True North missed

Monday 8 July 2013, 1.51pm HKT

FINALLY, someone notices:—

reinventing the wheel

(via c4c)

Read the rest of this entry »

What’s it been? Broadsides (5/5)

Wednesday 7 March 2012, 3.00am HKT


(Updated 07 Mar 2012 to fix broken links)

If following some certain blogs has turned out to be a source of consternation for some of you, then tuning them out and unsubscribing clearly makes you a better man (or woman) than I am.

Here are my broadly aimed indiscriminate broadsides for 2011.

NOTE: ‘You’ is being used throughout below in plural form (i.e. ‘you yourselves’).

* * *


To the linguistics blogs

You’re a goddamn disgrace to the language (any),
and to language lovers too. 

Truth be told (and to behold), the attitude and standard of writing on many linguistic sites or blogs leave woefully to be desired. (Or do we say ‘room for improvement’ nowadays?) Of all people, it falls on linguistics people to make elementary technical mistakes, such as:—

  1. overlong paragraphs (i.e. more than 200 words a paragraph)
  2. using non-technical words with meanings that don’t conform to widely accepted meanings
  3. mixing metaphors
  4. incorrect levels of active vs. passive language
  5. inability or unwillingness to restate matters in everyday language or context after stating the matters in technical form

Point 5 is death knell to those who pitch their sing-song about making technical matters more accessible and eclectic to others.

Playing dirty little tricks

What’s so unpleasant for me (and also for quite a lot of people I know) isn’t the blog content itself. It’s the piss-pauvre way their bloggers and commenters treat and argue with other commenters (especially the new ones).

  • They have a ‘tone’ in their writing.
  • They have this offensive, surly kind of sardonism at those whom they consider to be ‘uitlanders’ (outsiders) seemingly based solely on their received academic wisdom.

Their sardonistic antics would have been funny and more entertaining if there had been humour somewhere in there. Instead of humour, there was overweening intellectual pride.

I don’t know whether to describe you as malicious in the sense of malice, or malicious in the legal sense of reckless, especially when you play dirty little tricks on your new readers and new commenters (as discussed in Part 4 before).

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then many of these linguistics blogs have a noticeable tendency to do this to their readers:—

(via c4c)


To the China-related blogs

See Ye Olde Hong Kong flag below.

Even the Chinese find themselves inscrutable and hard to explain — and here you are trying your hardest to be like the Chinese, when you’re anything but. And it shows.

You know the minutiae and mechanismata of life in mainland China more than the rest of us. That much is clear. Equally clear is that, your five to 10 years of living there, an expert does not make of you (broadly speaking).

Nasty and unspeakable

Many of the deeper, more fluid nuances of Chineseness, of being Chinese — of the seemingly atavistic ‘practices’ of the Chinese in general (and of the mainlanders in particular) — actually still escapes you. And it shows.

And for some bizarre reason, why is it that you — English yakkers the lot of you — end up writing English with a pronounced Chinglish bent?

Have you forgotten your own tongue?

Did you do something nasty and unspeakable with your tongue somehere?

Most of you are (or were) in China as foreign-language or English teachers of one shade or another, living (or having lived) there with all the mod cons (relatively speaking) of an expat life there. Let’s make no mistake about that, shall we?

Chalk and cheese

If expat and local life in Hong Kong (a place with a high degree of Westernisation among the Chinese part of the population) are as different as chalk and cheese, then it behoves you to realise that yours over there is even more different.

In my own experience of China-watchers and China-livers (and it IS pretty extensive an experience), you are only touching the surface surfactant (the thing that lowers the surface tension).

Not very good in self-control

Credit where credit’s due, there are a handful of smashingly good China-watching blogs, particularly one whose host is extremely adept at playing ‘softball’ (figuratively speaking). And there are some really good and easygoing commenters who do know what’s what and what’s not in China and about the Chinese.

