Archive for the 'Language' Category

The politics of fear

Keith January 21st, 2013

I am going over my notes for a university workshop on language that I am running tomorrow, and am once again reminded why I find both the government and opposition rhetoric on asylum seekers so abhorrent.

In 2011, 4,565 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat – less than 3 per cent of our total permanent intake in that year (ASRC). Why should this be considered as sufficient for us to require better ”border protection”? This policy does have a precedent:

“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

“… Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

- Hermann Göring, 18 April 1946 (Gilbert, GW 1947, Nuremberg Diary).

Creativity and Constraint

Keith September 2nd, 2009

At yesterday’s Creative Performance Exchange meeting, we held an “unconference” session.  People nominated to present twenty minute “mini-sessions” on a range of topics at one of three tables, and the rest of us chose to sit in on whichever topic was of interest.  We cycled through the mini-sessions three times, so there were nine in total.  Great fun, and a great way to spark new ideas and innovation.

One of the sessions I attended was led by Don Miller, of the Melbourne Centre for Ideas. Don briefly spoke about the comparison between western ideas of freedom, and how “total” freedom can actually limit creativity. (My paraphrase.) The point is – when we are given some form of constraint, we can often become more creative.  Some creative fields come with built-in constraints.   For example, an architect will usually be constrained by the available land area, and by design restrictions imposed by materials, technology, planning regulations, etc.  When we start to test imposed limits, we can also frequently break new creative ground.

To my mind, a classic case of this is the design of the Sydney Opera House.  When Jørn Utzon first drafted his designs for the famous “sails”, it was said that it would be impossible to build with the concrete technology available at the time. The design was changed during the development process, yet it is unlikely that the current globally-recognised design would have ever been built if the construction limitations had not been pushed as they were.

Don led us in a brief exercise to illustrate creativity under constraint. We were asked to spend 10 minutes writing – on whatever topic we chose – with the constraint that every word must include the letter ‘e’.  We were also asked to write at least six lines of text. 

Given that ‘e’ is the most common letter in the English language, this is not as severe a constraint as restricting other letters, yet still enough of a constraint to encourage some creativity! For one thing, it completely rules out the conjunctions ‘and’ and ‘but’, forcing some creative use of punctuation to replace them.  (Try it for yourself.)

At the end of the session , we all read out our pieces.  The seven or so of us at the table were all able to complete the task, with a very varied set of results.  One was a “meta-text” – a piece about the task itself.  For reference, here’s my piece:

Wearily, Eve went westerly.  She previously called her boyfriend, when her vehicle expired. He delayed. She waited; she waited. Darkness fell. Remoteness, loneliness grew. She called repeatedly – response lacked. Heavily, she trudged ahead, seeking help.

Lightness somewhere, beyond the trees. Her prayers went heavenward; her feet westward.

Where’s Edward?

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Mr. Conroy, you are Talking Cock!

Keith November 13th, 2008

Talking Cock (v.): A Singaporean term meaning either to talk nonsense or engage in idle banter.
 
- The Coxford Singlish Dictionary

Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of traveling to Singapore on a number of occasions to speak at conferences.  I have greatly enjoyed the experience - both the conferences, and wandering around Singapore as a tourist.  I have met some fantastic people there, and have greatly enjoyed the culture – and the food!

Singapore is a land of contrasts.  It is richly multicultural, with all public signage in four languages.  The population is predominantly Chinese, yet most of the public institutions are as British as they were before independence.  It has earned a reputation as a non-democratic nation, yet the country is alive with art and innovation, and not in the least like a totalitarian state.  I feel safer walking around the streets anywhere in Singapore than I do in some parts of Melbourne.

Some would like to portray Singapore as a place where freedom of speech is suppressed by the government, yet Singapore is now becoming increasingly open. One friend I have made in Singapore is Enrico Varella.  Enrico introduced me to a fantastic local web site – Talking Cock.

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“Using social media” presentation

Keith August 15th, 2008

So, I delivered the workshop today – to three great participants!  The workshop was: Using social media to harness knowledge within an organisation: Addressing the challenges.  We all had a great time, and a good conversation! 

I have now also registered with SlideShare for the first time, and uploaded a (very slightly modified) version of the slide pack.  Not totally happy with the way it has been rendered, but it seems to be fairly readable.  It is also available for download.  Help yourself! And thanks to those who contributed…

Also had a great conversation with Ian Farmer of Bullseye.  Ian pointed me at a few interesting sites:

  • Free web meetings at Dimdim.
  • Social language learning at Livemocha.  This apparently provides two-way language learning – with real people.
  • How to draw maps using your GPS – and lots of other apps – at Fire Eagle.

Also got a good reference from elsua via Twitter for “Twelve Ways to Sell Social Media to Your Boss – Don’t Forget about Yourself!” This may be of particular interest to this morning’s participants!

Enterprise 2.0 – Day 2.0

Keith August 14th, 2008

A good day today.  Met some good people, and all of the presentations were good. 

Great live Second Life demo from Decka Mah (aka Lindy McKeown) to end the day.  She also introduced us to PicLens – a cool Google plug-in for image viewing.  Second Life is definitely a usable environment for learning, but the interface probably has a way to go yet to be really seamless.  One thing to remember – it really works best as a synchronous learning environment – you have to be there at the right time.  One neat application – a virtual city for immersive language learning.

You’ve heard of blended learning?  Well, with Second Life, you can have “mixed reality”.

Some of us got a Twitter commentary going.  See the tweets here – and a couple of rogue ones here.

Chieftech mentioned this site as a good source for info on RSS for the enterprise – he has also blogged about the day.

Lots of other good stuff, but I really need to make sure I am all ready to present my workshop tomorrow.  A few parting thoughts that caught my attention, (somewhat paraphrased) from various presenters today:

  • “So there are photos of me drunk on Facebook.  So what if a prospective employer sees them? If they don’t like it, then I don’t want to work there, anyway!” Continue Reading »

Separated by a common tongue

Keith August 1st, 2008

An earlier post here referred to “Indlish” – a blend of Indian and English. An alternative name that I picked up since is “Hinglish”. 

So which is it?  The score on Google, with links to the top site in each:

  • Hinglish – 104,000 (a Wikipedia reference)
  • Indlish – 2,900 (a link to a book)

 Maybe that tells the story.

The British government’s call for migrants to be able to speak standard English was the topic of a Telegraph article a while ago.  The article defined the following variants of English:

  • Hinglish (Hindi/Punjabi/Urdu-English)
  • Chinglish (Chinese-English)
  • Spanglish (Spanish-English) – also known as Tex-Mex

As stated earlier, this is in addition to Singlish (Singaporean English) and Manglish – Malaysian English. 

The article quotes a report that makes the wise statement that English “… is no longer the preserve of the English, who are ‘just one of many shareholders’ in a global asset”. 

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Bienvenue en Nouvelle Calédonie

Keith July 6th, 2008

Actually just back in Australia now from a few days’ holiday.  Had fun in Nouméa, Ile des Pins, and Phare Amédée, but couldn’t actually log into WordPress from the hotel, as the connection there was via some sort of rather badly behaved VPN.

Enjoyed the time, but some aspects were disappointing.  Mining is treated as more important than tourism in New Caledonia.

It was fun to practice my French again, but ran into an interesting language barrier.  On our second day there, Marilyn was experiencing some pains.  Fortunately turned out to not require any critical attention, but we did spend a few hours at the main hospital in Noumea – Gaston Bourret.

It was easy enough to communicate that there was some pain, using a mixture of my French and their Anglais.  But the problem arose in communicating the type of pain. How do you distinguish between a dull ache and a sharp pain across the language barrier?  A “niggly” pain doesn’t really translate. 

Looking up “pain” in my English-French dictionary was potentially dangerous.  One of the French alternatives offered was a word that I suspect actually means “labour pains”.  An attempt to use this could well have got us onto the wrong track entirely!

Language barriers become fairly obvious in this context, but how often do we have equally misleading communication when we are all speaking the same language?

Where Underpants Come From

Keith June 19th, 2008

Just heard an interesting interview on the radio.  The subject was Joe Bennett, who has recently published a book called: Where Underpants Come From.  You can read more about the book in an article in New Zealand’s Dominion Post

Apparently, Bennett looked at the “Made in China” tag in his new undergarments one day, and decided to find out more.  This led him on a rather strange journey to China, and into Chinese history.

The thing that caught my attention was a story he told of one incident during the journey. 

As I remember the story, he was eating in a small restaurant in a lane-way in a Chinese city.  He was the only tourist in the restaurant, among 30 or 40 Chinese customers. The others in the restaurant fairly quickly noticed his entire lack of ability to eat with chopsticks.  He was “spreading food all over the restaurant, and not eating anything”.  Everyone was very good-natured about it, and some began to laugh at his predicament.  He laughed with them.  One came over and gave him instructions on eating with chopsticks.

By the end of the meal, even though he spoke almost no Chinese, and the other diners little English, they were all laughing and joking together. When he left the restaurant, everyone said goodbye to him.  The waitress even followed him out onto the street to return his tip.

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Lost in translation

Keith April 16th, 2008

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

There has been some discussion on actKM about language translation.  It has been suggested that it is possible to decide that a particular translation can be said to be “correct”, or that one translation can be actually measured and rated as “better” than another. 

The argument has variously referred to single words or whole texts; poetry has also been referred to. 

Is it possible to say that even a precise, simple, factual statement is accurately translated?  Maybe, but I am not convinced.  However, when it comes to translating “knowledge” – any piece of text that is in any way context-dependent, then I must side with David Snowden’s view that “knowledge is closer to poetry than a factual statement.” 

Poetry tends to be strongly context-dependent.  There is no way that a translation of a poem can be judged to be “correct” in any completely objective or absolute way (or thus, by the above argument, knowledge).

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“OUGH” (A fonetic fansy)

Keith March 11th, 2008

The baker man was kneading dough
And whistling softly, sweet and lough.

Yet ever and anon he’d cough
As though his head were coming ough!

“My word!” sad he, “but this is rough;
This flour is simply awful stough!”

He punched and thumped it through and through,
As all good bakers always dough!

“I’d sooner drive,” said he, “a plough
Than be a baker, anyhough!”

Thus spake the baker kneading dough;
But don’t let on I told you sough!

W. T. Goodge (1862-1909)

(Copied from a book of Australian poetry of uncertain vintage.  All spelling as per original.)

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