Quotulatiousness

March 21, 2017

Icelandic standup about Nordic neighbours in general and Finnish language in particular

Filed under: Europe, Humour — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on Dec 1, 2016

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

March 12, 2017

Is this the definitive exegesis of “woke”?

Filed under: Humour, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q., OregonMuse fishes in the comment stream and finds a question that needed to be answered. Extensively.

    13 I’m not up on the current “hip kid lingo”, so what exactly does “woke” mean?

    It sounds stupid, so I am guessing it is not something achieved by hard work and discipline.

    Posted by: moki at March 09, 2017 02:22 PM

1. “Woke” is pretty much the same as what the old-time Marxists called “class consciousness”, i.e knowing that the human race is divided by economic class and that the “proletariat” class needs to overthrow the “bourgeois” class in order to establish the epitome of human perfection, the world-wide communist state.

2. The Marxists also had a term they called “false consciousness.” I think it means something like this: you know what “class consciousness” is but you reject it, because you know it’s bullcrap.

3. I once heard erg use this term to describe ace.

4. Don’t know if there is any comparable term like “false woke”. Maybe sleepwalking?

5. Anyway, the point is, “woke” is a concept that was basically lifted from rat bastard commies.

6. Eventually, as blue vs. blue conflict increases, we’re going to start seeing “woke fights.”

7. They won’t be called that, but that’s what they are.

8. At some point, the various factions of woke will start making distinctions between “woke” and “woke woke.”

9. And these woke groups will be all “woker than thou” to each other

10. To a “woke” person, the only thing worse than not being “woke” is being “woke”, but insufficiently “woke.”

11. These blue-on-blue slap fights will be hilarious to watch.

12. Even better with popcorn

March 6, 2017

Grammar is now racist

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Theodore Dalrymple on the recent revelation of the inherent racism of correct language usage:

Two kind readers have drawn my attention to a person called Asao B. Inoue, of whom I had previously not heard, who teaches writing at Tacoma University in Washington State. This deeply conventional corrupter of youth has delivered himself of the pseudo-original opinion that American grammar is inherently racist. It is true that it is often not very good; but that, alas, is true of the speech and writing of the people of all known nations.

To give a flavor of Professor Inoue’s polysyllabic pseudo-ratiocination, I can do no better, alas, than to quote him:

    Antiracist writing assessment ecologies explicitly pay close attention to the relationships that make up the ecology, relationships among people, discourses, judgments, artifacts created and circulated. They ask students to reflect upon them, negotiate them, and construct them. Antiracist writing assessment ecologies also self-consciously (re)produce power arrangements in order to examine and perhaps change them. When designing an antiracist writing ecology, a teacher can focus students’ attention on a few of the ecological elements…which inter-are. This means addressing others, such as power relations and the ecological places where students problematize their existential assessment situations.

This is a quotation, at random, from Professor Inoue’s book, Antiracist Writing Ecology: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future.

I have not torn this passage out of context because tearing Professor Inoue’s prose out of context is as impossible as tearing fog. There are, in this instance, 300 pages of it, and I congratulate in advance anyone who reads it all. He deserves full marks for persistence, if not for a wise employment of his time.

It might, of course, be thought that a man like Professor Inoue could do little damage. It is unlikely that ghetto youth will ever go on the rampage shouting Problematize our existential assessment situations! It has other problems on its mind, such as police brutality and the price of crack. Moreover, although Professor Inoue’s prose is hardly Gibbonian, the fact is that he himself writes in approximately grammatical form — in other words, he uses standard grammar. No doubt he would argue that this is because he is forced to do so, that the vicious racists of Tacoma University would sack him if he didn’t, but this is no excuse: He doesn’t have to work there and could take another job, though for the moment I cannot think what it could be.

The point is, however, that he probably demands of his students that they reproduce his thoughts — or rather, opinions — not only in content but in form, that is to say in approximately standard grammar. Whether this is hypocritical of him rather depends on whether he is aware of it.

