Tuesday, August 25, 2009

a newborn boy

Gloria Origgi is a multi-faceted Italian philosopher who works mainly in Paris at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and who lives in that city and in Italy. She is interesting, erudite, and fluent in at least three languages. She has her own home page and writes a blog — Miscellanea — on which she broke two months of silence with new posts last Friday and yesterday. The former explains her absence: "Mon fils Raphaël Ottavio Colonomos est né le 16 Août 2009. Evviva;" (My son Raphaël Ottavio Colonomos was born August 16, 2009. Hurray!).*
{photo source: Origgi's home page}

Last Friday's post also gives this poetic tribute — the song Raphaël** written and sung by Carla Bruni (an Italian-born, French singer, songwriter, and former model; now also the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy):

The more recent post is about the ë in Raphaël. She tells us that the two dots over the e are not an umlaut but trema, or diaeresis. Readers of The New Yorker or Economist mag may immediately recognize the difference. Diaeresis is used to tell the reader that a pair of vowels is not a diphthong, nor is one of the pair silent. As in coöperate, reëlection, and naïve, the dots tell you that the second vowel is sounded. Big deal? Maybe; maybe not. A former New Yorker staffer says the style editor at one time was prepared to abandon the practice as overly fussy, but died without making the change, and "since then, no one has felt strongly enough about the diaeresis to risk it."

Here's the graphic Origgi used for the post:

{source: Origgi's blog}

In it she addresses her newborn son, giving him a short history of the diacritic and its importance to him. Google translate does a pretty good job with the text.*** She calls the diaeresis a "winged elf who slips between the letters" of his name and says "the tréma which will accompany you throughout life, tells you that language is alive, that names must speak of themselves, that names can be sounds that flutter in the air free, weightless, light and delicate as feathers, like the calls of animals, the screams of the birds in the trees in the morning, the cacophony of meows kittens looking for their mother. As strident screams and and hoarse bellows that wake me up at night, that make me get out of bed and come to take you in my arms."

{This shows Origgi with her other, first, son; source: her home page}

Additional reading:

Definitions from OED

1. The division of one syllable into two, esp. by the separation of a diphthong into two simple vowels.
1656 BLOUNT Glossogr. s.v. Dieretic, The figure Diæresis, whereby one syllable is divided into two parts, as Evoluisse for Evolvisse. 1755 JOHNSON, Diæresis, the separation or disjunction of syllables; as aër. 1887 ROBY Lat. Gram. (ed. 5) I. 478 Diæresis, ‘separation’ of one vowel sound into two; e.g. Orph{ebreve}{ubreve}s for Orphs also the treatment of a usually consonantal v as a vowel; e.g. s{ibreve}l{ubreve}ae for silvae.

b. The sign [¨] marking such a division, or, more usually, placed over the second of two vowels which otherwise make a diphthong or single sound, to indicate that they are to be pronounced separately as bouë, queuë. 1706 PHILLIPS (ed. Kersey) s.v. Diæresis, An ë, ï or ü Diæresis, to show that such a vowel is sounded by it self and not joyn'd with any other, so as to make a Diphthongue. 1767 G. SHARPE Grk. Tongue 16 (R.) If any two vowels are to be read as two distinct syllables, the latter is marked with a diæresis, or two dots over it; {pi}{alpha}{giuml}{fsigma}, boy, and {alpha}{guuml}{pi}{nu}{omicron}{fsigma}, sleepless. 1824 J. JOHNSON Typogr. II. xi. 284 The diæresis [¨] separates two vowels, that they may not be taken for a diphthong.
[1844 T. H. KEY Alphabet 169 The Influence of Assimilation. Footnote, Sometimes called by Germans ‘umlaut’.] 1852 Trans. Philol. Soc. 25 June V. 200 The cognate languages clearly exhibit the fact, that the umlaut in these words has been produced by the weak vowel of a lost suffix. 1873 EARLE Philol. Eng. Tongue (ed. 2) §127 The Umlaut of the Indo-European languages is a phenomenon of a different order. Here the vowel of the after-member of the word influences that which has gone before.
attrib. 1873 EARLE Philol. Eng. Tongue (ed. 2) §128 No~where is any structural signification attached now to an Umlaut form, except [etc.]. 1879 Ibid. (ed. 3) §381 The modern s being imposed upon the old umlaut plural. 1879 Encycl. Brit. X. 519/2 In most [German] Midland manuscripts no special signs for the Umlaut vowels are used, except e.

b. The diacritical sign (¨) placed over a vowel to indicate that such a change has taken place. 1938 H. FAULK Common-Sense German Course 3 The so-called modified vowels are distinguished by the modification mark or umlaut(¨) on the vowel. 1952 M. PEI Story of Lang. I. ix. 93 English makes use of no subsidiary characters, save for the apostrophe. Many other languages use accent-marks, umlauts, cedillas. 1970 [see COMPUTER 2b]. 1611 COTGR. Nnnn, Diæresis is when two points ouer a vowell diuide it from another

*Evviva is an Italian word meaning "long live". It's used in English as well and appears thus in OED: "It is the cry of ‘Long live (the king)’; hence, a shout of applause. 1887 Edin. Rev. July 147 No loud evvivas from applauding Christendom."

