language and mind

May 23, 2013

The prince and the pauper

File:Connecticut Yankee4 new.jpg“The question as to whether there is such a thing as divine right of kings is not settled in this book. It was found too difficult. That the executive head of a nation should be a person of lofty character and extraordinary ability, was manifest and indisputable; that none but the Deity could select that head unerringly, was also manifest and indisputable; that the Deity ought to make that selection, then, was likewise manifest and indisputable; consequently, that He does make it, as claimed, was an unavoidable deduction. I mean, until the author of this book encountered the Pompadour, and Lady Castlemaine, and some other executive heads of that kind; these were found so difficult to work into the scheme, that it was judged better to take the other tack in this book (which must be issued this fall), and then go into training and settle the question in another book. It is, of course, a thing which ought to be settled, and I am not going to have anything particular to do next winter anyway.” :)

The fair cadence by Mark Twain comes from the Connecticut Yankee. The particular difference between selection and election has excited affects for centuries, and this not only among the American nation.

To apply a broad perspective for heads and states   in historical settings, the case of Thomas More finds mutuality in that of Charles I. A disobedient clergyman tried for treason, or a king          accused of the highest betrayal, both suffered decapitation.

The people of the land would not deny the right to divine intervention to a cockerel, however, relatively recent pleas for the sake of the noisy animal having been made at Tyneside.

 Twain Historical

Mark Twain : Historical Romances : Prince & the Pauper / Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court / Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (Library of America)

The irony of fate does never leave cockerels. The animals end up in chicken soup regardless of maturity, unless turned into soluble blocks merchandised for bouillon.

We humans do not know our destinies, either. Jean Bodin, the big wheel to absolutism, died of the plague. Those may have been cases like his to inspire the thought the people could be in the making still: the idea of somebody up there simply not to like you no matter how hard you try, could be too much of a clear soup to take. ;)


I do not look upon these United States as a finished product. We are still in the making.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Divine right or intervention, the concepts have been made for people inheriting their political roles. Trust in a higher agency yet has never had much chance to get into everyday practice regardless of blood, as evidenced already in the Glorious Revolution. Well, and language is a prominent human valor to favor everyday work without supernatural aspects.

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Kindle Prince and Pauper

The Prince and The Pauper – Full Version (Illustrated and Annotated) (Literary Classics Collection)

Should the prince have left England at a very young age, he would have spoken fluent French or German ― and, for example, not a word of English.

We humans are born with brain areas specialized for language. Our language skills yet require learning. The bright side is that the important human valor depends on us and our efforts. :)

No men, women, children, or houses with the pie

William Jones was a hyperpolyglot to have learned Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, and basic Chinese. By the end of his life he knew thirteen languages thoroughly and another twenty-eight reasonably well, says Wikipedia.

William Jones wrote The Sanscrit Language (1786), the book to tell that Greek and Latin had a common root, and that root was Sanskrit. The Proto-Indo-European “language” allegedly gave origin to contemporary European languages — well, except Irish literature, they say.

If we believe Wikipedia, William Jones had an at least reasonably good acquaintance with 41 tongues altogether. Such an acquaintance should encompass the words woman, man, child, and house. Let us compare these words in Latin, Greek, English, Russian, Polish, German, and French.


Latin: femina; Greek: gyne; English: woman; Russian: zenshchina; Polish: kobieta; German: Frau; French: femme.


Latin: vir; Greek: andros; English: man; Russian: muzshtschina; Polish: mężczyzna; German: Mann; French: homme.


Latin: putillus; Greek: pais; English: child; Russian: rebionok; Polish: dziecko; German: Kind; French: enfant.


Latin: domus; Greek: do; English: house; Russian: dom; Polish: dom; German: Haus; French: maison.

The words have been present on this Earth since the human started to speak, yet they do not have common, Proto-Indo-European stems. Vir or andros, child or rebionok, woman or kobieta ― have nothing to do one with another, whatever way to look at them. Progress in building shelters and dwelling has resulted in local linguistic influence, domus, do, and dom looking and sounding similar, house and Haus, or maison also to show geographic affinity.

