## Obamorphology

Two little notes about Obama’s name and morphology:

1). In an article in the NYT yesterday I came across the verb form ‘Obama-tizing’ (hyphen in the original), and realized that because his name ends with a vowel, you can’t just add –ize. But why the choice of ‘t’ as epenthetic consonant? It doesn’t sound totally natural to me, but I don’t know any other consonant that would sound better. Is it just because there are various Latinate groups of words with a ‘t’ in some of their forms like ‘sane – sanity – sanitize’? I found the neologism overcommatize on this fun page from Rice University, so maybe –tize is the accepted allomorph of –ize for vowel-final words?

2).  What happens you decline the name “Barack Obama” in Russian?
My ears perked up when they put “Barack Obama” in the instrumental case (as object of ‘with’) on the radio in Moscow yesterday: Barakom Obamoj – and I realized that morphologically, Barak becomes a first-declension noun – native Russian nouns that end in a hard consonant are all first-declension masculine –, while Obama, ending as it does in –a, becomes a second-declension noun, and the great majority of those are feminine. And I wasn’t sure whether that was “peculiar” or not – I noticed it, but would a Russian? The situation with prototypical Russian names is that for men both names are first-declension consonant-final masculine (Mikhail Gorbachev), and for women both are second-declension –a final feminine (Raisa Gorbacheva).

In Russian, foreign proper names usually get declined with Russian morphology when they look like possible Russian words; for instance, Barbara makes a fine second-declension noun – genitive Barbary, accusative Barbaru, etc., but Partee (Парти) stays undeclined. There’s a substantial class of borrowed words established in Russian that are indeclinable, including kino, metro, tabu, kenguru, kofe, kakao. There are notes about these and other indeclinables in an issue of Linguist List, and my husband’s late wife Lidia Knorina did a study of Russian indeclinable nouns. They are not only ones with endings that don’t look like the nominative singular of any natural declension class – witness indeclinable borrowed kino and normally declined Russian okno ‘window’ (-o class, first declension neuter), both with final stress, but kino, though common, remains indeclinable.

Morphological mismatch between given name and surname doesn’t create any contradictions or problems in Russian, because (a) declension-class and gender are not perfectly correlated anyway, though there are certainly some strong generalizations (first-declension nouns that end in a hard consonant are masculine, and those that end in –o are neuter; and the large majority of second-declension nouns end in –a and are feminine), and (b) the whole name will always be treated as syntactically masculine if the referent is male. The opposite 'mismatch' – first name second-declension, ending in -a, surname a first-declension masculine, is very common in Russian, since most nicknames for both males and females are a-final second-declension nouns – Volodja, Sasha, Petja, Vanja – so a man’s name like Volodja Borschev is syntactically masculine and morphologically ‘split’.

At first I was going to write that the Obama case doesn’t arise in Russian, because surnames always fit the sex (if declinable at all) – Gorbachev, Gorbacheva, etc., and it’s only nicknames where morphological gender and natural sex don’t always agree. (I think that full given names, at least if they’re really Slavic, always have gender-sex match: Sasha (m. or f.) is the nickname for both Aleksandr (m.) and Aleksandra (f.).) I thought a man in Russia couldn't have a surname like 'Obama'.

But my husband informs me that there are Obama-like cases in Russian already, involving non-Slavic names that have been ‘naturalized’ into Russian – a common enough phenomenon involving both indigenous minority populations and ethnic immigrant populations. So there is someone in the news lately whose surname is Kara-Murza: he’s male, the surname (naturalized into Russian from some Turkic language, I think) has the shape of a second-declension a-final (usually female) noun, and it does get declined in the usual second-declension way, just like –a-final nicknames do. The surprise is that his wife and his daughter also have the surname Kara-Murza, but for the females in the family, it's indeclinable! Volodja also informs me (he knows a lot of this from his late wife’s research) that there is a surname Listopad – perfectly Slavic (in Czech it’s the name for November, in Russian it’s just the literal ‘falling of the leaves’) – for which the females in the family will also just be ‘Listopad’, not ‘Listopada’; for the males, it declines as expected in the first declension just as the common noun ‘listopad’ does, but for the females the name is indeclinable.

So what I thought might “sound funny” to a Russian about Obama’s name turns out not to; Russians are already so accustomed to whatever may happen with borrowed names and foreign names and the existence of masculine nouns within the second declension that they don’t even notice. I guess it sounded funny to me because as a speaker of Russian as a second language I’ve only gotten an “ear” for the most widespread first-order generalizations, and haven’t internalized many of the more subtle second-order generalizations and minor patterns.

1. ### Eric said,

March 3, 2009 @ 10:33 am

I wonder if it's related to what the French do sometimes when confronted with an uncomfortable vowel-vowel pair…

"a il" becomes "a-t-il", the same consonant filler with the same lack of meaning. Not sure what the origin could be (not a linguist, just a fan).

2. ### tashi said,

March 3, 2009 @ 10:43 am

Maybe it's Obamatize by analogy with dramatize, diagrammatize, anagrammatize, etc., which is to say, to be made Obamatic.

3. ### Polish Alice said,

March 3, 2009 @ 11:02 am

Monetize? Too much time reading on the Internet

4. ### vogons' tune said,

March 3, 2009 @ 11:11 am

I vote 'Obamize'.

5. ### jfruh said,

March 3, 2009 @ 11:13 am

One thing about the name Kara-Murza is that it clearly has two distinct components joined together by a hyphen — do you only decline the second?

6. ### KCinDC said,

March 3, 2009 @ 11:15 am

Doesn't the "t" in "commatize" come from the Greek stem (komma, kommatos)?

7. ### J. W. Brewer said,

March 3, 2009 @ 11:27 am

Do Russians either speaking or writing your name distinguish between the "foreign" name Barbara and the "native" name whose Cyrillic spelling would be transliterated Varvara but which likewise derives from the Greek BAPBAPA?

8. ### Randy said,

March 3, 2009 @ 11:44 am

The "a" was dropped for Obamorphology, why not Obamized, I was thinking. But somehow that sounds a little dark, like "sodomized" while Obamatized sounds more like a conversion.

9. ### J. W. Brewer said,

March 3, 2009 @ 11:57 am

Re Randy's comment, I would think "Obamatized" could just as easily summon up "lobotomized" if one were worried about that sort of free association. The (or at least a) problem with "Obamized" is perhaps rather that it almost demands to be stressed on the first syllable, unlike the Presidential surname.

10. ### language hat said,

March 3, 2009 @ 11:59 am

But my husband informs me that there are Obama-like cases in Russian already, involving non-Slavic names that have been ‘naturalized’ into Russian

There are also native Russian family names ending in -a: Zhaba, Ragoza, Soroka, and others (there is a list on p. 161 of my Russian edition of Boris Unbegaun's magisterial Russian Surnames). A famous example (though of Ukrainian origin) is the philosopher Grigory Skovoroda (genitive Grigoriya Skovorody, etc.). Though I am not a native speaker, I spend a great deal of time reading Russian, and I am not in the least surprised by the declined forms of Obama; they are just what I would have expected.

11. ### Dan S said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

Obamify? Obamish? Obamacate?

12. ### Jarek Weckwerth said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

Polish does exactly the same thing as Russian here. All surnames ending in -a (Polish or not — and there are some Polish ones indeed) are declined like feminines, thus Obama – Obamy – Obamie – Obamę – Obamie – Obamą. (With all the added complications of palatalisation etc., thus Frank Sinatra [Nom] — Frankowi Sinatrze [Dat], pronounced /sinatʃɛ/.) And in general all foreign surnames are declined in a native-like manner, with only some exceptions.

13. ### Debbie said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

I've used "Obamacize," which reminds me of "exercise" or "Jazzercise."

14. ### Daniel von Brighoff said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

I could be missing something, but Kara-Murza looks to be a straightforward compound of Turkic kara "black" and a variant form of Morza, the usual Turkic adaptation the Persian princely title Mīrzā (shortened from Arabo-Persian ‘Amīrzād "Amirson") now commonly used as a name. As such, I would expect the first component to be indeclinable.

15. ### Barbara Partee said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

@J.W. Brewer – (Do Russians either speaking or writing your name distinguish between the "foreign" name Barbara and the "native" name whose Cyrillic spelling would be transliterated Varvara but which likewise derives from the Greek BAPBAPA?)
— Yes. I had a choice to make. Probably I would have chosen to Russianize my name and be "Varvara" (stress on the second syllable; that's what my Slavicist friend in Amherst Bob Rothstein and his wife always call me, and that's what I went by on a language-study trip to Russia in 1959), but my husband's preference, which I've followed, is to keep my American name and be "Barbara" — stress on the first syllable, but with all of the vowels non-reduced and pronounced as in most European languages. In fact Paul Kiparsky always pronounced my name that way when we were graduate students together, so I accept it as something like common European. It's similar in Spanish, too, though I understand that Spanish-speakers never name their kids Barbara because she's the patron saint of thunderstorms and other disasters. But she seems to be benign in Russia.

16. ### Barbara Partee said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

@language hat — Thank you for those additions — I didn't know about that kind of case. I will look for that book on Russian surnames! It's interesting that all the surnames you mention are homophonous with common nouns that end in -a, which makes them different from the prototypical male-female name pairs, where the masculine form ends on a consonant and the female form is derived by adding -a.

March 3, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

Well, not all Russians have internalised the minor patterns, either. My non-Slavic surname is also supposed to follow the "decline masculine, do not decline feminine" patterns, but I have basically lost count of how many times people have failed to decline my surname. I seem to remember that one of those times was when they failed to do so on a certificate about me winning some contest in high school – amusingly, it was a contest in Russian! (All those certificates are back home, so I can't check if the memory fails me.)

18. ### Karen said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

Not to mention that virtually all men's nicknames in Russian end in "A" (and so do not a few 'masculine' nouns) so the declension pattern is already firmly in place for masculine.

This is one reason some grammarians call them first, second, and third declension (Pulkhina, for instance) instead of masculine, feminine, and neuter.

19. ### Amy Vaughan said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

And then, of course, there are your run of the mill masculine nouns that decline like feminine ones out of various similar phonological/morphological concerns, so it doesn't seem odd to me at all that a name following that pattern (or appearing to follow it) would be treated the same.

20. ### Barbara Partee said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

@jfruh and Daniel von Brighoff, about Kara-Murza. I know Kara is Turkic 'black', I didn't know anything about 'Murza', but in any case the hyphenation is irrelevant. The first half wouldn't be declined in any case, I don't think, whether it was hyphenated or not, and nothing about its origin can explain why the name gets declined when it belongs to a man and is indeclinable when it belongs to a woman. I think Russian has just decided to treat it as one of the masculines in the -a class, like the names language hat mentioned, and it seems (is this general?) that once that happens, it's frozen and indeclinable when applied to a woman.
By the way, I know at least two cases of Russian women whose surnames are of the "consonant-final name plus -a" form who when they are in Western countries (including Israel), have dropped the -a: they consider it a purely Russian-language-internal matter. But I know others who keep the -a.
One couple, friends of ours now in the U.S., are Sasha (Aleksandr) Wentzell and Sasha (Aleksandra) Raskina. (It's just as common in Russia as in America or Europe for a married woman to choose to keep her maiden name.) An American woman, on meeting them (as Sasha and Sasha), exclaimed, "Oh! When Russians get married, the woman takes the man's FIRST name?"

21. ### Bill Walderman said,

March 3, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

I think that "Obamatize" builds on a misinterpretation of the last syllable of his name as the Greek-derived suffix -ma, which appears as "-mat-" when the verbal suffix "-ize" (or "-ise" if you are British) is added, e.g., drama/dramatize, trauma/traumatize. But for some reason, "Obamatize" seems more euphonious than "Obamize." It must have something to do with English phonotactics. Can anyone explain this?

