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May 26, 2010

Samen leven
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:14 PM * 293 comments

It occurs to me that, while we have this quiet time on Making Light, I could do a few background posts on life in the Netherlands. And one of the most important concepts of the culture here, one that keeps surprising and educating me, is samen leven.

The term literally means “to live together”. It’s one of the core values of Dutch culture: the concept that no matter how much we differ, we all have to find a way to not just coexist but actively cooperate. The simplistic folk-sociological explanation of this is that it’s a crowded country with a shared objective: keep our feet dry, keep the sea back. And I suspect there’s more than a grain of truth in that, though there are similarly crowded cultures that have used other strategies, such as reticence, to the same effect.

But the Dutch are famous for their bluntness; I think they could give up cheese more easily than they could speaking their minds. So the samenleving is a safety net, a guarantee that even the most extreme views* will be tolerated†.

Samen leven, like all forms of tolerance, is challenged by the existence of intolerance. In the Netherlands these days, that clash is usually between conservative immigrant groups, particularly some (but not all) communities who trace their roots to Muslim countries‡ and right-wing politicians such as Pim Fortuyn and Geert Wilders. Whether the Muslims are being intolerant or their opponents are is hotly debated on all sides of society (with, of course, due attention to and consideration of all views).

In any case, Rush Limbaugh would not get much of an audience here.

But the Dutch are good-humored about their passion for tolerance. My bike is not the standard Dutch bike; it’s a rams-horn touring bike. A colleague said that I wasn’t really living the Dutch lifestyle with a bike like that. My only reply was, “Samen leven.” And he laughed, and withdrew the allegation.

More seriously, samen leven is as deeply rooted in Dutch culture as an explicit love of liberty is in America. Like liberty, like any cardinal value, the single-minded pursuit of that kind of tolerance is probably more of a weakness than a strength, but it’s an interesting and challenging mindset for an American to encounter and live together with.

* There are exceptions. The culture is also passionately committed to both caring for its children and granting them freedom from an early age. Harming children is not tolerated.
† The word usually translated as “tolerance”, gedoogbeleid, is used in the context of Dutch drug law rather than the exchange of views. But it’s all part of the same picture.
‡ The native conservative Christian community is as committed to live together with people it disagrees with as the rest of the country. Pretty much, anyway.
Comments on Samen leven:
#1 ::: Pyre ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 05:26 PM:

Sounds like Unitarians.

#2 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 05:45 PM:

In The Island at the Center of the World, Russell Shorto argues that the Dutch version of tolerance was a critical part of the developing American mindset. Obviously, it's not identical, but if you think about it, the 17th century was not exactly a tolerant time, so it is pretty incredible that the idea that just maybe it's okay if your neighbor is a different religion from you actually gained traction. Lord knows that idea didn't come from the Puritans.

#3 ::: Bob ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 06:10 PM:

I find this fascinating because I live in an area of Canada that has a very high number of Dutch immigrants. Most came after WWII. Suffice to say their far from tolerant and are frequently at the center of right wing political parties. Also are the loudest to complain about sex education in schools, gay rights etc. I guess they moved for a reason.

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 06:22 PM:

"Rush Limbaugh would not get much of an audience here."

Would you be willing to try? We'd be happy to send him over.

#5 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 06:26 PM:

Stefan, for shame! The Dutch are our friends!

#6 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 06:41 PM:

On the immigration problem: I've been wondering what it's like to accept immigrants into a country that doesn't define itself as "a nation of immigrants." Obviously, lots of Americans ignore the fact that their ancestors came from elsewhere . . . but how can the Dutch, for example, justify accepting immigrants into their supposedly-homogeneous culture?

#7 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 06:42 PM:

Stefan, Mark, I have a compromise to propose.

We'll send him HALF way over.

#8 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 06:46 PM:

Bob @ #3 -- maybe it's the Dutch who can't cope with samen leven who emigrate? It seems like the Boers in South Africa and the colonial Dutch in Indonesia were not noted for the value...

#9 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 06:52 PM:

Xopher, what a charming notion, eminently practical and yet appropriate as always. Xopher, how I've lived without you all these years I'll never knooooow!

Ahem. Back now.

#10 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 06:57 PM:

This might be what I get for spending an hour or so next to a 7T magnet, but I just got the horrible image of Glenn Beck in the middle of the Atlantic...

...blub, blub, blub, Glenn Beck in a Tub.

#11 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 07:01 PM:

Bob @3 said: I find this fascinating because I live in an area of Canada that has a very high number of Dutch immigrants. Most came after WWII. Suffice to say their far from tolerant and are frequently at the center of right wing political parties. Also are the loudest to complain about sex education in schools, gay rights etc. I guess they moved for a reason.

Another batch of that same sort of Dutch immigrant came into the outer-Chicagoland-area some time ago; among other things, their descendants founded Trinity Christian College, which is exceedingly narrow-minded in their definition of 'Christian'. The founders have a lot of "Vander"s in front of their names, and the like, and so do a significant proportion of the students.

My mother taught there briefly, in the Earth Science department. She had a new-minted Master's degree, and was looking for any job that would let her teach, so she accepted their bizarre stipulations -- for example, she was not to explicitly mention the age of the Earth (even when discussing rock formation, stratigraphy, and plate tectonics), nor was she to let the word 'evolution' pass her lips even once in front of students. In addition, every class taught had to have 'Biblical Content,' basically a moral-of-the-story that the teacher wrangled the subject matter around to explicating repeatedly throughout the semester.

Having a righteously-vindictive streak a mile wide and a history of exceedingly elaborate and well-delivered practical jokes, she did two things that made them really wish they had grounds to fire her ... but they couldn't quite.

First: she structured her classes in such a way that, while never actually teaching anything they'd explicitly forbidden, caused at least half her students to come up to her after class and ask her things like, "But if *this* and *this* are true, doesn't that mean *insert statement she was forbidden to utter, that is acknowledged as true by most scientists*??!?" She gave them a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth understanding smile and referred them, individually, to the department head with their questions.

Then, when said department head went on sabbatical, a class he taught once a year suddenly didn't have an available teacher. She volunteered to teach it. I forget the precise title of the class, but it amounted to turning a room full of go-getter excited Earth Science students loose on some (consenting) local business or concern, to find all the ways that said concern could recycle, save energy, conserve water, and generally reduce waste to save the planet.

My mother took Matthew 7:3 as her Biblically Based Content for the semester, and turned them loose on the TCC dorms. It was an outstandingly successful semester by all the standards of the class, and the students (both those taking it and their compatriots in the dorms who were recruited to help) adored it. They brought water usage from dorm showers and sinks down to *one-third* its previous value.

A bright kid among her students had the idea to team up with the zoological-behavior class kids who'd paintball-tagged all the campus raccoons (the better to individually track and log their behavior) to figure out after which cafeteria meals the raccoons were most strongly attracted to the school's dumpsters ... and then lobbied the school to cut or modify all the meals that were being returned to trash cans largely uneaten in favor of meals the students would actually choose to buy.

Um. Yeah. She delighted in annoying the piss out of her department head in non-actionable ways (mostly by scrupulously obeying the letter of all his directives), until she found a better adjunct post to apply for and washed her hands of the place entirely. I'd like to think it was a learning experience all around, but I doubt they learned what she'd've wanted them to (more likely they learned to more thoroughly vet future employment candidates for undesirable faith modalities, the better to create an echo chamber to raise their kids in).

#12 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 07:08 PM:

Ulrika @8: Nor are the Dutch in the American Midwest, among whom I grew up. I've heard them described as "perhaps the only immigrant community in North America who left their native land because the government there had grown too tolerant for them." The ones I knew preferred to view it that the Netherlands has become such a wretched hive of scum and villainy because "all the (us) good people left." The Midwestern Dutch do cross-pollinate a decent bit with the Dutch communities of Canada, Michigan, and California, so it's not like they're entirely disjoint groups of people.

They were decent people on a personal level, and their politics were no worse than the conservative Christian German farmers in the next town over (though no more in concordance with mine either), but growing up among them I never really felt like I belonged, and I'm glad I left.

#13 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 07:11 PM:

So, are we agreed that the Netherlands has been abandoned, historically, by people who can't stand tolerance, and that the places that received the contents of this dialysis are much the worse for it? And that the Netherlands is a lovely place with almost no one like the Boers or Colonial Dutch in Indonesia or Puritans (my personal yuck, even though they weren't actually Dutch) or the people who founded Trinity Christian College?

#14 ::: DB ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 07:28 PM:

It sounds to me, Abi, as if what you are describing is exactly the "society" that Margaret Thatcher claimed did not exist.

#15 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 07:59 PM:

Xopher, #7: Does this mean you're proposing him as a candidate for MAFF?

Elliott, #11: If I should ever meet your mother, I'll buy her the Beverage Of Her Choice. That was brilliant.

#16 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 08:11 PM:

Lee@15: She would probably prefer Nifty Chocolate, NB. I'd say it's unlikely you'd ever encounter her, but she keeps randomly encountering all kinds of people I thought it unlikely she'd meet, so. :->

My mother makes me look straight, narrow, and unimaginative. In the novel of her life, I'm not even the plucky comic relief.

Exemplia gratia: she goes to Burning Man every year. She's deeply involved in the running of the Great Eureka-to-Ferndale Kinetic Sculpture Race. She's very good friends with a man who once ran for Mayor of San Francisco in his drag-nun alter ego. Ellin Berlin was her godmother (and namesake). The actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West told her (and other kids) stories in Central Park when she was a kid. She could probably couchsurf across almost any continent on one month's notice, given the sheer number of her acquaintances.

My teenage-rebellion period was difficult, but not for the same reasons other people have. :->

#17 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 08:26 PM:

Abi, you need to note more explicitly the relationship between samenleven and samenwerken. It strikes me, from my limited acquaintance with Dutch Caribbean culture, that the interplay of the two is very important.

#18 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 08:31 PM:

Stefan Jones #4: What have the Dutch done to you?

#19 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 08:38 PM:

LDR @ #6: but how can the Dutch, for example, justify accepting immigrants into their supposedly-homogeneous culture?

Can't speak for the Dutch, but I can speak for the Norwegians. Short answer: Not easily. If they're not working, they're sponging off our tax money; while if they're working, they're taking away our jobs, as the unfunny half-joke goes. Unless they're pale-skinned Europeans or North Americans, in which case they're practically Norwegians already...

[Note: That is not my personal opinion of immigrants, it's just my interpretation of the debate as it goes. I'm fine with people moving around even if they move here. For one thing, it improves the choice in foodstuffs.]

#20 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 08:49 PM:

Elliot Mason, your mom not only sounds cool, I would not be surprised if she turned out to be the model for Martha Macnamara in Tea with the Black Dragon.

#21 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 09:00 PM:

I'd like to know how hamantaschen fit in to saman leven, other than the obvious use of lekvar.

And could someone please turn down the audio? I keep hearing "Sam and Janet Evening" "Some Enchanted Evening".

#22 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 09:29 PM:

Does this mean you're proposing him as a candidate for MAFF?

Mid-Atlantic Fugghead Fund?

#23 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 10:01 PM:

Xopher: Mid-Atlantic Fan Fund.

As I recall it was a 1/2 way ticket on a tramp steamer, a la Kidnapped.

#24 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 10:29 PM:

The simplistic folk-sociological explanation of this is that it’s a crowded country with a shared objective: keep our feet dry, keep the sea back.

And to remind Netherlanders of the ever-present threat of flooding, the Dutch Constitution is called the Ground-Wet.

#25 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 10:54 PM:

Roy, #19: If they're not working, they're sponging off our tax money; while if they're working, they're taking away our jobs, as the unfunny half-joke goes.

Boy, does that sound familiar; you've just summed up the American conservative position on immigrants very neatly. Half the time you hear both arguments being made simultaneously, hence the liberal caricature of it as, "Damn lazy welfare Meskins taking jobs away from good Americans!"

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 10:57 PM:

Yes, Terry, I know. But Rush Limbaugh is not a fan.

#27 ::: nekonoir ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2010, 11:48 PM:


Really? For someone who isn't a fan, an awful lot of excrement gets redistributed by his rotating blades ...

#28 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 12:58 AM:

they could give up cheese more easily than they could speaking their minds

I love cheese, but I can put it aside because of the cholesterol. Stopping from speaking my mind? Nope, even though this may one day get me fired. I wonder if I have Dutch ancestors somewhere in my shady past.

#29 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 01:26 AM:

In my very limited travels in Europe in the past 10 years, I found the Netherlands to be the only place where restaurants still reeked of cigarette smoke. It was explained to me that the Dutch are philosophically opposed to passing laws that forbid smoking in public places. Is that correct?

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 01:44 AM:

LDR @6:
but how can the Dutch, for example, justify accepting immigrants into their supposedly-homogeneous culture?

Not easily, is the short answer. There is a long tradition of asylum here; note that the English Puritans fled to the Netherlands before finding it too tolerant and moving on to America. But against that, there's a deep trend of racism and suspicion of incomers.

As a pale-skinned immigrant with substantial economic and educational assets, I haven't had it at all badly. But someone darker, poorer, and dressed less like my neighbors has a harder time fitting in. Non-EU immigrants must go through a process of inburging, which requires that they obtain fluency in Dutch, learn about the culture, and even befriend their neighbors. (This last baffles me, because none of my neighbors really mix.)

I do not know how it will come out. I will say that, in Roy's narrative, only one half gets said around me: there's a negative stereotype of people who come here and rely on the safety net, particularly if they're perceived as not trying to speak the language or fit into the culture. Immigrants who get out and work are generally respected for their enterprise and initiative.

DB @14:
I have quoted that Margaret Thatcher line at Dutch people many times. They all look at me with complete bafflement. It's a concept that really does not compile in Dutch. The very land we are standing on is a product of the society she denies.

"Really?" said one colleague. "Does she not believe in gravity either?"

Fragano @17:
you need to note more explicitly the relationship between samenleven and samenwerken. It strikes me, from my limited acquaintance with Dutch Caribbean culture, that the interplay of the two is very important.

At the moment, in the Netherlands, there isn't much emphasis on samenwerken (working together). I have three opinions about this lack:
1. It's the product of the societal wealth of the Netherlands in the late 20th and early 21st century
2. It's a great shame, because I think another century or two of such wealth and the samenleving will break down
3. I think it'll come back in a great rush when the sea levels rise and we all need to pull together again.

Avram @24:

janetl @29:
An indoor smoking ban came into effect a year and a bit ago. Another thing the Dutch are very good at is ignoring laws they don't agree with, but this one actually seems to be taking hold.

#31 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 02:02 AM:

Ahh, since we're being topical and trashing Margaret Thatcher, let's not forget an aspect of her life and legacy that will last long after all of us are gone. She is directly responsible for developing the process that makes most store-bought (non-boutique) ice cream so terrible. She was part of the chemical research team that devised a method of doubling the amount of air in ice cream, thus halving the price of manufacture (and halving the texture, the creaminess, and the taste.)

So next time you're having a Mr. Softee or Dairy Queen soft serve ice cream you know who to blame (or thank...YMMV.)

#32 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 06:21 AM:

Of course, to criticise Mrs Thatcher is the easiest thing in the world.

#33 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 06:23 AM:

dlbowman 31: Emptiness and cold sweetness - how very fitting.

#34 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 07:48 AM:

Here in West Michigan, the Dutch (and in particular, the Christian Reformed Church) are not exactly models of tolerance and common sense. See, e. g., Congressman Hoekstra . . .

#35 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 09:30 AM:

It seems that being "left" or "right" is quite relative.

The Democrats in the US are often compared to the "Liberal" party in Australia which is the more "conservative" of the main parties here. The left-wing major party is the Australian Labor Party (ALP).

The ALP is currently revising the old Liberal policy of detaining refugees in desert camps, basically if you house people in tents with no supplies of water in the surrounding area they can't easily escape so it makes a really cheap prison. It's also supposedly unpleasant enough enough to discourage further immigration and to convince the red-necks in the general population that refugees aren't being treated too well.

By Dutch standards Pim might have been right-wing, although I have trouble understanding this. I lived in the Netherlands at the time of Pim's rise to prominence and murder and had a lot of liberal-left friends, they were unable to make a good case for Pim being as right-wing as he was portrayed.

But Pim was probably a little to the left of the major so-called left-wing party in Australia.

It's a pity that the Political Compass people haven't analysed Pim.

#36 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 09:42 AM:

Xopher@26: Thanks for clarifying. I know P&T&A&J through SF fandom, so I tend to think of this as 'fannish' venue -- so I have to make a point of reminding myself that plenty of people here aren't part of 'fandom' as I know it, the people who do much of their socializing among other fans, going back to the original correspondence arising from Hugo Gernsback publishing addresses in his letter column. So I wasn't clear that you knew what "MAFF" meant to me and were deliberately altering it to fit the situation better until you clarified. It's funnier when I'm not wondering if you know the original meaning.

#37 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 09:57 AM:

Russell @35:

I'm following Peter-Paul Koch's summary of the LPF (in the context of the PVV) in placing Fortuyn on the right.

Perhaps he wasn't a right-winger (he denied it himself, apparently), but the people who voted for him and supported him seem to have been. His views on immigration, integration and Islam are hallmarks of the Dutch right rather than the left. And Wilders certainly considers himself Fortuyn's heir.

#38 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 11:04 AM:

abi @30: [immigrants are required to] befriend their neighbors

Really? How do they prove that they have befriended said neighbors? Do the neighbors have to submit an affidavit stating, "Yes, this weird brown person who lives next door has been trying to talk to me. I wish they'd stop"?

#39 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 11:06 AM:

LDR @38:
Do the neighbors have to submit an affidavit stating, "Yes, this weird brown person who lives next door has been trying to talk to me. I wish they'd stop"?

I believe it's phrased differently, and it is of course in Dutch, but yes.

#40 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 11:16 AM:

On Mrs. Thatcher -- Chumbawamba has recorded an EP available for pre-purchase only that is to be released on the day she dies. This is probably too morbid a concept for some.

#41 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 11:18 AM:

Tom - Is it a jig tune?

#42 ::: modallist ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 11:40 AM:

It's not easy to pinpoint Fortuyn on any left-right scale. His anti-immigration rhetoric was right-wing, but he was also flamboyantly gay and spoke openly about his preference for Moroccan boys.

An ex-colleague of mine worked with him in a previous job, and his experience with Fortuyn was of a man mostly interested in his own glory. I think someone else summed up Geert Wilders on this board, some time ago, as wanting the discussion to be mainly about himself: not interested in real solutions, just trying to stir up controversy. Fortuyn was like that.

Rita Verdonk is doing similar things.

#43 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 12:09 PM:

Xopher -- I don't know, but I've ordered a copy. (BTW, Dave Howell was trying to get in touch with you but lost your e-address...)

#44 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 12:10 PM:

Xopher @7 ...or send half of him over...

In other news, apparently Limbaugh is blaming the Sierra Club for the Gulf oil spill. I sent in my $25 in his name. :D

Elliott Mason @11: I think I like your mother.

Heh. I move that we elect her a Formal Making Light Den Mum. Do I hear a second?

She gave them a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth understanding smile and referred them, individually, to the department head with their questions.

'Minds me of the time (I may have told this story here before) one of my high school classmates asked me if he could come over to my house some evening and "talk about the bible." I shrugged and said, "sure." On the appointed evening he showed up, was given a seat amongst us in the living room, and launched into his speil. After a few minutes, my mother (who I observed going to church maybe five times in my life) got up and got her bible, and started asking him some gentle questions.

