2003-01-24 10:41 (UTC)
I have often heard talk of "diagramming sentences" as a thing Merkin
kids do in school. Not knowing any better, I had assumed it amounted
to constructing parse trees. Now I know
better. I didn't hang around to find out what on Earth they think
they're doing, because whenever people start talking about "grammar"
they usually mean some kind of Latinate monstrosity that had already
been written off as unworkable in the '20's. So: I can't diagram
sentences, and I'm proud of it.
[Link via Making Light]
What I can increasingly do is
Cardinal Vowels, although I'm following
who is following Henry Sweet, in considering them as defined by
articulatory more than acoustic criteria. (Daniel Jones, whose
recordings of them are behind the link, insisted on the latter
criteria, but he only invented the system, so what did
I went climbing (at the indoor climbing centre) for the first time in
ages on Wednesday, and the full day's lag that it takes for the
soreness to peak has elapsed, so my wrists think I should confine
myself to pointing out this
review by Nicholas Lézard in the Grauniad of André
Comte-Sponville's popular philosophy treatise which we would read
French, of course. So I won't mention that he's a mate of Luc
Ferry, or that their philosophical emphasis on rehabilitation of the
autonomous subject (in defiance of structuralism and its canonical
aftermath) has been deployed in the service of a centre-right
political agenda emphasising the importance of personal
2003-01-23 15:13 (UTC)
The limits of my lobster mean the limits of my whelk.
S: You've got a pet halibut?
C: Yes. I chose him out of thousands. I didn't like the others, they were
all too flat.
Sketch, Monty Python]
I find myself warming to Jerry Fodor. His favourite thing is to
insist that cognitive "scientists" have got it all wrong; this can
be more or less entertaining depending on what he happens to be
arguing with them about, but in his
latest review/essay in the TLS he
pet fish argument and I strongly approve of that. Unfortunately,
that bit isn't in the online version, but the argument is that a
typical pet fish is neither a typical pet nor a
typical fish, which (allegedly) makes it difficult for a
theory of concepts defined in terms of typical elements to account for
the ways in which concepts can be composed.
Later, he goes on to mention penguins, and I approve of that even more
strongly, even if he doesn't make extensive philosophical use of them.
(Penguins are traditionally popular in these debates as an odd outpost
of the concept of "bird"; I just happen to like penguins. They're funny!)
2003-01-23 11:05 (UTC)
Kysset på kajen signalerer nemlig ansvarlighed
What would it be like if
kissing your Best Beloved
wasn't simply a
matter for the two of you, if it could be held to have occurred in public?
Jag försöker få dem att förstå att jag vill flytta. Men det vill de
What would it be like if your father forbade you to leave home, when
you had every reason to think you were a grown woman?
[G]ivetvis ska svenska folket få lägga sig i vem jag ska gifta mig med.
What would it be like if your marriage plans were fated to be, at best, a
It's about a year since I started reading Swedish newspapers
regularly, and I still prefer to read royal gossip than to dwell on
burning social issues, but it doesn't always seem to work out that way.
2003-01-23 09:42 (UTC)
mirror neuron stuff is suggestive:
Recent investigations have shown that the human ability to mirror
others actions originates in the brain at a much deeper level than
phenomenal awareness. A new class of neurons has been discovered in
the premotor area of the monkey brain: mirror neurons. Quite
remarkably, they are tuned to fire to the enaction as well as
observation of specific classes of behavior: fine manual actions and
actions performed by mouth. They become activated independent of the
agent, be it the self or a third person whose action is observed. The
activation in mirror neurons is automatic and binds the observation
and enaction of some behavior by the self or by the observed other.
Fine motor actions in the mouth and a neural substrate for
intersubjectivity. If that pans out it'll be some really big news, is
[link via sci.lang]
2003-01-22 13:10 (UTC)
Canards of Oldness
Oh, those stormin' Norman nobles,
they have took away my tongue,
And they don't speak proper English now,
like they did when I was young.
[An Anglo-Saxon Lament, Trad., arr. Guillaume of Formby]
"You had the same sort of intimate contact between English and French
in 11th century England as you do today in Montreal," according to
Boberg. "And that was responsible in the 11th century for the
conversion of English from a basically pure Germanic language to a
kind of a hybrid language."
And this from an actual linguist at that. Nonethelesswisely: the
English, she is not a matter of a creole! (And spits by ground.)
Vocabulation is not typology, let alone a reorientation of
(linguistic) ancestry. (And there are plenty of people who don't know
this: see sci.lang.)
Mais combien des mots ont-il pour la neige, M. Boberg ? Oh, never
Pour vraiment comprendre l'importance que revêt la neige dans la vie
esquimaude, peut-être faudrait-il souligner que la langue Inuit la
désigne par plus de douze mots différents, et notre langue, par un
seul. Pouvez-vous expliquer ce décalage?
