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.

Mobile Phone Protective Case

After I bought a Samsung S7 from a friend, I immediately bought a rubbery (thermoplastic polyurethane) case for it at the nearest mobile phone accessory kiosk. (Throw a rock in any direction in downtown Singapore and you’ll hit ten such kiosks.)

The text on the package is hilarious…

Continue reading Mobile Phone Protective Case

Please push your bicycle across the underpass

This is a grammar post. I think the sign should say:

Please push your bicycle through the underpass.

I would use “through” because an underpass is basically a tunnel.

The light is in the tunnel, not at the end of the tunnel.

Not that prepositions necessarily make any sense, but in my experience, we say you go across things that you are on and we say you go through things you are in.

Thus, if the sign were talking about a bridge, then it could say:

Please push your bicycle across the bridge.

Health chopsticks cage

I think I would call this very useful, well-made thingy a plastic cutlery basket, not a health chopsticks cage.

Health
The word “health” is not typically used as an adjective, except to describe a few very abstract things like insurance. The adjective “healthy” is typically used to describe things you eat, drink, or do that are beneficial to your health, and would be just as inappropriate, though probably funnier. I do not think the product name needs a word corresponding to “sanitary” or “hygienic” because those words connote disposable things or substances whose purpose is to clean the body or disinfect something.

Chopsticks
To my ears it always sounds strange to use plural nouns as adjectives.

Cage
A “cage” is totally enclosed, and usually has something alive inside, whereas this thing is open on the top.

Altogether!
便万家 (biànwànjiā) means “convenient 10,000 home”
生活 (pǐnwèi shēnghuó) means “quality life”
餐具收纳 (cānjù shōunà) means “tableware hold[er]”
卫生筷子笼 (wèishēng kuàizi lóng) means “hygienic chopstick container”

MADE IN CHINA
at Taizhoucity Huangyan Area Xidelai Plastics Factory

Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

This blue book, Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames is a real treasure. I was ecstatic when I found it. When I was browsing in a used book shop in Melbourne, I found it on a shelf labeled “Books on Books”, but I’m not sure that’s where it belongs—or where it possibly could belong, for that matter! The whole volume is an esoteric joke aimed at native speakers of English who have studied French.

The book purports to be the publication of a mysterious manuscript of French poems the author discovered. He has annotated the poems in English with deadpan comments on the meanings of the French words.

In fact, as the author knows full well, the poems are more or less nonsense when translated from French, but if you pronounce them in French, they sound like a French speaker reciting Mother Goose rhymes! Case in point: The title of the volume, if you read it in a French accent, sounds like “Mother Goose Rhymes”.

Intrigued? There is a wonderful rabbit-hole of related phenomena you can happily fall into if you click the Wikipedia page for Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames.

If you are a social person and you want to have fun with this kind of language trick using just English, try the game Mad Gab.

Example cards from the game:

sea grit dress up ease = secret recipes
ice mail ask hunk = I smell a skunk
canoe key pace he gret = can you keep a secret
sand tack laws = Santa Claus
thigh sing gone thick ache = the icing on the cake

If you’re an introverted student of French and you want to experience the joy of deciphering Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames all by yourself, there are used copies of various editions of the book available through Amazon and Abebooks. You can’t have mine.

My 12th-grade French teacher used to write these “French poems” in a corner of the whiteboard to challenge us. I specifically remember “Little Miss Moffat”. Years later, feeling nostalgic, I looked online for a copy of a book they came from, but buying a copy of the out-of-print volume looked like it was going to be expensive, so I shelved that ambition. In 2009, HarperCollins reissued the work, but—tragically!—it went out of print again before I even noticed. To stumble across it by accident was a fantastic stroke of luck, especially given the price (AU$7) and condition (fantastic).

Maybe you already have the book, and you’ve tried to match the “French poems” to Mother Goose Rhymes, and you’re stumped. After all, the author is quite coy. Though he credits Mother Goose in the bibliography at the end of the book, he never clearly says that the poems are actually English Mother Goose rhymes, so of course he doesn’t list the answers; you are supposed to work them out yourself. If, however, you are fed up with trying to work them out yourself, and you’re here looking for the answers, then you, too have had a stroke of luck. I’ve worked them out for you.

See the answer key below for a list of the names of the 40 nursery rhymes disguised in Mots D’Heures: Gousses Rames.

Continue reading Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

Harry Potter in Russian

This copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Russian (ISBN 9785389077881) was a gift from Ilya Sergey (a colleague of my husband who does theoretical computery things) and his wife Lilia Anisimova (an illustrator who does computery things of an entirely different kind).

It is the latest addition to my collection of translations of Harry Potter books, which consists mostly of translations of book 3, but also includes some translations of book 1.

The title page of the Russian translation looks like this:

The text inside looks like this:

It’s incomprehensible and unpronounceable yet blessedly phonetic!

The book features a beautiful new cover illustration by Kazu Kibuishi. The spines of the books in the seven-book set form an image of Hogwarts, like so:

New versions in many languages now feature Kibuishi’s illustrations; only buy the Russian edition if you’re a crazy collector like me—or if you can actually read Russian.