As KCinDC pointed out, the "t" in "commatize" isn't really epenthetic: an ancient Greek verb that could be formed from the noun "komma" by the addition of the suffix -iz- would be "kommatizo" (although if such a verb ever did spring into being, it's unknown to Liddell and Scott). At some point in the pre-history of Greek most final consonants were dropped (exceptions: s, r, n), and the deverbal neuter noun suffix *-mat- with a zero ending in the nominative/accusative singular, became -ma, but the oblique singular cases and the plural retained the -t-, and verbs formed from nouns ending in the suffix did, too. (Komma was formed from the verb "kopto" "to strike" by adding the -ma/-mat- suffix to the verbal root.)

22. ### Barbara Partee said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

@Pavel — Oh, wow, that gives me comfort. I was beginning to feel quite ignorant at how little I knew about some of details. Well, and I am; I must confess I spend many — maybe most — of my waking hours in Moscow operating in English (immersion isn't what it used to be now that we live in an internet-connected world), and my knowledge of Russian is increasing in a rather slow and passive way. At least when I do pick up a work on morphology or morphophonemics I have many 'aha!' moments of recognition!

23. ### Barbara Partee said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

@KCinDC and Bill Walderman, about reasons for the t in "overcommatize" — if you read the website where I found it, and you see that it's mostly full of novel slang terms, terms derived from text messaging, etc, I think you would probably conclude that you are overanalyzing. I would sooner hypothesize that it's either a 'natural' epenthetic consonant (but I don't know why it would be that one) or it comes from some synchronic analogy (like those suggested by tashi and Polish Alice. I just doubt that the coiner knew any ancient Greek.

24. ### Bill Walderman said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

"This is one reason some grammarians call them first, second, and third declension (Pulkhina, for instance) instead of masculine, feminine, and neuter."

The three declensions in Russian aren't masculine, feminine and neuter but rather (1) the mostly feminine declension with nominative sing. in -a, (2) the mostly masculine and neuter declension with nominative singl. in zero (masc.) or -o (neuter) and (3) the mostly feminine declension with nominative ending in a soft sign that is a reflex of an original short -i. These correspond to the first, second and third declensions in Latin and Greek.

The Latin counterpart of the Russian declension ending in -a also includes a few masculines, e.g., nauta, agricola, and there's a class of Greek masculines ending in -as (e.g. neanias) or -es (the Attic/Ionic reflex of -as; e.g. athletes) that are grouped with the feminine declension in -a or -e.

Skovoroda = frying pan?

25. ### Bill Walderman said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

"I would sooner hypothesize that it's either a 'natural' epenthetic consonant (but I don't know why it would be that one)"

Isn't it because of the analogy with drama/dramatize, coma/comatose, trauma/traumatize and many others? In other words, could it be that the -ma/-mat- alternation remains productive in English?

26. ### möngke said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

In Slovenian, surnames carried by females are never declinable, at least not in formal language (z Barack-om Obam-o 'with Barack Obama', z Michelle Obama 'with Michelle Obama'; z Danil-om Türk-om 'with Danilo Türk', z Barbar-o Türk 'with Barbara Türk'). However, in colloquial language, the suffix -ova/-eva is often appended. This is especially noticable in sports broadcasts, which are probably the only naturally occurring register in which females would normally be referred to by their surnames.

There seems to be some variation among Slavic languages as to how female surnames are handled. I was under the impression (obviously wrong) that Russian 'feminized' all names with a suffix. A bit like Latvian (nominative?) -s, producing surnames like Ivanovs with discernably Russian roots.

27. ### John Swindle said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:33 pm

Regarding Obama-tizing, are there equivalents for past American presidents? If not, it's not surprising that we don't know what form is required for this one.

28. ### dr pepper said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

I myself would go with "Obamanize", which if you need a technical reason, would be using an adjectival form "Obaman" as the stem.

29. ### dr pepper said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

In Britain, Barbara is mainly known as the saint of cannons. Also, it seems to me from casual observation, that there is a long standing tradition in Europe that all varients of a name are in fact the same name, and you just use the one that accords with whatever language you're currently using.

As for words and sex, i remember in my first year latin being told that the common words "nauta" and "agricola" were designated "masculine by profession".

30. ### language hat said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

"Oh! When Russians get married, the woman takes the man's FIRST name?"

Thanks, that gave me a good laugh!

Skovoroda = frying pan?

Yup.

31. ### Dan T. said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

The use of -a as a common ending for feminine words and names seems to be common in many Indo-European languages; was it part of Proto-Indo-European?

32. ### David Eddyshaw said,

March 3, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

Not just "masculine by profession": some Roman male personal names are also first declension, eg

Publius Servilius Casca, conspirator against Julius Caesar
Lucius Cornelius Sulla the dictator

These are actually family names; I have some vague memory that their unusual morphology is thought to be due to Etruscan origin, but I could easily be misremembering.

33. ### Leo Petr said,

March 3, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

Most 1st declension masculine names in Russian have a second declension -a diminutive endearing form. For example, Mikhail becomes Misha, Alexander becomes Sasha, and so on. These are declined just like -a feminine nouns. Obama fits this paradigm.

34. ### Mossy said,

March 3, 2009 @ 2:17 pm

You shouldn't feel bad — the rules for when to decline foreign men's and women's surnames in Russian are complicated and Russians are all over the place with them, too. In the old days, foreign women's surnames were not declined but some men's were. (Names ending in some vowells were not, so, for example Shaw Шоу is not declined) As a result, you would say you saw Alan Robinson Алана Робинсона (Alana Robinsona), but if he was with his wife, you'd say you saw Эллу Робинсон (Ellu Robinson). By this system, you'd say you saw Барака Обаму (Baraka Obamu) and his wife Мишель Обама (Michelle Obama). Now this system is in flux. I've found on yandex.ru с Мишель Обамой (s Michelle Obamoy) — that is, they (some?) are declining the surname the same way as with Barack. But the first name isn't declined. Russians usually get around this by giving foreign women Russified nicknames that can be declined.

For an even greater headache — colleague is коллега. If you were with a female colleague, you say с моей коллегой; if you were with a male colleague, you say с моим коллегой — that is, the pronoun doesn't match the gender of the noun, but the sex of the colleague.

35. ### David Nash said,

March 3, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

"because his name ends with a vowel, you can’t just add -ize"
My immediate reaction was to say to myself Obamarize — well the spelling looks a bit funny but it is how I would say it, with epenthetic r as usual in my Australian English. Now I see a few hundred Google hits for "Obama-rize" with and without hyphen, e.g. "Obamarize Your Phone", etc.