After about twenty minutes, he sheepishly said, "Thank you for your time," closed his bible, and left. Never heard a peep out of him about religion after that.

#45 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 12:16 PM:

Jacque, seconded. Is it to late for me to decide I want to grow up to be like Elliott Mason's mom?

#46 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 12:23 PM:

Pyre @1, Unitarians are known for their very in-your-face bluntness?

Bob @3, Ulrika @8, Elliot Mason @11, Kevin Riggle @12, rea @34, apparently there've always been some very conservative people in the Netherlands, centered on, but not limited to, the Dutch Bible Belt.

#47 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 02:16 PM:

It's long been one of my benchmarks for the "Puritans" that they couldn't get along with the Dutch!  That takes some doing.

And, btw, the late, lamented-by-some Bermuda Triangle in '88 Worldcon bid did feature a genuine MAFF.

#48 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 02:28 PM:

Abi #30:

One point that should be made, of course, is that many of the allochthoon immigrants possess some degree of Dutchness before arrival being either Indonesian (and therefore from the former Dutch East Indies) or from Surinam and the soon-to-be-former Netherlands Antilles/Aruba* and thus have varying degrees of high absorbability into Dutch samenleving (which I want to translate as "society", bearing in mind that the great work of Surinamese historical sociology by R.A.J. van Lier, Frontier Society was originally titled Samenleving in een Grensgebied anybody who has a copy of the English translation going spare may send it to me).

* When the breakup of the Netherlands Antilles is completed, there will finally be municipalities of the Netherlands with good weather.

#49 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 02:37 PM:

modallist @ 42: "It's not easy to pinpoint Fortuyn on any left-right scale. His anti-immigration rhetoric was right-wing, but he was also flamboyantly gay and spoke openly about his preference for Moroccan boys."

That only makes him hard to pin down if you think that having a fetish for some Other group is incompatible with being bigoted against that group. As the American anti-gay right is constantly demonstrating, this is not the case. Bigotry and fetish often travel hand in hand.

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 02:42 PM:

heresiarch @49:

I don't think Fortuyn was a racist, though he no doubt tapped into the racist strain of a subset of Dutch voters.

I once heard him quoted as saying that he liked having sex with boys, and that if Islam was going to condemn him for this, he saw no reason to sit there and take it.

(It should also be noted that while we are talking about "boys" here, we're not talking about children or people below the age of consent in the Netherlands.)

#51 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 02:55 PM:

heresiarch @ 49:

I'm trying to get a handle on the commonality between bigotry and fetish but having a bit of trouble with it. Would it be objectification? That both consider physical difference central to identity (maybe even the defining characteristic of identity--that both can't be bothered to consider other people as still having thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears)?

abi @ 50: what about in Morocco?

None of which is to say I disagree--on the contrary.

#52 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 03:11 PM:

johnofjack @51:

abi @ 50: what about in Morocco?

My perception was that his stated preference for Moroccans was based on ethnicity rather than nationality or location. Absent further information, my understanding is that the only legal and ethical concerns were therefore about Dutch custom and regulations.

Again, his use of the term "boys" was not about extreme youth; which is kind of the implication of this line of questioning. Can we get off of Mr Fortuyn's sex life now, absent specific allegations with reliable links? I don't really see that this is a relevant line of discussion.

#53 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 04:01 PM:

Neil @ 47 - Not getting along with the Dutch is something of an Anglophone tradition. "Son of a Dutchman" was quite the insult for quite a long time, so I gather. Heck, I'm half convinced that the useful innovation of the tile stove/masonry heater never really made any inroads in Britain was the British aversion to anything Dutch-by-association.

#54 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 06:07 PM:

Ulrika, #53: Oh now, if you're getting into that, there are a lot of English insults that stem from the British-Dutch trade competition in the 19th century. Dutch courage, Dutch treat, Dutch reckoning, Dutch wife... just off the top of my head -- I know there are more than that. (Insults based on national rivalries are an interest of mine.)

#55 ::: modallist ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 06:58 PM:

Lee @ 54: Trade competition in the 18th century, I think? The Dutch were finished by the 19th.

#56 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 07:01 PM:

Modallisst #55: Trade competition in the 17th century. The Anglo-Dutch wars were in that century.

#57 ::: modallist ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 07:05 PM:

#56: I did count the 4th war (1780), although a case can be made against that.

#58 ::: Nathaniel Eliot ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 07:06 PM:

Somehow, I'm not surprised that a functionally tolerant society would be intolerant of the intolerant, or at least intolerable to them. I wonder to what extent that effects the Amish & Mennonite communities in America; they're perceived as xenophobic, but manage to coexist with modern "English" society well.

Also, I now have a huge urge to visit (and/or immigrate). Y'all sound like my type of folks, and there's only a precious few of those round here. I'd love to see how such a society works in practice, even if I couldn't stay and enjoy it longer term.

#59 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 07:28 PM:

Lee #54: there are a lot of English insults that stem from the British-Dutch trade competition in the 19th century. Dutch courage, Dutch treat, Dutch reckoning, Dutch wife...

