Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What You (Really) Need to Speak

Well-known economist Lawrence Summers wrote an article last week in the New York Times about how U.S. higher education is and will be changing in the years to come. The article has a lot of relevant observations. Although he is correct in stating that "undergraduate education changes remarkably little over time," I am not yet convinced that is terrible state of affairs. But technology and the incessant march of history will change some things.

The relevant part of the essay for language teachers was sure to offend some, probably many, perhaps most or even all. I have my own thoughts, fairly easy to guess perhaps, but I would rather hear others' ideas, especially those of readers who are not language teachers. Here is the relevant paragraph from Summers' essay:

English's emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world, make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile. While there is no gainsaying the insights that come from mastering a language, it will over time become less essential in doing business in Asia, treating patients in Africa or helping resolve conflicts in the Middle East.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 26, 2012



Friday, January 20, 2012

Paris, Here I Come / Paris, j'arrive bientôt !

What better way to end a week of advocacy (and defense) for (and of) the French language than to say that I am moving to a French-speaking country for a year?

I am excited to report that our family will be in the City of Lights for the 2012-13 school year as I complete coursework for my doctorate. Details were finalized this week, and I am excited to be moving to France for about a year to improve my French, as well as that of my wife and boys!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review: Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reasons to read this book:
-It provides an academic but dogmatic overview of the doctrine of Scripture.
-It provides interesting perspectives on this doctrine. Webster considers the doctrine from the triple perspective of revelation, sanctification, and inspiration. This type of "trinitarian" doctrinal perspective is all the rage these days, and Webster also considers the trio of Scripture, church, and canon in chapter 2, and Scripture, theology, and the theological school in chapter 4. Chapter 3 covers reading (the Scripture) in the economy of grace.

Reasons not to read this book:
-It is not comprehensive. It is a "sketch" focused on the doctrine of Scripture. In his own words, Webster does not, for example, "offer [a] theory of 'textuality', and say[s] almost nothing about such matters as the impact of deconstruction or of speech-act theory on thinking about the nature of Scripture" (1).
-It is very academic. Some of the authors that Webster draws from, you have probably never read.
-It is not strongly liberal, dialectic, or conservative. If you are a very, very strong inerrantist and literalist (in the literal senses of those words), if you are a very, very committed Barthian, or if you are a liberal, you will probably not enjoy Webster.

Sample quotation:
"However genuine they may be, exegetical difficulties are, in the end, not the heart of the difficulty in reading Scripture. The real problems lie elsewhere, in our defiance of grace" (106).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


A friend recently recommended Goodreads, a social-networking-cum-book-club website, and I am glad I joined up.

If you are also a Facebook and Twitter holdout,* you may nonetheless consider a site like Goodreads (Shelfari is another option, and I'm sure there are many more). It's a fun way to keep up with what you and your friends are reading, get book recommendations, and ask questions about books that you wouldn't know to ask otherwise. It hasn't replaced my manual tracking of reading lists in Word, but it's been a good tool nonetheless.

If you are interested, join Goodreads and ask me to be your friend!

*How do you tell if you are a true social media holdout? Our badge of authentication is stooping to consider Google+ without actually having opened an account yet.

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 Presidential Elections: Taiwan

2012 is a huge year for presidential elections around the world. They happen every year, but it seems like this year has a larger number than usual of especially significant presidential elections. This may be biased because three of the countries I have closest ties to (the U.S., France, and Mexico) all have their presidential elections. Nonetheless, this series seems warranted for the sheer number of elections going on. Let me know if I miss any.

Ma Ying-jeou won re-election as the president of Taiwan last weekend. This is good news if you are for (short- and perhaps long-term) stability, closer ties with China, and economic development. This is bad news if you are for complete independence from China and regard that as the best avenue to economic development and social stability.

"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." (Romans 13:1 NIV).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Poll: The Awesomeness of French

As a follow-up to yesterday's calm, measured response to a preposterously ridiculous political ad, please consider voting in this new poll. Show your support for the French language by voting!

Just how awesome is French, anyway?

Very awesome?
Way awesome?
So awesome you can't believe it?
So awesome that "awesome" is an insufficient descriptor?

Friday, January 13, 2012

French Is Awesome

Okay, I stay away from discussing politics (other than in private with a few very close friends).* But when one politician attacks another for speaking French, a boundary has been crossed. Enough is enough, and this is . . . asinine.

