Why do composers find string instruments (such as violin) so compelling to write solo pieces for, in the absence of harmony?

Because it does have harmony in place: Double stop.

Now: how many solo pieces are there for brass or woodwind instruments? And how many of them are as renowned as the solo pieces for strings (including plucked strings)?

I think you have your answer.

What non-Roman scripts keep foreign words in Roman?

In the last few decades, written Greek uses Roman script for foreign names by default, unless the name is extremely newsworthy. So you’ll see

Το συγκινητικό ντοκιμαντέρ για τη ζωή της Amy Winehouse (The moving documentary on Amy Winehouse’s life)

Rehab της Amy Winehouse, σε διασκευή των Vocal Adrenaline. (Rehab by Amy Winehouse, arranged by Vocal Adrenaline)

More rarely, you’ll get Roman + Greek:

Ο πατέρας της, Μίτσελ Γουάινχάους (Mitchell Winehouse) ήταν ταξιτζής και τζαζίστας, η μητέρα της Τζάνις (Janis Winehouse) ήταν φαρμακοποιός (Her father Mitchell Winehouse was a cab driver and jazzman, her mother Janis was a pharmacist)

And rarely (I find), you’ll get just Greek:

Η Έιμι Γουάινχαουζ «ζωντανεύει» δια χειρος Ασίφ Καπάντια  (Amy Winehouse comes alive through the work of Asif Kapadia)

This doesn’t get done for world leaders who show up in newspaper headlines constantly. So Schäuble, the German finance minister and current bête noire of  Greece, is always transliterated as Σόιμπλε. The headline in the following is more unusual than the lead;

Κρεμλίνο: Ο Putin δεν θα συναντηθεί με τον Εrdogan (Kremlin: Putin will not meet Erdoğan)

Ο Πρόεδρος της Ρωσίας Βλαντίμιρ Πούτιν δεν σχεδιάζει να συναντήσει τον τούρκο ομόλογό του Ρετζέπ Ταγίπ Ερντογάν … (The president of Russia Vladimir Putin does not plan to meet with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan)

The foreign script is always Roman; you won’t see  Ο Путин δεν θα συναντηθεί (even though Cyrillic should be more familiar).

Of course, there is individual variation. In this Reddit thread (Τι κάνει ο Χόκινγκ; Επιστήμη ή μάρκετινγκ; (Το άρθρο που “καίει” αυτή τη στιγμή το twitter #protagon_science) • /r/greece), the first comment has Χόκιγκ, the second has Hawking. 

The untransliterated Roman is a recent thing, maybe two decades old. Before then, transliteration into Greek was universal.

What is the meaning and origin of “kapeesh”?

I presume you’re referring to the Italian-American word capisce. To my astonishment, Urban Dictionary’s entry is not half bad:


Capisce (pronounced cah-PEESH) is an Italian word that is used in American slang to say “got it” or “understand.” The correct word in Italian would be capisci (pronounced cah-PEE-shee) to address the second person informally, a.k.a. you.  

(I’m presuming the dropping of the final vowel is Italian dialect.)

History: During Alexander’s invasions, would his soldiers have found Old Persian or Indic to be somewhat familiar sounding given their closeness to Greek?

Good insight, Sabeshan. Probably.  And they probably wouldn’t have cared.

300 BC was a good time to be doing historical linguistics. The Indo-European languages were a lot closer to each other back then than they are now. In fact, the only reason Indo-European was discovered and reconstructed when it was, was that we had 2000 and 3000 year old records of Indo-European languages.

And the Greeks were well placed to do historical linguistics. They were already familiar with lots of different dialects of Greek, and the regular phonological correspondences between them.

But the Greeks did not make much of  historical linguistics.

  • For starters, they didn’t really have the wherewithal for linguistic analysis. Linguistics as we know it is a Roman-era invention. The sophists got language analysis started in Classical time, but it was quite rudimentary. Aristophanes in his Frogs makes fun of Euripides’ new-fangled, sophist-inspired notions. Those notions include word and verse.
  • For seconds, they were profoundly indifferent to the barbarians’ languages. They were, after all, bar-bar-bar gibberish. Herodotus records some Persian and Scythian derivations of names, so Greeks did learn languages; but they didn’t at the time particularly reflect on them. I think some Greek somewhere did speculate on Latin being a Greek dialect, because of the similarities; but that was later.
  • For thirds, reflecting on the relatedness of languages is a very recent thing. The identification of Indo-European and Uralic languages as families is a very late thing—18th century.
  • For fourths, if all the languages you’ve been exposed to are Indo-European, then your conclusion is that all languages  in the world have vaguely similar words for “mother” and “daughter”. Someone who particularly cared could have noticed that those similarities did not extend to Phoenecian, Egyptian and Aramaic (or even that Phoenecian, Egyptian and Aramaic were similar). The Greeks did not particularly care.

Does Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor sound better in other transcriptions than the original composition on violin?

IMO no. Part of the emotional point of the Chaconne for me is that it sounds hard to play. Keyboard versions in particular don’t register with me. (No, I haven’t heard the Busoni yet.) I’m a bit more ok with Lute/Guitar versions, they sound more idiomatic.

Classical Music: Does everyone play the same notes in the orchestra while playing a symphony, or do composers write different notes for each instrument in the orchestra while creating their music?

Almost always different notes. Even Unison  passages mean that different instruments play the same note in different octaves.

Exceptions are so rare that this is the only one I can think of (though there are bound to be others). In Berg’s opera Wozzeck, right after Wozzeck kills Marie, Berg has an “Invention on a Single Note”. This has the note B played twice. The second time is in unison, with every instrument playing it in different octaves, in a long, terrifying crescendo.