Benjamin Lee Whorf! Come here right back here this minute, young man -
you've got some explaining to do!
[Boberg link via Languagehat]
Swedish frenchists go linguistic
I was Googling for rivals to Oliver Soutet's
Linguistique (which has a whole companion
volume dedicated to exercises and is therefore going to be tough
to beat) when I came across this
bibliography (PDF, sorry) from Stockholms Universitetets Fransk
lingvistik och andraspråksinlärning course which also recommends a
bunch of Swedish books. Linell's Människans språk is glossed
as an «Introduction excellente, axée surtout sur la
This is much fun, even if I do still think they should call it
språkvetenskap. (Not out of any kind of "purism", of course -
it's just more fun to say!)
Mission Creep? Maybe so, but we forget our roots at our peril! All
this philosophico-linguistic malarkey was just to fill in time while
the Crowned Heads of Europe were finishing off the turkey sandwiches
and taking down the decorations, but now they're back, and then some:
Kronsprinsessa Vickan is
going to boot camp! Three weeks of standard-issue basic training,
it says here.
Meanwhile her sister is
starting university. Art history - what else? But her daddy
(han är ju kungen!) won't
let her move out of the castle into a flat of her own. It isn't
easy being a prinsess!
She's trendy! She's bendy! And kids
think she's spendy! You probably wouldn't want to foot the bill
for Mette-Marit's clothes unless you were an oil-rich state with a
substantial budget surplus, is all. (So that's all right, then.)
And while nothing has actually happened with Kronprinsfrede
and his Bestly Belovèd Knudella, there are reasons - or grounds - for
thinking that we may at least be approaching the vicinity of the
adjacency of an occurrence. Would he kiss her in front of the press
without his Mummy's (hon är ju drottningen!) permission? I
have no idea; but then, I'm not a
(Although I stand willing to play one on TV. Pretty please?)
(I did mention the proofreading thing, didn't I? There's only so much
patriarchally phallogocentric normalisation of punctuation I can take
at a sitting, as you can plainly see.)
2003-01-22 09:04 (UTC)
Denunciator, denounce me a Derrida!
Deconstruction is a theoretical approach to texts that gained a brief
cachet among leftist intellectuals in France in the late 1960s and
soon thereafter, through the writings of Roland Barthes, Michel
Foucault, Paul de Man, and especially Derrida, found a lasting niche
in literature and social-science departments on American campuses.
Foucault? That's just crazy-talk! Nonetheless, I am reminded
that both the pro- and anti-Derrida camps illustrate, in their
different ways, the pointlessness of reading Derrida outside the
philosophical tradition with which he is engaged. (Oh, yes he
In any case, one can hardly blame the Englishists for wanting to get a
bit of the Other - what's the alternative? Spending a career
pretending that reading Wordsworth is a worthwhile undertaking?
On the other hand, what raggedly generic hand-me-down accusations
their opponents have to offer; you would need to be as ignorant of
history as both sides, in fact, appear to be not to have noticed the
precedents: Russel vs. Hegel and Bergson, Ayer and Carnap
vs. Heidegger, Gilbert Ryle vs. Merleau-Ponty, etc and etc and then
some. Accusations of fraud and charlatanism are the stock-in-trade of
citizens of Empiricist Anglophonia when confronted with their
(Indeed, "Barking" John Searle ("It's worse than his bite!") has
taken this to its logical conclusion and accuses anyone who disagrees
with his self-evidently (ahem) correct arguments of doing so from
willful bad faith. He has disputed in this vein, to no obvious
purpose, with Chomsky and Derrida, but he only really annoyed me with
his anti-AI "argument" that consciousness is possible in the brain,
and not otherwise, because of
Magic Pixie Dust
unspecified biochemical properties of the former. Rant over, sorry.)
There is an interesting question of whether the industrialisation of
academia and the apparent increase in bandwagon-jumping, as evidenced
by, say, Chomsky's influence in linguistics, string theory in
theoretical physics, or "Derrida" in LitCrit has had a debilitating
effect on intellectual life.
There's another question, of course, about another (more interesting)
Derrida and the significance of his engagement with philosophy.
(Oh, yes he is!)
But so what? Derrida-the-philosopher is a long way off my critical
path anyway, so I'm quite happy to sit back, reminisce about the old
days when people actually pretended to care about this stuff, and
watch the show.
More popcorn, Zombie Ricoeur? Mmm, Searle's Spicy Brain Flavour y
compris de poussière magique des lutins, yum yum.
[linkage via The
Man With No Sword. Did I mention not liking proofreading, by the
2003-01-21 16:17 (UTC)
In this post I first express my displeasure at finding myself once again
engaged in the task of proofreading. I begin by noting that I didn't do any of the
work described in the paper, although I have sacrificed hours of my
life to discussing it. I proceed to observe that I didn't write it
up, either, although my native-speaker status in the English language
means that I have been heavily involved in the redrafting process.
