Friday, July 31, 2009

She Walks In Beauty

The poem "She Walks in Beauty" was written by Lord Byron in 1814. It is one of his most popular poems. I will discuss this poem in this post.

She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, so eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

The poem consists of three stanzas of six verses each. Each verse has eight syllables in which the second is stressed. This is known as iambic tetrameter. In other words, each verse has four feet (each foot has two syllables) and the final syllable of each foot has stress. We also notice that the poem has a regular rhyme. The rhyme scheme is a,b, a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d, c, d, e, f, e, f, e, f.

The second verse of the first stanza has alliteration in "cloudless climes" and "starry skies". The final verse of the first stanza personifies both heaven and day.

In the third verse of the second stanza appears the phrase "raven tress". This refers to every dark curl of the woman's hair. Her thoughts express her purity and sweetness.

The final stanza reveals the woman's charm. She is described as calm, eloquent and good. In the final verse, we are told that she has a heart whose love is innocent. She does not love for selfish reasons but to make others happy. Clearly she is an amazing woman who makes a favourable impression upon others.

Lord Byron's poem is filled with beautiful imagery, regular rhyme, personification and alliteration. These poetic devices are common in classical poetry. His praise of the woman and skilful use of words help to explain the popularity of this classic.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Indonesian and Tagalog

Indonesian and Tagalog are both classified as members of the Austronesian language family. Nevertheless, they are not considered mutually intelligible. A comparison of the numbers from one to ten reveals that they are related but not so closely.

To compare here are the numbers from one to ten in Indonesian and Tagalog:

Indonesian: satu, dua, tiga, empat, lima, enam, tujuh, delapan, sembilan, sepuluh
Tagalog: isa, dalawa, tatlo, apat, lima, anim, pito, walu, siyam, sampu

The words for the number one bear little similarity to one another. However, they both have the syllable "sa". The number two is different. Here we see that both words start with a "d" and end with an "a" but the Tagalog word is considerably longer. The number three starts with a "t" in both languages, but the words appear to be quite different. In the case of the number four, both words are disyllablic and have the same final syllable. The word five is identical in both languages. The number six is clearly related. In both languages it is disyllabic and shares the nasals "m" and "n". The words for the number seven appear rather different but they are both disyllabic and have a back vowel in the final syllable. The number eight is rather different in both languages but both languages have an "l" as the third segment. With the number nine, the Indonesian word is considerably longer, but in both languages the first segment is an "s" and the final segment is a nasal. In the case of the number ten, the Indonesian word is again longer but both words start with the same segment and share a "p" and a "u". The similarity of the two words is thus evident.

A comparison of the numbers from one to ten in Indonesian and Tagalog reveals that the two languages are related. However, the degree of similarity of the two languages is not as great as it is between other languages such as Czech and Slovak, Spanish and Portuguese and German and Dutch.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Palatalization

Palatalization is a common phonological process in which a sound develops a palatal articulation. It can be classified into three different types. They are 1) a secondary articulation which attaches itself to a primary articulation; 2) an advanced articulation and 3) a change in the manner of articulation.

Russian is an example of a language with a great deal of palatalization. The word for "thank you" is spasiba, a word with actually has a palatal glide before the high front vowel "i". A more acurate representation of the pronunciation of this word is "spasyiba". Because the high front unrounded vowel "i" is articulated near the palate, it is easy to insert a palatal glide before the vowel. However, another view is that the alveolar fricative is in fact a palatalized alveolar fricative because the fricative has a much longer duration than the glide. In this view the alveolar fricative is analyzed as the primary articulation and the palatal glide as the secondary. If this is the case, the word can be represented as spas'iba. The Russian word for five, "pyat'", is clearly an example of a secondary articulation attached to a primary one. Both the alveolar plosive and the palatal glide occur in the syllable coda, a sound sequence which is common in the Slavic languages but does not occur in many other languages such as English, German, Spanish and French.

An example of an advanced articulation occurs in the word "key". If we compare this word to the word "car", it is clear that the voiceless velar plosives in each word are not identical. In the word "key", the velar plosive has a more advanced articulation than it does in the word "car". The reason for the advanced articulation of the velar plosive in the word "key" is due to the articulation of the vowel. It is a front vowel which results in a more palatal articulation of the velar plosive. This can be viewed as a type of assimilation because the velar plosive becomes more similar to the vowel which follows it. Since the vowel influences the preceding segment, the direction of the assimilation is regressive.

With the words "car" and "key", one may ask how we know that the velar plosive of "key" is in fact an advanced articulation and that the velar plosive of "car" is not a retracted articulation. In isolation, the velar plosive does not have an advanced articulation. Other evidence comes from the word "cheese". This word used to be pronounced "keese" [kiz] but the velar plosive became an alveopalatal affricate. In German this word is Ka:se, in Dutch it is "kaas", in Spanish it is "queso" and in Portuguese it is "queijo". It becomes clear that only in English did the velar plosive become an affricate and it is plausible to speculate that it developed an advanced articulation prior to affrication.

Another common type of palatalization is in the change of articulation. In the word "nature" the "t" is pronounced as a voiceless alveopalatal affricate. However, this was not always the case. In French "nature" and German "Natur" the "t" is pronounced as a plosive. This was almost certainly also the pronunciation of the word "nature" at an earlier stage of English. The schwa in the second syllable of "nature" is classified phonetically as a central vowel, but the high articulation often triggers palatalization. This is also the case in words such as "creature", "feature" and "capture".

In English, a number of words may or may not have palatalization depending on the speaker. In most of England, palatalization applies in the words "tube", "new" and "duty". The first segment in each of these words is pronounced with the blade of the tongue, sounds which are known as coronals. In most of the United States, the words "tube", "new" and "duty" are pronounced without palatalization, a process which is often referred to as yod-dropping. For those speakers who do not palatalize, "do" and "dew" sound the same, but for those who do, they are distinct. In the case of words which start with the voiceless alveolar fricative such as "suit" and "sue", most British speakers do not palatalize but a few do.

The phonological process of palatalization is very common in the languages of the world. In the case of the Slavic languages, it is especially common. Palatalization can be viewed as a subclass of assimilation and can be further classified into three types, the attachment of a secondary articulation to a primary one, a more advanced palatal articulation, and a change in the manner of articulation of a particular segment.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ski Jumping

Long skis glide over hardened icy snow,
Knees bent and arms stretched to gather speed,
He ignores every spectator below,
Focus on victory now his only creed.
In swift descent his blood begins to flow.
He appreciates his superior breed.
He keeps his arms and legs positioned low,
Anxious to protect his precarious lead.
Snow becomes air and arms turn into wings.
Every fleeting second looms through his fall.
His unrivalled height makes him king of kings.
After landing superbly he stands tall.
He anticipates more championship rings
This day ski jumping crowns him above all.

When I lived in Finland, I had the chance to see live ski jumping. It was an incredible experience which I'll never forget. Though I enjoy watching ski jumping on TV, it's much better in person. The experience inspired me to write this sonnet about ski jumping.

This sonnet starts with a description of the ski jumper starting his jump. He knows that he belongs to a special group of individuals who take part in this exciting sport. The snow below him disappears as he takes off. Every second is critical to his success. He completes the jump with a great landing and expects he will have continued success in the future.

The rhyme scheme of this sonnet is a, b, a, b, a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d, c, d. The sonnet has a number of references to the ski jumper's jump and subsequent fall. They include "below", "descent", "fall", "king" and "height".