Does “oblong” mean “rectangle”?

Imagine you are reading 1984 by George Orwell, and you come across this passage:

The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.

So. What shape is the telescreen? Does “oblong” mean “rectangle”?

Continue reading Does “oblong” mean “rectangle”?

Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen

This box set contains three folk tales told in Singlish style: The Three Little Pigs Lah, The Red Riding Hood Lah, and The Goldilocks Lah.

The plots are not very different from other adaptations of these familiar tales. The characters are not very different, except that the bears in the story of Goldilocks are not bears but wolves, a change presumably made to connect the third book with the first two. The setting for the stories is Singapore. The illustrations are a mix of drawings and photos of objects and places, and each book’s drawings are by a different artist.

The appeal of these books (in general and for me specifically) is that they use and teach Singlish dialect and slang expressions. The target audience includes both those who want to see their own dialect used for humorous effect and those who are unfamiliar with Singlish and interested in increasing their understanding of it.

See below for more details about these books.

Continue reading Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen

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.

1984 by George Orwell

I re-read the dystopia 1984 in preparation for a talk I gave on language.

The main ideas I remembered from having read the novel at least twenty years ago were:

  • the government reduced the size of the English vocabulary (to control thought)
  • the government was constantly destroying and rewriting the nation’s news articles (to control facts)

I found those ideas so compelling that I forgot all about the main character’s love interest and the secret horror that proved to be his undoing.

Of course, the novel is also famous because it says that:

  • totalitarian dictators like the novel’s “Big Brother” typically keep tabs on their citizens by means of ubiquitous surveillance
  • you can (eventually) make anybody believe that two and two are five

See below for what stood out in the novel when I re-read it.

Continue reading 1984 by George Orwell

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.