Newt Gingrich's campaign released the above video yesterday. Most of the video simply calls into question Romney's conservative credentials, but if you pay attention at the very end, the viewer is trapped into drawing a classic non sequitur that is supposed to . . .  compare Romney to John Kerry? Compare him to the French? Portray him in some indeterminate bad light? What? The narrator, in his convincingly masculine and virile movie-trailer voice, delivers this earth-shattering fact about Romney: "He speaks French." God forbid! Heaven save us from Mitt Romney, should this salacious accusation prove true.

Neither Mitt Romney nor Newt Gingrich is my favorite politician. Neither is my least favorite either. This has nothing to do with politics. (Besides, this first came up last year when a Democratic group attacked Romney for the same reason--see the video below). This is about French, and French is awesome regardless of who does or does not speak it.

Tirade Directed Towards Any Listening Politicians or Political Groups
Attack someone for not being as conservative (or liberal) as you. Do not attack the French language. French is awesome.

Attack someone's questionable track record. Do not attack the French language. French is awesome.

Attack someone's policies. Do not attack the French language. French is awesome.

Attack someone's immorality. Do not attack the French language. French is awesome.

Attack someone's hypocrisy and lies. Do not attack the French language. French is awesome.

Whatever you and your potential supporters may think of the French language (and often, by extension, France and the French people, which is a shockingly myopic view of the geopolitics of the language), it has nothing to do with your politics. Do not attack the French language. French is awesome.

If you think that speaking French or having ties to France makes one "an elitist, European-style liberal wimp," as the BBC article shows to be the assumption on your part, then you are in the death grip of delusion and irrelevance. I speak French. I love French. I have French (and many other francophone) friends. I am not elitist. I am not liberal. I am not a wimp (unless we are talking about being in very high places, or facing extreme pain, or enduring bone-chilling temperatures . . . okay, then I'm a wimp). I may be somewhat more "European-style" in certain aspects of life than some of my friends from the South. I do not know why that is necessarily a positive or negative thing. Do not attack the French language. French is awesome.

If you attack the French language, you are probably displaying ignorance about the influence and popularity of the French language. The world speaks French, you know. Do not attack the French language. French is awesome.

In short, do not attack the French language, even by insidious insinuation. French is awesome.

In Place of a Conclusion
Okay, so the whole world doesn't really speak French. And Gingrich, Romney, and Democratic Super-PACs are in the throes of political campaigning that makes it all but impossible to resist the temptation to make totally irrelevant attacks. And French is not awesomer than other languages--they are all awesome and have nothing to do with politics if you live in this galaxy.

So yes, this post is slightly tongue-in-cheek. Nonetheless, we must all agree that politics in free-speech democracies occasionally descends to a level below nincompoopery. You are a witness.

*Why? Because, as Dave Barry very astutely points out in his review of 2011 (see the review of the month of January), "Uncivil political rhetoric [...] has been the norm in the United States for two centuries."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Readings in Linguistics in 2012

Some linguistics reading suggestions in French for 2012.

In case you have nothing to read this year, consider these books on linguistics:

Two books in order to understand an important theory of linguistics (and communication). And because they were two excellent Christmas gifts received by yours truly:
Translation and Relevance

A great book on linguistics, hermeneutics, and theology:
Is There a Meaning in This Text?

And finally, new, tantalizing fare that looks like it should be a fun read, whether you are a hyperpolyglot or not:
Babel No More: The Search fo the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners

Do you have any other linguistics reading suggestions for 2012? Any comments or reviews for me on the books above as I plot my 2012 reading course?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lire la linguistique en 2012

Voir une liste de quelques livres en anglais sur la linguistique.

Voici des livres en français sur la linguistique à lire dans l'année 2012.

Deux tomes à lire à cause de leur niveau préliminaire. Et parce que c'est requis pour mes études:
Initiation à la linguistique (Baylon et Fabre)
Cours de linguistique générale (Saussure)

Deux tomes à lire à cause de leur niveau pas du tout d'initiation. Et parce que j'ai envie de mieux comprendre Arrivé et aussi de pouvoir comprendre Kristeva et de savoir s'il y a vraiment quelque chose d'important dans ses ouvrages ou non:
Linguistique et psychanalyse (Arrivé)
Le langage cet inconnu (Kristeva)

Avez-vous d'autres idées pour la lecture linguistique cette année ? Quelque chose de nouveau peut-être ? Partagerez-vous un avis sur les livres mentionnés ci-dessus ?

Friday, January 6, 2012


Read this in English.




