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2009-04-01 19:35

Book of the Month!

It is, for want of anything else, Asterix en de Gothen. We suspect it would be funnier in French and that we ourself would find it funnier in Engleesh.

But it's still pretty funny.

Meanwhile, we're making our way through George Lakoff's classic of stoner linguistics Metaphors we live by, and that's quite fun in its own way too. The big problems we have with it are two(2) in number: (1) we haven't finished it yet, and (2) we can't see how to implement it on a computer.

(We read all books on linguistics as secretly about AI. We can't help it - it is our nature to do so.)

2009-03-30 07:45


We hear gossip that the centre of Central European Time is centred on Berlin, qua centre.

Which means that we were already a long way west of now yesterdag, and the time which saves daylight is not improving matters.

The one consolation is that our beloved Casio G-Shock digital watch keeps track of these things so we don't have to, except for the small matter of all the clocks in the house which have foolishly chosen not to be made by Casio or to sync with their friendly neighbourhood atomic clock.

Stupid clocks!

2009-03-29 11:01

Confusions that don't happen

There are a many places where Engleesh words don't map one-to-one onto Dutch; this post will be concerned with occasions where Dutch makes distinctions that Engleesh does not.

1. Knowledge

Dutch distinguishes kennen and weten, which map onto French connaitre and savoir in the senses of Engleesh know. This is in fact never confusing in practice.

2. "If"

Dutch has als for a conditional subclauses with a "then" in the main clause and of for other uses. We wouldn't want to have to be precise about the distinction, but it is entirely transparent to our otherwise limited sprachgevoel.

And we think there was another one, but we forget what it was.

The interesting thing is precisely that these aren't ever a problem even for a lazy and stupid non-native like us. Lots of other things are, but these aren't.

2009-03-29 10:55

Idiolecticality again

The other thing we borrow inappropriately from Dutch is the expression "zeg je dan" (lit. "say you then"), which is used to prompt (usually indifferent) childrens to say the Appropriate Thing.

For example, "'Dag', zeg je dan" ("'Goodbye', say you then"), when the babysitter leaves.

We lazily just use the literal Engleesh, which is no good at all but what can you do?

We have a long and frivolous tradition of misapplying foreign idioms in our native langwidge, as readers from back in our 'Wegian phase will be only too well aware, but it never qualified as a problem until we became little Boris's designated model for Engleesh as she is spoke.

Our considered view is that worse things happen at sea, but occasionally we do feel we Could Do Better.

2009-03-27 20:39

Piet Niet and the Bedoelings

The Dutch word bedoeling means roughly intent or idea, and comes built into stock phrase of gentle discouragement or chiding dat is niet de bedoeling! (roughly, "that's not the idea").

This is something Boris van 't Blad often has occasion to hear, but we can't think of a satisfactory Engleeshing and we are not supposed to speak Dutch to him, so this is something of a problem. (We used to say "That's not the bedoeling", since our codes were made for switching and that's just what they do, but that isn't really not speaking Dutch.)

Suggestions welcome, of course.

2009-03-24 11:48


Saturdag was the first dag of Calendar Spring, and a nearby farm was open to the public for the exhibition of its many freshly-spawned sheeplings.

Boris van 't Blad is fond of animals generally so we took him along to see them. And, with this after all being the Netherlands, we went by bike. And very agreeable it all was too.

It was on the way back that we misunderstood one of the Countess's many hand signals and failed to turn with her, leading to front-wheel clippage, leading to an abrupt dismount (or "fall") which we checked with our hands.

So that by the evening our right thumb had somewhat ballooned up, and was not as opposable as we like it. Needless to say, this was also the evening when Boris undertook to exhibit his new-found expertise in the ungentle art of the temper tantrum. (He is after all a toddler now.)

And while we're well on the way to recovery by now, solo parenting with one and a half functioning hands is turning out to be more or less exactly as much fun as we'd expected.

As a bonus, we have recently lost weight in the cross-fire of one of the Countess's diets, and none of our trousers will stay up anymore and our belts are also too loose. It's remarkable how little that helps our state of mind, for sure.

2009-03-19 20:35

A voice dissents

It is the Dismalbladet's comedy Euroblowhard "Charlmagne"! And he likes Dutch lunch:

But Charlemagne has a soft spot for the traditional Dutch lunch, which he enjoyed today on a reporting visit to The Hague. I cannot say exactly where I was, because it was an off the record meeting, but I can tell you what we ate: bread rolls filled with cumin-seeded cheese (very tasty), and glasses of karnemelk, the local version of buttermilk which is a lunchtime staple for grown-ups and children alike.

We also cannot tell you exactly where in the Bungeldeveld we had lunch today, because it might compromise the secrecy of our secret forest lair, but we can tell you this and for free: Dutch persons overwhelmingly take their own samwidges to work. (Kumijne cheeses are certainly tasty, but our preference is for katenspek - a kind of cured but not cooked streaky bacon.)

And we still consider it a stain on the Dutch character that they are willing to drink milk with lunch after puberty. No worrying is the widespread consumption of chocklate milk.

(One Sinterklaas we were asked if we wanted hot or cold chocklate milk. We scandalised the assembled company by answering that no, we didn't: it had been a strickly either/or question. Having learned our lesson, this year we supplied our own rum and had it hot.)

[via MM]

2009-03-18 19:48

Kids these days with their foopballs and their stickers

When we were young, kids with disposable income - which mostly didn't include us - used to dispose of it on foopball stickers. There would be five(5) to a shiny sealed pack, and an album to stick them into, and a playground full of diminutive would-be swappers.

We think they were by Panini ("Samwidge"), and we hope and trust they made a fortune, even if they never made it from us.

But thirty-odd years later, Albert Heijn - the Official Supermarkt of the Netherlands - had the brilliant idea of using the same kind of sealed packs of foopball stickers as a loyalty scheme.

Which has meant that we finally got to see what all the fuss had been about. And given that we actually follow the Dutch foopball of now more closely than we ever did the Engleesh foopball of then, we were in fact rather enjoying it.

Until the day the promotion stopped with our album a little over half-full. The problem, it has turned out, is the lack of a playground or functional equivalent.

But now word has got around the various non-Dutch at work that I am not only in but pretty much the whole of the market for these things, and persons who have been hoarding unopened packets with no firm idea what they were or why they would want them - these persons are scientistes, they can't help it - are handing them to me.

And with the Countess's colleagues' childrens' swappsies to go (they got all mine, and it was a lot) it's looking like we might be in with a fighting chance after all.

And then we can go back to shopping at Lidlenaldi, the way god intended.

2009-03-16 20:47

Old-skool AI is back

While we weren't paying attention, people started writing books like this, Representation and Inference for Natural Language, with Montagovian grammar, theorem provers and Prolog.

They still don't seem to have advanced theory to the state of the art achieved in practice by SHRDLU in the early '70s, but they do seem to be making progress in that direction.

There are two(2) theories to explain why SHRDLU-style AI sputtered out, both of which are true: first, the enormous and unsolved problem of ambient knowledge (or "common sense"); second, and more important, SHRDLU could only have been written in a place like MIT's AI lab, where Lisp wizardry was the currency of social status.

SHRDLU was a monster of a program, full of tangles and hacks and weirdnesses that did the almost-impossible on 70s hardware, and it is not as discreditable as it may at first seem that "theory" has taken the best part of 40 years to catch up. (It is still fairly discreditable, though.)

2009-03-16 20:22

It walks like a duck, but it quacks in Italian

The Countess has returned and her order and harmony-restoring powers have been working overtime, and things are good.

Also, she brought back a Paperino (which is Italian for Donald Duck) and two(2) Dylan Dogs for our reading pleasure. So we spent some of the afternoon reading the grandi storie di paperi, and rediscovering that Italian is mostly only superficially transparent.

But it does at least succumb more easily than Cherman when you are a dictionary-wielding beginner, so we may yet get to the end.

We have getting on for a thousand pages of Dylan Dogs and associated fumetti, too, so it may or may not be time to make some inroads also on those.

2009-03-12 19:15

Why we read the free newspapers

It is, in this instance, the Groningen Gezinsbode, which is brought to us free, gratis and for nothing twice a week.

And it is, in particular, its Stadsberichten section, where we have learned many interesting things about kapvergunningen (licenses to cut down trees, which must be applied for also by private individuals under many circumstances) and drankverbodden (bans on public drinking, one of which has blanketed our own neighbourhood since some time last year) and latestly the elections for the European Parliament.

Bent u onerdaan van een andere lidstaat van de Europese Unie (EU) en staat u ingeschreven in de Gemeentelijke Basisadministratie persoonsgegevens? Dan kunt u kiezen waar u wilt stemmen: in Nederland of in uw land van herkomst. Om in Nederland te kunnen stemmen moet u wel een verzoek indienen bij de gemeente.

Are you a citizen of another member of the EU and are your personal details of residence entered in the Municipal Register [which by law they must be if you are resident here]? Then you can choose where you want to vote: in the Netherlands or in your country of origin. In order to be able to vote in the Netherlands, however, you will need to submit an application to the municipality.

If, like us, you haven't had a form sent to you you can download one - it goes on to add - from the Internets.

This is exactly the information we had wanted to have but had been too idle ("busy") to seek out.

(For the record, we do plan to vote in the Netherlands. Off the record, we haven't decided who for yet: we are familiar with all the parties' domestic agendas, but less so with their European annexes.)

The Netherlands is certainly not an actually-existing Utopia (that is of course Zweden), but they do have the knack of being just organised enough without quite tipping over in Chermanness.

2009-03-10 16:23

Ik spreek al nederlands, d00dz

It is het begint met taal ("it begins with language"), a new initiative aimed at irritating the browner sort of immigrant:

Begrijpen en begrepen worden begint met het spreken van de Nederlandse taal. De taal van de zorg, van ons onderwijs, de taal van de toekomst van onze kinderen. Daarom willen we dat iedereen die in Nederland woont Nederlands leert.

Understanding and being understood begins with speaking Dutch. The language of healthcare and education, the language of our children's future. That's why we want everyone who lives in the Netherlands to learn Dutch.

There's a series of adverts on Dutch TV and radio along these lines, too, because persons who don't speak Dutch are particularly well represented in the audiences of these media, ahem.

We'd find them funnier if they featured hapless Anglophone expats in the Hague, but they do no such thing. (To be fair, they can't make EU citizens do anything even if they wanted to.)

Frankly, we're not sure that doctors are a particularly compelling example: Dutch doctors seem to assume that if you can make it to the surgery you're not really ill and if you can't you're beyond hope.

If we had enough money and nothing better to do with it we'd start a contrarian campaign promoting learning Engleesh instead: in practice "everyone" speaks it, and it is also useful (certainly more so than Dutch) outside the Netherlands.

But we assume the adverts are mostly there to reassure those who do speak Dutch that those who don't are getting the Man well and truly set on them, so that they don't feel they have to vote for the Geert Wilders' Xenophobic Ressentiment Party, which has been riding high in the polls of late.


2009-03-10 12:49

Zwings (zonder roundabouts)

Over the weekend spring reached our patch of Zwampland, and Boris van 't Blad had his first taste of playing outside. (If you don't count last year's pre-crawling on blankets.)

The swings in the playground out the front were a particular success. We will probably be very fed up with them by the time he learns to swing himself.

And after a great deal of boggling at the sheer amount of outside there seems to be, running around out the back eventually also proved to be an acceptable pasttime.

Unfortunately the rain is back today, so the Big Bike Trip we were thinking about is going to have to be postponed.

2009-03-07 22:01

Zixth Zickness

The Countess - who has no medical training and is in Milaano - has diagnosed Boris "Stinky" van het Blad - who has a rash all over his torso and is upstairs - with the Zixth Zickness. (And who among us hasn't anointed Google their medical expert of choice? We know we have.)

We'd never heard of it, or exanthema subitum (which frankly sounds more than a bit Harry Potter to our uncultured ears, but is the Official Engleesh Name).

If it is indeed that, we will propose to rename it "pointless baby rash", which is obviously a better name.

(We note in passing that it is apparently not very debilitating - tonight Boris gave us a good thwack about the head with a metal thermos flask, and actually managed to draw blood. So far as we can tell it was accidental, though.)

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