Saturday, December 31, 2011

A King James Tribute to 2011

And a 2011 tribute to the King James Bible after 400 years.

As the year 2011 gives up the ghost, it is good to remember that, though in the new year we will reap what we have sown, God is ever good despite the fact that we and our world are not.

In a new year, there will still be no rest for the wicked, and those of little faith will still suffer the consequences, but the pardoning One will forgive a multitude of sins for those who repent.

The powers that be, by definition, will remain so even when names change, for God has ordained this, but it must be remembered that they have but feet of clay.

To everything there is a season, and the passing of one leads to another. The passing of one translation, dear King James Bible, leads to another, better in some ways, inferior in others.

And the passing of a year, an artificial division of time, leads to another, providing a valuable point of reflection and resolution.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

C'mon, I could've done that translation (correctly) for $0.20

Competent translators really are not hard to come by, but apparently even huge corporations are not aware of this fact.

It is quite politically correct to bash multibillion-dollar multinational corporations (unless they fund your political campaigns, I guess). It also quite current political correctness to protest. Thus, I protest a company as big and rich as McDonalds having an inexcusable Spanish translation on their unsweetened tea canister (see the post from the 27th).

Any competent translator could have done the translations for the two canisters for McDonalds for $0.20, or 5 cents per English word. I would probably have charged much more, since McDonalds presumably has a few extra dollars to spare for a poor but competent translator. In fact, I could have done the job for only 10 cents, since it is only the "Unsweetened Tea" canister that has an offending translation (back translation of "te sin dulce": tea without candy).

But the translation is inexcusable, even if it is just one franchise that uses it (which I doubt). Even Google Translate could have done a better job for whoever was responsible for the translation. I often see products that obviously did not have a competent translator on the job. Why not? I'm here for you. Take the time and small expense to hire a competent translator.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Té sin dulce, y sin bonbones tampoco

No como en Mcdonalds frecuetemente, pero tengo que confesar que si he ido. Hace unos meses, fui y encontré dos traducciones en los contenedores de té. La primera estaba buena (aunque yo habría puesto el acento en la palabra pero hey, no hay cuidado):

La segunda traducción salió tan mal que ni puede ser que la hayan pasado por un programa como Google Tanslate. Pero ni modo, por lo menos se entiende (sí, hay traducciones muy públicas que no se entienden para nada):

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Book Review: Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism

In Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, four highly qualified theologians give a take on their corner of the movement/grouping/demographic of christendom that could be called "evangelical." Kevin T. Bauder covers Fundamentalism. R. Albert Mohler Jr. represents Confessional Evangelicalism (think Conservative Evangelicalism, but not in a pejorative way). John G. Stackhouse Jr. writes for Generic Evangelicalism. And Roger E. Olson covers Postconservative Evangelicalism.

The tone is irenic and the history given by the scholars is interesting and helpful. The authors are certainly among the most qualified to be giving this sort of treatment to the spectrum of evangelicalism. Bauder's chapter is different from the others in focusing a lot more on the label "fundamentalist" and the movement "fundamentalism" than "evangelical" and "evangelicalism." The history of evangelicalism offered by Mohler, Stackhouse, and Olson is especially helpful in understanding the movement. They all reference the charateristics of evangelicals identified by the historians Mark Noll and David Bebbington: conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism. Olson adds a helpful fifth characteristic: respect for historic, Christian orthodoxy.

Apart from the helpful history, however, the topic of the book and the attempts at defining "evangelical" and "evangelicalism" become a bit tiring, as often happens in debates about labels. The most one can say about any label is that some people will accept it; others will reject it. And with a label as contested as "evangelical," everyone will define it differently and strongly disagree with others' definition.

On a more devotional note: In his response to Roger Olson's chapter on Postconservative Evangelicalism, Kevin Bauder gives probably the best extended definition (or essence) of evangelicalism:

Evangelicals do not deny the gospel. Evangelicals do not tamper with the gospel. Evangelicals do not question the gospel. The moment one detaches oneself from the gospel, whether in principle or in practice, one is no longer entitled to be called an evangelical. [...]
It is not up to us to define the gospel. We are responsible to recognize and receive the gospel. We are further responsible to uphold and defend the gospel. Never are we given the responsibility or even the opportunity to define the gospel.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

TIME's Person of the Year: The Protester

TIME Magazine almost annually befuddles at least me, if no one else, with the choice for Person of the Year. This year, however, it would be hard to think of any better choice for TIME's Person of the Year: The Protester.

It is hardly hyperbole to say that every corner of the planet has seen protests this year. The Egyptians, the Syrians, the Greeks, the Russians, the Americans, and the other Americans.

While I agree with TIME, however, I don't agree with the Protester. I protest the excessive protesting going on worldwide. The irony of this is not entirely lost on me, but I don't share the psychology or philosophy of the protester. First, I strongly doubt that public protest (especially when violent) can achieve much that lasts*. Second, even if it can and does achieve something that lasts, I strongly doubt that it is the right approach.

Many protesters are up against powerful people or entities, of course, such as governments or huge corporations. But having been treated in a dehumanizing way does not give one the right to treat others in a dehumanizing way (hateful speech, caricature, etc.). Even if it is loving and civil protest (which happens, oh, never), it is certainly not Christian, and that is my biggest problem as a Christian. Public protest as we have seen is anything but a Matthew 5:44 response:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
Third, and as a counterpoint, I realize that my view could totally change if I became part of the oppressed. I am not in Egypt or Russia. I am in the USA, however, where we have both the Tea Partiers and Occupy Wall Streeters who claim to be oppressed and ignored, and I have very little sympathy with the complaints or methods of either group.

One final point: It is, of course, easier to sympathize with protesters whose cause we support. Those with whom we disagree are simply rabble rousers; those with whom we agree are of course the oppressed, hard-working, innocent folk. Hm.

*It is very important to distiniguish between the different meanings of protest. Actions and decisions could be interpreted as forms of protest that may be legitimate. Right now I am simply referring to the 2011 fad of, say, making makeshift signs and overrunning public property to give oneself a voice. I take issue with this, even when done in the most civil, law-abiding way.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Evolutionary vs. Historical Linguistics

The three-part series on David Crystal's Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 brought a question to mind. Perhaps you have a good answer.* Can we precisely define and distinguish evolutionary linguistics and historical linguistics?

Language evolves, certainly, a statement which probably means that language changes. So is the study of language change evolutionary linguistics? Normally that is considered historical linguistics. Historical linguistics can be either diachronic or synchronic (or synchronic linguistics can be just as logically considered to be descriptive linguistics in distinction from historical linguistics), meaning it studies 1) language change over time or 2) language characteristics at a certain point in time (thus descriptive).

So historical linguistics is the study of language change. In the appropriately (if boringly) titled book Historical Linguistics and Language Change, Roger Lass distinguishes explains the difference and interaction of linguistics with language change thus: "Language change happens 'in the (spatio-temporal) world'; historical linguistics is the craft we exercise on its apparent results" (xiv).

Evolutionary linguistics, then, is not so much about the how of language and language change as about the why. That is, why do we have language at all? Where did it come from? How did humans develop the language instinct? (That is supposed to be a loaded question with a loaded term at the end.) To call this branch of linguistics "scientific" is really rather pretentious and optimistic then. As W. Tecumseh Fitch** says, "Language does not fossilize, and we lack time machines, so all of our data are indirect, and often several steps removed from the direct, conclusive evidence we might desire" (The Evolution of Language 15). We can make our best guesses, but trying to find out the origin of language in a scientific sense, searching for whether the very nature and structure of language has actually evolved, is probably not going to yield as much as could be hoped.

So evolutionary linguistics seems really to be about the history of language, in a primordial sense. Historical linguistics is about the evolution of language (or the history of the evolution of language). Historical linguistics is truly scientific, while evolutionary would appear to be much more speculative and hypothetical.

*And perhaps it really is not a difficult question, though on the surface it is tricky. For example, Wikipedia (which after all is the first source we all go to when we know nothing about a topic) defines historical and evolutionary linguistics in very similar terms. "Historical linguistics (also called diachronic linguistics) is the study of language change," while "evolutionary linguistics is the scientific study of the origins and development of language."
**A very cool name.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:46-55 (ESV)

And Mary said,

"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, [...] all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever."

Photo credit: Karen Horton (

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 - Part 3

To wrap up this book review of Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 (read Part 1 and Part 2), two sociolinguistic points can be made.

First, it is entirely understandable (and to be expected) that text messaging inspire some harsh critics. David Crystal makes the following point in his first chapter:

David Crystal

If I had a pound for every time I have heard of someone predicting a language disaster because of a new technological development, I should be a very rich man. My bank balance would have started to grow with the arrival in the Middle Ages of printing, thought by many to be the invention of the devil because it would put all kinds of false opinions into people's minds. [Bloggific comment: This has indeed come to pass.] It would have increased with the arrival of the telegraph, telephone, and broadcasting, each of which generated short-lived fears that the fabric of society was under threat. And I would have been able to retire on the profits from text messaging, the latest innovation to bring out the prophets of doom.
Second, text messaging is just another instance of language use and, importantly for the strong prescriptivists out there, change. In terms of evolutionary linguistics, it really is not all that interesting unless the person researching is mostly interested in technology, because "texting is just another variety of language, which has arisen as a result of a particular technology." The historical linguistic aspect, however, could be very fascinating, as one observes yet another linguistic adaptation:
Some people dislike texting. Some are bemused by it. Some love it. I am fascinated by it, for it is the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative and to adapt language to suit the demands of diverse settings. In texting we are seeing, in a small way, language in evolution.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review: Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 - Part 2

The most interesting aspect of historical linguistics in Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 for an English reader not from the UK may be the reminder of how influential British English still is. Those of us in America probably default to thinking that the way the French, Japanese, and Brazilians use English is mostly influenced by American culture. Yet with text messaging, a lot of the standard conventions came from Britain because texting became popular in the UK sooner than in the US.