March 3, 2017

The key difference between written and oral communication

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle, discussing the uproar over the Attorney General Jeff Sessions “did he or didn’t he lie to congress” debate, took time to clarify why we don’t (and can’t) parse spoken communications in the same way we do with written work:

If you read the latter part of this exchange extremely strictly, chopping off the preamble, then you can argue that Sessions was technically untruthful. The problem is that this is not how verbal communication works. The left is attempting to hold the attorney general to a standard of precision that is appropriate for written communication, where we can reflect on preceding context and choose exactly the right word.

Oral language is much looser, because it’s real time. Real time means that we don’t have 20 minutes to puzzle over the exact phrasing that will best communicate our meaning. (For example: Reading this column aloud will take you perhaps five minutes. It took me nearly that many hours to write.) On the other hand, our audience is right there, and can ask for clarification if they are confused.1

Demanding extreme clarity from an oral exchange is unreasonable. Moreover, everyone understands that this is unreasonable — except, possibly, for the chattering classes, who spend their lives so thoroughly marinated in the written word that they come to think that the two spheres are supposed to be identical. Most ordinary people understand very well that there’s a big difference between talking and writing (which is why most people, even those who are dazzling in conversation, have a hard time producing fluid and lively prose).

That’s not to say that it’s wrong to investigate the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Investigate away! If the Trump campaign knew about, or colluded with, the hack on the DNC, then Trump should be impeached. But at the moment, we have no evidence that Sessions committed a crime, much less attempted to cover it up. The court of public opinion is probably going to require somewhat better facts to convict.

    1. One reason that we writers spend so much time thinking about precise wording, and larding our prose with extra paragraphs meant to clarify exactly what we’re talking about, is that language is rife with ambiguity. This is why, at one time, Annapolis cadets were required to take a class in which they would write orders, and their fellow cadets would tear them apart looking for ways that a simple order could be misunderstood. It’s also one reason so many people get into so much trouble on Twitter: they write like they talk, but stripped of cues like context and facial expression, what they say is very easily taken the wrong way.

January 18, 2017

The bilingual “rule” for prospective Canadian Prime Ministers

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh explains why unilingual Conservative party leadership hopefuls should just plunge right into those French lessons already:

There is clamour in the press right now about the “rule” that a federal Conservative party leader ought to be able to speak in both official languages. I could probably stop this column after the following statement: It’s not a rule. It’s just a very strong precondition for electoral success. Calling it a rule implies that there is some sense in arguing about the ethicality or the practicality of the principle — that it is an idea someone has the power to revoke after discussion of its philosophical merits. It invites verbal volleying over whether Canada is essentially a bilingual country, whether it is proper to exclude qualified unilingual leaders from the Prime Minister’s Office, etc., etc.

You get the normative questions mixed up with the factual ones awfully quickly. You start discussing whether a bilingualism requirement is right or wrong, just or unjust; and political reality stands off to the side, remaining intractable, utterly insensitive to the feelings of ambitious monoglots and their media advocates.

The various Conservative parties have proven that they can, very occasionally, win elections without Quebec. But francophone Canada is just a little bigger than Quebec, and a unilingual leader would now be compromised in campaigning and sidelined in television debate. If he had promised to learn French, which seems to be the hope of Conservative leadership candidates who don’t speak it well, he would be challenged on his skills every week for the remainder of his career. Every speech would be a tiny test, its contents overlooked.

And he would be excruciatingly vulnerable to the good faith and sense of his francophone MPs. When you take all the added challenges for a unilingual party leader into account, it might be easier to go ahead and just learn the damned language already. (One thing worth remembering is that Quebec’s representation in this Conservative leadership race, and probably in future ones, is proportional to its House of Commons delegation. It may be strategically possible to win a general election as a leader without Quebec, but you do have to win the leadership first.)

It was still feasible for unilingual candidates to win the Conservative leadership (back when they were the “Progressive Conservative” party) into the 1970s, but in practical terms it was nearly impossible to win a general election without substantial support from Quebec (which would not be given to a monolingual leader). At this late stage, I read any Conservative leadership hopeful who does not speak both official languages to be angling for a “Kingmaker” or power broker role rather than expecting to actually win.

October 4, 2016

QotD: Byzantine literature

Filed under: Books, Europe, History, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The biggest misconception appears to be that the Byzantine Empire was a sterile, gloomy place, devoid of interest to anyone but Orthodox Christians or historians who are the scholarly equivalent of train spotters. There is enough truth in this charge for it to have stuck in the popular imagination for the past few centuries. With exceptions like Cecelia Holland’s Belt of Gold, there is no Byzantine sub-genre in historical fiction. I can think of no British or American films set in Constantinople after about the year 600 – and few before then.

Undoubtedly, the Byzantines made little effort to be original in their literature. But they had virtually the whole body of Classical Greek literature in their libraries and in their heads. For them, this was both a wonderful possession and a fetter on the imagination. It was in their language, and not in their language. Any educated Byzantine could understand it. But the language had moved on – changes of pronunciation and dynamics and vocabulary. The classics were the accepted model for composition. But to write like the ancients was furiously hard. Imagine a world in which we spoke Standard English, but felt compelled, for everything above a short e-mail, to write in the language of Shakespeare and the Authorised Version of the Bible. Some of us might manage a good pastiche. Most of us would simply memorise the whole of the Bible, and, overlooking its actual content, write by adapting and rearranging remembered clauses. It wouldn’t encourage an original literature. Because Latin soon became a completely foreign language in the West – and because we in England were so barbarous, we had to write in our own language – Western Mediaeval literature is often a fine thing. The Byzantine Greeks never had a dark age in our sense. Their historians in the fifteenth century wrote up the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in the same language as Thucydides. Poor Greeks.

But you really need to be blind not to see beauty in their architecture and their iconography. Though little has survived, they were even capable of an original reworking of classical realism in their arts.

Richard Blake, interviewed by Jennifer Falkner, 2014-06-23.

August 11, 2016

QotD: The Great Vowel Shift and “Canadian Raising”

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Linguists do not generally attempt to answer questions of causality. “Why? I can’t answer that,” said Dailey-O’Cain when I asked. “You can look at ongoing changes sometimes if you have the right kind of data but it’s very, very hard.” But there are theories. One particularly fascinating explanation has to do with what’s called the Great Vowel Shift. If you’ve ever wondered why English is such a legendarily horrible language to learn, a lot of the problems can be traced back to the Great Vowel Shift.

There is no firm date on the beginning and end of the Great Vowel Shift, but at most, we can say it happened between the 1100s and the 1700s, with probably the most important and biggest changes happening in the 1400s and 1500s. This coincides with the shift from Middle English to Modern English, and also with the standardization of spelling. The shift itself? Every single “long vowel” — ”ey,” “ee,” “aye,” “oh,” “ooh” — changed. (Nobody knows why. Linguistics is turtles all the way down.)

Before the Great Vowel Shift, “bite” was pronounced more like “beet.” “Meat” was more like “mate.” Everything just kind of slipped one notch over. This happened in stages; that first word, “bite,” started out as “beet,” then became “bait,” then “beyt,” then “bite.” You can hear a nice spoken-aloud rundown of those here.

If you’re wondering what the difference between “bait” and “beyt” is, well, there you have one possible origin of Canadian Raising. “Beyt,” one of the later but not the final stage of the Great Vowel Shift, is extremely similar to the Canadian Raised sound spoken today. There is a theory — not necessarily accepted by all — that Canadian Raised vowels are actually a preserved remnant of the Great Vowel Shift, an in-between vowel sound that was somehow stuck in amber in the Great White North.

Maybe a certain population of Englishmen from that particular time period, around 1600, landed in Canada and due to its isolation failed to observe the further changes happening in England. Maybe.

But I like this explanation. Canadians aren’t weird; they’re respecting the past. One very specific past, that everyone else skipped on by. It’s an awfully nice-sounding diphthong.

Dan Nosowitz, “What’s Going On with the Way Canadians Say ‘About’? It’s not pronounced how you think it is”, Atlas Obscura, 2016-06-01.