Thursday, January 5, 2012

Today in Language: Buon Compleanno Signor Eco

To begin, I extend my apologies to Umberto Eco that I cannot write this post in Italian. One day I will learn that beautiful language. 

Umberto Eco, not only one of the most well-known scholars but also one of the best-selling novelists in the world, turns 80 today.

The king of semiotics, Eco has also contributed to a dizzying number of other sub-disciplines in the humanities, not just in linguistics and translation, but also literature and literary theory, medieval studies and philosophy, art and architecture. In honor of his 80th birthday, I pick one book and one quotation as an attempt to dip into his thought.

A Book
To pick one book from Eco's massive bibliography (which is matched only by his massive personal library of anywhere from 30,000-50,000 volumes, according to one interview), consider his The Infinity of Lists (or The Vertigo of Lists as originally titled in Italian). Part of my interest in Eco is his obsession with lists, one I share. Lists are just so useful for organizing, chronicling, and enjoying life. In the same interview, Eco argues that listing is a preferable alternative to defining. 

A Quotation
To pick one quotation from Eco, also from the interview already mentioned, consider this thought in your own effort to accumulate knowledge and navigate the overwhelming quantity of books it seems that one must read to be cultured: "Culture isn't knowing when Napoleon died. Culture means knowing how I can find out in two minutes."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Book Review: Literary Theory: An Introduction

Two virtues I appreciate in book reviews are conciseness and objectivity. I have usually tried to keep my reviews concise, but overly personal reactions always find a way of slipping in. I recently saw a friend's reviews on Goodreads and was inspired to adopt his format, which is both concise and objective, of simply giving reasons to read or not to read a book. This seems to me to avoid personal impressions and rants, while keeping the review fairly short. We will see how it works.

Reasons to read Literary Theory: An Introduction, by Terry Eagleton:
  • To get an accessible overview of 20th-century literary theory (schools of thought covered: phenomenology, hermeneutics, reception theory [or reader response theory], structuralism, semiotics, post-structuralism, and psychoanalysis. This overview of the chapters shows, first, that Eagleton gives a more British than American overview, and second, that he gives a wide-ranging overview that helpfully shows the influences of philosophy and linguistics on literature and theory.
  • To gain an appreciation of the different schools of literary theory and their positive contributions. Eagleton, a Marxist critic, does not dismiss anyone, from the phenomenologists to the New Critics to the deconstructionists.
  • To understand the basics of Jacques Lacan's thought.
  • To understand the basics of Julia Kristeva's thought.
  • The previous two points should not be underestimated.
Reasons not to read Literary Theory: An Introduction, by Terry Eagleton (or at least not in its entirety):
  • It does not provide a full history or overview of literary theory (i.e., from at least Plato and Socrates on). It covers little more than the 20th century.
  • It does not provide a current history of literary theory, from the end of the 20th century into the 21st. The essay provided as the Afterword in my 2008 Anniversary Edition slightly mitigates this.
  • It does not provide an overview of Marxist or feminist criticism. Eagleton tries to argue that this was not necessary because all literature is ideology and all theory is ultimately political.
  • Too much attention is given to psychoanalysis--a whole chapter, and a long one at that. This is understandable, though, given that Eagleton first wrote the book in the 80s.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Una oración para 2012

Dios nuestro, tú eres nuestra fortaleza.
    No sabemos cómo nos hayas creado.
    No sabemos cómo nos mantengas vivos.
    No sabe mos cómo nos fortalezcas en nuestra alma.

Pero creemos que tú eres nuestro creador.
    Creemos que tú nos das vida.
    Creemos que solamente tú nos puedes dar vida eterna y poder espiritual.
Aún esta fe que tenemos viene de ti, como tu gracia, y estos dones tuyos,
    los aceptamos con gratitud.

Te damos gracias por otro año.
    Te agradecemos las bendiciones y las victorias del año pasado.
    Y te queremos decir gracias por tus promesas fieles en el futuro.

Pedimos más gracia.
    Más poder para agradarte.
    Más fe para creerte.
    Más amor para amarte.

Pedimos que nos fortalezcas más.
    Queremos crecer.
    Queremos dejar de pecar.
    Queremos ser luz en este mundo de angustias y tinieblas.

Ayúdanos a gozarnos en ti,
    porque tú eres nuestro gozo y nuestra fuerza.

Te damos gracias por tus misericordias,
    y dejamos estas peticiones en tus manos todo poderosas.

Pedimos estas cosas en el nombre de tu hijo, nuestro Salvador, Cristo Jesús.