The most interesting aspect in regard to descriptive linguistics may be just how wrong most hyped ideas about texting are. David Crystal disabuses the reader of several common notions, such as:

1) Texting contributes to illiteracy: "I do not see how texting could be a significant factor when discussing children who have real problems with literacy. If you have difficulty with reading and writing, you are hardly going to be predisposed to use a technology which demands sophisticated abilities in reading and writing. And if you do start to text, I would expect the additional experience of writing to be a help, rather than a hindrance."

2) Texting damages spelling ability: "Texters are [...] prone to mis-spell, both unconsciously and deliberately. They would not be able to use the mobile phone technology at all if they had not been taught to read and write, and this means they all had a grounding in the standard English writing system."

3) The young generation tends to be looser in regard to "proper" usage: In one study, "surprisingly, it was the younger adults who were more likely to use standard capitalization and punctuation."

4) Texting is an unprecedented linguistic phenomenon: "Texting language is no different from other innovative forms of written expression that have emerged in the past."

In short, Crystal argues:
People who talk of texting as a "new language," implying that the whole of the writing system is altered, are inculcating a myth.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Review: Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 - Part 1

In Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, David Crystal provides a delightful descriptivist jaunt through one of the newer modes of writing: texting, text messaging, SMS, you name it.

As mentioned a few days ago here, Crystal states his thesis this way: "All the popular beliefs about texting are wrong, or at least debatable." What you may not expect from a venerable retired linguist is a defense of text messaging as a creative form of writing that, in many respects, is really not terribly unusual. He goes from detailing (and taking exception with) outcry against texting as the harbinger of death for the English language to probing the phenomenon of texting:

Chapter 1 - The hype about texting
Chapter 2 - How weird is texting?
Chapter 3 - What makes texting distinctive?
Chapter 4 - Why do they do it?
Chapter 5 - Who texts?
Chapter 6 - What do they text about?
Chapter 7 - How do other languages do it?
Chapter 8 - Why all the fuss?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday of Rejoicing

Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

The Spirit of the sovereign LORD is on me,
   because the LORD has anointed me 
   to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 
   to proclaim freedom for the captives 
   and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor 
   and the day of vengeance of our God, 
to comfort all who mourn, 
and provide for those who grieve in Zion— 
to bestow on them a crown of beauty 
   instead of ashes, 
the oil of joy 
   instead of mourning, 
and a garment of praise 
   instead of a spirit of despair. 
They will be called oaks of righteousness, 
   a planting of the LORD 
   for the display of his splendor.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Texting Terminology

What are your favorite abbreviations, acronyms, neologisms, or symbols in relation to texting? One day we will look back at the advent of text messaging and be able to point to it as the origin of as many words  and phrases, many commonly used, as we can now point back to Shakespeare or the King James Bible for so many English neologisms.

SMS words and expressions probably also relate to your e-mailing and other online activity, as these spheres of social media and technology are not entirely distinct. NetLingo, for example, in its huge dictionary gives terminology that people use in text messages as well as other media.


*All Done Bye Bye.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Le t'es où ?

Le t'es où . . . plusieurs phénomènes, de la linguistique, de la technologie, de la sociologie. Pour commencer une définition : le t'es où, c'est l'argot pour le mot portable. Alors pourquoi ?

D'abord, il s'agit de la technologie. Le portable s'emploie de plus en plus partout dans le monde, de façon que l'on pourra dire que c'est universel. La technologie a beaucoup avancé ces dernières années, comme tout le monde le sait, et a donc tout changé d'une façon permanente.

Ensuite, il s'agit de la sociologie. C'est un phénomène plutôt socio-technologique, puisque c'est la technologie qui change la sociologie.  Le téléphone qui reste toujours à la main est indispensable maintenant pour se communiquer, pour trouver les amis, pour se trouver.

Enfin, il s'agit de la linguistique. La technologie, la sociologie (la techno-sociologie ou la socio-technologie), elles ne sont rien sans la capacité de la langue. C'est surtout dans le domaine des SMS que l'on voit des changements linguistiques. Envoyer de petits messages avec les pouces au lieu de parler au téléphone ou même envoyer tout un email, cela invite des inventions linguistiques, telle que « t'est où ? » Plus court et plus facile à taper que « Tu es où ? » Et c'est cool d'ailleurs.

Et vous ? Vous participez à ces phénomènes ? Participez au scrutin à droite et dîtes-nous combien de textos vous envoyez en un mois.





Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Poll: How Much Do You Text?

This new poll is inspired by Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, which will actually be inspiring a miniseries of posts here over the next few days.

The question is quite simple: How many text messages do you send in an average month?

To give you a provocative statement, and create a little suspense about what David Crystal has to say in his book, consider this from his opening chapter:
All the popular beliefs about texting are wrong, or at least debatable.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Audience and Stress

I have a brilliant audience. All four of us got the right answer on the latest poll. The origin of the word stress truly is American English.

How do you handle stress and anxiety? TIME Magazine had an interesting article on it in its last issue. Nothing new here, but interesting nonetheless. In a nutshell: channel your anxiety.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday of Peace

Isaiah 40:1-5 (ESV)

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,

for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Language News Update

A bit of time has passed since your language news aggregator last reported on linguistic progress, but that doesn't mean there is nothing to report today.
  • In the area of children and language development, a Norwegian study found that "there is no evidence that early centre-based childcare is harmful for most children." Specifically in relation to language development, the article states: "Childcare is an important arena for language development and learning and for preventing and coping with mental health issues." Personally, I am thankful for childcare because it is helping my son learn English. At home we speak only French and Spanish to him.
  • Along the same lines, parents, that dreaded phrase "peer pressure" applies to linguistics, too. In relation to children and language, as with anything, it can be a highly positive phenomenon.
  • Perhaps because of this linguistic peer pressure, it is a bad idea to segregate boys and girls in school.
  • One final note about children: my soul-searching about children and TV may have been slightly premature. Used appropriately, maybe some TV is educational.
  • Moving on to language pedagogy in general, "Students who in addition to their traditional German language courses are taught other courses in German end up with both a stronger vocabulary and a better communicative ability." This is generalized to presume that immersion in any language is better than only courses about that language.
  • In neurolinguistics, bilingualism holds off Alzheimer's much better and longer than monolingualism. (And this is not news, but if you cannot accept "monolingual" or "monolingualism" as words, then get off my blog.)
  • In odd linguistic news, one had best be (or become) a native English speaker if head or neck cancer is on the horizon. This has got to be mere statistical correlation (as opposed to obvious neurological factors in the study on bilingualism and Alzheimer's).
  • Last, and by far the most important of today's articles, the Wall Street Journal reports astonishing figures about how far more than a majority of scientific studies published in world-renowned, peer-reviewed journals have findings that cannot be reproduced. This is scary stuff, and not what one expects in the 21st century. Haven't we come a long way since a flat earth and putting leaches on people? Think twice before you completely accept any of the findings in any of today's other articles.

Friday, December 2, 2011

TV Really Isn't Educational for Little Children

No, really. And in case we parents of under-two-year-olds haven't gotten the message yet, the New York Times reported back in October* another warning from the American Association of Pediatrics.

To sum up the article, the second paragraph states that the AAP report "makes clear that there is no such thing as an educational program for such young children, and that leaving the TV on as background noise, as many households do, distracts both children and adults."

I do wonder, however, if it is not educational to show my two-year-old short cartoons (of 5-8 minutes) that are in French or Spanish and interact with him, teaching vocabulary and talking about what's happening? I will be honest that we do that (and that we don't always make the effort to interact either). Is that bad?

It could be debated, of course, whether TV should be only educational for little children. But plenty of other research shows that beyond not being educational TV also hinders brain development. What is said about the article and the AAP report is that this actually represents a slight softening of the AAP's position. Pressure from parents and (surprise!) the video industry (who claims that parents know best!) made the AAP do it.

Ah well. I don't claim to know best, but it can be very tempting to show little children TV to give parents a little break. We have avoided it pretty well so far, but on occasion we do let our two-year-old watch something short or even watch me play the Wii. You other parents of little ones, what do you do? You parents of older ones who have been through this, what did you do? You parents who didn't have to go through this, what were the "good ol' days" like? You non-parents, what do you opine from your idealist perspective?

*Being the parent of an infant and one barely-two-year-old, I am a bit behind in my news, blogging, reading, thinking, etc.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent 2011

Advent Sunday (November 27 this year) was missed on this blog, but December 1 is nonetheless a good time to catch up as we enter the last month of 2011. Though the Advent wreath would have started on Sunday, Advent calendars start today.

