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Earlier in MARCH, 2006 → ← APRIL, 2006

Michael Tomasello on human language … Новости … Or, to settle down 31st of March, 2006 ANTE·MERIDIEM 12:49

Michael Tomasello has a couple of papers at his home page “for your reading enjoyment.” I came across him by means of an article (in German) summarising his ideas, and for me it’s a pleasure to read him. He Ridiculously pretty girl, wearing balloons! writes on much the same themes as the Chomster, and the contrast between the two is startling. E.g, he mentions this from the start in his explanation of what model of language learning he goes for (and this is exactly the sort of thing Chomsky avoids in initially presenting his ideas, and deals with haltingly and mostly unsatisfactorily later):

[…] Other clear examples are such well-known idioms as kick the bucket and spill the beans, which have a little more flexibility and abstractness as different people may kick the bucket and they may do so in past, present, or future tense–but we cannot, with the same meaning, kick the pail or spill the peas. It turns out that, upon inspection, a major part of human linguistic competence—much more than previously believed—involves the mastery of all kinds of routine formulas, fixed and semi-fixed expressions, idioms, and frozen collocations. Indeed one of the distinguishing characteristics of native speakers of a language is their control of these semi-fixed expressions as fluent units with somewhat unpredictable meanings (e.g., I wouldn’t put it past him; He’s getting to me these days; Hang in there; That won’t go down well with the boss; She put me up to it; etc.; Pawley & Syder, 1983).

And it’s all so data-oriented; for those of us interested in the details of language as she is used, Corpus linguistics is the best thing since someone came up with the idea of a dictionary, and his examinations of children learning languages are just as attractive.

For your actual amusement, here’s a great page; it’s in Русский, based in Estonia, and is full of such unparalleled greatness as a a motorbike made out of balloons, the woman dressed in balloons to my right (mmm, ridiculously pretty girl dressed in balloons, why doesn’t life offer this sort of thing more), Spiderman made out of balloons, and other fantastic things.

Word of the day: aterrizar is Spanish for to land a plane; cf. French aterrir.

Last comment from Aidan Kehoe on the 2nd of April at 13:19
I suspect she’s one of those joy-killers who expect the use of a rubber for it.

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Tishness … An XKB map on Windows … Eine Art Brot 30th of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 02:02

Tony Wilson, of 24 Hour Party People  infamy, is interviewed over at http://​film.​guardian.​co.​uk/​interview/​interviewpages/​0,6737,661059,00.​html . They pose him this question:

“Were you not, I persevere, embarrassed by the degree of prat tishness that Coogan bestows on you?” 

I swear, I read the thing three times; asking myself what exactly “tishness” was and if I had ever seen “prat” used adjectivally before. Ach, the Guardian.

If you’re anything like me in your keyboard usage, (and admittedly the chances are slim) none of the standard Windows or Macintosh national keyboards, for whatever country you happen to be in, have all the symbols you need to type every day.

Happily, on X11, Séamus Ó Ciardhuáin provided a layout that makes everything this Western European needs easily available, with a basic layout identical to the one I was weaned on. Thank you Séamus!

Unhappily, I don’t use X11 at work, I use Windows XP. However, our friends in Redmond have provided the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator; with this, I’ve cloned Séamus’ layout. It’s available in source form here; a Zip file with the installable MSI file is is here. Notable points are that AltGr + 8 is a dead umlaut, AltGR + \ a dead grave, and that the standard Irish-Windows-layout AltGr + vowel gives the acute. Not cool for the moment is that Ctrl \ doesn’t work, nor does Ctrl [ or Ctrl _. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Word of the day: Нон is Tajik for Naan bread. Mmm, Naan bread.

Last comment from Aidan Kehoe on the 24th of April at 8:28
Ignore that last comment, a working layout is here.

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“Eager, unflagging expectation” … von Eschenbach … Black, with milk, please 29th of March, 2006 ANTE·MERIDIEM 12:01

H.L. Mencken on the US (I suspect many of you will have read this before, if you haven’t, look into Mencken, he’s great):

Cartoonish drawing of a mediæval knight and his squire

“And here, more than anywhere else I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly—the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries and extravagances—is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.” 

The latest exhibit in this ever-diverting panorama is here, and very funny it is too. In short:

“The City Manager sent a series of emails to CentOS, the company that makes the version of [Linux] running on those servers. The page that the servers show explain that it’s not [fully] configured, and [thanks] people for installing CentOS. This genius in City Hall threatened CentOS repeatedly that if they didn’t remove the software that they hacked onto his webservers to block the web site, that he would report it to the FBI.” 

Back to the land of Mencken’s forefathers, the Wikipedia article on Wolfram von Eschenbach uses the image to the right as its only illustration.

Now, how cartoonish is that? Can you imagine how depressing it would be for Wolfram had he known that, despite his name living on for a millennium, the only graphic idea we can associate with him looks like something a twelve-year-old boy put together in a couple of hours, out of cardboard? With the pseudo-antennæ of Frank from Donnie Darko?

Spectacularly unrelatedly, and perhaps this means I’m an emotionless reptile, but while, in the abstract, I miss things about Ireland—talking to certain people, the pub culture—the only thing that has yet caused me to have an actual pang of homesickness has been regularly ordering tea and having the server respond immediately „Schwarz, Pfefferminz, Kamille?“. I have yet to blurt out „Es gibt doch einen Grund dafür, dass man die Pflanze »Tee« nennt, oder? Schwarz, bitte.“ but I may soon. Or, just specify black tea with my order, that might work too ...

Word of the day: Иди диплом is a Tajik party to celebrate getting a diploma or some other educational qualification.

Les Osbourne … Everyone’s second-favourite bishop’s son … At least I’m not working there™. 27th of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 01:42

Belle du Jour, at http://​women.​timesonline.​co.​uk/​article/​0,,17909-2021934,00.​html says:

[Sharon Osbourne] will always be someone’s wife first and her children, while tragic in that fame-addled way unique to celebrity offspring, do not tug the heartstrings the way that Katie’s do. ”

I love that “fame-addled” phrasing; and the whole article’s well-written. I suspect the good bloggers that don’t have other full-time jobs will all end up in journalism—shame, buying the Sunday Times or whatever Matthew Yglesias writes for is of no interest to me. (If you’re in the US and the article isn’t readable for free, shout and I’ll see what I can do.)

In more British media news, there’s a great interview with Jon Snow, at http://​news.​independent.​co.​uk/​media/​article353823.​ece . This in particular strikes me as sage:

“I realised that, 25 years on, absolutely nothing had changed in terms of the relationship between Iran and America, for which you could obviously blame both sides. The way I saw it was that America had never come to terms with what had happened--having their embassy seized, 52 diplomats held for 444 days. The utter humiliation of the failure to rescue them has left a sort of unbound wound, and you feel it.” 

And the third pointer for you on this rainy Monday; a hugely funny anecdote from China on the general chaos at a Chinese state newspaper, from an English speaker employed to proof an English piece there:

“[…] except it was written in German. Good German, from what my mostly-forgotten high school and college German could make out, but nonetheless not English. I brought it to my supervisor and had a conversation something like this (in Chinese, the management spoke and read almost no English at all).” 

“Turns out she had studied for four years in Berlin, spoke pitch-perfect Hochdeutsch, and had never claimed to be able to speak English. It was just assumed when she (honestly) said she was a fluent speaker of a foreign language that that language was English, and when she had been told to translate the document she had assumed that it was into her second language, German, that it should be translated.” 

Word of the day: Муаллим is Tajik for “(male) teacher”; I imagine it’s related to “mullah.”

Last comment from Aidan Kehoe on the 27th of March at 23:14
Everyone’s favourite bishop’s son is, of course, Neil Hannon.

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Je suis doch belle! … Si, c’est le plat pays qui est le mien 26th of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 10:48

I found this thread really interesting; not the post in itself, it’s mostly clear to me (and I imagine to the world in general) that disturbingly attractive women have self-image problems as a matter of course, but the follow-ups are fascinating. Some of them are going « C’est colle de se faire draguer!!! » and then another chica follows up with:

Pas toujours, je me suis déjà faite dragu[er] par un policer de 24 ans sous qui se collait contre moi même si j'essayait de le repousser…

And then, since the original poster dresses really well, and wasn’t describing the details of the positive points of how she gets on well w.r.t her peers, her following up provokes energetic jealousy. And yes, to my annoyance, the posts where other chicas were expressing their jealousy disappeared; that’s a big part of my problem with web fora vs. email. Ach.

Something else that I found interesting; there were two of course separate Belgian competitions to decide on the Greatest Beligian, one run by a Dutch-language TV station, one run by a French-language TV station. And Jacques Brel won the French-language one comfortably; whereas he came seventh in the Dutch-language one. Now, I’ve nothing against Flanders voting Fr. Damien first; but it is slightly disturbing that these neighbouring cultures should be so energetically distant from each other that Georges Simenon isn’t to be had in the Flemish top 50, while he’s number 9 in the Walloon top 50.

Word of the day: Фил means ‘elephant.’ „der Elefant, die Elefanten“ is the normal German word for the same thing.

δημος και τύραννος … Swedes are vegetables in English, human in German 24th of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 05:07

Interesting; Der Spiegel believes that tyranny of the majority is not symptomatic of democracy:


I had always conceived of it as its defining disadvantage, an inherent part of it—cf, that the historical treatment of being gay in the West was endorsed by a great majority, that Prohibition in the US was introduced within the strictures of the system, that energetically and traditionally democratic Switzerland sterilised its Gypsies with the endorsement of the populace.

Word of the day: Not a word at all, but a phrase: „du alter Schwede!“ is a colloquial way to address a friend or colleague in German, apparently going back to the days after the Thirty Years’ War, when Prussia hired some of the militarily-successful Swedes to train its army.

Last comment from Sheila on the 29th of March at 15:13
(yes, I noticed. pretty cool.) I think it’s a grave over the alpha but ask someone who knows.

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