Answer to the question “How many languages can I learn in a lifetime”?


This is all a question of how you define things.

Firstly the problem is defining languages. Do you define them so that Serbo-Croat is still one language or six, for example? Is Malay and Indonesia a separate language? What about the languages of India, and Africa, where there are many mutually partly intelligible languages. Is Flemish and Dutch one language or two in the way you are defining it? In my opinion it is better to define these broadly and cut it down to a smaller number of claimed languages. After all, where do you stop? Maybe American and British English could be claimed as two – I heard some people try that, ridiculous though it is.

Secondly, there is the problem of desired fluency. A person who only needs to say certain fixed sentences, like a street seller or a receptionist, can say what they know with fluency, but they are not able to synthesis accurate language. Others can do so, but not in speaking as they never mastered it. I tend to go on passive vocabulary learned and put 10,000 as a very reasonable target for learning a language.

Thirdly, you need to define “lifetime”. You don’t know yet how long you will live, nor whether you will still be so keen on learning languages if it is to the detriment of learning other useful things. The day may come – and does to many a polyglot (this is why most of the older polyglots you meet are people who leave it and come back to it – or old people who used to be polyglots but have not studied actively for a long time) where you say “instead of learning Javanese, I think it’s time to learn Java”.

If a person uses optimal methods and gives 400 hours to each language, then if they study for 40 years at 20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, they’ll have given 400 hours each to 100 languages. With good methods, that should mean the ability to demonstrate reasonable proficiency at least in the reading of those 100 languages. One might choose to spend the same time doing 4,000 hours each to only 10 languages, and show a high degree of fluency in just those ten languages. One might also go down the performing seal route and do 40 hours on a thousand languages just in order to be able to recognise maybe a thousand words and in some cases read or write very basic words in those 1,000 languages. Here one of your biggest problems is going to be materials. Which ever way you cut it, 40,000 hours of study is a large achievement, and it is really up to whether the learner has more utility for what he or she wants from their study whether to be more academic on a smaller number or more hobbyist on a larger number.

My answer to a question on Quora “Is there any defensible reason to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God?”


When you say “defensible”, if you mean by that something that can be answered for, then all faith is to a degree defensible as faith is its own defence. If you mean empirically proveable, as in something I can test by experiment, then the case is not strong. You get all kinds of arguments about how could Moses have known this or that, but in the end it comes down to what Jesus said “My sheep hear My voice”.

God has made a world in which in some places you might see ten thousand penguins on a beach but the right mother hears the voice of its own chick and the chick recognises its own mother. When you have read the Bible and heard in it the voice of God to your heart, then this is a stronger case for inspiration than worrying about how to understand this verse if it seems to contradict that verse, etc etc. The way that God speaks to YOU in the prayerful reading of the Bible, this is God’s word to you. In order to get a balanced view it is a good idea to read the whole Bible, which creates a complete and internally congruous view of the development of the idea of salvation, from the law given to one nation, via prophets, judges, then kings, and the continual failure of people to keep a law that reflected the holiness of God, if only at times symbolically, through to an actual physical incursion of the Creator into His own creation, becoming one of us, and then sacrificing Himself to pay the ransome for our sins, enable an exit route from sin into atonement, resurrection and eternal life. This is the message that the Bible has and it is not the message of any other book other than books based on it.

If this be the meaning of life – and I find no better meaning anywhere on Earth in anything else, and all other explanations of what this life is for do not ring true to me – then the place this is revealed is in Scripture and I believe and defend that the Bible is therefore the inspired word of God, authorative, and containing sufficient for me to know so that I can believe the essentials needed to believe in order to find myself covered by the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ.

Reposted my answer on Quora to the question “Is it practical to learn to speak Japanese without writing it?”


It is certainly more practical to learn speech without writing in Japanese than it is in, say, Latin or ancient Greek. It’s a bit of an onus getting anyone to chat to you in Latin these days as in vocal chatting using the mouth rather than a keyboard, whereas writing is a breeze as they’ve got the American alphabet. If you can say it, you can write it.

Japanese can be written in Romaji (literally “Roman letters” but of course they mean American ones, really). For Russians there is also a version of Rosjiaji which is commonly seen in sushi restaurant signs and menues in Moscow. You get the Japanese in cyrillics but they write “si” for “shi” and “va” for “wa”, which is a bit annoying. There are much more annoying things than that in Moscow, though. Just try and buy a burial plot and you’ll know what I mean. For Hebrew letter transliteration, they even have Jumanji, named in honour of the comedian Robin Williams.

So a good idea is to take Japanese in four or five stages, firstly do a bit with audio only using like a Pimsleur course and then do the grammar all through one time just with transliterated writing in your own alphabet. Then the second pass is to do that whole thing over once again but with the Japanese writing hiragana instead of Roumaji, Jumanji, etc, and then the third is to introduce katakana where it is appropriate. The final stage is to bring in the actually Kanji – so-called because you need a real can-do mentality to get through them. These are the Chinese symbols which refer to whole words but unlike in Chinese they may have one, two, or multiple readings or even be part of special “ateji” constructions (so-called because you probably won’t believe this) where the usual readings have nothing to do with how it gets pronounced in one particular special combination with another symbol.

Even speaking Japanese and using Romaji only is not exactly a keiki-wouku – you have plenty of complexity such as the fact that men and women use different words and different syntax, there are potentative verbs, verbal pairs for transitive and intransitives and the forms are not generally predictable or even memorable, there are benefactive verbs that describe the direction of benefit that practically need to be paraphrased when translated into other languages, and there is Keigo, or polite language, which is made up of using verbs and nouns which elevate the other person and his or her circle which being humble about one’s own uchi set, ie. one’s person, one’s own belongings and one’s family or team. You can of course learn Japanese at a level where the nuances of polite language are ignored and you just use -masu forms to everyone, but in certain company that is just going to make you sound like a fairy.

