Text illusion

A funny thing happened when I was reading this book.

The Story of My Experiments with Truth
The Story of My Experiments with Truth, the autobiography of Gandhi

What does this heading say?

XVII. COMPANIONS

I somehow read that as EVIL COMPANIONS. Because the ‘X’ looks like an ‘E’ and the period next to the ‘I’ makes the ‘I’ look like an ‘L’.

One reason why I think I was so ready to read ‘I.’ as an ‘L’ is that the print quality of the whole book was not so good, and letters or parts of letters were often missing. My eyes had gotten used to filling in ‘missing’ parts, and filled in an ‘L’ where there actually wasn’t one.

Reminds me of the time I misread ‘China Unicom’ as ‘China Unicorn’ early on when I was working for China Knowledge.

There’s a word for what happens when letters are too close together. Letter spacing is called ‘kerning’. Bad letter spacing is jokingly called ‘keming’.

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

Life and Death in Shanghai is an amazing book about an amazing woman. The tone in which she tells her own story is deadpan, but the events are extremely dramatic. If you’ve never read about the Cultural Revolution, it’s eye-opening.

Some of my memories of the book are:

  • how Nien Cheng’s private home was turned into living quarters for several families, and regular household routines were disrupted by food rationing;
  • how when destructive Red Guards came knocking, Nien Cheng tried to preserve, and in only some cases succeeded in preserving, some antiques she had in her house, by relinquishing them to be stored in government museums;
  • and how after she was arrested, she had to live in a freezing concrete cell, where her food was insufficient and her clothing was insufficiently warm, yet she maintained exquisite poise and self-assurance.

A few passages from the book are reproduced below.

Continue reading Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

Books on Singapore English

I’ve been collecting observations of my own about the features of English here in Singapore, but others have published books on the subject (some more serious than others).

I have these four books. They are all a bit silly.

  • English as it is Broken
    Panpac (2007) ISBN: 9789812730497
  • English as it is Broken 2
    Panpac (2008) ISBN: 9789812802859
  • The Coxford Singlish Dictionary
    Angsana (2009) ISBN: 9789814193689
  • An Essential Guide to Singlish
    Samantha Hanna (2003) ISBN: 9789810467081

I would like to have some books written more for linguistic purposes than for mere entertainment.

  • Singapore English: Structure, Variation, and Usage
    by Jakob R. E. Leimgruber (2013) ISBN: 9781107027305
  • Singapore English: A Grammatical Description
    edited by Lisa Lim (2004) ISBN: 9781588115768
  • English in Singapore: Modernity and Management (Asian Englishes Today)
     edited by Lisa Lim (2010) ISBN: 9789888028436

Why Johnny Can’t Read

Why Johnny Can’t Read is a rant, but the rant is justified if the ‘whole-word’ method was as dominant as the author, Rudolf Flesch, claims.

How infuriating that someone assumed, and led a whole country to assume, that because adult readers take in whole words in a glimpse when reading that that was how reading should be taught to children, rather than by sounding out the letters and letter combinations.

Flesch proposes that parents teach their kids at home using a phonetic system very much like the one I’m teaching now.

Déjà vu

A few weeks ago I was looking for a book on my language shelves. I noticed a book called A Study of Writing by I. J. Gelb. Separated from it by two or three books was another book (of a slightly different age and color, but identical size) called A Study of Writing by I. J. Gelb.

I had never before noticed that there were two copies of that book, not even when I arranged the language book shelves roughly by topic.

My immediate response was to remove the older copy. And to then insert it next to its duplicate on the shelf.

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

I enjoyed The Rational Optimist. Pessimism is more attention-getting than optimism, but sometimes we need calm, happy stuff.

No charity ever raised money for its cause by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page by telling his editor that he wanted to write a story about how disaster was now less likely. Good news is no news. (295)

Ridley is a welcome candle in the dark. Hear more about what he has to say below.

Continue reading The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley