Is “language isolate” a misnomer?

If you really think about it languages cannot be an isolate, that is, unless at the creation of the language it developed out of a population that had no language.

It is now accepted that about 70,000 years ago our species spread from Africa into Europe and Asia. As these populations migrated they some settled. It is possible language had yet developed, or least not fully. Nonetheless, there is a protolanguage that probably existed.

The influence of such a language, or influence of subsequent languages must exist. What is not noticed is that that influence remains within the language, much like how scholars noticed the similarities between Sanskrit and the languages of Europe.

And as much as people want to think of Japanese as a language isolate, people or peoples must have migrated from the main Asiatic continent. The idea of ‘peoples’ might explain the difficulty to trace a language like Japanese of its origin. Japan was a crossroad to the North American continent with routes from the south and the north as well as possible reverse migration from America as well.

Whatever the truth, it is now still possible to trace the genetic origins of people “fairly accurately”. And with genetics also comes influence of language, society, and culture.

Language Acquisition Device or shared common reality?

There are three claims that Chomsky makes about the existence of Language Acquisition Device (LAD).

The first claim is that children can understand all kinds of sentences without having to have heard or learn them before. To this we can say the same thing about adults as well. In fact, every time I open a book (or any other piece of new writing) I haven’t read before I am comprehending it as well. This act is so common and normal that we should be thinking so much about as being something special.

The second claim is that all language seems to have universal elements. To this, one can also argue that it is not the elements of language that is universal but the rather it is the shared reality that is universal.

The third claim is that some grammatical principles are acquired regardless of culture or intelligence. To this, I will argue in a similar to the second claim that the medium of language is universal so that any language only have a limited number of possible choices available to it. Furthermore, for what purpose or reason would their be a develop of a language away from general principles. If such a principle does exist surely it would have been developed and supersede the other languages as being inadequate.

While we probably do have more of a capacity for language it is probably more generalised than Chomsky would like to believe.

How to pronounce “Reiwa”?

The first recorded instance of “Reiwa” used was at the announcement of the new era name on April 1st (no joke).

Cabinet minister Suga Yoshihide pronounced it as REI-wa. People working in the television industry have said they also pronounce it as REI-wa because that was the way it was announced, but the pronunciation will probably gradually change to rei-WA as it is used more and more in sentences where the stress with the year number following the era name is more efficient.

The same kind of pronunciation shift was observed with the Showa era (1926-1989) name.

Using Leio app for research

There re many a times when I know I read something somewhere but forget where I had read it. Searching through all the books or articles that I think it might be consumes a lot of time and energy, that is, until I found the app, Leio.

While Leio is not designed for research but reading, the quote function is quite useful for research purposes. For this reason, some of the one has to work around certain things (search for a book once you move onto another one), or ignore certain features (don’t use the reading timer feature). Being able to find related research quotes across several sources has not been easier now that I can do this through Leio.

These are the steps I use Leio:

  1. scan the ISBN barcode
  2. scan the quote
  3. enter page number
  4. search the quotes and notes

Now this means I will have source quotes from books with pages in a kind of database. Searching keywords then means I no longer have to work by notes from a particular book, but from relevant quotes across several sources. No other app can do this without becoming over-bloated with data.

Relevant links twitter; iTunes.

Motivation for learning a language

Did you know that in Japan English is a compulsory subject from Junior high school, from around the age of twelve. And soon this will be lowered to from ten years of age, starting at elementary fifth grade. And they continue until high school. Plus they do two years at university, giving students a total of more than six years of English language education.

Yet, without exaggeration, the majority will finish without being able to speak English with any level of proficiency.

But this problem is not unique to the Japanese. Language learners in other countries or even learners of other languages in Japan face the same conundrum.

For a while now I have been trying to learn Norwegian. The motivation for it comes from online friends from Norway that I have made and the desire to learn about their language and culture.

Yet I have no use for Norwegian apart from this one reason. My daily use of it is low – from no use to a handful of greetings at best. There is no real need for Norwegian for me apart from it being a limited-opportunity social connector. So the motivation to spend time learning it is also low.

In some ways this is also the same for the Japanese and their motivation for learning English. The opportunities to use the language are simply not there. Either learners have to make their own opportunities, or the entire society has to change. And the former seems the (much) more feasible.

As I had said if making connections with people is the only motivation then my drive for learning it will not last very long. One reason is I can just go to a translation service like Google Translate or a good old-fashion dictionary, electronic or paper. But if I was interested in one or more aspects of the culture of the target language then I am forced to study it like an ordinary subject, like mathematics, geography, film studies. No longer does this exclusively require only people of the target language/culture but other sources can be relied upon – places, literature, artefacts.