36. ### marie-lucie said,

March 3, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

In French, collègue can be either masculine (the original) or feminine, so you can say mon collègue (male) or ma collègue (female). Could the Russian case be interpreted the same way?

37. ### Bill Walderman said,

March 3, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

"In French, collègue can be either masculine (the original) or feminine, so you can say mon collègue (male) or ma collègue (female)."

The Latin noun collega is one of those masculine (or possibly common gender) nouns ending in -a.

38. ### marie-lucie said,

March 3, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

In Latin, or earlier French, the word would have to be masculine, as social mores did not include a similar role for women.

39. ### Stuart said,

March 3, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

"though I understand that Spanish-speakers never name their kids Barbara"

Barbara is one of many "English" names quite common among Spanish speakers in Chile. One family I know has a Barbara and a Jennifer, and googling either name specifically in the .cl TLD shows that they are not unique. Perhaps Chilenos are not as concerned about thunderstorms.

40. ### Jonathan Lundell said,

March 3, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

"Obamaize" is just plain hard to say, seems to me. The i diphthong leaves us with two a-sounds in a row, which we (or I, at least) deal with by introducing a glottal stop, which I find awkward. Obama-ify would have the same problem, except that we'd move to Obamafy/Obamify, I suppose, both of which seem to work in a way that Obamize does not.

The implications for Obamatization vs Obamafication bear consideration as well (or not…). Obamic? Obamous?

41. ### Barbara Partee said,

March 3, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

This pair of topics is more interesting than I had realized.
@ Mossy — "If you were with a female colleague, you say с моей коллегой; if you were with a male colleague, you say с моим коллегой — that is, the pronoun doesn't match the gender of the noun, but the sex of the colleague."
Same with Sasha and Sasha. He can refer to her as моя Саша 'my.fem Sasha', and she can refer to him as мой Саша 'my.masc Sasha'. That's what I meant that the syntactic gender of these names is fixed by the sex of the referent. (It's not so for all nouns, as has been noted in some of the comments, but it's true for the proper names. The situation with names of professions is complicated in Russian – grammatically and sociolinguistically -, as in many languages, and would generate a whole 'nother post.)

42. ### parvomagnus said,

March 3, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

Misc note to the first commenter – I believe the phantom 't' in 'a-t-il' comes from the old Latin 3rd person singular ending, much like the (always written) 3rd person phantom 't' in non-er verbs.

43. ### kyle gorman said,

March 3, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

the "t" is a theme vowel in some of these alternations but maybe it's just emergence of one of the most unmarked consonants as a way to resolve hiatus? if i remember correctly (after mccarthy), there is one arabic dialect that resolves hiatus with [t] and another that uses the glottal stop [ʔ].

44. ### Simon Cauchi said,

March 3, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

I thought the same as Parvomagnus, and remember being taught as much in my youth, but Grevisse (7th edn, 1959, para 640, Remarque) disagrees. He says this 't' is explained neither by etymology nor by euphony but by analogy with such forms as "est-il", "aimait-il", "sort-il", etc. "Longtemps les grammariens se sont opposés à la notation de ce _t_ dans l'othographie, quoiqu'il se fût implanté dans la prononciation. C'est Vaugelas (_Rem._, p. 10) qui [. . .] exigea le _t_ entre deux traits d'union: _aime-t-il_."

The reference to Vaugelas is to his _Remarques sur la langue française_ (1647).

Grevisse cites sixteenth-century authors who wrote such things as "reste-il" (Villon), "rejettera-il" (Calvin), "lui demanda-il" (Montaigne).

45. ### Rolig said,

March 3, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

Just a note about feminizing Russian surnames. It's been a while since I studied Russian, but I believe the -a is added to the surname only when the name ends in -in, -yn (-ин, -ын) or -ov, -ev (-ов, -ев, -ёв), i.e. suffixes that were originally possessive forms. Masculine surnames that are declined like adjectives, i.e. those ending in -ij, -yj, -oj (-ий, -ый, -ой) (usually transliterated in English as -y, -oy, as in Stravinsky, Bely, Tolstoy) form feminine versions the way adjectives do, with the ending -aja (-ая) (usually transliterated -aya), rendering Stravinskaya, Belaya, Tolstaya. Other masculine surnames, whether or not they are declinable (and here the "rules" are complicated and perhaps in some cases subjective), do not form feminine versions, and when such surnames refer to females, they are never (in standard Russian) declinable, even when they end in -a (though as Mossy noted above, this practice may be changing).

46. ### language hat said,

March 3, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

In Czech absolutely all female family names end in -ová, and foreigners get it automatically attached; when I was in Prague a decade ago I was startled to see movie posters featuring Meryl Streepová.

47. ### dr pepper said,

March 3, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

@Jonathan Lundell

"Obamaize" is just plain hard to say, seems to me. The i diphthong leaves us with two a-sounds in a row, which we (or I, at least) deal with by introducing a glottal stop, which I find awkward.

I can pronounce "Obamaize" just fine, i just think "Obamanize" sounds better.
But that's with pronouncing the second "a" as a short "u", agreed that with a short "a" sound it's a little more difficult to glide to the long "i". But i don't get how a long "i" is supposed to have an "a" sound, or how it can be a dipthong.

48. ### Lazar said,

March 3, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

@dr pepper: The long "i" sound in English is a diphthong, [aI], starting with [a].

Regarding "Obamatize", I think this is a case like "Panamanian" or "Congolese" where they've just decided on a random consonant to add to the stem.

49. ### marie-lucie said,

March 3, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

@Lazar,

I wonder if those additional consonants are actually random. Perhaps they have a rationale in the language of the country: Congolese, for instance, might be from a local language form with a suffix in -l-.

50. ### Mark F. said,

March 3, 2009 @ 8:18 pm

And again I wonder, why is Obama's name so productive?

51. ### marie-lucie said,

March 3, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

Perhaps because he is popular, controversial, and his name is so unusual that people are playing with it.

52. ### Kenny V said,

March 3, 2009 @ 9:37 pm

I'm with Bill Walderman. I think all the -tize endings come from the Greek -ma verb forms from third declension neuter nouns.(-ma, -mata).

As for Obamize, I just have a sense that the good majority of -ize verbs have antepenultimate stress. That may itself result from some deeper phonotactic constraints, but I'm not going to hazard an analysis of that.

53. ### John Atkinson said,

March 3, 2009 @ 10:43 pm

@marie-lucie,

I'm pretty sure Kikongo, the language of the Bakongo, after whose kingdom the country is named, doesn't have a suffix in -l- like you suggest. However, there is a Kikongo-based creole Kitubà spoken widely in both Congos (and Angola) which has the alternative name Kikongo de L'état (in French) or Kikongo ya Leta (in Kikongo) — possibly that's where the -l- comes from?

54. ### Coby Lubliner said,

March 4, 2009 @ 12:00 am

Language hat: In Czech absolutely all female family names end in -ová.
I don't think so. Masculine -ý becomes feminine -á, doesn't it?

55. ### Leslie Decker said,

March 4, 2009 @ 12:41 am

Cody is right–names that are adjectives in Czech that just end in á for females.

Also, the tendency to add 'ová' for foreign women's names depends. I don't know many young people who'd do it, and it varies by media outlet. Apparently, though, Monica Lewinsky was often called Lewinska.

My own name was always a bit weird when I lived there. Leslie never changes–though it would if it were pronounced in Czech with the 'i' and 'e' pronounced separately, as in the Czech name 'Lucie.' There are some men's names that end in the 'i' sound, like 'Jir'í', but of course, not being a man, they'd never decline my name as a masculine. Well, not unless they saw my last name and assumed I was a man! My roommate used to laugh every time I got a bill addressed to MR. Decker!

56. ### Fred said,

March 4, 2009 @ 1:40 am

What about hebraize? It's a perfectly cromulent word.

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Fall_2007/ling001/ize.html

57. ### David Ivory said,

March 4, 2009 @ 2:34 am

This discussion amazes me – it is very obvious that the correct form is Obamarise or Obamarize.

Which is to say a vote for fellow Antipodean David Nash whoe wrote…

"because his name ends with a vowel, you can’t just add -ize" My immediate reaction was to say to myself Obamarize — well the spelling looks a bit funny but it is how I would say it, with epenthetic r as usual in my Australian English. Now I see a few hundred Google hits for "Obama-rize" with and without hyphen, e.g. "Obamarize Your Phone", etc.

If Obama spelt his name Obamar I'd pronounce it the same – so Obamarize is an obvious form to use.

58. ### Barbara Partee said,

March 4, 2009 @ 3:09 am

@ Coby Lubliner — Yes, you're right about Czech — "Language hat: In Czech absolutely all female family names end in -ová.
— I don't think so. Masculine -ý becomes feminine -á, doesn't it?".

That's just like Russian, where masculine names that are adjectival forms in -ij or -yj or -oj, discussed above by Rolig, have corresponding feminine adjectival-form names in -aja (Tolstoy, Tolstaya). But Language hat is almost right in that Czech doesn't leave any feminine surnames undeclined — in Prague, I'm Parteeová, fully declined, whereas in Moscow, I'm Parti and undeclined. I enjoy my Czech genitive, Barbary Parteeovi (I hope I'm not messing up, it's been a little while now.)

59. ### Joaquim said,

March 4, 2009 @ 4:51 am

I understand that Spanish-speakers never name their kids Barbara because she's the patron saint of thunderstorms and other disaster

This didn't seem quite true at first sight, so I checked here. Indeed, it turns out that

1) "Bárbara" is not among the 100 most popular names in Spain
2) But there seems to be a lot of variation, and in the Balearic Islands it is the 29th most popular name (28th being "Marina" and 30th "Rosa")
3) The Balearic Islands are Catalan-speaking. In Catalonia, "Bárbara/Bàrbara" ranks 198th, just after "Guadalupe" and before "Begoña", according to the more detailed data available here.

So at the end of the day it might be that you are right, and Spanish people using the name Barbara are not Spanish-speaking but Catalan-speaking. Although, the thunderstorm thing would apply here too.

And besides, my first association to "Bárbara" is not the patron saint of thunderstorms and other disaster, but the adjective bárbaro/bárbara, meaning barbaric or barbarian.

60. ### Justin L said,

March 4, 2009 @ 4:53 am

I'm with Bill Walderman and Kenny V. There's an established pattern in English that nouns ending in -m(a) of Greek origin take epenthetic -t- in adjectival and verbal derivations. I think a good part of this is the rarity of the sound pattern combined with the higher frequency of particular items like "problem" and "system". I can't think of many words in English that end in -ma that don't take this alternation (just transparent loan words like "karma," "llama" and "jicama").

In my speech (as a productive derivational process), for verbs ending in -rize, there must be an 'r' already in the base, either in the noun (category:categorize) or the adjective (familiar:familiarize). The same is true for -lize (civil:civilze, monopoly:monopolize).

61. ### Joaquim said,

March 4, 2009 @ 4:53 am

Oh, and Menorca (one of the Balearic Islands) was dominated by Britain for a long period. Maybe that's the clue?

62. ### paulie said,

March 4, 2009 @ 5:33 am

@ David Ivory,

The problem for the great majority of North American speakers of English is that they wouldn't pronounce Obama the same as Obamar, so I think for us Obamarize sounds completely unnatural (except perhaps to the Bostonians and their neighbors). As soon as I read David Nash's comment I could see how this would pose no problem for our friends in Australia, but unfortunately this solution just doesn't work for us.

