Does your language control you? Lingering questions.

See below for discussion of the following questions related to my recent Funzing talk on language:

  • How do people like the Hopi whose language does not have words for left and right keep track of the cardinal directions?
  • The Hopi have a less egocentric idea of the locations of things. Does that correlate with a less egocentric kind of worldview or ethics?
  • Since language has a biological basis, doesn’t that mean that linguistic relativity is a myth?
  • What’s the difference between studying a language and using it?
  • How does using sign language differ from using a spoken language?
  • How do memes (macro images), smileys (aka emoticons or emojis), text-speak and other digital innovations relate to more traditional forms of communication?
  • Why might reading something in two different languages produce two different impressions?
  • Do there exist languages (like a fictitious Star Trek alien one) that are extremely difficult or impossible to translate because they rely noticeably more on metaphors and allusions?
  • What are some other properties of language that might make one language appear strange compared to another?

Continue reading Does your language control you? Lingering questions.

Public talk 7 August 2018: Does your language control you?

I am excited to be giving a public talk on language for Funzing Singapore next month. Hope to see you there!


Does your language influence—or even control—your very thoughts? Join us for a scintillating night as we delve deep into the spookier aspects of language. You’ll never think about language the same way again…

In this talk we’ll look at how much we rely on our language to frame our understanding of the world. You’ll be surprised to see how different languages choose to express or emphasise seemingly basic aspects of experience like gender, direction and colour!

Some languages, including Classical Chinese, lack separate words for ‘blue’ and ‘green’. Meanwhile, Eskimos are said to have dozens of words for snow. What do we make of these oddities?

Do differences in our words reflect differences in thought? In other words, do speakers of Chinese view the world differently from speakers of English, Malay, Tamil, and other languages of the world—or do we all talk differently but think somewhat the same?

What would happen if people purposely changed the language we use? Would they be able to improve or impair our thinking as in the film Arrival or the novel 1984? Examining insights from research on ‘linguistic relativity’ and examples from literature and popular culture, we’ll uncover just how much our words affect our lives!


Venue
Distrii (a co-working space at 9 Raffles Place, Republic Plaza, 048619)

Date / Time
Tuesday 7th August, 7 p.m. (Talk starts at 7.30 p.m.)

Tickets
Available online for $9 (or use your Funzing Unlimited Pass)
No tickets will be sold at the door.

Handful of books from Book Treasure

Got these at Book Treasure at Parklane Shopping Centre:

  • Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation by Cherian George
  • Success with Asian Names by Fiona Swee-Lin Price
  • Book of Humour, assembled by Rewa Mirpuri
  • Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami
  • Singapore Siu Dai by Felix Cheong, illustrated by Pman
  • Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2 by Catherine Lim

Ant-man and the Wasp (2018)

Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, says the functions of a good website are neither explained nor self-explanatory, they are self-evident.

In Ant-man and the Wasp, the sequences filled with exposition are excruciating because in them, the fake science is explained.

I felt a bit better when the fake science was lampshaded: “Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” (My thought exactly!)

I felt even better during the action sequences, when the effects of the fake science were delightfully self-evident.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/ant-man-and-the-wasp/id1400637562

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Ant-man and the Wasp (2018)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Being neither a young male Irish Catholic nor an English major and at least one even slightly acclaimed novel short of an artist, I felt lost slogging through this “more approachable” work of Joyce’s.

In praise of what I find to be an impenetrable text, Shmoop says:

This novel, the first in Joyce’s whopping hat-trick of great novels, is both shorter and more approachable than either of Joyce’s later masterpieces (for which we humbly thank him). Portrait of the Artist really unleashed the massive power of Joyce’s innovation and unconventionality upon the literary world.

Why I found A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man hard to read

Fiction has character, setting, plot, and style. When any one of these four elements is developed at the expense of the other three, you get strange fiction. Sometimes it’s good strange and sometime it’s bad strange. Joyce’s fiction is primarily characterized by style—innovative and unconventional style. The literary world considers Joyce’s fiction good strange. For me, A Portrait of the Artist was bad strange.

I’m more of a nineteenth-century Realist than a twentieth-century Modernist or Post-modernist. I don’t like unreliable narrators, stream-of-consciousness narration, or magical realism. Joyce is known for free indirect speech, which is a kind of stream-of-consciousness narration.

The edition I read in high school had an introduction and notes built in, but many free and “thrift” editions, like the one I just finished reading, do not. It would have been better (though slower) to read the novel alongside some kind of notes (e.g., CliffsNotes or SparkNotes).

See below for what stuck out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Your English teacher was so wrong when she said “i before e, except after c or when sounding like ay as in neighbor and weigh”. She obviously wasn’t counting on the feisty female heist in Ocean’s 8.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/oceans-8/id1390225970

I was worried there would be annoying, unsubtle feminist messaging throughout, but there was only one scene where characters talked about men per se. Thank goodness someone realized there’d be no point in making a movie about a bunch of female thieves only to have them talk about men the whole time.

Clearly the writing and/or casting was done with diversity in mind: there is a black character, an Indian character (played by an actress I now recognize from A Wrinkle in Time), and an Asian character in addition to the several Caucasians, one of whom sounds Irish and one of whom speaks German in several scenes. Although Ocean’s 8 is a much higher-quality production, I’m reminded of the awkward parody Superfast! which gave its ensemble’s token characters the literal names “Rapper Cameo”, “Model Turned Actress” and “Cool Asian Guy”.

The movie had two problems, neither of which I was expecting.

One problem was that the protagonist is introduced as a skilled shoplifter. An elaborate plan to steal millions of dollars’ worth of jewels is something I don’t have a problem with, since it’s obviously fantasy. Shoplifting is, however, both real and problematic. I don’t admire people who shoplift in real life, so I don’t really want to be encouraged to admire a shoplifter on screen. I mean, yes, the character comes across as clever, but… I don’t know. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

When giving her team a pep talk, Debbie says something along the lines of “Let’s not do this for us. Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a criminal. Let’s do this for her.” Maybe that was funnier than the shoplifting, but… crime is bad, y’all!

The other problem was that although the caper was exciting, and there were lots of gratifying chuckles, there didn’t ever seem to be any serious obstacles. There were little stumbling blocks along the way, but each one was overcome after a moment of panic too brief to allow the tension to build.

See below for a list of reviews as well as a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Exit West by Moshin Hamid

Exit West reminds me of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth in that people suddenly discover a game-changing method of moving from place to place. It also reminds me of Christopher Manson’s puzzle book Maze because of the mysterious doors.

Rumors had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumors to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.

I love the premise, the penetrating insight, and the deadpan style. See below for what stood out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading Exit West by Moshin Hamid