However, the large morass of this ‘chinesed’ community of bloggers and commenters are:—

(a) mostly pugnacious crybabies,
(b) spreading their need to make a ‘statement’ a bit too thick sometimes,
(c) not noticeably gifted on the context-spotting department, and
(d) prattling on about some trivial WTF behaviour of the people in their locale.

Some people are not very good in self-control and don’t realise when they overdoing their bit of trying-ever-so-hard to stand out from the competition.

China isn’t a pretty place, and most Chinese (on home turf as well as overseas) are insightful enough that they themselves are either bitches or bastards — you knew full well when you got there, so quit complaining.

Ye olde Hong Kong flag

Were YOU here when THIS was here?
If not, then you know bollocks about China or Chinese people.


To the Chinese-related linguistics blogs

Are you a true, real-life licensed professional?
Or are you just another ‘professional’?

You should be so lucky that you are enjoying your success in the blogosphere. I am happy for you in that respect (and that respect only). Otherwise, you come across roundly as self-righteous and more than a little biased in your views.

I have never ever in my life for the longest time met anybody so swelled up in their (or, prescriptively grammatically, his or her?) ‘discipline’ (i.e. field of study).

Understanding ‘professional’


Please don’t project yourselves as ‘professionals’ because, otherwise, you’ll need to reassess your understanding of the word ‘professional.’

As a non-practising professional myself (lawyer), I reckon I have a better-than-expected understanding on this score. *Snorg*

Just because you can speak and/or read and write Chinese (plus a dozen or so other languages, whether or not deeply or fluently), please don’t diss the rest of us for being ignorant. We’re not unaware you’re dissing us.

  • You have a ‘tone’ in your writing, and that’s upsetting to say the least.
  • You come across as argumentative, which is consistent with self-centredness.
  • You mostly have an avoidance personality disorder in the way you generally regard other people’s comments.

‘When you put in the hours’

The really grostesque aspect of these Chinese-related lingo blogs is that they have a high  number of commenters who adhere (obey?) the line that Chinese is not difficult, often occurring in the same breath with the words “when you put in the hours” — all suitably laced with all manners of arcana linguistica just to prevent others from putting in a slightly different viewpoint.

  • Just because you’ve learnt Chinese and maybe because you like to learn Chinese, what makes you so goddamn sure it isn’t hard for the rest of us?
  • Just because your linguistics background says you’re right, what makes you so goddamn sure that the rest of us is not right?

Actually,organic chemistry and biology (both I got trained in before law) aren’t difficult when you put in the hours. Neither is law when you put in the (massive) hours. But we don’t hear you saying dimethylphosphatase-assisted redox reactions or promissory estoppel or liens or constructive superannuation not difficult, do we? Derp.

Even mathematics frequently gets things wrong.
What makes yours so infallible?
(via c4c)


Try actually asking an actual Chinaman about his or her actual history of learning the actual Chinese language on an actual day actually face to face. To say nothing also about actually learning your actual Chinese history actually better with regards to the actual politically inspired (vs. formalised linguistic) evolution of the Chinese language. Actually.

  • The truth is, many, many Chinese themselves consider Chinese to be quite hard, even with the hours put in.

These Sino-lingo blogs are the equivalent of the space virus in “The Andromeda Strain” for those old enough to remember that 1969 film.



From right to left: Kangxi Dictionary forms, M...

Did you have to start learning this at kindergarten age?
If not, then you have no idea how hard it is to learn it.
Because the hours put in, likewise take away hours from childhood.

“You make me wish I had more middle fingers.”


Be thankful, be gracious, that I have not named names. In the Year of the Destructive Dragon, I may change my mind. As a lawyer myself, albeit non-practising, I can shut you down with little or no cost to me if I get riled enough to do that.


‘White knuckles’

Believe it or not, one Sino-lingo blogger managed to get me into such a rage in a certain thread that I was clenching fists that went white at the knuckles. Still.

Read the sidebar that cries out for anger managment here.

I’ve had only four other ‘white-knuckle’ incidents before (not counting this one). Three of them ended in litigation in my favour, and one (shall we say) led to considerable distress for the other person.

I’m not naturally a vicious person, but I did go to law school, which is where they teach people how to be vicious. So there.

The timebar for litigation is six years.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

Give me grief like that, and I hand you reprisals.

See you in court, pal, because you didn’t realise you made defamatory statements about me. I have the full-page screencaps as evidence.



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

Images: Former Hong Kong colonial flag (public domain) via Wikipedia ♦ World map graphic and Chinese characters chart powered by Zemanta/WordPress ♦ Other images as indicated.

What’s it been? Venting (4/5)

Tuesday 6 March 2012, 12.15pm HKT


This is another tl;dr instalment. Woe betide you if you forego reading it, for it contains a number of broadsides that may actually affect YOUR blogging activities.

* * *


This is the right time to speak up.

Normally I don’t like to hit back, not especially at blogs anyway, since, as a renegade blogger myself, I know full well how brain-damaged the whole exercise can be.

But man has his limits, as Detective ‘Dirty Harry’ Calahan once put it.


A little about my personality

You need to know something about me first so you know overall why I’m venting here:—

Be surprised to learn that I’m actually a Type A personality.

You’d never thought so just by the way I mostly carry on, but many people actually think I’m a milquetoast (a timid, unassertive person for those unused to americanisms) because of the way I let things pass 99% of the time.

That is, until they get up my nose long enough. Then they find to their terror that I have a high-velocity explosive temper with a physical speed and agility to match.

  • That sociologist on Job No. B08045 received my ‘hairdryer treatment’ at 50% capacity and, boy, was scared fartless.
  • That pushy sonofabitch salesperson who tried to sell me barely existent 100gsm-weight coated woodfree paper for US$1,500 a reel (double the market spot price) got a faceful of my 75% temper and almost felt he was being garrotted with No. 3 Piano Wire.

But 99% of the time, I just let it be. Pushing back isn’t automatic even for Type A personalities, you know. Type A’s aren’t psychopaths. Many Type A’s are really patient, easygoing people — so that Type A/Type B theory can go straight into the dustbin.

My life is one long emergency and I don’t have the time or energy to go ballistic at the slightest provocation. I leave that to the great masses of uncontrollable animals elsewhere.

‘They are what they are’

Intellectual discussions don’t normally scare me — not even those well outside my education or training. Trust me, I’m no intellectual. I’m an educated man but I can’t speak intelligently about the habits of others engaged in intellectual discourse. But then again, if you’re like me,** just about nothing should scare you.

** A chopper biker, legally trained, mum telling you to wear long hair after she died, 37 months on crutches, two months in a neck brace, and 114 years of printing legal documents for government-approved financial scams IPOs.

Personally, I’m not terribly fond of intellectuals or academics, especially the more egregious types. They are what they are, as the Italian phrase puts it rather well. I take their facelessness at face value, enjoy their foggy and oracular discussions for what they’re worth, have a larff, and move on.

Not to bottle things up

People who know me even for five minutes will know I’m not the type who holds a grudge against anyone — for sure not over the Internet — mainly because I operate on two principles:

  1. outlive them so I take pleasure in seeing them squeal and die before I do
  2. die early myself so I don’t have to breathe the same air as they do

However, I tend not to bottle things up. Yet I’m not exactly disposed to implement advice like ‘Don’t hold back’ either.

Truth is, I’m 88% easier-going than 95% of Type A personalities, 77% of lawyers, or 51% of bikers (of the motorcycle variety).


A little about 1.67%

Like I mentioned in Part 3 already, I’ve been following some 300 blogs and mailing lists of all types (via email, naturally) for (much, much) more than a year — and only 1.67% of them manages to upset me. But it’s out-and-out 99% upset.

They’re only blogs, right?! What the hell?!?

You’d be surprised just how talented some bloggers are at disruptive behaviour. You’ve got to hand it to them to actually get others to lose their rag over the Internet.

Out of my 300+ follows:

  • around 50 on language, grammar and/or linguistics
  • maybe 25 on various countries or other languages
  • maybe 25 on China
  • a dozen or so on Hong Kong
  • the rest are on cool stuff that pleases me (food, drink, bikes, chicks, cats, graphic arts, travel, music, gigs, news, porn, etc).

Certain issues need to be addressed regarding 1.67% of those blogs.

Tense humour and ‘the pits’

My biggest source of dismay and consternation (in a word, distemper, in the English literary sense, not the biomedical one) have been:

  • linguistics sites or blogs
  • China-watching or related sites or blogs

At the meeting point between those two, the worst has been

  • China-related linguistics blogs or sites from inside China written by foreigners who think they are ‘Chinese’

While I admire their confidence and knowledgeability in their own spheres, I do not admire their tense humour and the inanity of their commentary.

(I can handle racism, I can handle lack of humour, but I just can’t handle tense humour.)

It IS truly amazing that the Great Firewall of China hasn’t managed to stop those blogs from invading out onto us. Not one bit, given that that firewall has the ability to practically block sunlight.

‘They are the pits’ is my John McEnroe’esque assessment.


A little about linguanophiles

If you care to pay any attention at all, linguistics, translation studies and pedagogy (education) are highly rigid and rigidised fields.

Of the lot, linguistics is the most rigid and rigidised.

The most hotly contested (and heated) debates in academia today are in linguistics, which fact should help you infer the type of people who populate that field.

Read the sidebar for the key reasons for intellectual rigidity and rigidisation.


A little about comportment

The most galling thing on many of those lingo blogs is the way the bloggers and their regular dogpile of commenters actually go to extremes and deliberately exclude newcomers or those who simply hold different (though often non-dissenting) viewpoints.

I’m reminded of someone’s insight that, if The Establishment feel so fearful and threatened by a 76-year-old retired gynaecologist like Ron Paul (the American politician), there must be something seriously wrong about your turf.

Offensive antics

One of their more offensive antics is the blogger and his (usually it’s a ‘his’) favourite commenters collude behind the scenes, so to speak, to plot a comment dialogue done in such a way that’s deliberately littered with arcane technicalities that newcomers or uitlanders cannot possibly join in.

If you’ve ever been to boarding school and have constantly been abused there (not sexually, I’m embarrassed to say) or have been handed purposely designed ‘aggro’ as I have been, it becomes extremely easy how to figure out who’s colluding with who. Over time, it becomes second nature and you could do it ‘by remote,’ so to speak.


This pattern of bad behaviour is not one-off. It’s frequently seen in just about every academically related blog and Facebook thread that I’ve ever visited or got sucked into. The same takes place with some regularity on sites and Facebook groups that discuss sociology, translation studies and pedagogy (education).

Indeed, I myself have been solicited by some lingo bloggers or Facebookers to do just that against some unsuspecting victim. “Give ’em a break,” I say to these characters, “We’re still young enough to do that.” And then they brand me ‘uncooperative.’

Shaken to the core

I’ve been following a variety of linguistics, language, translation, sociology and pedagogy sites for well nigh on 10 years on a regular basis — in addition to having handled their authors for print publications for roughly the same amount of time. The same repertoire of antics are repeated time and time again. I’ve learnt to time it when antics start kicking in.

It’s disgusting. It’s offensive. It’s highly prejudiced. And these people aren’t even aware that they’re doing this themselves.

I lose my rag, and I really do have it in me to tell them to f@#k off, go to hell, and don’t come back.

Any inherent faith inside you in the goodness of people easily becomes shaken to the core because of seeing or knowing that.


A little about grace, if not face

The English aristocracy are famous for their grace — the ability to make a person feel really welcomed.

Clearly, the people who run blogs about linguistics, language, sociology, pedagogy and translation studies did not know how to learn that.

Tsk, tsk, tsk. Such swell intellectualism, and yet ignorant of these simple rules:—

The Golden Rule
Treat others as you yourself like to be treated.

The Silver Rule
Don’t treat others in ways that you wouldn’t like to be treated.

Not unless you’re a sado-masochist, in which case you WOULD enjoy begging to receive pain whilst also enjoying being refused it.

Try mine:—

The Naked Listener’s Malleable Copper Alloy Rule
Go easy on those who think, speak, eat and shat differently than you do because they don’t necessarily have your loaf, gob, eating irons or your porcelain shatware.


A little about face-off

Sometimes there’s just no way out.

The Naked Listener offers some timely advice:—

The Wax-On/Wax-Off Maxim
“That is the way I do things. If you don’t like it, then find me a driver who WILL comply with the way I do things.”

The English Displeasure and Reprisal-in-Kind Rule
“If my presence here is not up to your standards or expectations, I would appreciate it if you be so kind as to step away from your cheese and crackers for a minute and tell me directly what your requirements or particular preferences are for my presence to be acceptable.”

And remember this:

“If you tolerate this, your children will be next.” (English proverb)


Your question now must be, why continue with them?

That question is perhaps easier to answer if you care for broadly aimed broadsides in the next part.



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012.

Images: Keep Calm/Screw Calm via Sarah C. | “I have nothing to say” via Cascade Web Development | Good Habits/Bad Habits Signpost via Marketing Leadership Council | “Once we hit capacity…” via Eddie Codel/Flickr.

What’s it been? The Engine Room (3/5)

Tuesday 6 March 2012, 12.15am HKT


(Updated 07 March 2012 to fix broken links)

TL;DR, but should be worth your read.

This part is a ‘rando’ (newspaperspeak for ‘review and outlook’) about my online reading and writing activities. It’s really about the human chemistry behind the written word that makes the whole sordid exercise of reading and writing worthwhile, considering the finite time we all have on Earth.

* * *


On the blogging front

“Pool’s Closed.”

That’s Internetspeak for the yearlong raid by readers who email me comments but, altogether bizarrely, won’t comment on the blogposts themselves.

Those shatloads of long comments complained all possible manner of complaints, prattling on that my posts weren’t in English at all, not up to academic standard, ‘poor’ idioms, not writing in Chinese, and so on and so forth.

Hilarity did NOT ensue.

The comments weren’t even spam — they’re from real people. Just un-bloody-real.


On following blogs

As a testament to my own brain-damagedness, I follow roughly 300 blogs (via email) of all kinds of subjects imaginable. Ninety-nine percent of them have been fun-filled, entertaining, enlightening, thought-arousing, learn-something-new-every-day reads. A handful of them are even ever so slightly sexually arousing, especially if I really concentrate.

However, just like the “We are the 99%” vs. 1% making the rounds all over the USA, it is the 1% (in my case, 1.67%) that have caused 99% of the consternation for me.

Half the time the stuff from the 1.67% is a rehash of stuff already fleshed out in books or someplace else that, quite frankly between you and me, has been done better elsewhere.

That 1.67% are those sites related (‘devoted’) to China and linguistics. If you can figure out between the two, the worst must have been Chinese-related linguistics blogs from inside China. Of that, the pits are those written by non-Chinese who imagine they are Chinese.

If such a small number is causing such a great upset, why continue reading them?

Jeez, I went to law school, you know — just because I don’t like something, doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t read it. (Are YOU able to do that?) I assure you, it isn’t sado-masochism on my part.

“Don’t hold back,” my friends and my lawyers (yes, lawyers!) tell me, whilst I mulled over the advice for quite some time. But I demur. So indulge me, and let me state certain thoughts in conclusive manner in Part 4 coming up.