The Proto-Indo-European proponents went into making a religion too, undeterred by the lack of a PIE root for our planet.


Latin: terra or tellus; Greek: gaia or aia; English: earth; Russian: ziemlia; Polish: ziemia; German: Erde; French: terre.

Finally, how do you even get to have a deity, if there is no stem in common to “him” or “her”? Well, it has to be the science-fiction Space 1999 to show reading Sanskrit accurately … ;)

I would not fit the picture of the “trained philologist” in the Space 1999 video. I got schooled in reading texts, not the people round. The holocaust in the clip is not the Holocaust.

Here is another idea for “fluency”. :)

Evidently, there was a pie, but that pie was India. The colonial era began about 1500, and there was much competition. Gaelic lands continue opposing inclusion into the Commonwealth: it is honest to have an own piece of a pie. ;)

May 19, 2013

A new people come

Filed under: cognitive progression, etymology, language, language bias, nationality — teresapelka @ 7:22 am

Charles Thomson Great Seal report page2

Charles Thomson Great Seal report page2

“The Date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence, and the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Æra which commences from that Date”, says Charles Thomson in his report on the design of the Great Seal to have become the accepted pattern.

Man in U.S. Marine Corps Uniform Saluting American Flag --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Man in U.S. Marine Corps Uniform Saluting American Flag — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Wikipedia relates the Great Seal motto, NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM, to Virgil’s Eclogues and ancient pagan ritualists, Sibyls.

Arguably, the picture on the left is not to suggest aprons or paganism; the Great Seal is associated with American executive powers. Charles Thomson, the author of the Great Seal design, was a staunch Presbyterian. He — same as many people, not only Presbyterian and me included — would not have a Sibyl for an elder. Let us mind that those pagan rituals relied on narcotics and burnt offerings.

Importantly, Charles Thomson was also a sound expert at Latin and Greek. His spelling did acknowledge the digraph “æ”, as may be seen in the preserved original image on the right. And the word ‘seclorum’ in his Seal design does not have the digraph.

         … the new American Æra (Charles Thomson’s report) 

Novus Ordo Seclorum (the Great Seal)

ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo (Virgil’s Eclogue quoted for the source)

The phrase is sometimes mistranslated as “New World Order” by people who believe in a conspiracy behind the design; however, it does directly translate to “New Order of the Ages”, says Wikipedia

Novus ordo seclorum - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 2013-05-22 07-15-31 Novus ordo seclorum – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hardly anybody will believe in a time without a place on this planet, therefore the translation ‘a new order of (the) ages’ can cause doubt. Does the Seal say it, however? Telling the time by the people would have been an endeavor too haphazard even to the human as irrational as an ancient Roman. :)

I do not believe the Seal would have a misspelling. I abandon the Eclogue hypothesis and find the Latin form seclum for earlier than saeclum and seculum. These forms were also used in ancient Rome and not only in the Middle Ages, as Wikipedia claims. The lexical item ordo seclorum could refer to people, a kind, and a generation. Let us compare Cicero and the Second Philippic:

Accuse the senate; accuse the equestrian body, which at that time was united with the senate; accuse every order or society, and all the citizens; (…) at all events you would never have continued in this order, or rather in this city; (…) when I have been pronounced by this order to be the savior of my country; (…) when you, one single young man, forbade the whole order to pass decrees concerning the safety of the republic (…)

There is an aspect of language use we should take into account interpreting Latin. When we speak, we may not refer our words to written resources ― do we say “morning” early in the day because there would be a Whig journal to come with the Oxford Companion? ;)

Latin experts have been our human contemporaries. The persons could not have just memorized dead text. They have developed the capability to use Latin generatively.        I believe Charles Thomson formed the motto himself. This would explain why his report does not provide any bibliographical reference and it gives a rendition of the meaning and not its direct translationAttat (!) :)

 … the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Æra (Charles Thomson).

The word people may help see how word meanings change. The noun people is derived from the Latin populus. It did not connote nationality in ancient times and often referred to laying waste or degrading: perpopulor, to devastate, pillage; populabilis: destructible. Ancient Romans did not have much of a sense of nationality. Their militaristic culture recognized mostly status. Latin had words aerarius and aerarium for residents who had to pay tax but were not allowed to vote or hold offices, and the part of the temple of Saturn for the public treasure as different from that of the elites. The word Aera in Charles Thomson’s note refers to time in the modern sense of an era.

Nowadays, the noun people means a group of human beings, or a nationality. As a group, it takes a plural verb: The people here all speak English. Only as a nationality or ethnicity, the noun may take on the plural itself: The peoples of Europe have formed a Union. Status does no longer decide on civil rights.

I think Charles Thomson knew about these aspects of language change. Forming the motto, he used the Latin ordo to avoid the negative ancient connotations. Ordo had a dignified sense, as we may compare in Cicero. Naturally, it did not necessarily denote a linear array. The modern word order comes from Latin ordo, an arrangement, group, or class.

The contemporary word to seclude can give us some light on the seclorum in the Seal. Latin secludere meant to separate, become distinctive with a regard. Seclorum is a participal form, hence a new people come (a new people to have become).

I propose voluntary extra practice on comprehension and language in my grammar book, too.

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“Hailing the Nation: the American Great Seal” is another project of mine intended to discard at least some of the bias and prejudice about the Democracy.


Pär Lagerkvist wrote a few interesting books on the history of human conflict and ancient influences.

 The Sibyl may tell — this depends on the focus — about the primitive treatment pagan temples gave women as well as the nonsense of the pagan practice and belief.

The Sibyl (Vintage)


 The Dwarf describes a persistent propensity for contradiction and strife.

The Dwarf


May 8, 2013

The apostasy of the First Amendment?

Ideas of governments over tongues are aged. They have been about curbing language.   I came across a book stern in criticizing the human liberty to speak; the resource is ascribed to Richard Allestree, an author within the recognized scope of religious thought.

The text of the Government of the Tongue

Let us “begin with the very beginning”: there are things that change about the humanity over time; there are respects with which humanity remains invariable.

We humans are mortal and realize this. No one may assert that he or she knows what happens after his or her death. Faith is not knowledge, and no knowledge is all-encompassing. Therefore, people have been believers and non-believers, never to become intellectually strict opposites.

The non-believer does not necessarily claim there is no God: he or she may just decline concluding on the universe entire. The believer may reject holistic postulates, too: religion is not about picturing the cosmos. The non-believer may live and work without a yearning for God’s existence as well as non-existence. The believer will live and work without God being his or her very focus a proportion of the time.

The resolve on belief or non-belief remains equally with the individual. A non-believer might refuse deliberation on existence of a being not believed. A believer can leave comprehension of existence with the deity understood to have originated gnosis altogether.

Here are a few Greek words on existence, as for the matters that happen to change from time to time ;)

Therefore, let us try thinking about freedom of speech in some detachment from the actuality of belief and disbelief. The distance may keep The Government for the resource with one reservation: the book does not figure in the bibliographical notes for Richard Allestree, same as The Whole Duty of Man, ascribed to 27 people so far.

Open BookGovernment of the Tongue second impression

 The Government recommends memorization.

But sure tis a pitiful pretence to ingenuity that can be thus kept up, there being little need of any other faculty but memory to be able to cap Texts.

 The book ascribes the tongue an independent volition.

The Tongue is so slippery, that it easily deceives a drowsy or heedless guard.

 The writing has speech for separate from mind.

 … so the childish parts of us, our passions, our fancies, all our mere animal faculties, can thrust our tongues into such disorder, as our reason cannot easily rectify.

  It condemns linguistic fluency.

Language command is attributed supra-individual qualities.

David uttered a bloody vow against Nabal, spake words smoother than oil to Uriah …

The due management therefore of this unruly member, may be rightly be esteemed one of the greatest mysteries of Wisdom and Virtue.

The effort associated with controlling speech makes the author(s) invoke King Solomon.

42 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12).

27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Luke 12)

And here, the irresistible philological temptation is to compare Wycliffe.

28 And of clothing what ben ye bisye? Biholde ye the lilies of the feeld, how thei wexen. Thei trauelen not, nether spynnen;29 and Y seie to you, Salomon in al his glorie was not keuered as oon of these. (Matheu 6)

42 The queene of the south shal rise in doom with this generacioun, and schal condempne it; for she cam fro the eendis of the erthe to here the wisdom of Salomon, and lo! here a gretter than Salomon. (Matheu 12)

The history of the First Amendment emphasizes the separation of the Church from the State: In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court drew on Founding Father Thomas Jefferson‘s correspondence to call for “a wall of separation between church and State”, though the precise boundary of this separation remains in dispute, says Wikipedia.

It was yet the fluent quality in the tongue to encourage reference to Wycliffe in preparing the new version of King James Bible: :)

Simply put, in countless passages of the “Early Version”, both the poetry of the language and fidelity to the original Greek text are superior to that found in the “Later Version”, says the Bible Gateway.

Looking to Wycliffe is another of my projects, strictly philological, intended to show English as a live tongue. :)

Looking to WycliffeLooking to Wycliffe sample with preface


Freedom of speech is a most important human freedom. There is much room for it in my grammar: the course invites student independent practice, some exercises being open-ended or left without any prescribed answer at all. :)

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Travelers in Grammar Appendix 3 contains faithful typescripts of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights: Dunlap, Carter and Wheeler prints, respectively. I think the material vital for comprehension of the American language and thought; students may benefit considerably from copies at hand.

May 4, 2013

The book and the word

Filed under: books, cognitive progression, language, learning, life — Tags: , — teresapelka @ 10:32 pm

The word “Bible” comes from the Greek “byblos”. The Greek “byblografia” was a “writing of books”. Regardless of who had odds or ends with papyrus, the question may remain — what is the word of God?

Natasha Kampus, Jaycee Lee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart — among many others, got kidnapped, the abductors claiming guidance coming from God. Could one really get such guidance on this Earth?

The Bible is made of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Greek “telemation” and “eschaton” would have denoted lasting. The Old Testament Book of Job, recounting on ordeal, foretells a new arrangement between the god and the humanity.

There are four New Testament books by the four Apostles to tell about the life of Jesus Christ. This is the original Christian matter, the name “Christianity” coming from Christ. However, the word of God, Christ’s words, remain reported.

Importantly, the New Testament affirms the Old with the respect: the Old Testament also reports on God. The God did not write it himself. More, the Old Testament is not all about God’s advice. It is intended to tell a parable about the beginnings of human kind.

Lot left Zoar to live in the mountains. The older daughter spoke to the younger then (Genesis 19:31). The older daughter would have mothered the Moab. The younger would have brought fourth the Ammon, dependants of Assyria.

God does not tell you what to do. You may seek counsel with the Bible, your conscience — as well as your learning and comprehension — being your responsibility.

So much for now about reading books.

Objectively non-correlative

Filed under: cognitive progression, language, learning, life, philosophy, psychology — teresapelka @ 5:59 am

Some time ago, it might have been revolutionary to criticize Shakespeare as hardly anyone had done it before. Today, holding the Bard cheap would be like crediting an outlook of a dweller of an imaginary sleepy town, where everyone would wear the same clothes, eat the same food and, as a result, have the same dreams. Naturally, one would need to imagine that there would be a formula for making dreams merely out of garment and viands.

Washington Allston coined the phrase “objective correlative” in his Lectures on Art. His primary tool being his painter’s brush I could hardly imagine used to the graceful Impressionist effect ever, Allston would have looked to vegetables, judging on human emotion.

Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne

Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne

Take an example from one of the lower forms of organic life,—a common vegetable. Will any one assert that the surrounding inorganic elements of air, earth, heat, and water produce its peculiar form? Though some, or all, of these may be essential to its developement, they are so only as its predetermined correlatives, without which its existence could not be manifested; and in like manner must the peculiar form of the vegetable preexist in its life, —in its idea,—in order to evolve by these assimilants its own proper organism.

No possible modification in the degrees or proportion of these elements can change the specific form of a plant,―for instance, a cabbage into a cauliflower; it must ever remain a cabbage, small or large, good or bad.  So, too, is the external world to the mind; which needs, also, as the condition of its manifestation, its objective correlative. Hence the presence of some outward object, predetermined to correspond to the preexisting idea in its living power, is essential to the evolution of its proper end,―the pleasurable emotion.

There have been theories on vegetables and light: veg can have more sugar under some red or blue auras ― the color is hardly relevant, as the cost of the shine would hatchet production. Should one harbor especially vindictive feelings about music, tune playing might be also purported to elevate plant mood before the thing is eaten ― all the above having no possible relation to human feelings except meal times.

T.S. Eliot proceeded with making the jacket for the potato. In Hamlet and His Problems, Eliot states,

Hamlet is a stratification, (…) it represents the efforts of a series of men, each making what he could out of the work of his predecessors. The Hamlet of Shakespeare will appear to us very differently if, instead of treating the whole action of the play as due to Shakespeare’s design, we perceive his Hamlet to be superposed upon much cruder material which persists even in the final form.

Eliot also says,

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

Hardly sound on literary grounds, the criticism may be psychologically revealing about Eliot himself. In his critical endeavors, Eliot referred to the thing theory, mimesis and diegesis, as well as pathetic fallacy. All these frameworks would involve the agent-patient relations that T.S. Eliot would have had some difficulty grasping.

The thing theory would alienate perception, objects becoming things when in focus. The approach to mimesis would seek equanimity in having the object for the medium. The pathetic fallacy would quantify and thus deny sentiment.

Both the emotionally “objective” authors, Allston as well as Eliot, had own emotional problems. Allston is reported to have suffered from melancholia. Eliot had an aboulic stage in life. Both would have been seeking ― a non-existent ― mechanism to produce feelings. And feelings objectively would be non-correlative with mere utility.

Needless to say, animacy would have such an “objective” actually reism linguistically only for a plaything. And well, I can agree both with haters and lovers of potatoes ― feel welcome to see my Potato nut. :)

May 3, 2013

Governance of the tongue

Filed under: language, language bias, language processing, language use — teresapelka @ 8:40 am

The “government of the tongue” has had two most prominent treatments: religious and poetic. The two may have stood at even dramatic odds, some preachers seeking consistency with early Christianity, poets cherishing the beauty of language itself. A linguist and a poet a bit, I will try to put consistency and beauty in the focus together.

James 3, Taming the Tongue

New International Version

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

James chapter 3 might be the sternest condemnation of a body part seen and heard of ever. Still, one may compare a sermon by Thomas Boston,

The keeping of the tongue is one of those duties that entitles a man to safety from evil times, and therefore must now be urged as a seasonable duty. The wisest monarch could hardly govern a great part of the world; how difficult then must it be to govern a world, and that a world of iniquity. The tongue is a world of iniquity, a heap of evils; as in the world many things are contained, so in the tongue. This world of iniquity is divided into two parts, undue silence, and sinful speaking. These are the higher and lower parts of this world, yet quickly may men travel from the one to the other.

Open BookThomas Boston on the keeping of the tongue

James’s words are fierce. The apostle yet is determined to appeal to the early Christian, a human being likely to face persecution to involve bodily damage. James’s allusion to fire is strictly metaphorical, and the apostle does not condemn language. He advises considerateness in language use.

The context is not the same with Thomas Boston. The intimation of physical peril is gone; the metaphor of a sear on the conscience is used in the negative. The preacher refers to hierarchical verticality ― the upside of godness and the downside of evil ― again, to counsel on reasonableness in language use. The present day perspective on freedom of speech would not support many of the guidelines.

Both texts may be appreciated for their use of metaphor. Naturally, there would not be any original Christian matter advocating fire to introduce or instill belief. The fact was recognized by John Paul II apologizing for the Inquisition.

We can find the original Christian matter in the Bible. The matter does not imply any necessity of physical restraint on speech; the metaphor shows in the variety of translations:

James 1:26

Wycliffe Bible

26 And if any man guesseth himself to be religious, and refraineth not his tongue, but deceiveth his heart, the religion of him is vain.

