Leo put some letter magnets on the board and told me he had written mummy.

I told him it also looked like a Swahili word, or a South African family name. Funnily I was right, it's both. Anyway, interesting that he correctly picked the m and the u and placed them approximately where they belong, and in general put the letters in the right position, not upside down or the like, though a zero has less options, and the m is actually an upside-down W.

In other news, for those who haven't heard it yet, he made a pun: on the changing table, he dropped himself, didn't move, grinned and said "Look! I fell asleep!"

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Freundliche Grüsse

Richter plays Schubert

The second movement - no, if you haven't the time, skip these words and watch the video

- the second movement of Schubert's posthumous sonata D. 960 is strange. It's in C-sharp minor, which is about the most unexpected you can think of after the first movement's B-flat major, so the listener and even the pianist are startled and confused. There are some more sudden changes of key. Still, those aren't really startling otherwise, it's all slow and calm and very beautiful. Richter has the perfect lyric way, unobsessive.

The next level is the slightly haunting bass. Here, Richter makes the suspenseful staccato, always subdued, into something merciless.

The movement ends in a major key, which usually gives you a feeling of liberation, sometimes even triumph. Here, there's certainly a kind of serenity, but I feel the threat is still there, so it appears more like an acceptance of one's fate.

Other pianists I hold in high regard have recorded this nicely enough, to be sure, such as Schnabel in his delicate sovereignty, or Horowitz in his effortless elegance, but nobody surpasses Richter in his hermitic, sad beauty.

The sheet music and recordings of the full movement are on the net, though I couldn't find this particular recording, I'm afraid. It's from 1976, and the interview was made a short time before Richter died in 1997.


You know how shop assistants and friends tend to persuade you to buy a stereo that's much too powerful for the room you want to put it in. "Ah, but it's not about turning the volume all the way up. Nobody does that. Point is, with these 5700W the sound is much better for the quieter parts, too. It's not louder, but you'd never get that delicacy with your laptop speakers." That's how Sviatoslav Richter with his giant stature and paws played the piano.

Also, you know how sometimes you don't care about the neighbours and do blast the thing.

Language of Truth

Mesheck Athanasius Johnson had always appreciated the expressionistic translation of the Bible by Buber and Rosenzweig, who had created new German words to emulate the structure of the Hebrew. Still, he understood they had shied away from the last step on the right way to render the Truth, that is acknowledging that all attempts at literal translations are futile and blasphemous. Only the exact abstract-impressionistic reproduction of the Holy Tongue in English would inspire those who understand. Many of the elders lauded his project, and only few couldn't warm to his reproduction of ayLEE, AYlee by More tea, Morty!.

Leo's vocabulary at two

I don't differentiate between [a] and [ʌ] here. Both occur, but the difference isn't always between German and English. (According to the current IPA rules, the German sound is actually written [ä] or [a̠], or unofficially [ᴀ] (small capital A). Especially the umlaut spelling is misleading and fits much better to more recent British English [a], while the German one, as opposed to orthographic ä in German, Slovak &c., is more central between front and back, in other words, less on the E side.)

The English back [ɑ] as in 'father' occurs, but rarely, even more rarely as a variant of the first two. The back rounded [ɒ] is rather rare, too; usually he doesn't make a difference between [ɒ] as in "lot" and [ɔ] as in "thought". By these and the other signs I actually mean the sounds traditionally associated; British English has more or less shifted them to [ɔ] and [o:], but phoneticians still mostly write [ɒ] and [ɔ:].

Most vowels, even close ones in stressed open syllables, are short. Most consonants aren't aspirated. I think he doesn't have a [z] (fortis vs lenis is hard to hear, though). There's quite a bandwidth of variation for all of those anyway.

No [ç] as in "ich", it's all [x] or even [χ].

The words in italics are rare, or he used to speak them but hasn't for a while.

No order. 

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Leo's not an early talker, but that might be because he doesn't only hear English from me and German from his mother, but French, Spanish, Ivrit, several forms of Swiss German and the like at the creche, and a variety of non-native accents, eg Standard German with a Swiss accent, or Ivrit with a Spanish one. I don't worry much, frankly.

Not counting phrases like "More milk!", his first sentence was spoken in Yola. He told me to sit on one mini chair, then took the second to the other side of the table and declared "iːx ˈsɪtðɛə̯", that is "Ich sit there." Never mind the lack of rhoticity, which was hardly typical of Yola.



A. Saw Primer - good one. We actually understood it, ie at the level of the Wikipedia plot summary, but the claim that you're either a savant or a liar if you understand it the first time probably refers to more. For this (after you've seen it!), here's a nice graphical attempt. Never mind the idiosyncratic language.

B. Sherlock - good one, looking forward to the other two and possible further seasons. This is not the umptieth filming of the Conan Doyle stories or some of the usual pastiches. It takes place today, so it's both Sherlock Holmes and Watson (smoothly having him come back from Afghanistan) and one of those well-made British police series with DCI Something and security tape around the crime scene. Only rarely cheap modernised allusions ("this is a three-patch problem" - well, well…). The plot wasn't great, frankly, but tolerable.