Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Comparison of Tuscan and Standard Italian

The Tuscan dialect of Italian, spoken by about 3.5 million people, is considered the basis of Standard Italian. Florence is one of the cities in which it is spoken. Famous writers such as Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in the literary version of Tuscan. However, Tuscan exhibits certain differences from the standard language. A number of these differences are phonological.

The soft c and g weaken in Tuscan. In other words, the affricates of standard Italian are pronounced as fricatives. This process is known as deaffrication. For example, in the phrase "la gente" (the people) the g of "gente" is pronounced with the voiced alveopalatal fricative of "genre" and not the voiced alveopalatal affricate of "gentle". This also occurs with the voiceless alveopalatal affricate in "la cena" (the dinner). The c of "cena" is pronounced with the voiceless alveopalatal fricative of "shoe".

The process of affrication also occurs. The voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ is pronounced as an affricate /ts/ when it is preceded by an /r/, /l/ or /n/. For example, in "il sole" (the sun), "sole" is pronounced [tsole]. This also occurs word-internally. For example, "falso" (false) is pronounced [faltso].

Many words which have the diphthong "uo" in standard Italian are pronounced with the monophthong "o". For example, "buono" (good) and "nuovo" (new) are pronounced "bono" and "novo".

Perhaps the most famous feature of Tuscan is the weakening of intervocalic voiceless plosives. The voiceless velar plosive becomes a voiceless glottal fricative, the voiceless dental or alveolar plosive becomes a voiceless interdental fricative and the voiceless bilabial plosive becomes a voiceless bilabial fricative. This is often called the Tuscan gorgia which means the Tuscan throat.

The word "giuoco" (game) is pronouced with a glottal fricative before the final syllable. This change of a plosive into a fricative between two vowels is an example of weakening or lenition and can also be called spirantization. However, this change can also occur word initially if the preceding word ends in a vowel. For example, "la casa" (the house) is pronounced [la haza]. The voiceless alveolar fricative voices intervocalically.

Further examples of this weakening occur in "lupo" (wolf) and "muto" (mute). In "lupo" the "p" is pronounced as a voiceless bilabial fricative (this fricative also occurs in Japanese) and in "muto" the "t" is pronounced as a voiceless interdental fricative as in "thin".

The Tuscan dialect is a well-known dialect of Italian which formed the basis of the standard language. Nevertheless, a number of phonological differences differentiate it from Standard Italian. One of these is the process in which voiceless plosives weaken, a phenomenon often referred to as the Italian gorgia or Italian throat.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A short chess game between Sri Lanka and Andorra

The following game was played between Sunil Weeramantry of Sri Lanka and a master from Andorra. The Andorran master's mistakes resulted in a quick victory for his Sri Lankan opponent. Sri Lanka was white and Andorra was black. Here I will provide my analysis of this fascinating game.

1. e4 d6
2. d4 Nf6

Black chooses to play the Pirc Defence. With this move order, it is expected that he will advance his king knight pawn and fianchetto his king bishop.

3. Nc3 g6
4. Bc4 Bg7

Black's third and fourth moves are as expected.

5. Qe2 0-0

White's fifth move is unusual. It is an aggressive move which signals that he intends to push his king pawn. Black's decision to castle here is a mistake. He should play Nc6 to fight for control of the centre. The decision to castle is premature. He should bring out his queen knight prior to castling.

6. e5 Nd7

White continues with the advance of the king pawn. Black retreats his knight but Nd7 blocks the light-squared bishop. He should move his knight to Ne8.

7. e6 fxe

8. Bxe6+ Kh8

9. h4 Nc6

White prepares to rip open the h-file. Black's move does nothing to prevent the opening of the h-file. Here he should play Nf6.

10. h5 Nxd4

White continues to advance on the h-file and black takes a pawn.

11. hxg Nf6

White ignores black's attack on his queen. He can do so because black's pawn is pinned and he threatens mate on the next move. Black finally defends with his king knight but it is too late.

12. Rxh7 Nxh7

Despite the presence of black's knight, white captures black's pawn and puts him in check. Black has to capture white's rook with his knight.

13. Qh5

White puts his queen on the h-file so that he can checkmate on his next move. Unable to stop the mate, black resigns.

The Andorran master commits a number of mistakes. He castles prematurely, thereby encouraging white to continue the advance of his king pawn. He retreats his knight to a square where it blocks his light-squared bishop and he attempts to generate counterplay with his queen knight instead of using his king knight to prevent the opening of the h-file. This game illustrates that premature castling can be fatal.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Julius Caesar

Mark Antony, a good friend of Julius Caesar, speaks at his funeral. Brutus allows him to do so, disregarding the advice of Cassius. He knows that if he speaks directly against Cassius and Brutus, he will put his life in danger. Here are a few lines from his famous speech:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears:
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
(Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest –
For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men )–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honorable man.

Mark Antony asks the crowd to listen to him when he uses the phrase "lend me your ears". He says that the evil men do lives after them. This appears to suggest that Caesar was evil but the key word in the speech is "men". In fact, Mark Antony communicates that the men who live, Brutus and Cassius are the evil ones, not Julius Caesar.

The sentence "The good is oft interred with their bones" does not mean that whatever good was in Caesar has been buried. Rather, it means that the good man is now dead. This serves to praise Caesar despite the words "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."

The use of the word "noble" to describe Brutus is also ironic. Mark Antony does not directly state that Julius Caesar was ambitious. Rather, he reminds the crowd that it was Brutus who made the claim. He also tells the crowd that if Caesar was ambitious, it was a serious fault and he paid for it with his life. The use of "if" indicates that Mark Antony does not agree with Brutus.