July 31, 2016

QotD: The Finnish language

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Russians did not realize how much establishing the Finnish language to be the priority language of the Finnish people and govt (and the jaegers/military officers — very important) became a strength to allow a seemingly meek and poor people to sever themselves from the regime. Of course, it was a bloody civil war, but not knowing Finnish was a blow to the Russians. And, they had the same problem in 1939 again. Side story: Russian soldiers easily surrendered so they could get into the Finnish prisons since they were starving and didn’t have proper clothes … some never went back home after WW2. I was told by a relative: “to win a war, you need food (supply lines) and lots of money, that’s really it.”

To this day, Finnish is one of the hardest languages to learn. There are 13 cases and no regular verbs … words change meaning by just adding a few other words to it — some as long as 24 letters! I did meet a Brooklyn guy who is a professor in Helsinki (married to a Finn) who speaks fluent Finnish with a Brooklyn accent!

Finns don’t really care if people don’t want to learn their language (not related to Germanic or Latin languages whatsoever) but they are eager (and required in school) to learn other languages. By the time I was 8, I added English (learned by watching a lot of American TV) to Finnish and Swedish. French and Spanish I learned around 12, and, I have tried to start another language for fun. Side issue: This is also, my own opinion why Finnish kids do so well on the Pisa test (although not as good these last 2 years) every year … the fact that it is normal to know 2-4 languages by age 14.

Although there are some words in Finnish that are similar to Swedish/English, it is still so few for anyone to see a connection — Icelandic, weirdly, has more similarities as far as words. And, despite that it is called a Finno-Ugric language, I don’t see the connection with Hungarian. And, on top of that, half my family (Swedish & ethnic Finnish) are Karelian, so there were words or dialect introduced in addition to mainstream Finnish — enough to confuse a kid even today.

Although, I marvel at the few children of immigrants from Asia or Africa who are fluent in Finnish today, it is still a country of mostly Finns. There are immigrants, but Finland presciently, did not allow the development of ghetto-like housing in the outskirts of cities — immigrants are scattered across metropolitan areas. Needless to say, Finland, because of the climate, and the difficult language, is not a favorite to emigrate to. You can get by with English, but you will not be in the inner circle unless your spouse is Finnish speaking, or you make a concerted effort to learn the language. And, the overwhelming reticence (and need for privacy) of the Finnish people can make for a lonely existence there … summers are nice.

Lagertha“, commenting on Steve Sailer’s “Freeman Dyson on Human Biological and Cultural Diversity” at The Unz Review, 2015-02-05.

July 4, 2016

The History of Writing – Where the Story Begins – Extra History

Filed under: History, Middle East, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 Jun 2016

How did the ancient civilization of Sumer first develop the concept of the written word? It all began with simple warehouse tallies in the temples, but as the scribes sought more simple ways to record information, those tallies gradually evolved from pictograms into cuneiform text which could be used to convey complex, abstract, or even lyrical ideas.
____________

Sumer was the land of the first real cities, and those cities required complex administration. The temples which kept people together were not only religious places, but also warehouses which stored the community’s collective wealth until it was needed to get through lean years. As the donations came in, scribes would count the items and draw pictures of them on clay tablets. The images quickly became abstract as the scribes needed to rush, and they also morphed to represent not just an image but the word itself – more specifically, the sound of the word, which meant that it could also be written to represent other words that sounded similar (homophones). Sumerian language often put words together to express new ideas, and the same concept applied to their writing. As people came to use this system more, the scribes began to write from left to right instead of top to bottom since they were less likely to mess up their clay tablets that way. Those who read the tablets didn’t appreciate this change, so the scribes rotated the words 90 degrees allowing tablets to be rotated if the reader preferred – but this made the images even more abstract, until eventually the pictograms vanished entirely to be replaced by wedge-shaped stylus marks: cuneiform. Many of Sumer’s neighbors adopted this invention and helped it spread throughout the region, though completely different writing systems developed independently in cultures situated in places like China and South America!