I don't think I've ever heard "Dutch treat" used as an insult.

#60 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 07:36 PM:

Earl, 59: In former days, the inviter paid for the invitee. Expecting a guest to pay his/her own way was seen as uncivilized.

#61 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 08:22 PM:

Modallist #57: By that point in the "Periwig Period" the Dutch were a minor power. Nothing compared to what they were a century earlier.

#62 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 08:27 PM:

Lee #54:
Dutch oven?

#63 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 09:41 PM:

Ulrika #53:

I've always heard "Dutch oven" (a cast-iron pot with legs to keep it above the hot coals, and a lid on which can be piled more coals) used favorably (though disagreements about which manufacturer's is best sometimes got strong).

"Dutch treat" always seemed neutral -- perhaps because mutual-consent actvities without obligations or superiority were coming to be popular when I learned it.

"Dutch uncle" tends to be used by some American Indian people in an approving, homebody, way -- probably because they come from a tradition in which children's closest Clan relatives are their mother's brothers, who were/are more responsible for moral guidance & teaching than their father/mother's husband.

#64 ::: Rainflame ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2010, 11:37 PM:

Then there's "hot as Dutch love".

#65 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 06:18 AM:

It's not easy to pinpoint Fortuyn on any left-right scale. His anti-immigration rhetoric was right-wing, but he was also flamboyantly gay and spoke openly about his preference for Moroccan boys.

As Ernst Rohm proved, gay != leftwing... Fortuyn was not only xenophobic (and willign to repeal article 1 of the constitution, thou shall not discriminate) but a firm believer in the free market in line with the Dutch liberal (European sense) party on provatisation and such, not to mention that he was sponsored by somewhat dodgy project developers...

English insults for us Dutch all stem from the simple fact we were the last to succesfully invade them, back during what they call the Glorious Revolution.

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 06:35 AM:

"Dutch treat" and "going Dutch" are both references to the Dutch reputation for tightfistedness. Having lived in Scotland for 15 years, I'm (a) familiar with all the jokes on the subject*, and (b) appreciative of the underlying reality that gives rise to them.

Both peoples are generally careful where they spend their money, and keep track of how much things cost. Thrift is a virtue. But as my Scots-born, Dutch-raised husband always says, "saving up just means you have the money to spend on what you want later."

* eg: how was copper wire invented? Two [Scotsmen/Dutchmen] fighting over a penny.

#67 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 08:32 AM:

Martin Wisse #65: William of Orange was invited. It's a queer kind of invasion when the defending army cheers the one advancing on it, as James's men assembled on Hounslow Heath did when they heard that William was coming.

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 09:02 AM:

Fragano @ 67... It's a queer kind of invasion

Gayrilla fighters?
That frying pan hurt.

#69 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 09:03 AM:

Anybody know why double-Dutch jumprope is 'Dutch'? Wikipedia is very unhelpful on the subject (it merely states that it might've been invented in the US in the early 1900s, or perhaps imported from the Netherlands, which I doubt).

#70 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 10:08 AM:

The subthread on national insults keeps reminding me of Tom Lehrer

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch
And we don't like anybody very much

#71 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 10:13 AM:

The thing is, the Dutch were the last European Power to successfully attack a British Naval Base, and carry away a capital ship.

As a consequence, the basic financial and industrial structures needed for the industrial revolution were created, so as to support an effective navy.

#72 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 10:40 AM:

Elliott, #69: ISTR that "double Dutch" is another one of those insults, meaning "gibberish", so if the chant that goes with this game is particularly nonsensical, that could be where it came from.

#73 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 11:01 AM:

68: the Fabulous Revolution!

#74 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 11:17 AM:

OtterB @ 70 -- That's from Sheldon Harnick's "Merry Minuet", not Lehrer's "National Brotherhood Week" (which is what I think you had in mind instead).

#75 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 12:34 PM:

Dave Bell @ 71: This would explain British tars cursing out their opponents for "Dutch-built buggers" at least through the Napoleonic period, no?

#76 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 02:38 PM:

The impression I got was that Dutch tall ships of that era and earlier were very solidly (even stolidly) built, but sailed with the nimbleness one would expect of drowned pigs. Double-shot at close range to sink them.

#77 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 02:43 PM:

Joel Polowin @74. Alas, memory fails me again. Sigh. Thanks.

#78 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 03:43 PM:

Earl@76: My impression is, good merchant ships, bad warships. Given how often ships were captured and bought into the service, I would think that the British sailors blaming the ships would have been based on experience, so it probably really was the ships not just the crew.

#79 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 04:29 PM:

"And crossing the Channel, one cannot say much
of the French and the Spanish, the Danish or Dutch..."

#80 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 08:11 PM:

Mycroft W @79

...but at least the Dutch don't eat garlic in bed!

#81 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2010, 08:23 PM:

Elliott 69: My sense is that 'Dutch' is being used in the sense of peril or trouble, as in "I'm in Dutch with the CO over that."