The use of the sentence "For Brutus is an honorable man" is also ironic. The phrase "all honorable men" serves to include all who conspired against Julius Caesar, notably Cassius as well as Brutus.

Mark Antony praises Julius Caesar more when he reminds the crowd that Julius Caesar was his friend, faithful and just. He later repeats that Brutus is an honorable man. He uses irony and repetition to turn the crowd against Brutus.

Mark Antony's oratory is ironic, powerful and indirect. Though he tells the crowd that Brutus and Cassius have given him permission to speak, he makes it clear that he does not share their opinion of Julius Caesar. His words tell the crowd that he does not support the assassination and help to turn public opinion against Brutus and Cassius, ultimately leading to their downfall.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hummingbird Poem

This is one of the first poems I ever wrote. It's one of my favourites.

Flight Of A Hummingbird

Who can describe the emotions of flight
Granted to a tiny hummingbird,
Not able to utter a single word
Upward ascending to splendid height?

The hummingbird vanishes out of sight,
Swift in motion and firmly undeterred,
A leader in any airborne herd
Despite the perils of external might.

With the power of wondrous wings unfurled
The hummingbird can so easily blend
The sky and the wind of our vibrant world.

Within flight exists no limit nor end.
All boundaries are rapidly hurdled
And treasured experiences soon descend.


The first two stanzas of my poem consist of four verses. The final two have only three verses. The poem is written in the form of a sonnet. It has fourteen verses with ten syllables in each. The rhyme scheme is a, b, b, a, a, b, b. a, c, d, c, d, c, d. It is identical in the first two stanzas. This is the first sonnet I ever wrote.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Passive and Active Neutralization

Phonology distinguishes between two types of neutralization: passive and active. Neutralization is a phonological process whereby a phonetic contrast is eliminated. For example, English has a high front unrounded tense vowel in "mate" and a high front unrounded lax vowel in "met". However, in word-final position, this contrast in eliminated because only the high front unrounded tense vowel occurs. This is exemplified in the words "say" and "obey".

Many languages have a voiceless and a voiced alveolar plosive. In English the words "two" and "do" are distinguished by voiceless and voiced varieties of this alveolar plosive. After a word-initial voiceless alveolar fricative, though, only the voiceless alveolar plosive occurs. This can be seen in the words "stay" and "stone". Here the distinction between the voiced and voiceless alveolar plosives is neutralized. This neutralization is passive because it is natural that only a voiceless alveolar plosive should occur after a voiceless alveolar fricative. This can be explained as the result of a voicing assimilation.

In German, the voiceless and voiced alveolar plosives also occur but in word-final position the contrast is neutralized. This can be seen in the words "Rad" (advice) and "Rat" (wheel). In both cases, the final consonant is voiceless. Note that though "Rad" is spelt with a "d" it is pronounced as a voiceless plosive. This type of neutralization is classified as active neutralization because it is phonetically plausible to maintain a contrast and many languages do so such as English. For example, English has the contrast in the word pair "rode" and "wrote". If a language neutralizes a contrast in an environment in which the neutralization is not phonetically conditioned, this is called active neutralization.

Neutralization is a common phonological process in which a phonetic contrast is eliminated. Two types of neutralization, active and passive, are common in the languages of the world.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Different meanings of the word "or"

The word "or" has a number of different meanings. This may be surprising but in fact, this conjunction is rather complex. A number of examples can be used to illustrate.

Consider the question "Do you want rice or pasta?" One meaning is that of the alternative type question. The listener is given two choices, either rice or pasta. With the alternative type question, the noun before "or" has rising intonation and the noun following "or" has falling intonation. With this type of question comes an assumption. The assumption is that the listener wants one of the two choices. However, this assumption may be incorrect. It could be that the listener wants a different choice or that the listener does not want anything. In any case, the alternative type question offers the listener two or more alternatives.

In certain cases, though, the question "Do you want rice or pasta?" may be what is called a yes-no question. Perhaps the speaker is not sure what the cafeteria is serving that day and merely wishes to ask the listener whether he/she would like whichever dish is available. With the yes-no question, the noun preceding "or" and the noun following both have falling intonation. In reality, though, the alternative type question is far more common than the yes-no.

If a parent says to his/her child, "Finish your vegetables or you won't get dessert", no alternative is offered. The parent is not asking the child to choose between two scenarios. Rather, the parent explains that if a condition is not satisfied, finishing the vegetables on the child's plate, the result will be no dessert for the child. It is in fact a warning. The child knows the outcome of not finishing his/her vegetables.

In the sentence "I don't like fishing or hunting", the speaker expresses his/her dislike of both activities. This is the equivalent of saying "I don't like fishing and I don't like hunting." The conjunction "and" would only be used here if it referred to a singular activity or unit, i.e., "I don't like fish and chips."

The conjunction "or"can also be used to signify an equivalent meaning. This is illustrated by the following: "The word "glad" means happy or joyful. In this case, two words are given as equivalents of the word "glad".

Sometimes "or" represents an approximation. In the sentence "It takes five or six days", the speaker gives an approximate number. It is possible that the activity takes more than five days and less than six. In other words, it may take any length of time between five and six such as five and a half.

The meanings of the conjunction "or" vary from one sentence to another. Though many people probably associate this conjunction with the alternative type meaning, it actually has a wide range of meanings. Among these are equivalent meanings, approximations and consequences of a condition which is not fulfilled.

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