June 19, 2016

Soldier Nicknames – World War – Landmines I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:36

Published on 18 Jun 2016

Sir Indy Neidell awaits you for another edition of OUT OF THE TRENCHES where he answers your questions about the First World War.

May 3, 2016

How to properly enjoy driving the Autobahn

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Larry Correia just got back from a trip to Europe, where he discovered the joys of Germany’s Autobahn system:

Of all the languages, German was by far the easiest to pick up words and phrases for me. Despite being related to Portuguese and Spanish, French sounds totally eluded me. And Czech is HARD (they have like 46 ways to make conjunctions). But German shares a lot of word roots with English, and the actual structure is pretty straight forward. Plus it is fun to just walk around and make up vaguely German sounding names for things, like a pigeon is Das Poopinbirden.

The next day we drove across all of Germany to the Czech Republic, and I got to experience the autobahn, which my whole life has been this sort of mythical place that has no speed limits, and is filled with drivers that understand slow traffic stays right, and where they never camp in the left lane, and in fact, if you’re blocking the left lane, they’ll come right up on your bumper at 100 miles an hour, honking, and flashing their lights. It was a place devoid of mercy, unforgiving of weakness. So we set out.

Apparently there are two kinds of tourist drivers on the autobahn. Those who are weak, fearful, whose crying pillows smell of lilacs and shame, who stay in the truck lane, or who wander out into the left occasionally, timidly, to be honked at and chased aside by awesome Teutonic Super Drivers…

And the other kind is the American who manages to average 180km an hour across all of Germany in a Volvo diesel station wagon.

It was AMAZING. I felt like a race car driver across an entire country. You know why German cars don’t have cup holders? Because if you stop to drink while driving, YOU WILL DIE. And you should. You need to be on. I’d get a gap, jump out to the left, floor it (because fuel economy is for hippies I’m on the mother f’ing autobahn!), and nobody pulls out in front of me in a minivan to enforce their personal speed limit, people ahead of me going slower (like 100mph) immediately get out of the way, and when some bad ass comes up behind me in a super car, I get out of his way, and then they blast past me like I’m standing still.

It was beautiful.

You wouldn’t think a diesel Volvo would be comfy at 112 miles an hour, but it really is. Yes. I friggin’ love the autobahn. If I lived here I would buy a giant BMW or Audi and drive very fast, all the time. Why can’t we have something like this here? I would like to institute autobahn style rules on I-15 in Utah. Sure, a few thousand people would probably die in the first weekend, but after that it would be awesome.

March 5, 2016

QotD: “Honesty is the best policy”

Filed under: Politics, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

Ben Franklin said “Honesty is the best policy.” The full subtlety of that proverb is lost in modern English, because the word “policy” has shifted in meaning. In Franklin’s time the word had connotations of willed manipulation and deception that it has since lost. Translated into modern English it reads like “Honesty is the most effective way to manipulate people.”

And so, the wu-wei paradox of effective advocacy. To manipulate, speak truth. But it’s not enough to have the truth to speak; you need to be able to say it without strain, in a way that flows naturally from who you are. What is powerful is not just to speak truth but be made of truth clear inward to your bones.

I’m speaking lived experience here, not theory. I have spent decades becoming the kind of person to whom speaking the clearest truth I can formulate, even when it’s uncomfortable for me or socially frowned upon by others, comes as naturally as breathing. Audiences sense this naturalness and respond to it. This is why, when I speak difficult truths in public, I am much better than most people at inducing my listeners to actually grapple with them.

Eric S. Raymond, “Truth-telling and wu-wei“, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-12-16.

December 14, 2015

David Thompson explains why he is not androgynous

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Some are apparently so concerned at gendered pronouns that they hope to persuade everyone else to go linguistically generic:

    Let’s call everyone “they”: Gender-neutral language should be the norm, not the exception.

So writes Silpa Kovvali, an exquisitely progressive she-person, in the pages of Salon:

    We are forced to… give in and refer to our co-workers, students and friends as “he” or “she.” The result is that our language caps our ability to be progressive in this realm, forces us to immediately characterise people as male or female.