* * *


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012.
Image of Chinese stanza in blue calligraphy by Samantha C.-S.

Aside: A little about linguanophiles (4/4)

Monday 5 March 2012, 11.30pm HKT


(Updated 06 Mar 2012 for typos and formatting failure)

If you’re a linguist (as per linguistics), translation specialist or a pedagogue (educationist or even a teacher), you are not going like this part. It is cynical, but it is also highly accurate for what it’s worth. As the Italians say, it is what it is.


4. Isolation

If there had to be a fourth reason for the noticeable rigidity and rigidisation of certain academic disciplines, then I reckon this might be it:—

A great need for certainty often comes from not getting out much.

This, I’ve noticed even casually, is more often the case with people who spend some significant portion of their lives in some combination of physical, intellectual or even mental isolation from the people and happenings around them.

Maybe it’s because we don’t consider others to be up to scratch because of education, training, social class, loose coinage in their pockets or something.

But more maybe it’s because different views kind of sets up the need to deal with real-life ambiguity — and most of us find it a chore to learn to shoehorn different views into our neat and tidy, educationally conditioned, mental grids.

Whatever the reason, it’s still isolation all the same.

It’s just like that demotivator poster above — you have everything a townie has, but you’re still just driving around on a small, secluded island. No man is an island, but some people come pretty close.

If you’ve lived long enough, you’ll notice aloof or supercilious people often tend to have great need for certainty in their own needs and wants — likewise, equally great expectations of surety from you in fulfilling those needs and wants of theirs.

I’m reminded of what the Speculative Grammarian once told me in a Facebook thread that linguists often don’t update themselves in their fields or even look at the work of other linguists. That puts it rather well, as Denholm Elliot’s character said in the movie ‘A Bridge Too Far.’


Quo vadis?

Linguists (and translation specialists too) vehemently deny any of this.

  • They say they don’t dig orthodoxy.
  • They say they value new contributions to existing theories and practices.
  • They say the inherent contextuality of their subject matter leaves no room for a great need for certainty — and, incidentally, then they say a need for certainty is a good thing because it makes their disciplines ‘more robust.’
  • They say we’re mistaken and they’re not isolated from real life (which is not what we’re saying anyway) — we’re misjudging them because their “experience of a great many languages” could only come from constant contact with the world at large (as one Sino-blogger once retorted to me in a thread).

The last point above was particularly insulting and insolent. It’s as if the rest of us hoi-polloi don’t measure up merely because we’re unknowledgeable in the morphemes, lexical content or functional grammar or f@#king fricatives of a dozen different languages that they know.

I mean, I’m not having it in for lingos, tarnsies and other assorted academics in liberal arts. The liberal arts have their value and uses. But don’t ‘handle’ others with your field of study as though it were a intellectual shield. That’s just makes you a mean bean jumping bean. Truth is, the average liberal-arts graduate earn only 15% more than a secondary school leaver would.

Your chambermaid down the hall is illiterate but could muster some pleasant phrases in Spanish, Swahili and Turkish, get along just darn fine with her Brazilian, Polish and Ceylonese colleagues, and connect with them without needing to ‘correct’ their semantics or semiological functionality. And she makes more money than you do just from tips.

Argue only with their own kind

Indeed, you can get into raging arguments and lifelong feuds with these people just about everything in this Aside — which somewhat proves my point already. Just about every other linguist my classmates and I ever met turned out to be an argumentative character. The more articulate ones have the added flavour of being sardonically insolent. At least the tarnsies (translators) and educrats argue only with their own kind, and that helps to maintain general harmony.

We all want certainty one way or another. We need to feel certain at some point in our life — to feel like we know what’s going to take place and what’s going to happen. Certainty is comfort; it is one of the six basic human needs for a reason.

But even a casual look at these particular people tell us many of their actions are done under the auspices of their need for certainty. It’s a bit like smoking — it becomes a habit after a while. It isn’t the cigarette itself or the actual smoking that makes the smoker feel certain or comfortable. it is the manner they ‘drag the fag’ that makes them feel relaxed.

