Saturday, October 14, 2006

depressed

Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what's wrong with me. It's fall and I love fall, so that is not a problem. The weather is beautiful, I am for once on good terms with my folks, work - both the "for money" kind and the research - is going reasonably well, languagehat added me to his blogroll, other important things (wink wink) I can't complain about (well, ok, mostly because there is absolutely nothing to complain about) and even my health is finally getting better. And yet, I feel ... um ... er ... what's the word? Depressed, yeah, that's it.

So besides some occupational therapy (I've decided to finally repair the water-damaged wall and paint it), the best potential cure I could come up with is listening to STS. I got hooked on them back at the college while listening to Austrian radio which would play one of their biggest hits, Grossvater, at least twice a day.
Now wait, that's a bit misleading. Let me rephrase that relative clause:
... which would play one of their biggest hits, Grosvoda ...
Messrs. Steinbäcker, Timischl and Schiffkowitz all hail from Styria and their lyrics (mostly written by Steinbäcker) betray it with every word. It took me a week of very attentive listening to even decipher the title (and the first word of the chorus) and even longer (plus, admittedly, the help of Google) to comprehend the entire text. The whole dialect angle would have been enough to capture my interest, but I really love that song and once I got my hands on several of their albums, there was no going back.

The STS music is difficult to fit into neat categories. As for genre, I really have no idea what it is these guys do. Rock? Folk? I really don't know, nor do I care. In a state of mind like this, I just can't get enough of their more private, emotional, personal songs like Zeig mir dein Himmel, Es kommt wieder a* Sommer, Mach die Augn zu, Überdosis G'fühl or the anthem of the overworked Irgendwann bleib i' dann duat*. But Steinbäcker's genius as a poet really shows in his socially engaged lyrics. A few years ago, some of them seemed like soooo 80s. These days, songs like Das Neue Vaterland, Es fangt genau so an (both inspired by right-wing extremism), Wohin die Reise ("Alles muß immer mehr werd'n und immer schneller / Die Krallen g'schärft, die Ellbog'n knochenhart"), Die Kinder san dran, Kalt und kälter (both referring to nuclear weapons and energy) or Wie a Sternschnupp'n seem as current as ever. Let me give you one example from Es fangt genau so an (roughly: "It's starts all over again") which speaks of refugees and hatred. Just a few years ago, this song could have been about our people in Austria. "Ein westliches Land" may be just a simple description to some, but I can't even begin to describe to you the feelings of hope that will forever be associated with this expression to those of us who know what it was like before 1989. And in any case, there but for the grace of God go I:

Es san die Zuständ' daham unerträglich
Die Versorgung ist komplett am Sand
Und ka Aussicht auf irgendeine Zukunft
Die einzige Chance, a westliches Land

All's is fremd und man muss akzeptier'n
Dass auch die Leut' da was besseres san
Immerhin kann man sich frei bewegen
Obwohl manche Blicke net harmlos san


The situation at home is desperate
There are no supplies left
There's no future for us here
The only chance we have is a Western country

Everything is so foreign and we have to accept
That the people here are better than us
At least you can move around freely
Though some looks are far from harmless


Kalt und kälter (or rather Koit un köölter) is one of those I can listen to over and over again - the chorus is simply beautiful and uplifting and Steinbäcker skilfully employs dialect words to connect with the audience: Austrian "reärn" (instead of "weinen") doesn't just provide a solid rhyme, but unlike its Standard German counterpart also sounds real, honest and intense when coming from a Styrian mouth.

And so as it came up again in my Winamp playlist, the following verses caught my attention:

I spir* zwar an* ganz leisen Schock, doch mit'n Pivo in der Hand
Denk i: Was soll i ändern an die Probleme von an so fremden Land

I feel a slight shock, but with a beer in my hand
I'm thinking 'what can I do about the problems in a country so far away?'

As anyone who has ever been to Prague knows, pivo is Czech (and Slovak, Croatian, Serbian etc.) for "beer". It's nothing strange to find a Czech loanword in any Austrian. Check the Vienna phone directory and you will begin to understand the extent of social and linguistic contact in the Austro-Hungarian milieu. But to see this particular word appear in this particular context gives a food for thought.