Advent comes from Latin and means "coming." In the Christmas season, thoughts turn naturally to the first coming of Jesus Christ, as a baby, as a human: Emmanuel, God with us. But if we turn to the Greek word that the Latin translated, parousia (apologies for the transliteration), then the ancient-language and theologically minded crowd tends to think of a different coming, Christ's second. Thus, the Advent reminds us that Christ has come once, a fact we celebrate, and also that we await another coming, a return.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Today in Language: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde died on November 30, 1900. Is it a tragedy to miss a new century by a hair, or a blessing to have survived right up to the end of another century?

Wilde wrote one of the most re-readable and anthropologically insightful novels of the English language, probably of world literature: The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is anthropologically insightful because it acknowledges not only the existence of sin and evil but also the horrifying effects of sin and evil: Dorian Gray lives an indefensible lifestyle, which he nonetheless gets away with . . . except when he doesn't, which is when he looks in his magical mirror and sees who he is becoming. Tragically, the effects of sin and evil are often hidden to the foolish or hardened. One chooses not to look in the mirror, or one looks and doesn't care.

Because it is so penetrating, the novel is also re-readable. We all need a reminder of how good we are not, and also a reminder to examine ourselves. The irony is that this reminder comes from a writer who was a socialite and hedonist for much of his life.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Poll: Etymology of Stress

The rules for this week's poll are the same as for past polls, with a special emphasis on no fact-checking before you vote.

To help you make an educated guess, if you do not know the answer, it is only fair to establish up front that of course the ultimate etymology of stress, like so much English vocabulary, can be traced back to Latin. But the poll question refers to the modern/postmodern usage of the word stress in a psychological sense, a sense that has been attested for much less than a century.

So does it come from the Singaporeans, who we would do well to remember speak English just as "natively" and authentically (and distinctly!) as Americans or Australians? Or the British, who must be credited with much of the rich history and development of the English language? Or the Australians, who stereotypically do not stress about much at all? Or the Americans, who stereotypically are much over-stressed but have one of the world's most envied economies to show for it?

The Problem with Reading

Reading, of course, takes time. That would not be a problem if the ratio of reading material to time were a bit more balanced, but practically, the amount of reading material is endless when compared to the precious little time that the 21st-century reader has.

Lack of time can be seen, for example, in my recent post on reading lists. It was supposed to be longer and actually discuss the usefulness of different methods of listing one's reading material. The amount of reading material can be seen in my recent handspun list of current reading.

Neither lack of time nor the abundance of reading material is the real problem with reading, however. The problem is a type of reading that can be called "compulsive reading." I use reading lists to plot out what I am going to read from one month to the next (very specific down to certain titles or even chapters/essays), from one year to the next (less specific, but still focused on specific authors and maybe a few of their titles), and (is this compulsive listing?) even one decade to the next (much more panoramic, covering whole disciplines or fields of thought). The problem of compulsive reading is that other books, even ones I have relegated to the 2020s or 2030s for my reading, arrest my attention and irresistibly beckon me to their pages. One then has too many "works in progress." More than half of the books on my current reading list, for example, are not works I planned to be reading in the months of November or even December.

Alas, I expect no resolution to the problem of a lack of time or the seeming infinity of books in the world. But if anyone has a resolution to the problem of compulsive reading, do share.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Reading, Lists, and Reading Lists

How do you keep track of your reading? I use a primitive method, manual lists in Microsoft Word.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Currently Reading...

So in relation to my post about e-readers, with an important footnote about the irreplaceability of the printed page, here is my current reading lineup, for whoever may be interested. These works are a mix of research reading (read, mainly, preparation for comprehensive exams) and whimsical reading (read, I bumped into the book and decided to try it out): 

Apollinaire, Guillaume. Alcools : Poèmes 1898-1913.
Baudelaire, Charles. Les fleurs du mal.
Brunner, Emil. Our Faith.
Crystal, David. Txtng: The Gr8 Db8.
Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Is There a Meaning in This Text?
Williamson, Mabel. Have We No Rights?
Print reading
Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction.
Furuya, Yasuyo. A History of Japanese Theology.
Jeremiah (the book in the Bible).
Mahfouz, Naguib. The Cairo Trilogy.
Raymond, Marcel. De Baudelaire au surréalisme.

E-readers and Reading

E-readers are certainly here to stay. I jumped on the bandwagon this past spring and have yet to regret it for a moment.

There are many advantages to using e-readers as a supplement to reading printed books. Allow me to highlight two.

The first for me is personal and practical: within a matter of a few days and weeks, I had hundreds of books (mostly free) on my Nook. That meant far fewer books lying around our house (though there will always be some). That meant a happier wife. She was never pleased by my stacks of books, which I tried to confine to one or two rooms but always in a losing battle. And frankly, I  also feel better about my life and house now. (My wife and I are both mild, reasonable neat freaks, but neat freaks nonetheless.)

A related advantage of the e-reader over the printed book is ease of reading. Not only do e-books not take up extra room regardless of how many one has, but they also are much easier to hold and turn pages in. If I am in bed, I can hold my Nook in one hand and swipe or press the buttons to turn pages. This is a much lighter, less annoying experience than holding a printed book and trying to constantly adjust so that I can turn pages and hold the book open. The same holds true if I am walking and reading, holding my two-month-old and reading, traveling and reading, or driving and reading (just kidding).

The irreplaceability of the physical page, of course, must also be emphasized. The e-reader is here to stay, but in my view alongside of rather than instead of the printed page. For the advantages mentioned above bring obvious disadvantages with them as well. And I for one will never tire of the smell of an old page or flipping through books manually and digitally (in a literal sense).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: La Princesse de Clèves

Malgré ce qu'on peut dire contre La Princesse de Clèves de Madame de La Fayette, j'ai bien aimé ce livre (je viens de le lire pour la première fois). Ce n'est ni la machination de la cour ni le suspense de l'intrigue que j'ai aimé ; tout cela m'a beaucoup gêné en réalité et je suis à peine arrivé aux dernières pages.

Mais c'est là, dans la dernière conversation entre la princesse et M. de Nemours (et leur seule conversation ouverte d'ailleurs), j'ai trouvé une belle exception à l'immoralité de la littérature mondiale. C'est la Princesse de Clèves, malgré sa passion, ses désirs, qui prend la seule décision morale possible en rejettant M. de Nemours. Son raisonnement m'a vraiment transporté, parce que combien de femmes pensent de la façon suivante en ce qui concerne nous les hommes ?
J'avoue, répondit-elle [à M. de Nemours], que les passions peuvent me conduire, mais elles ne sauroient m'aveugler ; rien ne me peut empêcher de connoître que vous êtes né avec toutes les dispositions pour la galanterie et toutes les qualités qui sont propres à y donner des succès heureux ; vous en auriez encore; je ne ferois plus votre bonheur ; je vous verrais pour une autre comme vous auriez été pour moi ; j'en aurais une douleur mortelle, et je ne serois pas même assurée de n'avoir point le malheur de la jalousie.
Si on n'aime pas la moralité de La Princesse de Clèves, cette réaction trahit une moralité très douteuse.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hermeneutics: Brunner on Systematic Theology and the Bible

In a book that I find interesting for having parts that I either completely disagree with or entirely agree with, Emil Brunner makes the following statement:

We should leave the Scripture as it is, unsystematic, in all its parts; otherwise we pervert its message.
Emil Brunner, "Eternal Election," Our Faith
Brunner says this in the context of arguing against double predestination. He has a good point about Scripture (though, of course, he is systematizing it to a degree in his brief dogmatics). I do not think it fully defends his position against double predestination, however, [ALERT: unproven assertion] for double predestination is not an inevitable biblical conclusion but an inevitable logical conclusion given some of Brunner's theological presuppositions. Theology goes awry when it starts off with the wrong hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics: Vanhoozer on Meaning and the Bible

In a book that I am very excited to be reading and hope to have more to say about, Kevin J. Vanhoozer makes the following statement:

While I agree with many contemporary thinkers that meaning is more than a matter of naming, I continue to share Plato's concern to defend the possibility of speaking truly.
Kevin Vanhoozer, "Philosphy and Literary Theory: From Plato to Postmodernity," Is There a Meaning in This Text?
Vanhoozer insists on the possibility of meaning within the context of a trinitarian theology. He not only addresses all of the pertinent issues of hermeneutics and literary theory, but also of morals and theology. If Wittgenstein is a linguist's philosopher, then Vanhoozer may be a linguist's theologian.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Intellectual Standards

This post collects a series of posts on intellectual standards to which this blog aspires. In addition to this series, other series on various topics are linked to at the bottom of the page.

The intellectual standards I have covered are the following:

Honesty (with sources)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Prescriptivist Consideration of the Verb "Yell"

This post considers a usage phenomenon in (only American?) English from the standpoint of basic speech-act theory. What are the locutionary and illocutionary force of the following statements (they should be the same for all of the statements, and I assume you can figure them out without any further context):
  • The teacher yelled at us for talking in class.
  • My dad yelled at me when I got home late.
  • The coach yelled at us for goofing off in the locker room.
These are quite common situations and quite easy to analyze linguistically. The locutionary force of each sentence is the following: some authority (teacher, parent, coach) reprimanded the subject for bad behavior by significantly raising his or her voice.
The illocutionary force of these speech acts is the following: some authority (teacher, parent, coach) over-reacted to what was probably at worst a slightly immature behavior.

