Monthly Archives: February 2011

Secret Life in Lavender (Currently Uploaded Video)


This one shows, to the background of a couple of Thai songs which are highly unlikely to get me done for using music the way that western music is prone to do, some beautiful insects using the lavendar bush next to our holiday cottage. There were bees and hummingbird moths in this film, there were also cabbage white butterflies, hoverflies and other insects on that bush during our week, but nothing as impressive as the hummingbird moth Macroglossa.

Underneath it one evening I also found a toad, which I allowed to remain there undisturbed.

It’s amazing how much life can exist around one bush of lavender.

Airport shocker


Departure hall of Terminal 2 opened in 2006

If'I'd remembered it in this hall before handing in my case, all would have been well...

OK, this one’s hot off the press, as I am writing about something that happened about ten minutes ago, and I’m writing this from one of the machines in the lounge at Prague airport.

A few days ago I gave a lecture about cross-cultural management to students of Susquehanna University in Prague. At the end of the lecture I was given a bottle of fine Moravian wine.

I forgot that I had this bottle in my briefcase, but naturally the detectors as I passed from streetside to airside at Prague found it.

Now clearly they all recognise me as having been through there eighty or so times before, so there’s no terrorism alarm bells ringing, and you can see how they’re in two minds about whether or not just to let me get on with it. But in the end the three of them say no, they have to do things by the book, which mean that the wine is thrown away.

I’m there saying to them, just take it and drink it yourselves, it’s a sin to throw it away. And of course as they know that I’m a regular, they also know that there’s no risk I’m trying to poison them, give them an exploding oesophagus, or anything like that.

It’s not the loss I’m bothered about. I could make that up just by drinking the free wine that’s flowing like milk and honey (there’s milk and honey too, in the fridge) here in the Lounge. It’s a bit early in the day for me, though, and I’m actually not a big fan of alcohol despite what readers of my blogs and viewers of my vlogs may think.

It is a bit sad that it happened to a present. But most of all it’s  pity to see something like that just thrown into a bin and not enjoyed by anybody. When anyone can see there’s no real risk there. It’s just the over-zealous application of a rule book.

That’s the real shock. That’s what’s really saddened me and sent me running to the production corridors of WordPress to get it off my chest.

Top 30 Languages to learn for 2050


Map showing countries and autonomous subdivisi...

The Turkic linguation - to a greater or lesser extent mutually intelligible languages. However often not the preferred business languages of their regions, hence only 12th place in this economic utility-based prediction.

Here are my 2050 predictions, originally shared on http://www.how-to-learn-any-language.com :

1. Chinese (all types)
2. English (all types)
3. Arabic (all dialects)
4. Russian
5. Spanish (all types)
6. Japanese
7. German
8. French
9/10.Portuguese and Korean(if there is Korean unification, Korean takes the higher slot)
11. Italian
12. Turkish and mutually intellible forms of Turkic Read the rest of this entry

Atheist chats with theist. (Some Skype chat from this evening – experimental piece)


Blaise Pascal first explained his wager in Pennsylvania

In my search for new blogging and media techniques, tonight, while chatting to a radio friend Fat Steve and noticing that the chat had become a nice cameo piece, I got his permission as you will see to try the following:

[22:44:09] Fat Steve: Davey, I was reading a thread on Amazon and this guy on there reminded me of you

[22:44:54] David J. James: In what way? Read the rest of this entry

Would you like to get a new inexpensive email software plug-in that tells you who messages sent to you have been BCC’d to?


Screenshot of ALPINE 1.10, showing received ma...

Can this show you the BCC information hidden in the headers on incoming mails?

Call me paranoid if you like, but from time to time I wonder whether emails that have been sent to me might have also been sent to other people using the BCC or “blind carbon copy” function. Maybe it’s just a harmless informing of someone else as to what’s going on, or maybe someone has made a wisecrack that I didn’t notice about me in the text, some private joke about me which has gone whoosh over my head, and he and his mates are all creased up in paroxysms of LOLs and ROFLs and maybe even one or two ROTOFLMFAOs about it.  One can never be too sure.

There are various ways of determining whether an e-mail sent to you has also been surreptitiously sent to another person, but none of them until now involve smart software embedded as a plug in on your e-mail client which “decodes” the headers in a shadow copy of the sender’s .msg file which it calls down from the server.

Until now, one has had to resort to needing a court order and taking it to the sender’s administrator (best done with a lawyer) threatening the sender at gun or knifepoint to tell you or show you (best done without a lawyer) or just to check the sender’s screen when they forget to lock their machine while going to the toilet (best done with a lookout on the corridor). Until now, you haven’t been able to just install a plug-in to a normal e-mail client which enables this function at the click of a button marked “disclose BCC recipients”. Read the rest of this entry

Pool Concert (CUV)


World map that show the status of YouTube in c...

You Tube political acceptance/resistance map

We’re continuing the footage from our 2010 summer holiday, which is only now, six months later, appearing on YouTube – such being the effects of the new “hundred rule” I’ve implemented. At least we have a bit of summer in winter time.

In this video my aunty and uncle appeared from several hours drive further south in France where they live and stayed a few days. Sophie decided to give a bit of a concert in the pool and some feats of swimming.

And here’s the result.

OK, Poll time. You heard some Abba on this, and you could see how it bridges three generations. Now the question:

Question on lexical sufficiency


Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski - the ultimate benchmark in mastery of an acquired language is surely that of having added to its artistic literature?

Reader (and poster) Bill_Sage667 from How-To-Learn-Any-Language.com’s forum wrote me the following question and agreed kindly to a public answer here:

Dunno whether u’ll be able to find the time to reply to this, 1 in a million chance lol……but I’ll write out my questions anyway lol

You said something about 15,000 words needed in order to achieve a good degree level in Russian. Are imperfective and perfective verbs considered separate words, as well as adjectives and verbs under the same lexemes (e.g. беремменость, беремменая, беремменеть, забеременнеть) when you were estimating the number of words?

And what if someday I want to attain the proficiency of an educated native speaker (might take me 20 yrs but oh well)? How many words am I supposed to know (for active and passive knowledge)? For Russian, that is. btw thanks for releasing the Gold List Method to the public for free!

Firstly, Bill, be careful about the number of ‘m’s and ‘n’s you have in those pregancy-related words. You have too many ‘m’s and not enough ‘n’s. I’ll leave you to review that one.

You’re very welcome about the Goldlist. As I say in the section I wrote in syzygycc’s The Polyglot Project, I’m just paying forward the favours I got from so many people when I was a young learner.

In my opinion 15,000 words, as long as they are properly selected, are perfectly adequate and in the headlist you would use all the forms initially as separate forms (but not the various conjugations and case endings, only the so-called ‘dictionary forms’) and you could soon condense them on distillation.

If you use the frequency distionary I am selling on www.oioioio.com you will be able to focus on commoner words first. Within the first 10,000 words you do get words that are already pretty specialised that you wouldn’t use maybe more than once a month or so even if you were a native, and so it continues over the next 5,000 as well. You’ll find 15,000 enough to read the great novels comfortably and to appreciate the poetry of Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva and even Strogonova (the last of which you will find uniquely published in this blog as a ‘page’. She is no poorer a poet than these well-known ones, only far less known.)

I would also like to draw people’s attention to something else I wrote about the 15,000 word ‘marathon’ in a thread over on the HTLAL forum:

What this Gladwell character [I'm referring to upstream discussion of someone who said you must have 10,000 hours of learning to become fully fluent, like a native - a claim almost unanimously rejected by every serious linguist and polyglot I know other than those who teach languages privately, as this idea is grist to their mill] needs to bear in mind is the Pareto rule. If it were true (which I dispute) that you need 10,000 hours to become as native (although how this deals with your accent is anyone’s guess) then you could get 80% of it in 20% of the time. That means you’d need to have 2,000 hours study to get to 80% of native fluency. Since that’s ludicrously overcautios, I’d suggest that the 10,000 hour target for full native fluency is overcautious.

The fact is, a person could be like Konrad Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad) and already writing ground-breaking literature in the language he or she had learned and still have a strong enough accent to provoke politely meant but annoying compliments on the quality of his language by native speakers.

In the end you just have to accept what English speakers accepted for their own language in the main long ago – that as long as it doesn’t hinder comprehension, a foreigner’s accent in English is just as valid as a “native” accent. This is easily accepted by multi-national or mega-regional languages like Spanish, Russian, Chinese, etc, but in places like Poland as there is largely only one way of speaking, the bar is raised for their own language.

So in fact that means that the same n-thousand hours done by an Englishman in Russian could have the Russians noticing very little different about the foreigner, especially if he has a bad haircut. Whereas if he has a really bad haircut and the same n-thousand hours of Czech, the reaction will probably be “he looks like one of us, but our language is difficult and so we must forgive the way he sounds, although obviously we are frank and friendly people so we will tell him to his face at regular intervals that his Czech sucks bigtime.”

Given this subjectivity, I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s linguistic shadow, but simply to set amounts of words as targets. 15,000 words is in language learning, to my mind, what the marathon is in athletics. If you’re fit, you can do it with patience and training. And if you can do it, nobody can say you’re not fit.

There are longer races, there are tougher events. But the marathon is the ‘classic’ and the marathon runner knows that it’s really a competition against yourself and not really against the runners alongside. Even people coming in at six hours are clapped and get a medal. So should language learning be.

If this article is of interest you can look up the article as plenty of people have some interesting stuff to say, both about the 10,000 hours nonsense and the number of words needed. I get into a discussion with “Lingua Frankly” blogger Niall Beag (known as Cainntear) on when the Pareto rule isn’t just a number like 10,000 with no real basis for being a law. There are also those who are ready to stand up for the honour of the number 10,000 and tell the detractors of 10,000 hours to mind their jolly manners. Excellent thread.

I’m going to add more thoughts there today.

Kafkaesque! (CUV)


Kafka, Franz: Der Prozeß. Roman. Berlin: Die S...

He liked hard-back notebooks too, did our Franz.

Here we have, in nice HD coding, a walk around in Prague, showing some of the flavour of the experience of being in the Czech Republic – including this very strange thing that happened to me last Spring.

Here, in the city of Kafka, I was seriously summoned to court without being informed why. Just like Joseph K in ‘Der Prozess‘ or ‘The Trial’ by Kafka. You really couldn’t make it up.

I don’t want to talk about the facts of what the case turned out to be, (especially as one party of it graces some films of mine on YT, which will also be shown here) but to my relief I only actually needed to be a witness. I have no wrongdoing as such on my conscience, but I have been known to sack people, and they get given more rights than I do when it comes to court, even if there’s no earthly justice in it. But this wasn’t even someone I had sacked. Because I didn’t know that, I had to go to the expense of a decent lawyer who naturally deserved to be paid for his appearance despite not in the end having a decisive role. But in the end I didn’t get annoyed about it, as it was something truly Kafkaesque in the city of Kafka which I’ll be able to remember and joke about for the rest of my life.

I also talk a little bit about learning Japanese and the kitsch for sale to tourists in Prague.

I thought I’d spice things up with a poll! Remember this is not the number of cases you’ve seen – you may have been more than once. Count is as number of days you’ve ever had to turn up. Don’t count it if you went along just for entertainment.

We’ve got tonight


  
  
  

Playout date:    26 September 2006
Location:    Home
Other people featured: None
Music used:    Karaoke track of Bob Seger’s “We got tonight”
Languages used:    English
Animals featured:    None

 

 This has not been liked much by viewers, with the result of 5 likes and 26 dislikes after 4200 views. It is certainly far from perfect but I didn’t and don’t have time to make really polished pieces.
  
  One of the problems always in producing versions of songs that some people really like – and I really like the original of this song too, don’t get me wrong – is that you’ll find that people looking for the original on YT will come up against your cover and of course if they get that one before they get the one they remember, they’ll be frustrated and press the dislike button.
  
  On top of that they might write some disparaging comments such as the few I got here. Some were positive because one or two liked the way I made a  comedy ending.

A Question about the Russian Future by Shannon


Н.К.Рерих "Земля Славянская". 1943. ...

Н.К.Рерих "Земля Славянская". 1943. (Wikipedia)

One viewer on the youtube channel, a lady called Shannon, wrote to me the following question:

Hello,

Could you please tell me the English equivalent for the Russian simple and compound future tense.

I think I’ve understood both past tenses, but the future tense is something I’m still struggling to get my head around.

Regards,
Shannon

The problem is that they are not really tenses, they are aspects of a single future tense.

Now in English we have aspects, but we don’t always use a verb to show the aspects, sometimes we use other words in the sentence.

Let’s take the example of “yest’/s’yest”. If I say in Russian “Ya s’yem ves’ …” then the expected word afterwards might be “tort” – I will eat the whole cake.

If a Russian says “Ya budu yest’ ves’…” then the rest of the sentence that suggests itself is “den’ ” – I will eat all day.

In this case in English if you can replace “eat” with “eat up” then you know that it’s a perfective aspect. In English it’s not incorrect to say “I will eat the whole cake”, or you can also stress the perfective nature of that action (although it won’t have a very perfecting effect on the figure) by saying “I will eat the cake up”.

Contrast that with the second sentence. “I will eat all day”. You can’t say “I will eat up all day”, it becomes meaningless. You can, of course say something like “All day long tomorrow, I’ll be eating up my fussy children’s left-overs” – in Russian this repetitive future performance of a perfective action would call for bringing in the iterative suffix. “Budu doyedyvat’ “sounds a little clumsy but would give that kind of meaning. The “yv” part of that verb being the iterative suffix.

So in the case of a sentence where in English we could use a simple verb or a phrasal verb, especially a phrasal verb where the sense involves finishing something (eat up, do in, beat up, bring in, etc) we can get a good idea of whether to use a perfective or imperfective future aspect in Russian by asking us where the phrasal verb is just as good if not better than the simple verb, as in the above “eat the cake up”

What about cases where you don’t have a phrasal verb indicating completion to hand? Well, sometimes there are aspectival pairs in English that we don’t even realise are aspectival pairs because this is almost subliminal in our language and not explicit as in Slavonic. So I could give you two sentences:

1. I will fish all day tomorrow

2. I will catch many fish tomorrow.

Which is future imperfective? That’s right, the first. Budu lovit ryby ves’ den’ zavtra. The second is perfective. Tomorrow I will not just fish I will catch many fish. Poymu mnogo ryb, zavtra.

how about this one:

1. He will speak to me about the changes this afternoon.

2. He will tell me about the changes this afternoon.

In which of these am I expressing subliminally that I’m not necessarily expecting complete information? That’s right, the first. In the second, I expect the transmission of complete facts, not just blah-blah. So speak and tell are an aspectival pair.

And sure enough, you find the same in govorit’/skazat’ in Russian. You never hear “on budet skazat” – the closest is if you make it iterative “on budet skazyvat mne raznye veshchi” He will be telling me various things. He will, in other word, repeatedly perform the perfective action of transferring orally various complete pieces of information. He will speak to me about the changes – on budet govorit’ so mnoy o peremenakh means that I’m focussing menatlly on the fact that he is going through the motions of informing me, regardless of whether any actual units of meaningful information, any ‘whole story’ is transferred to me in the process. “On skazhet mne o peremenakh posle obeda” on the other hand means that I’m expecting to hear the whole caboodle from him after lunch.

One of the best ways to understand this is by looking at what we mean in English when we differentiate “until” and “by”. Most languages have a single word for this pair, and in Slavic it’s aspect which gives away which one is needed. Russians and Poles say “do”, German’s have “bis”, but we have two words and we can’t understand why foreigners are always muddling up “until” and “by”.

So you’ll hear Slavs saying “I need you to write the report until Thursday”. At this, you might say “what happens after that, then, does someone else take over?” This sentence in English contains no markers that getting it done before then is required – on the contrary the marker in “until” rather means just keep on going up to a certain time point, and finishing doesn’t enter into it.

So Thursday comes and you are asked for the report, and you hand in a huge 100 page opus and immediately the boss asks “Where’s the Executive Summary?” And so you say “There’s no Executive Summary – how can there be one if the report isn’t finished?” “But I asked you to write the report until Thursday!” “I did! I was writing it all the time, only taking short breaks for food and sleep. That’s why the thing is 100 pages long. but you didn’t tell me it had to be done BY Thursday!”

The boss doesn’t understand this, as to him “until” and “by” are synonyms and not markers of aspect, and promptly sacks the Employee for over-correct use of English.

So you can see from this example that if he had really meant “until”, in Russian he would have used a future imperfective. “Budete pisat’ …” For the meaning “by” he would have used a Russian future perfective “Napishite”.

I hope that helps you get a grip on the idea. If it has, then that is a milestone on your journey towards knowing Russian.

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