King James Version

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

New International Version

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

Knox Bible

26 If anyone deludes himself by thinking he is serving God, when he has not learned to control his tongue, the service he gives is vain.

New Life Version

26 If a person thinks he is religious, but does not keep his tongue from speaking bad things, he is fooling himself. His religion is worth nothing.

Hoffnung für Alle

26 Wer sich für fromm hält, aber seine Zunge nicht zügeln kann, der macht sich selbst etwas vor. Seine Frömmigkeit ist nichts wert.

Luther Bibel 1545

26 So sich jemand unter euch läßt dünken, er diene Gott, und hält seine Zunge nicht im Zaum, sondern täuscht sein Herz, des Gottesdienst ist eitel.

Joseph Butler came closer to the literary and linguistic sense of government,

Grammar The influence of a word over the morphological inflection of another word in a phrase or sentence.

Joseph Butler says,

The translation of this text would be more determinate by being more literal, thus: “If any man among you seemeth to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” This determines that the words, “but deceiveth his own heart,” are not put in opposition to, “seemeth to be religious,” but to, “bridleth not his tongue.”

Open Book

Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel, by Joseph Butler (1827 edition)

Frugality would be less desirable in literature and poetry, fineness not to denote prolixity.

The Government of the Tongue_Seamus Heaney and T.S. Eliot memorial lectures

The thought of the government also happens to bring on awkward re-phrasings,

In the process of doing justice to the events of political violence―and in particular death―poetry could not help but forge a higher consciousness of these events that was political in its ironic detachment from claims as to the necessity of such violence. The achievement of this alternative form of politics, this government in exile, was to establish that identity and belonging are aspects of consciousness and imagination, rather than of territory and power.

I cannot help but disagree on inevitableness of ironic detachment, as well as identity belonging with imagination.

The Government of the Tongue Lexis Nexis

April 21, 2013

The president, the queen, and the dear, one and only head

Filed under: citizenship, grammar, language, language processing, language use — teresapelka @ 7:08 am

My dear head does not give me headaches and this is one of the reasons I literally love it. Should I write, ‘my dear Head…’ ?

Some guys will tell you to spell words with capital letters for respect. You say ‘the Queen’s English’, and you say ‘the Chairman’, the guys would argue. Well, but then you’d have to look respectful about the Nazis and the Jihad …

Human thought has had the human body in view. We humans have heads of sentences and clauses; we have heads of states. And we humans could not live without own heads cozy with own necks. This might be the reason for some singularity in the use of capital letters.

The capital, that is, big letters work along with the way we orient in the reality. There are no proper nouns objectively, proper nouns are nouns as perceived by humans. I do not and would not advocate misspelling family or second names. This is, however, a human idea to spell them with big letters, and not any supernatural endowment.

With heads of states, relevance would matter most. The President would be the relevant president in office. The Queen would be the relevant ruler. Therefore, I would not have it for a mistake, if an American or person of a nationality other than British would write, ‘the queen’ about Elizabeth II. Ms. Windsor is not the head of the U.S.A. or all countries, she is the head of the UK and the Commonwealth. It might be actually un-diplomatic towards other rulers, if to try to nominate the one and only crowned head.

Well, plurality could come naturally cumbersome: one head not giving you headache, no one can tell what would be, should you have two … ;)

What if you’d have two heads of states to write about in one essay, for example? The language matter happens to pool information also on reference. Just as one can write the Flag for the American (or another, relevant) flag, one can write the American president and the English queen, not capitalizing either — again, for diplomacy’s sake. Naturally, the phrases ‘Mr. Obama’ or ‘Ms. Windsor’ could not be taken for terms of offense.

The Queen’s (or King’s) English is a phrase not to refer to any particular person. England has had quite a few queens and kings so far. The phrase denotes the Standard English or Received Pronunciation. Viewing the phrase as belonging with one person only and making a proper noun reference could compare with coining ‘standard terms’ such as ‘Stalin’s Russian’ or ‘Hitler’s German’. The English themselves might go unhappy, however they are experts at splendid isolation. ;)

Feel welcome to see the Word Reference forum,

April 13, 2013

It, him, or her: America, the world, and the human being

Martin Buber by Andy Warhol

Martin Buber would envision the human being in a bit of an embryonic role. I can agree that human cognition has its limitations, yet an embryonic status about human minds looks exaggerated. The matter evidently evolves round personal pronouns.

