monolingual french dictionary[edit]

Hi I'm looking for a monolingual french dictionary suitable for an intermediate learner, available online and preferably not too expensive. I've come across Le Robert Micro de Poche from the bookdepository, at a reasonable price, but can anyone who uses anything in the Petit Robert series please tell me if they are any good, or if they have an alternative recommendation. Thanks, It's been emotional (talk) 17:21, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

I don't think you need to spend any money, unless you want a print version. The two best-known monolingual French dictionary publishers are Robert and Larousse. I own Le Robert Micro; it is good for most purposes and quite handy. I don't think there is a free Robert dictionary online, but Larousse has one with 135,000 definitions. For more in-depth definitions and meanings, you can turn to Le Trésor de la Langue Française (also at [4]). Lesgles (talk) 19:06, 3 April 2011 (UTC)
See Dictionnaire visuel. -- Wavelength (talk) 19:10, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Thanks to you both for the advice and links, It's been emotional (talk) 08:54, 7 April 2011 (UTC)


What language, from a purely phonetic standpoint, is easiest to write poetry in? I would like the ease at which rhymes can be made to be considered before things such as lexical breadth, syllables and meter, etc (but if possible these should also be considered). Thanks. (talk) 23:36, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Rhymes aren't poetry, even just phonetically. And you'd have to define what a "rhyme" is cross-linguistically. I wouldn't even know where to start. — kwami (talk) 01:17, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
If you want a language with an extremely small inventory of phonemes, and which only allows the simplest syllable types -- open syllables without consonant clusters -- in its phonotactics, then Hawaiian is a well-known language of this type (though not absolutely the simplest in the world)... AnonMoos (talk) 05:58, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
For phonemic parsimony, see Rotokas. —Tamfang (talk) 06:56, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
I believe Sanskrit was designed to be poetic so that it was easier to memorize the Vedas and Sutras (before written language). You might be interested to read our article on patha.--Shantavira|feed me 11:07, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
There was a strong culture of oral memorization, and works on the most technical and "un-poetic" of subjects were cast into poetic meter to assist in recitation and memorization, but rhyme was not too important... AnonMoos (talk) 15:05, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
What evidence is there that Sanskrit was "designed" at all? Its name is literally 'perfected', but I think that only means that it's a prestige dialect with all its quirks faithfully preserved. —Tamfang (talk) 00:34, 5 April 2011 (UTC)
Some linguists have considered the system of Sandhi to be "artificial" or "stylized" to some degree in the particular overall form in which it applies to phrases in literary Sanskrit (though of course it wasn't invented or designed in the way in which Esperanto was)... AnonMoos (talk) 01:07, 5 April 2011 (UTC)