Saturday, August 21, 2004

The End

The adventure of Redmat stops here. Mathew and I have found ourselves with fuller hands than we'd expected. Sometime in the future we'll pick up the project again and get it running. Thanks.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Small Tongues

The world is speaking fewer and fewer tongues. Do small and little-spoken languages have a chance? Should they be given a chance at all? There is only a handful of languages that will come out of the present scramble for lingual supremacy unscathed, while a host of others will have disappeared. What is such an outcome based on, and will it really be the best tongue that wins? If there is a best tongue, well... shouldn't we go after it, pamper it, nurture it and place it on the throne at the expense of lesser ones? The New Scientist boldly states that
Half of all human languages will have disappeared by the end of the century, as smaller societies are assimilated into national and global cultures, scientists have warned.

Losing this linguistic diversity will be a blow not only for cultural studies but also for cognitive science, they say. The only option is to record and catalogue these languages before they disappear for good, say the researchers.
I tend to agree with the assertion that it will, indeed, be detrimental to cultural and scientific considerations, but little else. Pain for the heart, gain for the mind?

In order to save resources and be more efficient, we need to move toward fewer and more clearly identifiable language areas, perhaps based on geographic or historical criteria. The advantages could be colossal for business, and for the eventual feeling of sharing the same destiny. We need to think more like termites and bees.
Bees returning to the beehive after finding a good supply of food will communicate to other bees by dancing at a particular region in the comb: the dance floor. The dance floor is generally close to the entrance but sometimes moves, e.g. goes further inside when it is cold or closer to the entrance when there is lots of activity. In Nature honey combs are vertical, so the dance is generally performed on a vertical plane. This is of great significance for the bee dance as the language must provide information of horizontal directions on a vertical plane. However, when the weather is very warm the dance floor may move outside the entrance to a horizontal flight board. It is also horizontal in some primitive bee species and can always be made horizontal by the human experimenter. Dances on oblique dancing floors can also happen, mainly on the obliquely rounded lower edge of a free-hanging comb or on the rounded swarm cluster bees form when looking for a new nesting place. Notice that in nature the vertical dancing floor is inside the hive and thus quite dark while the horizontal one is generally under the open sky.
[ Source... ]
It is important to note that nobody else understands this language. Wasps certainly don't, nor do ants. It is a quality that we need not seek to emulate since there are no little green people to hide vital information from. The flipside is what we should seek to achieve: every bee (Apis mellifera L.) in beeland understands and can follow the given instructions faultlessly and effortlessly! The honeybee example is useful to my point of view, even if the dance may not be an effective means of communicating direction per se.

Bruce Schimmel contends that there will always be other languages... always... because part of the purpose of language is not to communicate but to hide communication! Interesting point. It would explain the popularity of Verlan as well as other, more intimate languages that may exist between close siblings, for example.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

A strange sentence?

The power of forums to educate has long been proven, whether it is about language teaching or other subjects. I stumbled upon the linked-to thread on one of my wild surfs. What struck was, of course, the core question and debate, but also the "I'll appreciate any help" that Miriam closes with. I don't know if it's something I would comfortably close a missive with, or use even in normal, oral intercourse (pun's completely unintended, folks). Would you?
A strange sentence?: "A strange sentence?
Posted: 29-05-2004 04:52 AM
Can anyone help, please?
Last Wednesday, we were talking about the passive voice in class, and we found something in a book called 'English Syntax: A Grammar for English Language Professionals', by R. A. Jacobs, which surprised us.

In the chapter about passive voice, under the heading 'Prepositional verbs' we found the following examples, in which an intransitive verb is followed by a prepositional phrase:
'Seven monarchs have slept in that four-poster bed.'
'A surveyor walked through the forest.'