In every case of linguistic contact, there is a language or a variety perceived as dominant or High (H, usually the language of the political and social elites) and one or several languages with a Low (L) status. Borrowing and other contact phenomena usually take place in one direction, H > L. One would thus find French loanwords and phrases in the colloquial Arabic of Algeria and Morrocco (Darja), Arabic influence in Farsi, English elements in US Spanish, Russian words and concepts in Georgian and Armenian, German and Czech elements in Slovak and Hungarian and/or Serbian influence in Romani.

But every once in a while, that effect is reversed. I'm not talking about such obvious and easily explained phenomena as L loanwords in H in semantic domains for which H had no original terms (Amerindian names of plants and animals in Latin American Spanish or Slavic household and agricultural concepts in Hungarian). This particular type of exchange seems to mostly involve slang and other non-standard modes of expression. Consider examples like Arabic words in French slang, isiXhosa and Sesotho words in Afrikaans and perhaps most famously, Yiddish words in US English.

One would think that borrowing words from the people at the bottom of the social ladder would be rare, but far from that. Quite the contrary: the social context of those words and expresion may even lead to their popularity. After all, slang is mostly the domain of the young and the rebelious who are the first to be enslaved by fashion and passing fads. Using a new word for an established concept is a necessity - and should that word come from some people your parents wouldn't even shake hands and would be horrified to see you with, that's just an added bonus. As a result, such loanwords do not fully replace the original term, but take on a different, often negative, connotation - dreck in US English for example, is not just dirt, but anything unpleasant, undesirable or disgusting, too. Čávo (from Romani o čhavo = "boy") in Slovak is not just a young male, but also a flashy macho type of guy.

And so I suspect that the use of the word "pivo" in the verses above is another example of this phenomenon. The author uses this well-known, though not common, Czech loanword to distance himself, to express - as the whole song does - disillusion, disdain and emotional coldness.

Speaking of our former brothers - here's two lines from Das neue Vaterland:

Hängt im Wirtshaus umadum
Und tschechert si an

Hangs out in the tavern
and gets wasted

A brief search in the Datenbank zur deutschen Sprache in Österreich revealed the following:

tschechern = to drink alcoholic beverages (Styria: to get wasted)
antschechert = to be drunk (Styria: perceived as Viennese)

While it does not provide any etymology, I suspect a Czech. The word "ein Tscheche", that is. Which, come to think of it, is rather strange. Not the fact that the Czechs are behind this - there are behind everything even slightly detrimental to the Slovak people. But the fact that this time they are tarnishing our reputation as number one drunkards in Central Europe is simply outrageous. They get a loanword and we don't? That's it, I'm taking this up with the European Commisssion. That'll teach them!


*Not to disagree with their official website, but I clearly hear "a", "duat", "wüll", "stüll", "spir" and "an", respectively. I won't be fooled!

26 comments:

Harry said...

" Čávo (from Romani o čhavo = "boy") in Slovak is not just a young male, but also a flashy macho type of guy."

How interesting. As you may know, 'chav' has come into common usage in Britain in the past few years meaning something like 'flashily dressed working class young person'. I've often seen a connection made to the Romani, but the implication was always that it was connected to the gypsy population in Britain. Perhaps it came into English via Slovak immigrants.

bulbul said...

Harry,

do you mean this chav? Wow, that certainly is interesting. Thanks for making the connection :o)
I wouldn't discount the possibility of English-Romani origin: čhav(o) is one of those Romani words which stay the same in almost every dialect and this particular one can be found in Carpathian, Balkan, Vlax and even Sinti. But then again, it appears the word is quite recent, so you may indeed be at least partly right - could have been Hungarian, Czech or Romanian immigrants, too. Any idea when the word first came into wide use?

bulbul said...

Crap, bad link.
I mean recent.

David Marjanović said...

:-)

My 2 cents:

- Never wonder about how German dialects end up being written. Normally, none of them is ever written except in Switzerland. None of them has a standard or otherwise common orthography, and their vowel systems are often so far from those of Standard German that, in texts like these, often the standard equivalent gets written instead. Witness "Himmel" -- pronounced more like [hI.m(:)I] or [hI.m(:)E] in most Bavarian-Austrian dialects, but the authors didn't bother deciding whether to use, say, ü. In this kind of song the actual language tends to be a weird mix of dialect and standard anyway (it makes rhymes easier if you have two phonologies at your disposal, and many poetic words plainly don't exist in the dialects anyway).