I do not consider myself a prescriptivist, generally speaking, but labels are almost always generalizations. In this case, I am going to be a prescriptivist: no one should use the word "yell" to describe someone getting upset if the angry person did not literally yell.

Why? First, it is dishonest. If one accepts the locutionary and illocutionary acts as described above, then obviously the statement is made for the purpose not of objectively describing the situation but exaggerating it to malign the authority (who, it should be remembered, did not create the problem situation with bad behavior).

Second, as a result of being dishonest, it is also unkind. Those being spoken about are having their reputations tarnished and may very well not understand why certain people behave skittishly around them (due to a bad reputation from misinformation).

So stop saying people yelled at you, unless they really did. If you did something stupid, and they corrected you, then grow up and stop doing stupid stuff.

Thus ends my prescriptivist yelling.

Don't Translate Brand Names Literally

Ah, the joys and sorrows of translating. At least the profession of translation is one that frequently supplies humor.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Is it significant that at this precise moment it is 11:11 p.m. on 11 November, 2011?

This question raises interesting linguistic questions.*

First, and most practically, does 11/11 mean 11 November or November 11? Which is more logical? This is entirely dependent on where one lives in the world and with whom one interacts. Grammar and syntax are extremely, even uncomfortably, relative due to dependence on usage.

Second, is the way we record and count time anything but a social construct? A highly useful, nearly indispensable one, but a social construct nonetheless. Its nature as a social construct, then, means moments such as this one (which has assuredly already passed anyway by the time you finish reading this parenthetical, or before you even started it, for that matter) have no special significance whatsoever. They do, however, give us special human feelings, just like other entirely insignificant events can do (e.g., a favorite sports team winning a game).

If you have definitive answers to these questions, that is interesting. If you do not, no worries. Happy Bodacious Bonza Bottler Day anyway.

*This post operates on the enormous underlying but unproven assumption that numbers, including time and dates, are language.

Today in Language: Carlos Fuentes

Nacido el 11 de noviembre, 1928, Carlos Fuentes escribió El Espejo Enterrado. Ese título usa un metáforo bien acertado. El libro trata de la historia mexicana y entonces también de la historia pre-mexicana. El espejo del título representa esta historia, porque la historia de cualquier pueblo o nación le dice mucho a tal pueblo o nación. Pero muchas veces es una historia escondida, no compartida. El espejo entonces está enterrado. Olvidado. Pero no roto. Así Fuentes explora preguntas fundamentales de todo el tiempo: ¿Quienes somos? ¿Realmente conocemos nuestra historia?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A New Nook!

A few posts about the Nook Simple Touch (mine, specifically) are long overdue. But of course pregnancy complications and a newborn child in addition to a toddler in the house have delayed them. Do allow me, however, to call your attention to the fact that Barnes & Noble now has a new Nook, the Nook Tablet.

In addition, the Nook Simple Touch and the Nook Color, as well as the Tablet have reduced prices--and even more reduced if you are a new B&N member. That last phrase is very important if you are interested in buying a Nook. The main Nook page on the B&N website doesn't list the further reduced prices for new B&N members but they are!

You can read my recommendation of the Nook Simple Touch and the B&N digital bookstore. I have been reading more books than I have time to talk about on my Nook these last 2-3 months, and most of them free. More to come about what books and the advantages of the Nook Simple Touch.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Preguntas linguísticas

Ahora a trabajar. Vea el video abajo e identifique lo que crea el humor. ¿De qué confusiones linguísticas proviene el humor?

Básicamente es cuestión de entender la gramática. A pesar de lo que diga uno de la gramática artificial (porque toda gramática que se enseña en la escuela es artificial, una estructura inventada para explicar la lengua humana), nos ayuda mucho. Las categorías gramaticales nos sirven para no confundirnos al aprender otro idioma. Es la raíz del humor del video. Las categorías, tanto como el sustantivo y el verbo, sirven para distinguir las partes de la oración, tanto como el sujeto y (otra vez) el verbo. En el video, el maestro Gomaespuma elide la palabra "libras" de la categoría del sustantivo a la de un verbo, provocando mucha risa si es que uno entiende los dos idiomas.

Ojalá que fuera tan sencillo...

En realidad, enseñar un segundo idioma es difícil. Es sudar y sufrir al intentar de imaginarse nuevos métodos para interesar y alcanzar a los estudiantes. Si usted es maestro de idiomas, enseñe este video clásico a sus alumnos por un poco de descanso del trabajo de adaptar el cerebro a otro idioma. Mega chistoso.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Today in Language: 手塚治虫


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Book About Japan?

This is a request for a bit of help. If you have done any reading on Japan, is there an introductory, non-academic book that you would recommend? I am looking for something that would cover a bit of the culture, etiquette, history, and perhaps even language. This is for a group of students I am preparing for a trip to Japan.