It's called Double Dutch because there are two ropes putting the jumper at risk. That's what I've always assumed anyway.

#82 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2010, 02:49 AM:

I don't know anything about "Double-Dutch" -- either as gibberish or jump-rope -- but strongly suspect that many such U.S. usages are based on using "Dutch" to mean "German", as appears to have been common here.

#83 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2010, 06:13 AM:

@dcb 80 - nor are they German. Pace Don Fitch @ 82

I seem to remember reading on a cookware website that Dutch oven did involve a derogatory use of 'Dutch', because the point about a Dutch oven is that it isn't really an oven at all. So 'Dutch' here means 'fake'; or possibly even, to link up with abi upthread, 'cheap substitute'.

I guess that a lot of people here (most, even) will know that English and French have a bunch of mutually translatable derogations, with 'French letter' being 'capot anglais' and 'taking French leave' being 'filer a l'anglaise'; but I'm wondering if there are any Dutch equivalents for double Dutch (in its sense of gibberish) or 'Dutch courage'?

Also whether 'Brussels sprouts'involves a similarly derogatory invocation of Belgium...

(re Don Fitch @82: I think that 'Dutch' for 'German' also happened in Britain in the nineteenth century, as I've a vague memory of 'Dutch clock' in a Dickens novel - probably Great rexpectations being glossed as a German clock.)

#84 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2010, 11:00 AM:

Don and praisegod: Easily explained; the English have a habit of munging other peoples' pronunciations. Several uses of "Dutch" started out as "Deutsche."

#85 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2010, 01:57 PM:

IIRC, through most of the 16th-18th centuries syphilis was known in Europe as "the Spanish Disease," "the French Disease," or "the English Disease" in different countries, the particular name picked primarily on the basis of which power they were most irate with at that moment. It's all very high school, isn't it? "I don't hate you because you're syphilitic. You're syphilitic because I hate you."

#86 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2010, 02:45 PM:

Samen leven sounds like it could be the name of a bread-making process, one particularly apt for bread meant to be shared.

#87 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2010, 04:43 PM:

Earl #86:

Bread for Samhain?

#88 ::: modallist ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2010, 05:48 PM:


Amerikaanse fuif (American party): Dutch term for a party to which the guests are supposed to bring their own drinks and snacks.

Interestingly, this equivalence is specifically Dutch vs. American. The term Engelse fuif has no such meaning at all.

#89 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2010, 06:35 PM:

Sorry for dragging this back to politics, but apparently the Netherlands have their Tea Partiers as well - about 70 of them. That's the number of participants of an event in The Hague (according to the newspaper who assembled to "protest the economic dangers of a left administration".
One of the speakers (a member of the Dutch Second Chamber who spoke against taxes and for higher Dutch investments in NATO) has made an an *ssh*l* of himself when visiting a youth centre to debate with Dutch-Moroccan youths: He denied that there was a moderate form of Islam. He called the teapot they gave to him a "gift from himself" because it was paid for by the youth centre, thus with "his tax money". (
So apparently not all Dutch of this kind have emigrated, but hopefully for the Netherlands not much have remained there.

#90 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2010, 06:55 PM:

He called the teapot they gave to him a "gift from himself" because it was paid for by the youth centre, thus with "his tax money".


#91 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 12:23 AM:

Crime Writers' Association of America?

#92 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 12:29 AM:

OK, got it.

#93 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 01:09 AM:

Cheech Wizard Appreciation Association

#94 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 02:50 AM:

Jörg Raddatz @89:

I note with no surprise whatsoever that Brinkman is prominent in Geert Wilders' PVV. But it sounds like the rally was a flat failure. I'm sure that they were listened to carefully by any number of people before being ignored.

70 people does not a movement make.

#95 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 04:51 AM:

Abi @ 94:

70 people does not a movement make.

Luke 10.1?

#96 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 05:00 AM:

(and, to be a little less gnomic, just for the number 70, not because I see any other parallels.)

#97 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 06:48 AM:

But praisegod, those guys were confident enough of their message that they could spread out. These ones huddle together, as though their assurance might not survive dilution.

Adopting "tea party" rhetoric is particularly weird. I mean, a nativist party shouldn't be adopting the political customs of a foreign culture, right? And it's telling that there's nothing like what they want to do already in Dutch culture. It would be like showing the soles of your feet to an American political leader as a sign of disrespect: totally foreign and fairly well incomprehensible.

As my better half points out, though, this doesn't matter to Wilders, because he's not going for any kind of principled consistency. Whatever gets him attention, he'll do. "Narcissist," M said. "Troll," I replied. "Narcissistic troll," he summed up.

#98 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 07:32 AM:

abi @ 97.

Fair enough. And you're right, there does seem something particularly weird about about adopting the symbols of someone else's revolution as a poitical marker.

Still, I guess the Dutch don't really have their own historical symbols of revolution against authority to draw upon.



Hard to disagree with the Sutherland family verdict in that case.

(That said, it's always been a puzzle to me - knowing more of the seventeenth century than the nineteenth - thatg the Netherlands went from being a republic to a constitutional monarchy. It plays havoc with all sorts of assumptions that I'd like to make about the directedness of history.)