63. ### Rolig said,

March 4, 2009 @ 6:55 am

As others have said, there is nothing surprising about Barack Obama's surname being declined in Russian as a second-declension noun (with nominative ending in -a). But the obviousness about this is the result of the name's stress pattern: Obáma, which makes the final -a "feel" like an ordinary nominative ending. But what happens when that ultimate -a is stressed? There are plenty of common nouns in Russian that end in a stressed -a (e.g. gorá, ruká, and even skovorodá) and there are also native Russian surnames that end in a stressed -a (e.g. Potebnjá), and these all decline when they refer to males (but not when they refer to females). But what happens when Russians have to deal with foreign names that end in a stressed -a, especially French names ("especially" since there is a long specific history of Russian's interaction with French)? Here, at least in contemporary usage, there seems to be confusion. I did an, admittedly, cursory Google search for the phrases "с Жаком Деррида" (s Žakom Derrida) and "с Жаком Дерридой" (s Žakom Derridoj), two possible ways to say "with Jacques Derrida" (the first with the surname as indeclinable, the second with the surname declining like a common second-declension noun). The results were 252 hits for the indeclinable "s Žakom Derrida" and 222 hits for the declined "s Žakom Derridoj", which shows, probably, a high degree of uncertainty about the rule when it comes to such names, though it may show instead (less likely, I think) a high degree of uncertainty about where the stress falls in the name of the French philosopher. Searches using a different phrase, now with the genitive case – "у Жака Деррида" (u Žaka Derrida) and "у Жака Дерриды" (u Žaka Derridy), both meaning "in the work of Jacques Derrida" (literally, "by Jacques Derrida", which can also mean "Jacques Derrida has") – turned up similar results (though tilting slightly the other way): 206 hits for the indeclinable surname, 261 for the declined surname. By contrast, "s Barakom Obama" gets 532 hits, as opposed to a whopping 43,000 for "s Barakom Obamoj" (both meaning, of course, "with Barack Obama"); in the genitive phrase, "u Baraka Obama" gets only 481 hits, while "u Baraka Obamy" gets 29,300 hits.

64. ### Barbara Partee said,

March 4, 2009 @ 6:56 am

@Joaquim — Thanks. I evidently overstated. I was told about avoidance of the name Bárbara by my Mexican sister-in-law, for whom it was associated with a thunderstorm prayer, "Santa Bárbara, protégenos de la tempesta." It may well not be general for all Spanish-speaking countries. In the old Czech city of Kutná Hora, which was a great silver-mining center for several centuries, she was the patron saint of the silver miners, and revered — there she was associated with protecting them from mining disasters rather than being associated with the disasters themselves.

65. ### Barbara Partee said,

March 4, 2009 @ 7:33 am

@Rolig — Oh, wow! The plot thickens! My husband agrees about uncertainty over Derrida (though he himself declines it), but what do you find for Fermat, which in pronunciation is also a final stressed -a? He's sure that in the case of "Fermat's theorem" it will always be теорема Ферма (teorema Ferma), Ferma indeclinable. If he's right, is it because that got established at a certain period when the principles were not in flux, or because of the final t in the French original, or both?

66. ### Rolig said,

March 4, 2009 @ 8:14 am

It is difficult (at least with my meager skills) to do a meaningful search for the name Fermat in Russian (Фермá/Fermá), because of the existence of the common noun фéрма/férma ("farm" – a borrowing from English). I tried to see what I could find with the painter Georges Seurat (Жорж Сёрá/Žorž Sjorá), but ran into similar problems (сéра/séra = "sulfur"). In any case, I think that names which sound unmistakably French to the (educated) Russian ear would be treated as indeclinable, especially when there is an awareness that the name is spelled with a final unpronounced consonant. This was not always the case: throughout the 19th century spelling-based transliteration was the norm, and one finds writers such as Pushkin and Dostoevsky referring to French encyclopedist as the declinable Денис Дидерот, with references to смерть Дениса Дидерота / smert' Denisa Diderota ("the death of Denis Diderot"), though in contemporary Russian this would be смерть Дени Дидро / smert' Deni Didro. On reflection, I wonder if confusion about the placement of the stress in Derrida's name might be the cause of the uncertainty after all; Americans, for instance, usually refer to the philospher as "Dérrida", and perhaps many Russians do too. The fact that this is not a typical French name (I believe it's a Jewish name, but I haven't a clue about its origins), and maybe even that Derrida was born in Algeria, may give Russians great liberty when it comes to the question of declining it.

67. ### Bill Walderman said,

March 4, 2009 @ 8:40 am

The Russian noun skovoroDA is interesting in that the stress is on the final syllable in all forms but the nominative plural, where it's on the first syllable, SKOvorody. Here are some questions to ponder but they're probably unanswerable: did Grigory, when talking about his family in the nom. pl., retract the stress or not? Also, the accusative plural of the inanimate noun meaning "frying pan" would have the same form as the nominative pl., ending in -y — SKOvorody, but an animate noun ending in -a would have the same form as the genitive plural: skovoROD. Would Grisha have used the animate or inanimate accusative plural?

68. ### Howard Moon said,

March 4, 2009 @ 8:54 am

@David Ivory
As paulie implied, "intrusive r" occurs only in non-rhotic dialects of English, and is far from "correct" even among speakers of these varieties. If people have an opinion on correctness at all, it is usually that intrusive /r/ is wrong, as far as i have heard.
See Hay and Maclagan, "Social and phonetic conditioners on the frequency and degree of ‘intrusive /r/’ in New
Zealand English", if you're interested.

69. ### marie-lucie said,

March 4, 2009 @ 9:12 am

Two small points:

– Spanish "barbaro/a" (sorry about the lack of stress mark): in at least some parts of Latin America this word does (or did) not mean 'barbaric, barbarian' but 'great, fantastic, cool' or whatever intensifier you like best. My Latin American friends (some years ago) peppered their speech with "que barbaro" which was definitely positive.

– the name Derrida: I had never thought about the origin of this name but I wonder if it could be from an older or illiterate Spanish spelling of "De Rida", since initial /r/ sounds just like intervocalic [rr].

70. ### Pekka K. said,

March 4, 2009 @ 9:21 am

@Rolig: I don't know if you are already aware of this. Just in case: A plus sign in front of a Google search term is sometimes useful in limiting the matched results. Please try +Сёра . You should see no hits with the "ordinary" cyrillic е in the results.

71. ### Andrew said,

March 4, 2009 @ 9:23 am

Leo Petr: When Mstislav Rostropovich received an honorary degree at Oxford, the orator, finding it impossible to Latinise 'Mstislav', used the dimibutive form of his name, 'Slava', and said 'praesento vobis Slavam Rostropovich'.

72. ### Rolig said,

March 4, 2009 @ 9:59 am

Thanks, Pekka K. I did a quick search for "Georges Seurat" (Жорж Сёра / Žorž Sjora) in Russian using the instrumental phrase "c …" ("with …") with these results:
"с Жоржем +Сера" / "s Žoržem Sera" – 72 hits
"с Жоржем +Сёра" / "s Žoržem Sjora" – 45 hits
"с Жоржем +Серой" / "s Žoržem Seroj" – 0 hits
"с Жоржем +Сёрой" / "s Žoržem Sjoroj" – 0 hits
No real surprise.

@ Bill Walderman: As for Grigory Skovoroda, my guess (and that's all it is) would be that the surname would be declined like the common noun, shifting stress and all, but treated as an animate noun: Я видел Сковород вчера. / Ja videl Skovorod včera. ("I saw the Skovorodas yesterday.") "Я видел Сковороды" / "Ja videl Skovorody" would mean "I saw the Frying Pans." But I'm not 100% sure.

73. ### Irene said,

March 4, 2009 @ 10:59 am

I think L is best, as in Obamalize.

74. ### Coby Lubliner said,

March 4, 2009 @ 11:26 am

Check out the Russian Wikepedia entry for Marius Petipa, the famous French-Russian choreographer whose father was Jean-Antoine Petipa: Учился балетному искусству у своего отца, артиста Жана-Антуана Петипа. The forename is duly declined, the surname is not.

75. ### David Eddyshaw said,

March 4, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

It must surely be significant that if you wished to clean up your politics, you would naturally take your issues down to the local Obamat.

76. ### Jonathan Lundell said,

March 4, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

I suggested Obamic earlier; it didn't occur to me until now that it follows the model of panoramic. Not sure where you'd go for a verb, though. Obamicate?

77. ### Mossy said,

March 4, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

The rule in Russian used to be/sometimes still is that foreign names with an unstressed -a at the end preceeded by a vowell get declined; if the final -a is stressed, they aren't. That explains the Seurat. But one linguist notes that there are variations in particular with Georgian and Japanese names. After looking at three different style guides, checking internet and asking Russian friends, there is a lot of variation, and it seems that people tend to decline a foreign name if it fits some pattern of a Russian name. No one liked not declining Obama when it was Michelle.

78. ### Mossy said,

March 4, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

Petipa also has the stress on the final "a" so wouldn't be declined.

79. ### Ginger Yellow said,

March 4, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

"Obamanate", surely.

80. ### Coby Lubliner said,

March 4, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

Re Petipa: I just noticed that Polish is inconsistent on the matter. In the Wikipedia entry, one paragraph begins Wersje Petipa (Petipa's versions'), and the next one Silną stroną Petipy (Petipa's strong side'). There may have been two different contributors. Polish has fairly general penultimate stress, and some people pronounce foreign names that way regardless of the original stress, while others don't. But if the name has penultimate stress then it will be declined, whether foreign (Obama) or native (Wojtyła, Wałęsa).

81. ### Christian DiCanio said,

March 4, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

The temptation with names like 'Petipa' is that one could interpret the phrase 'Wersje Petipa' as "Petip's versions." This sounds fine to the Polish ear (not mine, my husband's) because it is already a plausible declension.

Interestingly, this might suggest why there is variability in whether one declines certain foreign names ending in '-a' in certain Slavic languages. Perhaps it is the pattern of non-derived environment blocking rearing its head?

82. ### Mossy said,

March 4, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

Yikes! I don't know what non-derived environment blocking is, but in Russian, one of the reasons why foreign names are declined or are not declined is so you can tell what the original name is. And perhaps if you are speaking about a man or woman?

83. ### David Nash said,

March 4, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

@ Howard Moon:
Thanks for the pointer to the Hay & Maclagan paper (which is at http://www.ling.canterbury.ac.nz/jen/documents/hay-maclagan2006.pdf). On a quick browse of it, the relevant point is summarised as: "we found a strong social class effect, with speakers from higher social classes significantly less likely to use intrusive /r/". Though I don't think this supports your comment that '"intrusive r" is far from "correct" even among speakers of these varieties' [non-rhotic dialects of English]. A related finding of Hay & Maclagan is that 'speakers from higher social classes have higher F3s (and so less constriction relative to their ‘real’ /r/) than lower social classes do'. I don't think a parallel study has been done in Australia, unfortunately. My impression is that speakers here are generally unaware of our intrusive /r/'s.

84. ### Claire Bowern said,

March 4, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

Just to add something anecdotal to David's comment: I was in my second year of graduate school (in linguistics) in the US before I realised that the word "drawing" had an intrusive r for me. Also, singers in Australia often have to be told to suppress the r at the relevant word boundaries, so as not to sing, for example, Hosanna rin the highest…

85. ### Rolig said,

March 4, 2009 @ 7:01 pm

I hadn't realized that the surname of Мишель Обама / Mišel' Obama was declined: "u Mišel' Obamy, k Mišel' Obame, s Mišel' Obamoj, etc." Is it standard practice to decline surnames ending in -a when they refer to females?

I have been living in Slovenia for a number of years, and I am sure Slovene has interfered with my Russian. In Slovene females' surnames are not declined unless the ending -ova is added (which only happens in certain circumstances) or unless the surname has a recognizably adjectival form. Curiously, surnames that are also common feminine nouns decline only when they refer to males, and then they may decline as either feminine or masculine nouns. For example, the instrumental case of the name of the Slovene female painter Ivana Kobilca (from kobilica = "little mare" or "grasshopper") would be: z Ivano Kobilca ("with Ivana Kobilca"), but if we were speaking about her male cousin Janez, we could say either z Janezom Kobilco (using the "feminine" declension) or z Janezom Kobilcem (using the "masculine" declension). Technically both options should also be possible, I think, for Barack Obama's name, but Google shows an almost exclusive use of the "feminine" declension in this case (z Obamo, pri Obami).

86. ### language hat said,

March 4, 2009 @ 8:07 pm

Language hat: In Czech absolutely all female family names end in -ová.
I don't think so. Masculine -ý becomes feminine -á, doesn't it?

