I’ve always liked Stack Exchange. They have beautiful websites with an excellent community-edited system for asking questions and getting answers that puts the focus on the best contributions.
So far, there’s never been a Stack Exchange site I could really participate in – until earlier today, I discovered the new Linguistics – Stack Exchange, “a free, community driven Q&A for professional linguists and others with an interest in linguistic research and theory”. Check it out!
I got some odd looks today for using the local dialect’s way of phrasing the time. But I don’t care for Standard German and don’t think I should be expected to use it.
I have to go back a few years first. I started learning German in 2004. Most of it I learned at the Goethe Institute in Jerusalem and on my visits to Germany. I learned very quickly, and by the time I moved here in 2007, I spoke fluently, but with a bunch of mistakes. Continue reading Three-quarters two→
It’s not every day that you see these words combined: “pronoun causes controversy”. And I’m honestly not a fan of politically manipulating language, especially since I know enough about language to know we know very little about it. But I was still delighted to read this piece on Slate.com:
Earlier this month, the movement for gender neutrality reached a milestone: Just days after International Women’s Day a new pronoun, hen (pronounced like the bird in English), was added to the online version of the country’s National Encyclopedia. The entry defines hen as a “proposed gender-neutral personal pronoun instead of he [han in Swedish] and she [hon].” The National Encyclopedia announcement came amid a heated debate about gender neutrality that has been raging in Swedish newspaper columns and TV studios and on parenting blogs and feminist websites.[…] Continue reading Sweden’s gender-neutral pronoun goes official→
I was recently delighted to discover that Daniel Harbour, one of the linguistic theorists I’ve most enjoyed reading, has a blog – about language and also other interesting topics. It’s called the “because” charade, and here’s how he explains that curious name:
My blog is called the “because” charade because what follows the word because (in a lot of discussion of science, ethics, politics, religion, …) is rarely a reason, or reasonable, or rational. And I believe that we’d all be better off if reason(ableness) played a bigger part in public life.
Recent topics have included the Pirahã controversy – an important linguistic debate, which he explains in terms a layman can understand – and the theory of evolution. A pleasure to read!
Three hundred translators watched transfixed as an assortment of colleagues, speaking from their isolated studies across the globe in their respective languages, faced the camera and opened a narrative vein: out poured their stories of how they got interested in the Hebrew language, the years they spent cultivating their peculiar passion, the emotional relationships they maintained with the dead and living authors with whom they spent their waking hours, the daily warfare they waged against the Hebrew language’s obstinate refusal to fit its rhythms and archeological layers to the structural and cultural molds of their far-flung nations.
The film was “Translating,” by the Israeli filmmaker Nurith Aviv, a series of in-depth monologues by translators from Hebrew into other languages, and the occasion the annual conference of the Israel Translators Association in Jerusalem. The audience, whose linguistic gaps were filled by Hebrew subtitles, could identify with the speakers’ singular strain of obsession, their solitude, and their implicit surprise at being for once in the spotlight instead of the shadows wherein they normally lurk. The symphony of the dozen or so languages in which these unsung laborers told their stories, all referring to the one language they shared and revered, was mesmerizing. Continue reading Word Thieves→
Last week, I Facebook-liked a news item about an acquaintance of mine, Y., giving birth. The reason this was national news in Israel is that Y. identifies himself as a male. The article respected this, using the male gender even on the verb for “gave birth”. Two other acquaintances of mine made snide comments on Facebook, culminating in “it’s like they’re trying really hard to show that it’s actually a man who gave birth”.
I can understand this sentiment quite well. Some five years ago, Y. gave me a ride in his car; his self-definition as a male was new to me at the time, and indeed I had never had to deal with this situation before. I knew that Y. wished to be seen and treated as a man, and wanted to respect that, but it took me a lot of effort to start using the male gender for him.1 I remember sitting in the passenger seat, struggling with awkward silences, and trying to figure out how to speak to him, until I finally got a male “you” out of my mouth. Continue reading On self-definition and basic decency→
It’s important to note that in Hebrew, there are two different forms of singular “you” – one for males, another for females. The same applies to other pronouns, like “your”, as well as to verbs, like “like” – so I can inflect the sentence “Do you like hamburgers” one way for addressing a male (ata ohev hamburgerim?) and another for addressing a female (at ohevet hamburgerim?), but I have no way of leaving the sentence neutral as it would be in English. [↩]
I’m in Jerusalem with my family right now, and we’ve just returned from the annual extended-family vacation. I used the past days on the seaside to catch up on my feed reader, and I have a bunch of goodness to share which might help tide an eager reader over until I actually write something again.
PEACE: Harry Potter and the Politics and Terror
Dan Nexon over at The Duck of Minerva took two stabs at analyzing the last installments of the Harry Potter series. Both are an amusing and interesting read: