Category Archives: My posts on other fora/blogs

A certain uncertainty


Grand Union Canal aqueduct near Bradwell, Milt...

Grand Union Canal aqueduct near Milton Keynes

A certain uncertainty

(My entry for the March 2008 My Telegraph Creative Writing Competition)

A certain uncertainty once crept into my head,
Because of what Patrycja said when we were both in bed.
She woke up in the night and placed a hand upon her womb,
Then gently sighed “Oh, Ronnie!” and got up and left the room.

She came back some time later and went back to sleep again,
But, the words she’d spoken, they remained inside my brain.
I could not sleep for worrying what this thing could portend;
“Who is this Ronnie?” was my thought “has Pat found some new friend?”

I never guessed that my dear wife and of our kids the mother
Could want to turn her back on me and go and love another.
I got so worried over it I could not go to sleep.
Well, maybe I got half an hour, but that not very deep.

At breakfast I was calm, as in “the calm before the storm”.
I went to my form-filling job, but I was not on form.
The other workers in the bank, they noticed something wrong,
And one of them, to cheer me up, sang out a merry song.

But this impromptu singing only made me more morose,
For was one of “our songs” that the silly banker chose!
And thus it only caused the queue of customers to lengthen,
While my certain uncertainty it only served to strengthen.

“Who is this Ronnie? Who is he?” to know was now my mission:
I had to know if I was right or wrong in my suspicion.
In all my life I’d never known uncertainty before:
It wasn’t something I’d developed mechanisms for.

And so it was, that sitting there, a-counting clients’ money
That I worked out a cunning plan, a trap to catch my honey:
I’d catch her “in flagrante” with this Ronnie character.
All in love and war and marriage you could say is fair.

So I told Patrycja’s voicemail that I’d spend the night away;
I was going to Milwaukee, is what she heard me say.
I’d never lied to her, for lies and tricks are not my scenes,
And so to keep it true I went and walked to Milton Keynes.

Now, walking up the towpath to Milton Keynes from Tring
By the Grand Union Canal is not a lightsome thing.
So by the time I dragged myself inside of Bletchley Station
My legs were tired, my feet were sore, my back and head were aching.

I went to Tring by train then took a taxi to Ivinghoe
And tiptoed into our dear home via the French window.
But she was sitting there alone, no Ronnie was in sight
“Hello, dear.” were her greeting words, “Vot happen to your flight?”

Now, I had practiced what to say, but all was now forgot
And so I stood there looking dumb and all I said was “What?”
“I fought you vere in States?” she said, in her broad Polish accent.
Well, I was in a state, all right, but not the one that Pat meant.

So I just blurted out “Who’s Ronnie?” and broke down in tears,
Explaining all the reasoning behind my doubts and fears.
But she just laughed her Slavic laugh, she thought it all so funny
“I never said ‘Oh Ronnie’, dear, vot I said vos ‘o rany!’!”

I scanned the bookshelves and took out a volume of my wife’s
And turned to ‘R’ and found the entry there, as large as life:
For “rany!”, terms like “golly!”, “gosh!” and “goodness!” were translations:
All mild expressions of surprise or sudden exclamations.

“But why, then, did you wake at night with your hand on your womb
Then leave our bed and spend some time alone in the bathroom?
What reason for this sudden act, which left me broken-hearted?”
“I voke up in a mess, because my ‘okres’ had just started!”

“I did not fink it vos to happen for anozzer day,
And so I got zis bad surprise, and had to do zat vay.”
“I see it all now, sorry, dear.” I said with great relief
“Zis time I vill forgiff. Next time you doubt, I kick you teef.”

The images of my dear wife with Corbett, Biggs or Barker
Were thus dispersed, and nowadays, they are but cause for laughter
And so it just remains for me to draw the moral warning –
What you can deal with in the night, don’t put it off till morning!

12/3/2008

I quite liked this but I don’t think it was one of the times I got into the top six.

It isn’t autobiographical, the narrator and all the characters in it are just fictitious.

A radical, “gen(i)us” new idea for learning Chinese characters


Chimpanzee head sketch

Monkey with character?

My idea stems from the fact that I always had a facility for learning the Linnean binomials of animals and plants which as you probably know are made up of a genus name, bearing a capital initial letter and then a species name. Sometimes you get a third part, which is subspecies.

For example, chimpanzees and bonobos share the genus Pan, bonobos being Pan paniscus and there are no subspecies, whereas common chimps are Pan troglodytes and there are four subspecies, P.t.troglogytes, P.t.schweinfurthii (North Zaire) and two others.

So my idea was to give each Chinese character a linnaean binomial as a way to drive it home. It might be a way to help people latch mentally onto some of the harder characters. I don’t have ZH font installed on the machine I’m writing on now, so I will just describe it in terms of the “rules” for doing it.

The “genus” name would show the radical of the character, but in Latin. So if you have the hand radical in a character, it would be in the genus “Manus“.  “拍” to beat or clap has the hand radical and the white component, so its Linnean binomial would be Manus albus, the common beat or clap.