Because I grew up in Japan, I have never read a book just about Japan. I have read history books. I have read books written by Japanese people. I have read books in Japanese. And now I do have a short list of books I am planning to read to see how I like them, but if you have any to add to that list I am open to suggestions.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Today in Language: Journée internationale de la langue et de la culture créoles

C'est aujourd'hui, le 28 octobre, la journée internationale de la langue et de la culture créoles. Cela vient de Sainte-Lucie mais c'est aussi une célébration sur d'autres îles antillaises* ainsi que partout dans le monde créole, qui se trouve un peu partout.

Ce sont Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau et Raphaël Confiant, les créolistes martiniquais, qui ont écrit une Éloge de la créolité où ils définissent la créolité (plutôt que créole) comme l’agrégat interactionnel ou transactionnel, des éléments culturels caraïbes, européens, africains, asiatiques, et levantins, que le joug de l’Histoire a réunis sur le même sol » (26). 

En vue de cette conscience chez eux qui sont de vrais créoles, la définition de référence pour créole n'est pas du tout acceptable : « (Personne) qui est de race blanche, d'ascendance européenne, originaire des plus anciennes colonies d'outre-mer ». 

*Autant que je sache étant états-unien et non-créole, et quelqu'un qui n'ai jamais observé cette journée sauf à cause de l'anniversaire de mon premier fils qui a deux ans passés aujourd'hui.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Great Quotation and a Half-Hearted Book Review

Consider this great quotation from a less-than-great book:
A great variety of scriptural texts say very many different things indirectly, directly, cumulatively, and in different genres precisely in order to do with their various locutions only thing illocutionarily: to confront all people with the reality of the living Jesus Christ. Why? So that they will understand God’s love and forgiveness, repent of their sin, and live in the truth. 
Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible
Smith's book is basically against biblicism, which he defines as a very narrow, literalistic, straight-jacket approach to the Bible that ends up bordering on a straw-man definition but that he nonetheless insists characterizes the way the vast majority of American (evangelical) Christians approach the Scripture. The book argues against this "biblicism" primarily because of pervasive interpretive pluralism, or the fact that "American evangelicals" arrive at a bewildering variety of conclusions.

If you want a more thorough, helpful review, check out Kevin DeYoung's. It covers the main points, though if I had the discipline to write the review I have in my head, the focus would be on the nature of language and and application of linguistic theories to bibliology--in order to show how Smith's book totally misses. But DeYoung targets well the main problem with the book, which is simply that Smith first attacks a biblicism that is nearly non-existent and then offers alternatives that, um, pretty much everyone already accepted a long time ago and that are actually part of true biblicism, if you care to use that term.

Anyway, what I do like about the book is Smith's decent explanation of those alternatives, even if there is nothing new in what he writes. His recommendation for a Christocentric hermeneutic is very well written and downright inspiring to any believer in the person and cross of Jesus Christ.

In addition, I like his discussion of the need to apply linguistic theories to hermeneutics. The quotation above comes from a discussion of speech-act theory and how it could benefit our approach to Scripture. Think about locution, illocution, and perlocution next time you read any part of the Bible. I am reading and re-reading Jeremiah this year and am going to try it out.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Articles, Artificial Grammar, and Language Change

My half job is teaching writing to teenagers. I love telling them that it is not wrong to split an infinitive in English. I also love telling them it is not "wrong" (the quotation marks here are an important contrast to their absence in the previous sentence) to use pronoun-antecedent disagreement (Example: "Every student takes their own notes").

I love telling my students such things because at some base level it is always fun to say something that seems subversive (even if it really is not). But I also love saying such things because it actually helps the students and liberates them from bad notions (coming from bad teaching) about language, grammar, and usage.

In my teaching, I distinguish between artificial and natural grammar to help my students understand that grammar is natural and would always exist, even if we had no orthographic system or grammar books. Artificial grammar is artificial because it tries to create and impose a system that will inevitably, undoubtedly change again.

In relation to all of this, I read an amusing article from the Wall Street Journal about highly artificial grammar/language change/usage. Apparently one no longer buys "an iPod"--simply "iPod"! And evidently "the Nook Simple Touch Reader" I bought a few months ago was actually "Nook Simple Touch Reader" (no article). This all is supposed to make us feel closer to and more personal with our electronic devices.

This is acceptable in the sense that, because it changes, language is highly relative and we can do just about anything we want with it, including taking out articles where they very clearly belong according to normal usage. It is unacceptable only to the extent that it is so artificial probably no one outside those companies will accept the usages that Apple, B&N, and others want to impose on them.

(Note my pronoun and its antecedent in that last sentence!)