Archive for Esthetics

Accidental filmic poetry

Tonight we're rewatching The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in honor of Ennio Morricone, the composer of its iconic score, who died today. Deediedeedledee nwah nwah nwaaaaahhh

And I've just had a thought about the title that turns on the quite different interpretations of the-Adj constructions in English and Italian, which I mainly know about from this paper by Hagit Borer and Isabelle Roy .

In English, "the Adj" generally only allows a generic reading, and often refers to the class of humans characterized by the adjective, as in the poor, the rich, etc. In Italian (and French, Spanish, etc.) this isn't the case; the construction, although based on the same syntax, can also receive a particular referential singular interpretation. Borer and Roy ascribe this to the presence of identifying number and gender features on the determiner in those languages.

In the original Italian title of the movie, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ('The good.masc.sg, The ugly.masc.sg, the bad.masc.sg.) these 'The-Adj' sequences are referential; they refer to the three main characters Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco. The Italian title is more or less equivalent to English "The good guy, the bad guy and the ugly guy". 

In English, though, the grammatical structure of the title can only get the generic reading. The use of these forms in the film to refer to three protagonists, then, bestows an archetypal quality on those characters; they're metonymically interpreted as instantiating the whole classes of good people, bad people and ugly people respectively. And the kind of mythic force it imparts somehow fits so perfectly with the grandiose yet tongue-in-cheek quality of the whole film, to me it's really a fundamental part of its impact, humor and appeal.

My question is, do you think Leone and the scriptwriters understood this property of the English translation? Or did they read their English calque of the Italian grammatical structure just as they would have read the Italian? The Italian title, in fact, with its masculine singular marking, cannot be understood in the same way as the English is. To represent the English interpretation in Italian, apparently, the plural would be needed: i belli, i brutti, i cattivi. My guess is that neither the writers nor the director realized that the title read so differently in English. 

 According to Wikipedia, the Italian title was a last-minute suggestion of screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, and the title for the English version was determined by the studio after some alternatives were bandied about and rejected. I wonder if someone at United Artists recognized the different reading, and the epic quality it imparted, when they were discussing the choice!

Thanks to Roberta d'Alessandro and other Facebook linguists for Italian judgments and discussion!

 

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Freeest or freest

I wrote this sentence:  "Hong Kong was one of the freeest cities on earth".  My automated spell checker flagged "freeest", so I changed it to "freest", and the spell checker let that stand.  But in my mind I was still saying "freeest", with two syllables, whereas when I see "freest", it's very hard for me to think of that as having two syllables.  So how are we to pronounce the superlative degree of the adjective "free"?

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On the invention of writing in Egypt and China

The next SCRIBO guest will be John Baines (Oxford), on the invention of writing in Egypt and China, with the title:

“Pairs of Early Script Forms: Contrasting Aesthetics in Early Egypt and China”. 
 
Don’t miss it next Wednesday 8th July, *4.30pm* (Italy time) = *10:30am* (Philadelphia time).
 
The Zoom link is direct: https://tinyurl.com/y9mu7bpo
 
It will also be streamed live on the INSCRIBE ERC Project Facebook page.

Silvia Ferrara <silvia.ferrara@gmail.com>

SCRIBO Seminar (INSCRIBE ERC Project, Bologna)

[h.t. Joe Farrell]

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Similes for female pulchritude in an ancient Chinese poem

From Shī jīng 詩經 (Poetry Classic), circa 6th c. BC:

(Her) hands are like catkins;
skin is like congealed lard;
neck is like larva of longicorn;
teeth are like calabash seeds;
forehead (like that of) cicada,
eyebrows (like antennae of) moth,
(her) enchanting smile is winsome;
(her) beautiful eyes are clear-set.
         — Ode 57, tr. Diana Shuheng Zhang

Shǒu rú róu tí
fū rú níng zhī
lǐng rú qiú qí
chǐ rú hù xī
qín shǒu é méi
qiǎo xiào qiàn xī
měi mù pàn xī.
      —— Wèi fēng·shuòrén

手如柔荑
膚如凝脂
領如蝤蠐
齒如瓠犀
螓首蛾眉
巧笑倩兮
美目盼兮。
 —— 衛風·碩人

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"Collapsed" calligraphy

Responding to this recent post about machine analysis of grammar, "Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese dependency parsing" (11/27/19), Nicholas Morrow Williams writes:

That reminds me tangentially of something I just heard about, an effort to transcribe Japanese "kuzushiji" (cursive-like) script using AI.  This article, which contains some striking illustrations, is about a huge international competition to devise a better method, won apparently by a Chinese team.

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"Beautiful" in the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party

James Wimberley notes that, among the recent additions to the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party, is this section:

The basic line of the Communist Party of China in the primary stage of socialism is to lead all the people of China together in a self-reliant and pioneering effort, making economic development the central task, upholding the Four Cardinal Principles, and remaining committed to reform and opening up, so as to see China becomes a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful.

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The cult(ure) of slothful losers

Article by Zeng Yuli in Sixth Tone (6/27/17):

"Turn Off, Drop Out: Why Young Chinese Are Abandoning Ambition

As the economy slows and social expectations rise, youngsters are rejecting traditional notions of success and embracing a culture known as ‘sang.’"

Before reading this article, I was only vaguely familiar with "sang" culture.  So that those who do not know Chinese pronounce the word more or less correctly instead of making it sound like the past tense of "sing", read it as "sawng" or "sahng".

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Bad sex writing: really really bad

I'm pleased to be able to announce on Language Log the winner of the Literary Review's 2015 Bad Sex in Fiction Award. The award went to the singer Morrissey for his debut novel List of the Lost. And it seems to have been honestly earned. The judges cited this sentence:

Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza's breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra's howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza's body except for the otherwise central zone.

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Too much Victor Mair

I've been reading way too much Victor Mair. In the restaurant of my hotel in London I just saw an English girl wearing a T-shirt on which it said this:

H O
P E

And I immediately thought, who is Ho Pe?

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The esthetics of East Asian writing

[This is a guest post by S. Robert Ramsey.  It is essentially an extended reply to two comments by Joanne Salton [here and here] to my post on "The cost of illiteracy in China".  While I have the floor, I would like to point out the remarks by Ray Dillinger (with important qualifications by Julie Lee) which, considering the limited compass, are among the most sensible observations on the history of writing I've ever encountered.  And now the floor is Bob's.]

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