You could consider the link ups of two characters in one word as like symbiotic relationships of two living things, its frequency in linguistic use could be acquainted with its rarity or endangeredness, whether it’s in the list also for Korean and Japanese could be the zoogeography, and even the stress could determine what kind of an organism it is. The first tone could be for herbivores, the second for carnivores, as they have to jump up and pounce on often larger prey, the fourth for insectivores, pouncing on the lower prey, and third tone for omnivores.

It just may be a way to learn some of them. I don’t think it’s any crazier than Drs Goodman, Heisig or Hoenig, all of whom are pretty much in the mainstream, so please don’t unfollow or call for the white van just yet!

Otherwise Engaged (Short story by me for Daily Telegraph Creative Writing Competition in 2008)


The "confusion of tongues" by Gustav...

Old Peleg, preaching

 The Lonely Terrorist sat on a riverside bench in a suburb of New York where he had been commanded to undertake the Engagement, nursing the ancient flask containing the next step for human history, which God had given him.

Dr Samuel Otherwise was near the end of a distinguished career in the sort of science journalists don’t get to tell the half of and most they write is wrong.

Samuel had long since given up expecting anyone else to have any understanding of his work such of it that wasn’t classified anyway – or his wider ideas and beliefs. At best anyone would take it as a joke, but having totally alienated his university friends, he became overwhelmed by ennui early in life as to explaining the Plan of God with rational arguments; everyone’s false premises were so deeply engrained he could do nothing. He could not enable them to see things as God sees them, so insistent were they in seeing things as men do, applying human value judgements to everything, even the brightest and best could not place themselves outside the space-time continuum and perceive the mind of God. Read the rest of this entry

A Mediterranean Morning of Misunderstanding (short story in the style of P.G.Wodehouse)


This was another of my entries to the Daily Telegraph Short Story Competition that made it to the Top Six, but didn’t win – I never did. It seems to have been removed maybe on suspicions that P.G. Wodehouse‘s estate might have something to say about me borrowing his characters and putting them to work again 80 years later. But I expect that it will be safe in a readership as small as this blog now is to share it with you, and I’ve been saving it up a bit. As ever there was a limit to the number of words and certain words like Diplodocus and Ginger Beer Plant had to be used in it – there were about five of these words that had to feature somewhere, I can’t remember them all now and My.Telegraph has been through too much of a transformation for me to be able to access that one now. Here goes, enjoy…

I awoke from dreams of performing “Burlington Bertie from Bow” to a packed music hall populated entirely by an audience of Bow Street magistrates of the Sir Watkyn Bassett ilk and kidney – you know, the sort that would fain and gladly hand yours truly down a short sharp sentence of fourteen days inside of one of Her Majesty’s decreed stately pleasure domes, as the fellow said, without the option, to the voice of what at first seemed to be a distant harpy eagle shrieking after its hapless prey, “Bertie! Bertie! Wake up, you cowperian sluggard! It’s already half past ten, you lazy, glassy-eyed nephew of mine, come and get your breakfast before it all goes cold!” Read the rest of this entry

The Goldlist Method and Kanji


Stroke order for the character 言 (word) shown ...

One technique for learning stroke order, this one's called Stendhal Method.

The following is my contribution from yesterday on how-to-learn-any-language.com .

Victor Berrjod wrote in the thread about the Goldlist method over on that excellent forum:

“I’m on my third day of using this method for Japanese, and while I know the meaning of most kanji already, knowing what readings to use is a problem. I have written 3 pages of 25 words each, with the furigana listed right next to the kanji. I realized that I’m sort of writing down 50 words this way. Would it be a better idea to have them separate, and maybe merge them when distilling if necessary?”

Excellent question. I don’t know whether I really answered, but I said how I use the Goldlist when it comes to Japanese and in particular Kanji.

The use of Goldlist for Japanese is not as straightforward as it is for many languages. I’ll tell you how I go about it, and you’ll see if there’s anything in there that can work for you. Read the rest of this entry

The concentrated vs the disconcentrated polyglot


Map showing the distribution of language famil...

Supertribal linguations in geographic space

I posted this on here today, when it seemed a fruitless discussion on what should be a fun activity, a play with words, was turning into the next Punic War, if you’ll pardon the Pun.

There’s more than one way to be a polyglot. Let’s allow the not-strictly-true-but-true-enough assumption that the average word in any linguist‘s portfolio takes the same time to learn, and let’s give a value of one minute to that.

Now, say one polyglot has learned 60,000 words taking 60,000 minutes of his life but these are divided over 60 languages. This Polylot speaks 60 languages with one thousand words in each language.

Another has learned 60,000 words taking 60,000 minutes of his life, but these words are concentrated into 4 languages. He speaks 4 languages with 15,000 words in each language.

Questions:

1. Which of these two polyglots has learned more language?

2. Which is the greater linguist and polyglot?

3. Who has worked harder?

4. Who has the greater achievement?

5. Who has the more impressive achievement?

6. Who gets more utility from his work?

Anyone who can answer these questions, kindly go ahead.
Because I can’t.

Bleak Midwinter in Finland (with apologies to Christina Rossetti)


First published as part of the Daily Telegraph‘s February 2008 Creative Writing Competition. It was one of the six shortlisted out of about 40 entries. As ever I did not get the first prize, but it attracted a lot of positive responses. The reason for the “lizard and gizzard”  was down to the set words you had to include in the piece for the month, which was a continual feature of the contest. This time “lizard” was one of the words. Or possibly “blizzard”. I can’t even remember which ones the other set words were!

The picture which accompanied it is one of my stills from the visit with the image of Christina Rossetti, the authoress of the original Bleak Midwinter Poem, superimposed.

With Apologies to Christina Rosetti

"With apologies to Christina Rosetti..."

1.
In this bleak midwinter,
Frosty winds beat time;
Mirth stands hard as irony,
Slaughter-like the rime.
Crow is eaten, crow on crow
Crow on corpse of crow,
In this bleak midwinter verse,
Made not long ago. Read the rest of this entry

Over-the-counter Counterknowledge and Nogoarrhea


(first published in online Daily Telegraph 12/1/2008)

Browsing through the various word-offerings in this morning’s online Telegraph, I notice that we don’t have a normal virus situation, here; we have a Norovirus. Is this like one of those Nogoviruses that presumably create the Nogoareas that Bishop Nazir-Ali was warning us about during the week? Is it worse or better than a retrovirus, and, if so, will there be a Noro movement in art and music to go with it? In any event, the answer seems to be “over-the-counter” diarrhoea treatments. Just squitting it out and drinking copious amounts of rooibos is no good, it seems.

Hooded crow in Warsaw winter

On to another new word I learned here this morning, “counterknowledge”. It has, I learned, nothing to do with knowing which of the wintersquits remedies is the best buy in terms of ringsting avoided per pound paid, as I was hoping. Instead, it is the latest piece of name-calling the so-called rationalists and skeptics have chosen to smear the targets of their hate, lumping together ludicrous theories with well established faiths such as the Creation of the world in a smug and offensive propaganda buzz word that is nothing more than a dressed-up argumentum ad absurdam. Read the rest of this entry

On the Origin of Speeches


Many people trying to work out an understanding of what languages are, where they come from and where they are going experiment with conlangs or constructed languages. They often try to learn one of the many available, especially on the internet, of which the most “successful” – a relative term here – is the famous construct of Dr L. L. Zamenhof, namely Esperanto, but there are at least a thousand others, each with a handful of speakers or less. Sometimes these experimental linguists try to write their own artificial language, which is a very instructing thing to do. I did write an English based conlang myself once called “fucatok” which, in the alphabet it had, was supposed to be pronounced in a way not far off the modern international English pronunciation of “futuretalk”, but then I realised that a lot of people were calling it “f*ckertalk” and so I called the project off.


The Tower of Babel

I’m in correspondence because of my YouTube activities with one modern-day Zamenhof-style naive idealist, who wants to create from all the languages of today a perfect language that will solve humanities problems. It will not work, as I explained to him, and to see why we need to look at the origin of the many forms of speech we have today, and the reason why things are the way they are. Read the rest of this entry

A thorn in the thide of thpeech?


Someone over on the forum at How-To-Learn-Any-Language had the following query about the thorn, or ‘th’ sound in Germanic and other European language families:

It’s interesting that Gothic had this sound but of the Germanic languages, only English and Icelandic have this now. Greek and Spanish have it also. What’s the connection, and why the other languages haven’t this sound more?

I found this query very interesting so I wrote the following response. Read the rest of this entry

My Daily Telegraph Christmas 2007 Creative Writing Competition Entry


This item was first published in the website of the Daily Telegraph – as I have a space in its blog section. In fact, it’s still there. They are also still doing the creative writing competition which I entered a few times and ended up in the top six out of twenty or thirty entrants about half the times I did it. Including this one, the first one I ever did, back in Christmas 2007, which appealed to the judges although intentionally written in broken English. It addresses the cross-European culture that was emerging in some British firms that had been employing many Polish migrant workers. This is less topical today now that half of them have gone back to Poland and the remainder are more assimilated into British ways by now, but at the time the piece seemed quite topical and people liked it. Read the rest of this entry

The Goldlist Method – Response to Appraisal and Critique by Group of Hardcore Polyglots and Linguists


Here is an article on the goldlist method which I wrote very recently on the How to Learn any Language forum in a thread which was very useful on the whole for the system – some of the top linguists and polyglots you can find on the net are there in that discussion, and they are putting this methiod to the test. Now some of them have already had the most tremendous success learning languages with their own preferred methods and are naturally suspicious of new-fangled approaches like this here Goldlist Method – some of them had criticisms to make, which are addressed below, but among them are plenty of hardcore linguists and polyglots who seem to really like the method. They are the hardest group to please, and you’ll see that despite the dissenting voices there are many who stand up for the method and more people do seem to approve of it than disapprove. And I don’t think I’ll ever have a tougher audience for this. Read the rest of this entry

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