The philosopher, whose earnestness of study I do not mean to question, would yet see humans as entities in incessant ties; he would only differentiate this persistent condition into the I-You and I-It relationship. Simply speaking, every human would be an “I”. And every human would be always in a relationship, to a “You” or to an “It” like an embryo, incapable of independent living.

Buber’s famous essay on existence, Ich und Du, has been about as famously translated into I and Thou. Arguments on philosophical intricacies have not convinced me on the alleged non-existence of an English word for the German ‘du’. It would not be just me, looking to the translation for Bist du bei mir — If you are with me.

There a few more unconvincing details about Buber philosophy and its followers. Let us think about the word “being”. It is construed with the third person singular, “it”. However, if we modify this word with the adjective “human”, we refer to the “human being” as “him” or “her”.

According to Buber, the world would be an It. We yet may think about a world as by a man or by a woman, in which case the semantics would play its good trick and add male or female attributes to the notion of the world. Naturally, everyone may try own perception on The World According to Garp. ;)

Semantics is the language matter about meaning. This meaning may be not bound by singular, isolated lexical items. A “human being may be a male or a female. A “world can be a male or female world.

Languages also happen to have arbitrary, grammatical gender. In French or Spanish, a “book” is going to be a “him”. In Russian, a book is going to be a “her”. Ancient Romans had a day-book or diary for an “ephemeris”, a “her”. This arbitrary gender has had nothing to do with recognizing sex, since the beginning of time: mostly males were literate in ancient Rome.

Let us think about reference to countries: English would speak about a country as an “it”. French or Spanish would have their “pays” or “pais” for males.  As regards home countries, the legitimate Italian “she”, “patria”,  would keep company to the legal French “patrie”, Germans remaining unpersuadable on their “Vaterland” : there would be “Muttersprache”, but “Mutterland” would mean the country of origin, not the home country. American English would allow both fatherland and motherland, the home country or homeland prevailing.

Importantly, whether fatherland or motherland, when we go back in our thoughts, we use the third person singular again, “it. We would say, My fatherland, it …” We would not say, “My fatherland, he …” We also can say, and the vast majority would say, America in its time …

Well, America is a name of a country, same as Germany, France, Italy, or any other name of a country, fair and square. Concluding, human thought is not reducible to three pronouns, I, you, and it. Already the pronouns may have and often do have connotations to other pronouns, which though potentially arbitrary is a real factor to influence the way we formulate our thoughts. 

March 28, 2013

British grammar nazis

ImageDisclaimer: the adjacent — and colored meaningfully yellow — graphic piffle is not intended to mean the Union Jack proper. It is the British grammar nazis logo on Facebook.

BGN Facebook

The logo dubious pulchritude may be seen in its full form on the right. Now, without going into matters of the meaning of life or the spoken lore on WWII and British losses — invaluable for those hard of reading — let me focus on the statistics and implications.

 The site has about 50 K ‘likes’. Taking the British population alone, that would make the maximum of 50 thousand functionally illiterate among about 63 million people. I mean, much has been written about WWII; evidently, mere gathering orthography and other detail does not make you capable of text interpretation.

Some might say it is not so bad, it is not even one percent. Still, you’d better ‘think literacy’, going to the UK.

Keep your profile according to your passport photo; the guys demonstrate attention to picture specifics. ;)

Remember to wave your hand, getting a taxi; try to get a map with statues and other tourist attractions in large icons. It is better to take a walk from the National Museum than end up the Piccadilly owing to a visiting card small print. ;)

In hotels, always tick the boxes; at best, you ask for those straight, should you be provided with a form without boxes to tick. ;)

When it comes to mailing letters, get the recorded: they have ID strips. Seeking directions, approach people with newspapers: there are odds they can read them. Never ever leave your books or papers, especially open: they might be taken for other utilities. ;)


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