Assisted suicide

But after having fully two years of linguistics instruction at university (not by choice, I might add), it surprises me so few of us (the lingos, tarnsies, educrats and non-lingos on lingo courses) actually notice these tendencies. Maybe there is some sort of political/poetic (poelitetical?) message somewhere amidst all of the pretension.

“Ironically, people seem to have an easier time totally reversing their beliefs — going from being certain that X is true to being certain that not-X is true — than accepting ambiguity.” — Claude Fischer (ibid.)

Remember, just as the emperor committed assisted suicide as the mob spilled into the palace in the movie ‘Quo Vadis,’ your greatest handiwork could also be your own undoing if you don’t do what the proverbial mob on the march is expecting for their need for certainty.

It’s not just the soy sauce the mob’s expecting to spill for certain


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. Updated 06 March 2012.

Images: Isolation via eBaumsworld | Supermarket spillage via CTV.

Aside: A little about linguanophiles (3/4)

Monday 5 March 2012, 9.00pm HKT


(Updated 06 March for typos and formatting failure)

The need for certainty is in every one of us. It enables us to regulate our lives and activities, giving ourselves some measure of control in an otherwise chaotic world. But the need for certainty can sometimes cause us to discount and disregard some of the essential nuances and changeable quality built into life.


3. Need for certainty

The need for orthodoxy (‘orthodoxy attachment’) comes chiefly from a great need for and insistence on certainty.

This is probably the biggest factor fuelling paradigm maintenance.

You don’t honestly need to be a rocket scientist to see this suggests some underlying inferiority complex at play here. Everyone else with a modicum of common sense and a little learning can relate to you that language and learning are at heart changeable and changing things because of their inherent contextual ambiguity in use.

“Those of us who teach undergraduates often encounter a woeful complaint when we’ve presented them with conflicting factual claims, explanations, or theories: ‘But which one is true?’

“In part, this cry may reflect students’ urge to know what answer to give on the exam. But I think that it more reflects a general need for certainty. The teacher may want them to compare and contrast assertions, to appreciate that the science on many topics is still in flux, to understand that there may no ‘right answer’ on many topics, but accepting that level of ambiguity is a hard task for many students – and people in general.” — Claude Fischer, ‘Tolerating Ambiguity,’ Made in America (blog), 18 Oct 2011 | Link

(Boldfacings are my emphasis.)

It’s like asking what’s the actual colour of the chameleon — the only possible answer is the permanent colour of a chameleon is the one when it died. Who knows what colour when it was living?

Linguists and translators (‘tarnsies’) say they have to live with ambiguity and flexibility every day. The physicists say theirs is an exacting science, but they’re also visibly content living with a lot of uncertainty (thanks to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle). The lawyers know for certain to a moral certitude that even court judgments can be set aside.

Wherez ur god nao?

Truth is, it’s the lingos and tarnsies who can’t live with ambiguity, which is why their fields are so filled to the brim with rules. They’re all prescriptivists who claim they’re not. (I’m actually a prescriptivist, so it takes one to know one, I suppose.)

Each lingo or tarnsie is vying against one another in trying to come up with ‘the next killer text’ for their discipline — that’s why there are more books published in linguistics than all the physics, biology and chemistry books combined.

To phy-bi-chem people, a standing tome is schleppage. But to the lingos and tarnsies, the book is prestige, something certain to go to if you’re looking for certainty.

That’s why mailing lists like the Linguist List bombards the inbox with roughly 200 messages every week, whereas the Molecular Biology Notebook list could only muster 50 or 60 a month.

I don’t think anyone will be stupid enough to think linguistics is harder than molecular biology (which I did do during my very first job in a London hospital).



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. Updated 06 March 2012.
Image via Made in America | Fistful of languages via Alexander Gross.

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