Given that real mastery of Japanese even at a spoken level only is such a tricky business, one may as well do the extra work and not go to the trouble of learning a challenging language but still looking like a functional illiterate. There is more fascination in the Kanji, which have a long history often better prerved in the Japanese forms than in the revised forms used in China today. Learning the Kanji gives you a unique jump off point into learning one or more of the Chinese languages.

Private Aye-aye style?


 Ksukol ocasatý (Daubentonia madagascariensis)salmond_3031151b

 

One of them is a primitive primate from a little visited location which brandishes an extended third finger to the world, as it peers out of bulbous yellow eyes and the other is the Aye aye. So are Daubentonia madagascariensis and the leader of the Scottish Nationalists in any way related? I think we should be told.

Poll – How did you vote in 1975?


Regular readers of this blog will, I hope, excuse me for canvassing the opinions of people over the age of 59 and just from the UK, but this is a little piece of research just to guage an idea I had. I will not say what the idea is now but I will later, I just don’t want to colour the results. Please share this with as many people 59 or over from the UK as you can.

Thanks for taking part with an honest answer and please let as many people who had the chance to vote in that Referendum know, then the results will be meaningful.

As far as I know there is no way for your answer to be identified with you unless you comment, which you are welcome as always to do. Certainly I can’t do it, so please answer with confidence.

The difference between tense and aspect, in a nutshell.


This morning I received a question about how the present perfect tense works in English:

Is the following sentence correct in terms of grammar ‘Yet ongoing political stabilization has been beneficial for further political and legal development of the country’? I am a little bit embarrassed by the use of present perfect tense for the event which has not been completed yet but is progressing, so it is impossible so far to predict for sure an outcome of it.

Here is my reply.

The “has been” refers not to the state of completion of the stabilization, nor even that the benefits are already palpable and therefore contain some complete benefits. The use of this tense is predicated by the fact that we are still in the time period the writer has in mind. It does not really equate to perfective aspect, but to cut-off or periodization of times.

This is the difference between tense and aspect, in a nutshell.
Read the rest of this entry

The best way to achieve transparency


Now that the World Cup has kicked off in Brazil, football is in the air all over the world, and with it, our minds are distracted from the hum-drum routine of ordinary life into the never-failing topic of corruption.

Once again there is investigation into corruption and even money laundering in football in various parts of the world. Today someone commented that football is the fifth largest channel of illegal money in the world. I do not know how they know that or where that ranking is made or how it was made, but it certainly seems to underline the conception that sport is not always healthy, also underlined this week by comedy icon Rik Mayall collapsing and dying of a heart attack after a run. I thought people ran to avoid heart attacks, not bring them on? And here he is, only six years my senior and, unlike me, in perfectly reasonable shape. I think I shall stick to walking.

Yesterday Polish media announced an investigation into the finances of former President Kwasniewski – apparently he also seems to be “considerably richer than yow” as either Shakespeare or Harry Enfield put it, I can’t remember which – they would like to know whence the abundance that hath become his portion is come.

This made me think that there should be an investigation made not only at the close of a person who holds public office but also at the beginning – an audit of their personal wealth and that of their families. Doing one at the beginning tells people to mind their Ps and Qs while serving the people on public money. This also avoids the chance that they can say that they had these investments all along.

There should be a standard work programme approved by the public affairs committee and the national chamber of auditors, or chambers where as in the UK there is more than one. The statement of personal wealth should be drawn up and signed off by the auditor stating what kinds of investigations they made in order to produce this statement and if anything in the list of procedures was not possible to do then their report should state so and give the reasons. The work would be carried out by people who have audit licences who have been screened for political neutrality, and the choice of Firm should be agreed by the public affairs committee.

The report should be held by a politically independent committee and compared to the one made after the person comes to the end of his or her office and then again 5 years later. Accumulations of wealth should be reconciled to declared sources.

All bank accounts of these public figures should be declared and unusually large expenditures or outgoing gifts should also be investigated as well as the ‘as at’ financial position. It should be an offence for a person who falls under the law to own a bank account anywhere in the world which is not declared to the auditor.

This should apply first to the heads of state. Royalty who did not choose to have their role and simply are born into it should be exempt, although they might opt in voluntarily in some countries. After the heads of state then through the cabinet, all MPs, all senior civil servants, judges, and members of committees and panels whose work determines the expenditure of public monies. Including the panels of bit sporting events who determine who is going to host football or other sporting tournaments and how the money that pours into them is going to be spent.

If this became law around the world in all the different jurisdictions that there are, we might finally get to a situation where decisions are in the hands of people who are basically honest or at least have no motivation to give vent to their dishonest tendencies.

Enjoy the games.

 

 

 

 

Planned Childhood


This came to me on the plane the other day. It is not really a sonnet as they are supposed to be iambic pentameter, and this is iambic quadrameter, but a verse is a verse for better or worse. See if you like it.

 

To sing a new song to the Lord

And yet include there no strange fire

To take up psaltery and lyre

And sing according to His Word

 

How can the song be new, and yet

Stay in the range that God commands?

Right ways to praise and worship’s bounds,

These God within His Word has set.

 

The Gospel is the song that’s new

New from the cross and empty tomb

This song is new yet ancient too

Planned ere a child had breached a womb.

 

We are the children planned to be

God’s own, a people He set free.

 

Oh yes you were!

Oh yes you were!

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