Wednesday, December 28, 2011

and the tongue is a fire

"Behold, how much wood is kindled by how small a fire! And the tongue is a fire ..."

My attention was caught by this biblical quote in Marilynn Robinson's novel GILEAD (2004). So I looked it up. So much poetic expression in this General Epistle of James. Here are the surrounding verses.

3:2 For in many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. 3:3 Now if we put the horses’ bridles into their mouths that they may obey us, we turn about their whole body also. 3:4 Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by rough winds, are yet turned about by a very small rudder, whither the impulse of the steersman willeth. 3:5 So the tongue also is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how much wood is kindled by how small a fire! 3:6 And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell. 3:7 For every kind of beasts and birds, of creeping things and things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed by mankind. 3:8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison. 3:9 Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God: 3:10 out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 3:11 Doth the fountain send forth from the same opening sweet water and bitter? 3:12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a vine figs? Neither can salt water yield sweet. 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom. 3:14 But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth. 3:15 This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 3:16 For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed. 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy. 3:18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace. eBible

And that is a first century CE philosopher with a linguistic bent saying Life's what you make it with your discourse. Language matters much, content, diction, tone and attitude in context, and our speech acts determine war and peace, happiness and suffering. It also makes me think how much linguistics (before the term) grew out of the translation and interpretation of religious scripts.

I only read Housekeeping this month and now GILEAD. What a writer! Encouraging that she began later in life!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The slobbery origins of speech

“When you stop to examine the way in which our words are formed and uttered, our sentences are hard-put to it to survive the disaster of their slobbery origins. The mechanical effort of conversation is nastier and more complicated than defecation. That corolla of bloated flesh, the mouth, which screws itself up to whistle, which sucks in breath, contorts itself, discharges all manner of viscous sounds across a fetid barrier of decaying teeth—how revolting! Yet that is what we are adjured to sublimate into an ideal. It's not easy."

Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night, 1932. Celine was a doctor who survived WWI, a misanthrope whom I expect the Absurdists would have adored. It's fun to read a counterbalance to starry-eyed adoration of the miracle of language. Be in a tough or quirky frame of mind if you consult this collection of Céline quotes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

LCNAU - the Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities

LCNAU - the Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities Colloquium
on September 26-28, 2011 at the University of Melbourne. Most papers or powerpoints now available.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Alexander Adelaar on historical linguistics

Want to know what a world expert linguist does? Visit the Melbourne University podcast series UpClose Episode 127 is about Alexander (Sander) Adelaar, Dutch born expert on Malay/Indonesian languages. Listen online or download to your computer or mp3 player: An ocean away: An African nation's roots in Southeast Asia. Especially helpful is his answer when asked to give a brief description of the mechanics of what an historical linguist does: "hunting for regular correspondences". Looking for who's related to who in language families. How does linguistics work with archeology (incisions in animal bones?), mythology and even maternal mitochondrial DNA research? Look up Austronesian languages on Wikipedia to see a good map of distribution of this language family. UpClose Episode 127, 25 MIN 13 SEC , MP3 FORMAT You can listen and/or read a transcript

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Christmas Tree – Genealogy of an Island"

by Hélène Bartleson

A geologist friend of mine used to say that the only thing you can do with Languages and History is teach languages and history. (Surely geology is the history of the planet under its skin.) This talk "Christmas Tree – Genealogy of an Island" presented by Hélène Bartleson at the National Archives of Australia in Perth on 23 February 2010 shows how those two fields can yield such personally rewarding knowledge. Her dad was fascinated by old cemeteries especially with Chinese headstones and their 'hidden history' of itinerant Chinese tinkers and peddlers. 'He was fascinated by their lives, I was fascinated by their language which I did eventually get to study, and it has been a huge help to me, as you'll see shortly.' Hélène also reads Jawi (Malay written with an adapted Arabic script).
She describes photos taken by 'poor Fred Christian ... of mixed-race groups together; the Malays and Chinese and the Europeans were all together and they were all enjoying themselves and actually talking to each other.' Christmas Island sounds like a symbol of multicultural Australia, of what our world might be if everybody just had Hélène's curiosity and interest in people, different people whose hidden histories require us to make the effort to learn their languages. How terrible that it is instead the place currently associated with refugee detention centres and boating tragedies. Read "Christmas Tree – Genealogy of an Island". There's an audio file so you can download and hear it also - link at bottom of that Archives of Australia page. Christmas Island on Wikipedia and on googlemaps.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

une culture où on est belle

"Faut decouvrir une culture où on est belle!" Bon motto crée aujourd'hui par Jenny Lynd, Melbourne. Pour moi, ca veut dire trouver un état d'esprit où on se sent heureux et à l'aise avec les autres.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Words sing, hurt, teach, sanctify

Words sing. They hurt. They teach. They sanctify. They were man's first, immeasurable feat of magic. They liberate us from ignorance and our barbarous past. Leo, Calvin Rosten, 1972.
The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.
~ ~ ~Philip K. Dick
A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought, and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.
~ ~ ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
More amusing, provoking quotations about words and see my collection of pro-languages quotes down in left hand column.