Coming back to my Norwegian, I have yet to discover something of its culture that will motivate me to want to learn the language more. I have more motivation to learn French and German because of interests in its philosophical tradition (Foucault, Barthes, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Deleuze for French and Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Hegel, Heidegger for German).

So now I must sit and think – what will motivate me to learn Norwegian?

Solution for error message in R for pasting Excel data from clipboard (pipe(‘pbpaste’) )

One of the quickest ways in R to get data into it is to copy to the clipboard then paste it into a variable.

This can be done in Windows by

read.table("clipboard", header=T)

The exact same function can be done on a MAC computer with

read.table(pipe("pbpaste"), header=T)

However, in the MAC a red warning message appears like this

Screenshot 2018-02-14 19.09.54

What seems to be happening is that R seems to read the clipboard with a missing closing line to the table. This also happens with files. Although the warning message does not seem to affect the data and can be ignored, it is annoying. So if you really want to see this message disappear, you can:

  1. copy the data from MS Excel
  2. paste into then copy the data from MS Word
  3. paste into R with read.table(pipe("pbpaste"), header=T)

This seems to do the trick when nothing else seems to work. While this is not the most elegant and ideal solution, it is a solution. Enjoy.

Clipboard hack for R in MAC

When I first started using the statistical software R for statistics I had started on a Windows computer. For here the copying and pasting function is

read.table("clipboard", header=T)

The exact same function on a MAC computer is

read.table(pipe("pbpaste"), header=T)

Simple as that. I’d someone had told me this much earlier.

Let it be – words are meant to be “lost”

Charles Darwin would have made a great linguist. In his thinking of life and evolution it is not someone who decides on what survives and what dies. It the larger mechanism of existence that “decides” so. Similarly, words should survive if there is a need for it to do so, not to be forced so because a small group of “elite” thinkers deem it so. If by argument these people can convince the world that it is important for a word to survive then so be it. Those words have a value within the larger picture of a language. But when words that have been lost they should not be revived just because someone has a fetish for signs.

I truly doubt the linguistic survival of ‘snout-fair’ would have any communicative value in English. There are so many other words which could probably give the same nuance. But truly do we need this word in the first place any more that we need a word for ‘man-love’, whatever that would mean.

To give one more analogy trying keep a dying word alive is like continuing to keep a dying medical patient on a life-support just for the benefit of others without regard for the patient’s quality of life (note: there are many cases in which life-support will save an important life). If words are outdated or fall out disuse then there must a reason for it to become so. No amount of life-support will 1) save them, or 2) make the world a better place (as cold-hearted this statement may seem) by them being here.

One

1.
There is something to be said about linguistic determinism, and in particular relativity. Linguistic relativity says that the form or structure of a language influences the way people think, or world-view. The often quoted example is the Inuit people and the words for “snow”. Whereas in English we have snow (and perhaps sleet and slush) the Inuit have at least nine different words for different types of snow. Because of this the Inuits have a “greater” understanding and knowledge of snow and their conditions.

But is this absolutely necessarily true?

The idea that language reflects your thought is better described as relative rather than absolute. If the relationship is absolute then all people of a language will think in exactly the same way.  But this is not true. A talk to two people from the same culture will quickly reveal that people do think differently. And you would be hard pushed to even say there are two people who are exactly identical in their way of thought. Even biological twins who are genetically the same are different in their thoughts and likes. Experience from a first-person or one-person point-of-view will guarantee that we will be different no matter what.

2.
English is a language which takes pains to highlight “one over many”. It is one of the languages which have difference morphological form for the singular and the plural (or not-singular). Is it natural to give the singular priority? Arabic has forms for “one”, “two” and “plural”. And Japanese does not differentiate between singular and plural at all.  Nor does Chinese for that matter. So grammar is really a creation of the mind, of people, to make communication possible. The rules are not set in stone or in the mind as some would like you to believe. As humans we make do with what we have – the physical world – to do things like communication.

In fact all we can do is ‘make do’. But it is important to see that making do with something does not mean it is the only way to the same thing. There is no reason for ‘one’ to be given priority over not ‘one’ … except for may be it is the first thing in an order.

heaviness of rain

more than white noise
the drone continues
through the night

in dark sleep
the overflow gutters
my one exposed ear
until light reveals
the heaviness
of the rain

frogs frolic wetly
green suits shining
and birds shelter
in the eaves
leaving reluctantly 
at my presence
as warnings come
over the air waves