Having established this, I turn to querulous whining about how little
I like the mannerisms of academic prose, my tempermental indisposition
to the chore of proofreading and the lack of training I have in it.
I then conclude that I shall be very glad when I can get back to doing
some real work again.
2003-01-21 14:04 (UTC)
Aftonbladet, Aftonbladet, Aftonbladet - I do love it so. It has
just everything from
prinsessa gossip to this
plug for a suberb site
dedicated to flavours (or "dialects", to use the technical term) of
Swedish. This is good stuff in large quantities - samples about a
minute long for young/old male/female speakers from each location, and
a lot of locations. All with transcriptions (not IPA, but for once
never mind) and cleaned-up "translations".
This is completely marvellous - I may be gone some time.
2003-01-21 08:46 (UTC)
Gustav Holmberg recommends
some books on memorial practices in the sciences, and provides also a
preprint of his
own paper on the subject, because he is a serious and reputable
scholar and stuff.
It concerns the way the 16th century astronomer Tycho
Brahe was mythologised in the late 19th and early 20th century by
the Nordic scholars of the time.
After all, could anything more clearly illustrate the break with the
superstitious world of the Dark Ages in favour of empiricism which
Tycho allegedly helped to bring about than a pilgrimage to a sacred
place (the ruins of his observatory) or a verses spoken and sung in
praise of said revered Spiritual Ancestor before a feast in his
I think not! (Note that despite a decade of accumulated evidence to
the contrary I still consider myself to be a "scientist" in some
increasingly ill-defined sense, so I am entirely willing to indulge
such behaviour.) In any case, the paper is good stuff and well worth
a read if your Swedish is up to it. (Let's gloss over the question of
whether mine is, shall we?)
And Gustav has created
a whole new vetenskapsstudier blog category for the subject
2003-01-20 13:41 (UTC)
First, via the Enigmatic
Mermaid comes this better-than-usual "Computers
can't translate because they have no common sense" article. For
some reason, such articles are especially popular link-fodder among
translators, but this one is unusually coherent and well-written.
Meanwhile, I've been back reading Harry Potter v. 2 in Swedish with
French subtitles, and there are some conspicuous differences in the
translation. Here's an example, describing the shenanigans in the
Gryffindor common room over the Christmas holidays, when Harry and
friends have it to themselves:
[De] kunde spela kortspelet explosionsknallen högt utan att störa
någon, och öva sig trollskarls dueller i fred.
Exploding card games and duelling practices, hurrah! What's that
in French, then?
[Ils] pouvaient fair ce qu'ils voulaient - y compris du bruit - sans
There's a lot of this sort of thing, too; the Swedish is bursting with
the details and jokes which do a lot to make Rowling's imagined world
vivid and fun, while the French translation just airbrushes them out.
This could be because the French translator was bored or lazy or under
time pressure, of course, but as a devout Whorfian I would instead
insist that the concrete and particular are anathema to the French
mind, which is comfortable only with lofty abstractions and vague
I was in two minds about it,
Like a blackbird that had been cut in half.
[Wallace "Chopper" Stevens]
Recently there have been pairs of policepersons armed with sub-machineguns patrolling the main road near my house. The nice man in the
fried chicken place says it's down to turf wars between rival Jamaican
gangs based in St Pauls (I used to live on the edge of St Pauls) and
Easton (I now live in Easton).
There is an extent to which the sustained presence of heavily-armed
police officers in my neighbourhood is reassuring, but there is also a
rather larger extent to which it isn't. I feel that my career at the
cutting edge of gentrification may be drawing to a close, assuming I
can still afford to exercise a choice in the matter.
2003-01-20 09:28 (UTC)
Over in fr.sci.linguistique
(which is both new and in Foreign, so Deja-Google doesn't have it yet
but it's Message ID <firstname.lastname@example.org> if
your swerver carries the froup) someone quoted Whorf saying « ce que
nous appelons la "pensée scientifique" n'est qu'une spécialisation du
langage indo européen de type occidental... » [Whorf B. L.:
Linguistique et anthropologie, 1956 pp. 123 et 184 . Trad. fr. par
Cl. Carme. Paris : Denoël, 1969.]
I wish I had seen this before I went to Estonia; with helpful
hints I could have hymned them, thus:
Finno-Ugric-speaking persons! Desist from your desultory, doomed
attempts to mimic the superficial trappings of European culture!
Return, instead, to your caves and play "Pin the Definite Article on
the Indo-European Noun Phrase" and other such traditional drinking
games. As a sign of goodwill, here are some shiny glass beads which
you can trade for "wodka". (It's made from potatoes, you know.)
But nonetheless it is reassuring to know that North Koreans (for
example) will never manage to wrap their heads around the conceptual
tools needed to build nuclear weapons (for example).
(In Whorf's defence he would, of course, have insisted that his
bigoted drivel was only intended to apply to languages and cultures
too obscure for it to be trivially falsified.)