The author says about these sentences:
'The sentences make an assertion that includes a specification of the location in which the monarchs slept or through which the surveyor walked. Thus, syntactically and semantically, these sentences should not have passive voice counterparts. They have an intransitive verb plus a preposition, and they don't seem to have a suitable candidate for subject, since the subjects of passive voice clauses are prototypically the entities affected by the action expressed by the verb. Yet such counterparts exist:
'That four-poster bed has been slept in by seven monarchs.'
'The forest was walked through by a surveyor.'
We may not think of the bed as being affected by the sleeping, and certainly the forest seems unlikely to be affected by someone walking through it. But in fact we can envisage a slept-in bed with its rumpled sheets. We understand the bed to have ben somehow affected by having had so many high-ranking people sleep in it. Its value as an antique must surely have been enhanced. Notice that 'slept in' cannot be replaced by 'died in'. We don't normally visualise a 'died-in' bed.'

My question here is: why is 'slept in' acceptable but 'died in' isn't?
Is there actually a grammatical rule to account for this? Or is it the author's personal opinion on the matter? What, if any, is the difference between both sentences?
If you ask *me*, I don't like 'slept in' any better than I do 'died in'.

I'll appreciate any help.

[ Source... ]
You'll have to follow the link to get the full answer, from various readers. I seem to think that we can say a bed has been or looks slept-in also because this can be a usual, a repetitive, or -- especially -- a continuous condition, whereas died-in cannot. A bed is usually died-in once, which means we can't really get to know what a died-in bed looks like. We see slept-in beds all the time, and the doer can sleep in them all morning or all day. I saw one just this morning, as I was leaving to go to work. A house or a room can certainly look lived-in. My dorm-room in college continuosly looked lived-in for four years. But neither a house nor a room can look born-in, or killed-in (which would be very helpful to the homicide squad), or screwed-in.

They, Their in the Singular

CHAINIK talks about how the pronoun they has been used in the singular by famous authors and other famous authors. She refers to a page that lists such uses, plus other ventures that would make your usual grammar cop shoot to kill.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Avoiding Good Writing

Chris tells us of the dilemma of an Iraqi student who had to write good essays to obtain good marks, but who couldn't write excellent essays because the topics always glorified Saddam or his political party. Besides, if the essay was excellent enough, its author got to stand up and read it before the whole class.

I can't think of many better ways to forge a writer. Write a lie, because if you don't you'll fail, but curb the lie, because if you don't you'll be embarrassed. The fine line must have been overwhelming, even if it was subconcious at the time.

When I was in high school we were asked to write a story, a completely fictitious piece, about anything. I wrote a short story about a young couple arguing. The teacher, a Mr Berolowitz, called me a plagiarist. What! Despite my best attempts to reassure him, he never believed that it was my story from A to Z, all of it. The last thing I remember him doing, as he left me dumbstruck with my manuscript in my hands, was pulling down the lower eye-lid of his right eye and smiling down at me. It hurt.

Years later it hit me. My story had been too good! And that was why Mr Berolowitz had thought I had lifted it out of some book or magazine. Where's the story, now? I'd love to re-read it myself. But in my anger and frustration I tore it up and chewed some of the pages.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Familiar Things

Have you ever noticed how things can become so familiar that they're invisible? You just don't see them anymore. They have become part of the furniture. Words do that, as well as a host of other things. But words, being a tool that we use all the time and a lot, tend to be taken for granted very easily.

This morning on my way to work I saw the word urgent on a political poster. What shocked me was using children to make a political statement. I thought it was a cheap shot. Probably for that reason, I started thinking about the words on the poster. French forms its present continuous by adding the suffix -ent or -ant. The word urgent is therefore urging in English, if we disregard the fact that the verb in itself is from the French urger, in the same way that the word compelling is formed. I had never thought of urgent in those terms.

Another part of the furniture is the word important, which is built in the same way as urgent. The French verb used in this case is importer, which means to matter. But for William the Conqueror in 1066, today we would be saying mattering, instead of important. "This deal is very mattering for our company."

There are a lot of these parts of the furniture in our midst. We don't see them and we don't realise they're there, until we stub our toe on them.

First post

First posts don't say anything, really, although they may mean a lot.