**There are interesting parallels and some marked contrasts in the lives of Origgi and Bruni. Of Raphaël wikipedia says:
While living with Jean-Paul Enthoven, Bruni fell in love and started an affair with his son, philosophy professor Raphaël Enthoven (the song "Raphäel" from Bruni's album Quelqu'un m'a dit is named after him), who was at the time married to novelist Justine Lévy, daughter of philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy.[19] Bruni later denied ever having an affair with Raphaël's father in an interview published in Vanity Fair, "I never slept with him, not even a minute."
Carla Bruni: Raphaël Lyrics

{Two first ladies: Carla Bruni and Michelle Obama; source: anneofcarversville.com}

***Via Google with some obvious corrections:
What is that little thing hanging above and your name, Raphael? How do you stay there in midair, like a Moschino, a butterfly wanders restlessly around the pistil of a flower? Or is your name that is suspended at that little thing? Or can not do without each other, like those animals symbionts that live below one another in doing good to each other .. Know that in coral reefs are tiny shrimp that clean and polish the fish that pass? They eat what they find on the scales of fish, and those are all happy to find themselves crossing the coral reef across the beautiful and shiny, like new. Or they told me of some brave birds perch on long crocodiles, to clean their teeth sharpened: we ate the remains of a meal of crocodile, and this beast is to be found happy, peaceful and teeth gleaming. Those two dots and make a bit about your 'well: they give a lift on your behalf and in return they do vibrate, shake like a rattle, they give a different sound. That little thing is an diaeresis, tréma is said in French, is a small sign, a diacritical mark as teachers would say, which means something that is not in words, but as a sprite of the air allows you to give small shocks to the words of, to separate the letters, in short a winged elf who slips between the letters and such a special sound to your name. Those two little eyes that slyly peep over your name, and divide the two vowels to prevent them from merging into a diphthong. We must therefore say ra-pha-el, three syllables, different, distinct vowels, kept separate from the umlaut, which, wholly unlike the tréma, acts as a magnet rather than a separator. The umlaut in Italian is used very little. In French, however, there are many words that use it: canoë, foëne, maërl, moëre, Azraël, Gaël, Ismaël, Israël, Joël, Judicaël, Michaël, Nathanaël, Noël, Raphaël, Staël, aïeul, ambiguïté, amuïssement, stoïle, naïf, païen, pagaïe, baïonnette, coïncider, stoïque, archaïque, haïr, ouïe, ouïr, astéroïde, maïs, voltaïque, laïc, Loïc…

In the Middle Ages to the twelfth century, the tireless Anglo-Norman monks began to use the mark on the words, first in the form of two small acute accents, then stylized into two dots. As when you shake a tree laden with fruit, words given the tréma become music, swaying with rhythm. And as in early music manuscripts at the same time, the notes are just accents, commas, flourishes, signs that only serve to drive the sound, not to dictate.

I recommend: Do not confuse your trémas with another mark, the umlaut, which is written the same, but that the other powers on words: the umlaut is used to change the way in which a vowel is pronounced, not to separate a diphthong: then ü will be different from u, the first amended by the umlaut will be more acute, closed, acidic, like some of u dialect of Milan. But the history of umlaut is quite another, never let anyone say that there is an umlaut over your name! It's a diaeresis, and that's a tréma!

That mighty tréma on your behalf, which will accompany you throughout life, tells you that language is alive, that names must speak of themselves, that your identity is light not leaden, that what is written is simkply an instruction manual for readers, that names can be sounds that flutter in the air free, weightless, light and delicate as feathers, like the calls of animals, the screams of the birds in the trees in the morning, the cacophony of meows kittens looking for their mother. As strident screams and and hoarse bellows that wake me up at night, that make me get out of bed and come to take you in my arms.
A mid-air Moschino shoe. Says wikipedia: "The brand was originally created in 1983 by the late Franco Moschino (1950-1994). Mr. Moschino and his fashion label became famous for his innovative, colorful - sometimes eccentric - designs, for his criticisms of the fashion industry and for his social awareness campaigns in the early 1990s."

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