An article of ten … Not!

Monty_python_footIt’s interesting, is it not, to consider how many ways the English language has developed for saying that something is not something else.  Now it seems  that to get anywhere these days an article has to have a list of ten items in it. Let’s see if I get much of a readership by jumping on that bandwagon…

1. !=, ≠
In mathematical notation, we have for instance  !=  or if someone wants to go to the trouble of finding the classical symbol ≠ (Unicode numer 2260) then they have a very elegant way of noting “is not equal to” in a mathematical or logical sense.

2. In-, im-, un-

Then we have the classic prefixes, which encapsulate the diglossia in English: un- prefixes grace Germanic roots in the main and in- or im- go with the Latin or French roots (the latter if the root begins with b, p, or m but for some reason not the other labials f and v) However, the cut-off is not strict, because in- can refer to something going into something also. So “information” does not mean a lack of formation – to get back to that idea you can non- or borrow un- from the Germanic stock for it, so for example you could comment that you found this whole article “uninformative”.

3. Dys-, dis-

Or there is disinformation. This dis- is an additional Latin based prefix showing that something has gone off in all directions, or in a wrong direction, with a more common version of that being dys- from Greek, which isn’t fussy about attaching to Latin roots either, so that you get dysfunctional people … Read the rest of this entry

Joke worth passing on – found on

You wanna know why Indian Students are disliked abroad?? read on…..It was the first day of a school in USA and a new Indian student named Chandrasekhar Subramanian entered the fourth grade.

The teacher said, “Let’s begin by reviewing some American History. Who said ‘Give me Liberty , or give me Death’?”

She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Chandrasekhar, who had his hand up:?’Patrick Henry, 1775’he said.

‘Very good! Who said ‘Government of the People, by the People, for the People, shall not perish from the Earth?”

Again, no response except from Chandrasekhar. ‘Abraham Lincoln, 1863′ said Chandrasekhar.

The teacher snapped at the class, ‘Class, you should be ashamed. Chandrasekhar, who is new to our country, knows more about our history than you do.’

She heard a loud whisper: ‘F ___ the Indians,’

‘Who said that?’ she demanded. Chandrasekhar put his hand up. ‘General Custer, 1862.’

At that point, a student in the back said, ‘I’m gonna puke.’

The teacher glares around and asks ‘All right! Now, who said that?’ Again, Chandrasekhar says, ‘George Bush to the Japanese Prime Minister, 1991.’

Now furious, another student yells, ‘Oh yeah? Suck this!’

Chandrasekhar jumps out of his chair waving his hand and shouts to the teacher, ‘Bill Clinton, to Monica Lewinsky,1997′

Now with almost mob hysteria someone said ‘You little shit. If you say anything else, I’ll kill you.’ Chandrasekhar frantically yells at the top of his voice, ‘ Michael Jackson to the child witnesses testifying against him, 2004.’

The teacher fainted. And as the class gathered around the teacher on the floor, someone said, ‘Oh shit, we’re screwed!’ And Chandrasekhar said quietly, ‘I think it was Lehmann Brothers, November 4th, 2008′.

Ode to a Lazy Subordinate

(I don’t really mean this, it’s just a humorous poem, which I wrote ten years ago, and just came across it going through old papers…)

If you were a daphnia,
A hydra or a snail,
You’d be more scared of a clown loach
Than of a killer whale.

Small things bother the little ones
Great things bother the great
So don’t come at me with your issues
Trying to upwardly delegate.

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 38,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,866 other followers

%d bloggers like this: