Thursday, May 07, 2015

A Name in Exam of English Language Course

On May 5, 2015, a friend of mine, Chiara Maieron, updated her status on Facebook, writing, "Feeling spooky. Barbara of urso [note by the author: an Italian television host and actress] has started to follow me on twitter ..."

I read this update and found a comment on it by a friend of Chiara. His name was Sabino Civita. I wrote the following comment irrelevant to Chiara's topic. "Hi Sabino Civita, I know the name Tullio Levi-Civita, an Italian mathematician, famous for his work on absolute differential calculus (tensor calculus) and its applications to the theory of relativity."

Chiara replied to this comment: "Hi Tatsu, I am afraid Sabino is not such a fine mathematician." Then, Sabino wrote, "Chiara is right, Tatsuo. I'm only an old philosopher. And not a fine one ..."

In reply to the above, I wrote my memory about Levi-Civita as follows: "Thanks, Sabino, for your reply. I'm a not-fine, old physicist. I first learned the name of Levi-Civita from a problem in an exam of English language course in our second-year class (Class 1) of Science Faculty at Kyoto University. Our teacher of English language quoted an English passage about Einstein's work, including the names of Levi-Civita and the German mathematician Cristoffel, to make us translate it into Japanese. At that time, I didn't know how to pronounce Civita. So, I wrote his name in my answer sheet in Japanese phonetic characters like the pronunciation of "Sivita." However, a good friend of mine in that class told me that he had been able to guess the correct Italian pronunciation of Civita." [Partly modified from the original message.]

The good friend of mine later became quite a fine physicist. His name was Kazumi Maki, who mostly worked at the University of Southern California in USA as a theorist on superconductivity. (I wrote an obituary for him here.)

Our teacher of English language thought that we, the students of Science Faculty, would like the story about Einstein and write good answers. However, the passage was rather difficult for the second-year students. I was rather good at English but did not know yet that "mechanics" meant the physics about the effects of forces on objects. So, I translated this word into a Japanese word of meaning "mechanical engineering." (What did I suppose about engineering based on relativity? It was years before the appearance of high energy accelerators and GPS.) Kazumi made a correct translation also for this word.

Months later, some members of the second-year classes (Class 1 and Class 2) were reading together a text of special relativity written in Japanese. Once we had the occasion to have a reading time in the office of Professor Shohei Tamura, who was senior to Professor Hideki Yukawa. Looking at the bookshelf in the office, Yoshio Sumi, who belonged to Class 2 and possibly attended an English language course given by a teacher different from ours, found there a book written by Levi-Civita and said, "Levi-Civita, a strange name!"

After a while, Professor Tamura said, "Sumi, you would have difficulty in marriage in the future." Yoshio was surprised to say, "Why?" Professor Tamura said, "Professor Yukawa's wife has the first name of Sumi. So, if you would marry to the girl of the same name as Professor Yukawa's wife, her name would become quite strange one, Sumi Sumi." Later, Yoshio became a theorist on high-energy physics at Hiroshima University. I don't know his wife's name.