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Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden … Diely bread … Wagon spoor, or not 13th of June, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 09:59

Back in Berlin after around forty hours of travelling, which involved mild food poisoning, an Australian train that didn’t show up, my shoes falling apart, and my wash-bag with my great-uncle’s razor remaining on the farm somewhere. But I’m alive, and coherent, have a mild tan from sitting round the barbie, and am not remotely jet-lagged. I’m also showered, foddered, sitting at my machine, am about to ring my cousin Martin who’s here in Berlin for the match, as are thousands of Brazilians and Croatians. And the weather here is fantastic, and the wedding was very enjoyable for everyone there, I think—‘swimmingly’ is the mot juste if ever there was one.

Linguistics field reportage; those vowels in English that are rendered [eɪ] in the south of England can be rendered [aɪ] in rural Australia. So, for the line of the prayer ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ the officiating minister at the wedding said something like [gɪvˈʌzˌðɪsˈdaɪˌaʊəˈdaɪˌlɪˈbɹɛd], and this was consistent—it wasn’t as consistent from the flight attendants on the Quantas flight home, who presumably have more to do with people who don’t have Australian English as their first language. Now, if you apply this transformation to the names of the letters of the alphabet, you get a problem. To our friends in the south of England, the name of the first letter of the alphabet is just [eɪ] and the name of the third vowel is [aɪ].

Applying sound transformations to the names of the letters of the alphabet is the most natural thing in the world, by the way—they are among the clearest examples of the respective diachronic changes in French and English, since in their current form in English they date from the Normans, and they were not that influenced by spelling pronunciations, their sound not being written down as such. The Normans said [ˈatʃ] for H, the French say [ˈaʃ], and the English say [ˈeɪtʃ]. So the French consonant mutated, and the English vowel did, and that’s repeated throughout the alphabet.

I found this curious, so I asked a random child (thank you Jarred!) what the letter at the start of Italy was. He said [aɪ]; I asked him what the letter at the start of Australia was, and he said, after a half-second of hesitation, [eɪ]. I’m pretty sure that’s the only time I heard him say that vowel, but it’s nice to see this random kid doesn’t have the issue of a one-time colleague of mine here, who had a tendency to say [ɑːɐ] for the name of the letter R, which is a problem when contrasting with [ɑː] for A.

More news tomorrow, hopefully. Word of the day is „das Gleis, Gleise“ which is German for ‘track’ or more often ‘platform’ at train stations. I had thought it masculine, but one of the DB folks at Frankfurt HBF corrected me; it turns out that g at the start is the prefix ‘ge-’, which normally triggers the neuter. „Leis“ itself is from a Slavic root.


So nice to see you back!

I can just imagine you asking the random child and that being unbearably adorable.

He was an unbearably adorable ring-bearer, was young Jarred.

I’ve never been to the Antipodes, but I’ve been told that this particular vowel development is considered a hallmark of "broad Australian" and is thus stigmatized. Thus people speaking carefully (flight attendants, children talking about spelling) might avoid it.

The Yiddish dialects spoken in Poland and Hungary have the same vowel transformation. One of the largest secular Yiddish-speaking communities is in Melbourne; I’ve spoken Yiddish with a number of Melbournians, and I’m always surprised when they render this vowel the Polish/Hungarian way, but have no other Polish/Hungarian features. Then I remember the Australian [eI] - [aI] business and it all becomes clear.

I’ve been told that this particular vowel development is considered a hallmark of "broad Australian" and is thus stigmatized. Thus people speaking carefully (flight attendants, children talking about spelling) might avoid it.

I suspect it’s much more pragmatic in the Quantas case; they have no hangups about being broadly and proudly Australian in the rest of what they do. And maybe Jarred was being very careful in talking to me, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

The Yiddish dialects spoken in Poland and Hungary have the same vowel transformation …

Part of the same collection of sound shifts that distinguished Middle High German from NHG? (Whence <ei> for /aɪ/ in a mostly-phonemic writing system.)

Part of the same collection of sound shifts that distinguished Middle High German from NHG?

Good question. No, in fact, it’s a later development. Yiddish kept the MHG protovowels that are merged in standard NHG into /aI/ distinct, as in the verb /meIn/ ’think’ and the possessive adjective /maIn/. In the dialects where /eI/ becomes /aI/, /aI/ is monophthongized to /a:/. Also, different vowels were subsequently merged in Yiddish (the noun for ’stone’ and the verb for ’stand’ are homophones in all Yiddish dialects), and in the Polish/Hungarian dialects they were all affected by the /eI/ to /aI/ vowel shift. So while Polish/Hungarian Yiddish /tsvaI/ ’two’ does resemble NHG, /gaI/ ’go’ does not.

It’s true: broad, "Ocker" Australian ("Strayan") is looked down upon by some while others deliberately cultivate the accent. My wife sometimes gets asked if she’s South African, so un-Ocker is she, whereas my mother-in-law really lets those /ai/ dipthongs swing around ("araahnd") when she’s in relaxed company.

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