- The loads of loans in the Viennese dialect are due to ordinary substrate influence, I'd say. Thousands upon thousands of Czechs (fewer Slovaks) immigrated in the late 19th century, and in the xenophobic climate, they made a language shift -- they ended up speaking bad German to their children. I think that's why so many Viennese speak so slowly. A few grammatical constructions have come across, too, as has (in and around the 12th district) the velarized L.

David Marjanović said...

Sorry, should have made clear I was using Kirshenbaum. The dot is not a syllable boundary, it makes the preceding vowel rounded (the syllable boundary runs through the sorta kinda half-long /m/).

David Marjanović said...

Oh. The genre? Probably Austropop. I hope not. I really hope not.

bulbul said...

David,

as for the substate, I agree, that was almost definitely the source of most Slavic loanwords in Viennese. But with this particular word here, I still think there may be something to my original hypothesis. I'm currently conducting research on a similar subject, so I may yet be proven wrong. Keep eyes on this place :o)

I stopped wondering about how German dialects are written with the advent of SMS :o) But still, I couldn't leave it alone.

Austropop? Lord help us, no. I'm still thinking a sort of folk-rock - some of their stuff reminds me of Springsteen with a shot of Pete Seeger.

Try this , Latin & diacritis for IPA.

David Marjanović said...

But with this particular word here, I still think there may be something to my original hypothesis.
Oh -- certainly. Nobody says "pivo" under normal circumstances.

I stopped wondering about how German dialects are written with the advent of SMS :o)
The Swiss ones are just written ad hoc. (Their vowel systems are comparatively harmless.) The others are never written at all (except in rare attempts at poetry, such as parts of the songs you quote, or very short direct quotes). I never write mine, even though I speak it in all normal situations with everyone who understands it. Like SMS, notes left on a little sheet of paper on the table are written in Standard German, in Written Language.

Thanks for the ticker! :-)

Siganus Sutor said...

How's the mood, Bulbul? Is it getting better?

bulbul said...

Siganus,

thanks for asking, slooooowly getting there :o)

bulbul said...

David,

Like SMS, notes left on a little sheet of paper on the table are written in Standard German, in Written Language.


Now, now, you know what they say about using the passive :o) Do you mean "generally written" or "mostly written"? Because that would be quite different from my Austrian experience. Text messages I write and receive are mostly written in the usual diglossic/multiglossic hodge-podge, definitely not Hochdeutsch. A good number of them are really out there.
I'm not entirely sure this is a purely sociolinguistic issue, though. There may also be technical and pragmatic reasons for writing SMS in dialect. After all, there are 18 characters in "Das will ich nicht", but only 13 in "Des wil i ned" :o)

David Marjanović said...

Ah, Viennese space-saving methods. You see, I never write SMS... However, note that the dialect equivalent of will is [vʏː], no [i] or [l] in there.

But then, few Viennese of my generation actually speak a dialect. Was quite a shock to me when I arrived from Linz 13 years ago. Actually, they speak dialect without [ɒ̽] and believe that's a slightly lower register of Standard German.

(I wonder if that will show up: IPA copied from the Windows character table.)

bulbul said...

However, note that the dialect equivalent of will is [vʏː], no [i] or [l] in there.
You are, naturally, perfectly right - [vY] or [vʏː] is the dialect norm. I've sometimes heard [vi], too. But when followed by "I", I usually hear [vYli].
"I wil", now that's multiglossia for you.

David Marjanović said...

Yes, restoration of the /l/ for ligation purposes is done in Viennese.

Siganus Sutor said...

Bulbul, I am far from being the best person to talk about it, but when you say that there is an “Arabic influence in Farsi” because Arabic would be seen as having a ‘higher’ status than Persian, I cannot but wonder how much it really is the case. Of course there is the sacred texts and the liturgical language, which is Arabic, but apart from that I thought that Iranians regarded their civilisation as being of a much higher ‘value’ than the Arabic one.

As far as I can remember, there was a kind of row, some time ago, between Iran and an Arab country and my not-so-trustworthy memory suggests that the Iranians were unflatteringly referring to their vis-à-vis as “Bedouins” (maybe even as “camel-mounted Bedouins”) who had no right to give them any lesson. I don't remember much more about all this, alas. But recently, there were some articles in the news about Iranians arguing that in Asia there was only one people that could claim to have a more ancient civilization than theirs: the Chinese.

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