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!)

Friday, October 7, 2011

On the Myth of Multitasking - Argument

My argument that multitasking (as I define it) is a myth, apart from being based on research by people who know a lot more than I do about the human brain and such, is not a watertight argument. It is merely an experiential argument.

I believe true multitasking is a myth because I have never observed it. Sure, I have heard many women (and men) claim that (usually) women are able to multitask but (usually) not men. But I have never observed it or heard an example from anyone else observing it, even in women. Circumstantial evidence never convinces me that even women can consciously carry out two or more tasks at the same time. Sure, certain women (or men) may be able to 1) have one or more tasks going on subconsciously or 2) quickly switch back and forth between two or more tasks that all require conscious attention. But I remain unconvinced (only due to lack of evidence) that anyone can consciously carry out more than one task at a time.

To explain myself a bit more, consider a common example: driving. One may be driving, talking on the cell phone, and putting on a seat belt/applying makeup/ all at the same time. This is very dangerous. Why? Because the brain is probably concentrating only on the cell phone conversation. Due to practice and habit, the body can subconsciously carry out other tasks such as driving, putting on a seat belt, and applying makeup at the same time. No conscious thought is necessary for this. That is not to say conscious thought should not be applied. In the case of driving, lack thereof can result in death. And I do have evidence of people, including women, dying because they could not multitask while driving.

No one can multitask. So don't try it. Especially when driving.

I rest my case. Do tell me if I am wrong.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On the Myth of Multitasking - Source

My claim that multitasking (as I defined it) is a myth is based on a popular work by a brain scientist. Brain Rules, by John Medina, is a great little book (it now has a companion book about baby brains).

Read all of Medina's chapter 4 (rule number 4: We don't pay attention to boring things) for yourself. But to sum up, let me give a brief quotation from Medina's Brain Rules website page about the rule:
The brain is not capable of multi-tasking. We can talk and breathe, but when it comes to higher level tasks, we just can’t do it.

On the Myth of Multitasking - Another Definition

The definition I gave in the previous post is important, because any another definition for multitasking could hardly be controversial and would definitely not challenge the conventional wisdom.

For example, to say that multitasking is simply doing more than one thing at once is so vague that we would all say we can multitask (breathing + another activity). It could also be interpreted to mean we have more than one thing going on at a time in our lives--which is always true. I currently have two and a half jobs (soon to be one and a half, once my wife finishes her maternity leave). I also have several books that are at various stages of completion. I have home projects. I have life goals.

So a vague definition simply will not do.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On the Myth of Multitasking - Definition

My definition of multitasking is not directly related to computers nor is it the definition given on dictionary.com: "the carrying out of two or more tasks at the same time by one person."

My definition, on which I base my claim that (human) multitasking is a myth, is more precise: "the conscious carrying out of two or more tasks at the same point in time by one person."