The first time is usually played shorter, but I consider it even scarier. It is every instrument, one joining in after the other, playing the same note at the same pitch, B under middle C.

What should I look out for when migrating to Australia, specifically Melbourne?

So. You here yet? [EDIT: two weeks time, I see. Do please let us know how you find things!]

Things to look out for:

a touch of Dutch cafe , in Berwick. Outskirts of Melbourne, but they have a bunch of Dutch food and books, should you feel homesick.

I may have accidentally translated Het Wilhelmus into Klingon for the owners…

I can’t better the comprehensive responses from my betters, that you got to see in time for your planning. There would have been an extra culture shock for your girlfriend if she’d spent more time in NZ—Australia is just that bit bigger and brasher for her to be taken aback; but if she left at 5, she’s culturally Dutch. (And no shortage of Kiwis here, anyway.)

EDIT: Ah, just remembered the biggest downside  for my German friends that have moved here.

Melbourne has a bedtime. Exceedingly hard to find anyplace open past 11, other than a few nightclubs and bars you don’t want to be in. It has not really had an all-night culture, although there are active moves to remedy that (including all-night public transport.)

What is your personal experience with obtaining a linguistics degree?

My story is common to that of many people who did a PhD out of hope and idealism, and got crushed by reality. This is not to discourage you to do linguistics as such, but to keep your eyes open. And read people like Rebecca Schuman at Slate.


I was always interested in languages, and learned quite a few in high school. But I was in science stream, and my undergrad was in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. (Computer Science, because I am that old.) I did the degree because it had the highest entrance score in the state, so all the geeks in school did it; and because I liked maths.

Engineering managed to destroy my love of maths, thanks to its charming “shut up and learn the formula” approach to Fourier transforms. I never particularly cared about Engineering, and forgot everything I learned the day after the exam. Computer Science on the other hand gave me some good theoretical grounding, and ultimately my day jobs.

Towards the end of my undergrad degrees, I met a girl at a party, who was doing linguistics. I was intrigued by what she was saying about historical linguistics, and started showing up to her lectures.

I grinned throughout the lectures, because the lecturer was doing historical linguistics by fiat, instead of trying to prove the plausibility of what he was saying. (That’s why I get annoyed by circular reasoning in linguistics.) But by the end I was hooked, and I did enough linguistics as electives that they let me do a PhD. (The Australian system is rather less rigorous than the American.)

  • What was your deciding factor? Unlike Computer Science and Engineering, it was something I felt passionate about.
    • It gave me a sense of community (in my fellow students), and probably the first real friendships in my life.
    • It gave me a sense of empowerment: I could (and did) make myself a world expert in something.
    • It gave me a sense of purpose—indeed, a mission: by the time I was fifty, I decided, I was going to write the reference grammar of Mediaeval Greek.

(You’ll notice that my name is not listed on the staff in Greek Grammar to fill the gap. The reference grammar’s homepage is offline too. That’s what happens when grants runs out…)

  • What jobs have you worked? Tangential ones.
    • My job at the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae is a combination of linguistics and programming, but it’s not linguistics research as linguists understand it; computational linguistics is much more an engineering job in general, and the Greek morphology recognition work is much more philology than linguistic research.
    • I’ve done some other odds and ends in  computational linguistics over the years, but the same caveats apply.
    • I lectured as a casual for a couple of years. They may well have been the happiest of my life, but I decided I could not put up with the famine-or-feast or the flattery and fashionmongering that academia requires  to get ahead. Especially as I had no interest in pursuing an employable subject area, as opposed to an area I was passionate about. (And noone hires Europeanist historical linguists in this country.)
    • Linguistics gave me great analytical and communications skills which I’ve applied to my subsequent jobs, in IT policy and standards. Ontologies are something linguists naturally take to. But the formal semantics and discrete maths that would make ontologies second nature are usually in the too hard basket for linguistics departments. Right next to historical linguistics.
  • Where did you hope the degree will take you? To being a tenured academic, lecturing with adoring audiences at my feet, writing 20 papers a year, and living the dream.
  • Did you run into any unexpected issues? Apart from the fact that you can’t become a tenured academic without
    • stepping on corpses
    • selling out and doing research in fashionable areas
    • coming to view both research and teaching as drudgery
    • having your career contingent on grants funding
    • having no free time, let alone time for research, because you spent half your life applying for grants, half doing admin, and the other half marking?
  • Geez, bitter much? Yeah, actually. It took me years to find something I was passionate about, and years to reconcile with giving up on it. But my self-respect was ultimately worth more to me.
  • Is there anything you would have done differently looking back? Despite this rant… no.
    • It’s better to have loved and lost than to have gone straight out from Uni into programming. (Besides, how many Business Analysts start out as Business Analysts?)
    • It’s good to have become a world expert; and it’s part of the reason why I’ve taken to Quora—I love communicating on it, and fora like Quora allow me to still be a linguist.
    • It’s good to have honed your mind as a theoretician; they are transferrable skills, and you might as well have fun while acquiring them.
    • If  anything, I wish I had more humanities as an undergrad, so I could have had a more rounded education in linguistics.

And it’s good to have worked in a field whose native format is paragraphs and not dot points. As you can tell, I no longer work in such a field…

Answered 2016-02-19 · Upvoted by

Steve Rapaport, Linguistics PhD candidate at Edinburgh. Has lived in USA, Sweden, Italy, UK.

How did you discover Quora?

Originally Answered: I’m old enough to no longer seek out new things; so the new thing was brought to me.

Our CTO mentioned Quora as a good upvote UI.

He happened to be screensharing, so I got to see what Quora was.

And that was it.

My marriage has survived it so far…

Really, Collapse Bot. On a survey question, no less. Ok, then here’s a link to appease it; thank you, Nick Weideman, the aforementioned CTO.