Which is only accurate and expected practically all of the time. And so,

    We ought to revert to the gender neutral “they” whenever gender is not explicitly relevant.

You see, Ms Kovvali believes that gendered pronouns and honorifics are an “outdated linguistic tic.” And not a useful, rather concise source of information, a signal of respect, and a way of clarifying who it is we’re talking about.

    The effect of elevating gender’s importance is felt by the cis-gendered as well. None of us fit neatly or entirely into a traditional gender binary, with all the expectations of masculinity and femininity that these buckets entail.

And yet despite this claim, and the somewhat random mention of buckets, almost all of us seem quite happy to be referred to as either male or female, as if it were in fact “relevant,” and the demand for gender-neutral pronouns remains, to say the least, a niche concern. I’d even venture to suggest that some of us might feel slighted by the wilful omission of – diminishing of – our respective maleness or femaleness.

[…]

That a tiny minority object to gendered pronouns, or pretend to object in the hope of seeming morally fashionable, is apparently grounds for the rest of us to be imposed upon, and possibly insulted, with a widespread and routine denial of our gender. It isn’t clear to me why un-gendering everyone is hugely preferable to the highly unlikely mis-gendering of one person, potentially, in theory. And much as I hate to be a bother, my “preferred pronouns” are masculine. Like almost all human beings, I am not alienated from my sex in psychologically hazardous ways. I am not of indeterminate gender. I am not a they.

November 15, 2015

Do Australians sound drunk to you?

Filed under: History, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Lester Haines on how and when the distinctive “Strine” accent originated:

Australians’ distinctive accent – known affectionately as “Strine” – was formed in the country’s early history by drunken settlers’ “alcoholic slur”.

This shock claim, we hasten to add, comes from Down Under publication The Age, which explains:

    The Australian alphabet cocktail was spiked by alcohol. Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns.

    For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to their children.

The paper reckons that not only do Aussies speak at “just two thirds capacity – with one third of our articulator muscles always sedentary as if lying on the couch”, but they also ditch entire letters and play slow and loose with vowels.

It elaborates:

    Missing consonants can include missing “t”s (Impordant), “l”s (Austraya) and “s”s (yesh), while many of our vowels are lazily transformed into other vowels, especially “a”s to “e”s (stending) and “i”s (New South Wyles) and “i”s to “oi”s (noight).

The upshot of this total disregard for clear English is that our Antipodean cousins are poor communicators and lack rhetorical skills, something which could cost the Australian economy “billions of dollars”, as The Age audaciously quantifies it.

October 12, 2015

Pronouncing Shakespeare

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I don’t know about you, but the first embedded video here at Open Culture sounds much more “Irish” than modern “English” to me:

As we highlighted a few days ago, recent findings by South African scientists suggest that William Shakespeare may have smoked pot, possibly composing some of his celebrated plays while under the influence. Their research is sure to spark controversy among Shakespeare scholars and historians alike, but it’s certainly a more interesting controversy than the tired debate about whether Shakespeare wrote his plays at all. Perhaps even more interesting than Shakespeare’s drug of choice for lovers of his language are debates about what Shakespeare’s plays might have sounded like to his original audiences. In other words, high or not, what might Shakespeare, his actors, and his audience have sounded like when they spoke the language we call English.

Of course they called the language English as well, but we might not recognize some words as such when hearing Shakespeare’s accent aloud. On the other hand, it might be surprising just how much the Bard’s original pronunciation sounds like so many other kinds of English we know today. In a post two years ago, we quoted Shakespearean actor, director, and writer Ben Crystal on Shakespeare’s original pronunciation, which, he says, “has flecks of nearly every regional U.K. English accent, and indeed American and in fact Australian, too.” Hearing Shakespeare’s English spoken aloud, Crystal remarks, is hearing a sound that “reminds people of the accent of their home.” You can test this theory, and hear for yourself the sound of Shakespeare’s English with the video and audio highlighted here, showcasing Crystal’s performance of the plays in original pronunciation (OP).

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