—- Illiad (author of the webcomic UserFriendly). The subtitle is “Not multiculturalism, but covert colonialism”, the idea being that (for example) a Chinatown in Vancouver where nobody speaks English is a colony, in the worst sense of the word. Perhaps not everyone is interested in learning a language for its own sake like I would be (the only reason I don’t learn more languages is lack of time), but when the language is entrenched, not making the effort to learn it is simply rude.
I have always been of the mind that when you visit a foreign country you’re the one that should make the effort to communicate with the locals. Speaking your birth tongue slower and louder doesn’t make yourself any more understandable, it just makes you look like a jackass. The onus to learn the local language is even heavier if you’re an immigrant. After all, you’re the one asking for the privilege of becoming a part of someone else’s community. That means you can bloody well learn the language; you don’t even have to succeed, you just have to show that you’re willing to try.
Archive for the ‘language’ Category
If you thought it was hard to remember the gender of French nouns, take heart: apparently French people don’t always get it “right” either.
Depending on your perspective, this says something about either the silliness of French grammar or the factual authority of dictionaries. (Personally I think written French is silly for still inflecting adjectives for number when the spoken language did away with that centuries ago, but calling gender silly would be going too far.)
Vagueness is standardly defined as the possession of borderline cases. For example, ‘tall’ is vague because a man who is 1.8 meters in height is neither clearly tall nor clearly non-tall. No amount of conceptual analysis or empirical investigation can settle whether a 1.8 meter man is tall. Borderline cases are inquiry resistant. Indeed, the inquiry resistance typically recurses. For in addition to the unclarity of the borderline case, there is normally unclarity as to where the unclarity begins. In other words ‘borderline case’ has borderline cases. This higher order vagueness shows that ‘vague’ is vague.
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
I just got an email from Virgin Media. The first part I noticed was:
it’ll cost 25p per minute to call from a Virgin home phone, plus 10p to connect.
I immediately thought, “What on earth? Surely they don’t expect customers to stick around with such extortionate call charges.” Then I noticed the context, and realised that it possibly should have read:
it’ll cost 25p per minute to call it from a Virgin home phone, plus 10p to connect.
The actual wording was fine, but the way I started parsing it made me interpret it in completely the wrong way. “It” in the actual wording means “our broadband helpline number”; but initially I parsed it as the dummy subject of an impersonal sentence, so I thought it was saying all calls from a Virgin home phone would have those charges. The altered wording adds an “it” referring to this helpline as the object of the embedded verb phrase, making my interpretation the only sensible one.
In the real world, I did two interesting things today. First, I went to the CS office to pick up my degree results: I was awarded a 2:1. I then went to talk to Dr Berger about applying for an MRes; this I have now finally done, as well as an EST bursary which would require going to Munich for a few months (no downsides there!). I mentioned the result, and he said it was disappointing, because the overall score was about 67%, only a couple of points off a first. Annoyingly, I won’t know for certain what pulled me down for some time because I was only told the overall classification, not marks for each module. Even the average I only know informally, because Uli told me. But the bad marks are apparently on the German side, so as a CS student I’m better than I look on paper.
I’m here to shoot a pilot.
— Nobody, apparently. A director called Mike Figgis was supposed to have said it, but apparently the story was a hoax. But it still makes a funny example of what not to say to the security people at an airport.
The title of this entry (if you take “buffalo” to be 1) the obvious noun with identical plural, 2) capitalised, the proper noun referring to the American city, and 3) a verb meaning approximately “bully”) is a grammatically correct sentence of English. (I first came across it in The Language Instinct by Stephen Pinker, but was reminded of it recently.)
In fact, according to Wikipedia, for any n ≥ 1, buffalon is a grammatically correct sentence, if you disregard capitalisation. (“Buffalo!”, “Buffalo buffalo”, “Buffalo buffalo buffalo”, etc.)
Don’t you just love natural language?
“Suppose I wanted to—have a party?” I said.
“Like, what kind of a party?”
“Suppose I wanted Noam Chomsky explained to me by two girls?”
“If you’d rather forget it…”
“You’d have to speak with Flossie,” she said. “It’d cost you.”
— From “The Whore of Mensa”, a short story by Woody Allen (quoted at Language Log).