Yes, of course you're right; what I meant was what Barbara said, that Czech doesn't leave feminine surnames undeclined. It's just that the ending is usually -ová, and that sticks in one's mind.

87. ### Sili said,

March 5, 2009 @ 4:55 am

realized that because his name ends with a vowel, you can’t just add -ize.

So I'm justified in wincing at "ghettoize"? Personally, I'd say "ghettoficate", but I'm sure that's equally bastardised.

88. ### Luke F said,

March 5, 2009 @ 6:44 am

I have no Idea what is wrong with Obamize, just dropping the 'a' and eliminating the vowel problem.

Also when a country adopts a foreign word, including a name, they don't they just adopt it as is?

For instance in Italian they simply adopted 'computer' as it was, without having to add the male or female suffix, and if I were to travel, in most places, my name would remain as Luke, and not have to change to Luko or Lukoj. Clearly however, I do not speak Russian and this may very well not be the case, and might sound very silly to them to hear a man referred to as a woman. Particularly the new president of the US….

89. ### Jorge said,

March 5, 2009 @ 7:20 am

@marie-lucie: Spanish bárbaro/a does still mean "barbaric, barbarian", but it is as you say mostly used in a positive sense "great, fantastic, cool". Similar shifts have happened in English with "awesome" or "terrific".

90. ### marie-lucie said,

March 5, 2009 @ 9:23 am

Luke F: might sound very silly to them to hear a man referred to as a woman.

In languages with grammatical gender, every noun belongs to a certain class, in which the gender of living beings correlates weakly if at all with their biological nature. Just because a noun or name for a person does not agree with the majority of other such words does not mean that they are being "referred to" as the opposite sex. The "gender" belongs to the word, not to the person, and speakers are quite used to that. Among Indo-European languages, English is definitely in the minority in having lost gender for nouns, only retaining it for pronouns. And even then, the feminine pronoun is often used to refer to things (especially in non-standard speech), without those things being "referred to" as women.

Jorge: gracias. Que bárbaro.

91. ### Mossy said,

March 5, 2009 @ 10:42 am

@marie-lucie
Actually, I think you've raised an interesting question. This is purely anecdotal (and self-referential to boot) — my nickname ends in what sounds like -ki in Russian, which reads like a plural form of something. Some Russians don't have a problem with that, although almost all of them Russify it. But some Russians have an enormous problem with it — it just sounds ridiculous to them to address someone as a plural something-or-other. They immediately change -ki to -ka. This may correlate with knowledge of other languages and/or acquaintance with foreigners with weird names.

92. ### marie-lucie said,

March 5, 2009 @ 11:04 am

Mossy,

In most cases singular/plural is clear-cut as it is not an unchanging property of the noun itself, as is grammatical gender in the languages that have it, so it would seem strange to hear one person addressed or referred to by what seems to be a plural noun.

93. ### David Marjanović said,

March 5, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

I'd immediately say "obamatize", by analogy with the Greek-derived words, and because this keeps all syllables. But in my native German the only epenthetic consonant appears to be n (this gets used for declining the adjectives rosa "pink" and lila "violet, or purple in general" — which isn't done in fully Standard German).

Obama is also declined in BCSM*, the same way as in the other Slavic languages. And surnames like mine, which once were male patronymics, are declined for men but indeclinable for women.

*"Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian/Montenegrin". Or just "Serbocroatian" if you want to offend different people.

The use of -a as a common ending for feminine words and names seems to be common in many Indo-European languages; was it part of Proto-Indo-European?

Almost: in PIE it had the form *-eh2, which was probably pronounced -[aχ] or similar.

the common noun фéрма/férma ("farm" – a borrowing from English).

No, directly from French (ferme).

94. ### Daniel von Brighoff said,

March 6, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

@Sili: Personally, I have no problem with [i]ghettoize[/i]. The final offglide becomes a semivowel, so there aren't the same difficulties of pronunciation that one encounters with adding vowel-initial suffixes to a name like [i]Obama[/i].

95. ### Erin said,

March 11, 2009 @ 3:24 am

Okay, I'll admit that as a native New Englander, the first variation of "Obama" + "ize" that crossed my mind sounded like "Obamerize".

96. ### Chris said,

March 11, 2009 @ 4:37 am

Listopad is also Polish for November…

97. ### Scott Gilbert said,

March 20, 2009 @ 3:15 am

I live in Kyzyl, Tuva Republic, Russian Federation, and it may interest you that when the Tuva became a member of the Soviet Union in 1944 it had a terrible time dealing with Tuvan names. The Soviets gave many of the Tuvans Russian names. However, the second and third generations of Tuvans have largely rejected the given names. It's interesting though, because now it's totally normal to meet Aidys Vladimirovich, or Aldanai Gregorievna on the street. Like, where on earth did that patronymic come from?!

98. ### CarolAnn Edie said,

June 15, 2009 @ 10:11 am

I would be fastest to say "Obamanize", actually. Not sure why I prefer a nasal to the oral stop.

I've studied Russian for some years, and can't say I had the same reaction to Obama's name in the language. I would not, however, say I've gotten both the general ideas and the second-tier trends. It's more likely I have an 'ear' for phonology only.

99. ### Jesse Zymet said,

November 7, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

It seems that the t drops in productively before -ize attaches to English words that come from Greek and end in -ma like schema -> schematize, stigma -> stigmatize, dramatize, lemmatize (a rarer term), etc. These sorts of nouns take on the connective t before any affixes are attached further, like schema -> (schemata, schematic, schematize, schematism, …) (perhaps for phonological convenience, I'd imagine that no one would want to pronounce the /ay/-long-i after a schwa). So my guess is that speakers who drop in the t when constructing new words like Obamatize implicitly draw from their knowledge of words like drama and stigma, and that the t (at least historically) actually belongs to -ma final stems to which -ize and other suffixes attach.

100. ### Jesse Zymet said,

November 7, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

(Not that -tize isn't a new and modern variant of -ize, but I'd say that people's usage of it really comes from what they implicitly know about -ma -> -matize constructions.)