#99 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 07:43 AM:

Well, in more recent memory, there's also this, but it would be really unwise to wriggle around to citing it. It would lose a heck of a lot more voters than it would gain. Wilders may be tacky, but he's not stupid.

#100 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 08:00 AM:

Ooh, interesting. (especially, tangentially, the bit about the communists being excluded from the commemorations.)

Not quite the sort of message Wilders wants to be sending, though, I'd imagine.

(Does his party take part in the annual commemmoration?)

#101 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 10:04 AM:

abi @ 94
Oh, I agree completely. I think it is a great sign that only such a small number of people showed up. I can see that my posting can be read as a criticism of the Dutch public, but that is exactly the opposite of what I intended. There was a sentence about people being too realistic to fall for short-sighted demagoguery, but I forgot to write it down - I guess I just got carried away when I saw Brinkmans' name in two different articles.

BTW, what is it with European liberalism and rightish populism? I notice that quite a few populist and/or anti-Islamic politicians [1] hail from the liberal VVD originally, which appears to be the right-wing liberal party of the NL. This seems to mirror a peculiar tendency in Europe, observable in parts of the German FDP (Möllemann) as well as in the infamous case of the Austrian FPÖ. I would speculate they were aiming at an reimagining of the 19th century struggles between political liberalism and political clericalism (this time with Islam instead of Christianity), but looking at the slogans I doubt it is something as sophisticated.

[1] I thought mainly of Wilders and Verdonk, but I just noticed something odd with Hirsi Ali as well - being a Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute seems less liberal than neocon-ish.

#102 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 11:47 AM:

"And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin' a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may think it's a movement.

"And that's what it is, the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it come's around on the guitar..."

Seventy people, full stop, is a bit shy of fifty people a day for any significant length of time. Singing might help.

#103 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 12:39 PM:

#30 abi

It's impossible for me to even imagine the mind-set that moves to another country and doesn't even want to make an effort to learn the language, the culture, as much as possible as fast as possible (failing in many degrees, yes, because one cannot get fluent in either language or culture that fast, generally -- unless Sir Richard Burton?).

Shoot, I can't even imagine it in terms of a visit or a vacation (though we don't take vacations -- all our travel is work related in some way, due to what we do).

Love, C.

#104 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 12:45 PM:

Just to continue a bit from my previous post: even right here at home, that we've made an effort to learn some basic things, like numbers, thank you, please, etc., in Japanese makes the staff of our local Japanese supermarket happy, and always helpful. The spouse's bit of Cantonese, which he keeps expanding, has made the people in Chinatown like us.

Additionally all these Asian emporiums -- Japanese, Chinese, Korean -- as well as every restaurant -- has Mexican and other Spanish-speakers as their basic help. These Spanish speaking immigrants are the most linguistically sophisticated people in the United States.

Love, C.

#105 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2010, 01:25 PM:

Constance @103:

Well, we're one demographic, particularly with regard to our age and our educational level. I've certainly put a good deal of effort into learning the language, but then I have a great faith in my intellectual abilities, and don't give up on learning endeavors easily.

I also have only two children to manage (and they're pretty independent) and a house large enough for a Wolfe-like room of one's own. I'm employed, which means I don't live in an enclave where my neighbors, the shopkeepers, and everyone I have contact with during the day speak my language* better than Dutch. My employer paid for language lessons in the office for a good while, which was not cheap, but did get me over a lot of linguistic hurdles.

The perception—or assumption, often without much acquaintance with circumstances—is that people "won't" learn, but I suspect there are many cases where "can't" is a closer approximation of the circumstances, or at least, "can't without help".

The "inburging" laws are in many cases overly tough, but they do provide a path through what is otherwise a very intimidating challenge to someone without the resources available to me, or thee.

* Mind you, since my native language is everyone else's second language, I often have to work to persuade people to let me practice my Dutch.

#106 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 12:15 AM:

Woolf-like, not Wolfe-like, yes?

#107 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 01:17 AM:

Constance #103: It's impossible for me to even imagine the mind-set that moves to another country and doesn't even want to make an effort to learn the language, the culture, as much as possible as fast as possible

It's the difference between immigration and conquest.

#108 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 01:42 AM:

As a general note, from what I've read and heard about Dutch politics so far, I have the impression that some of the strongest tensions in Dutch society are between those Dutch people who like or accept the aspects of Dutch culture that abi has blogged about here so far, and those who, for some reason or another, don't.

#109 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 01:50 AM:

David Goldfarb @106:

Despite the sudden desire to figure out what Nero Wolfe would say about a room of one's own, yes.

#110 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 09:02 AM:

abi @ 109: Surely Mr. Wolfe would have agreed that a room of one's own is not just desirable but also imperative? Although he would have failed to say much more than "Pfui" as he departed for the kitchen to dine on the latest delicacies. It would have been left to Archie to explain it, before escorting the questioner out the door.

#111 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 09:09 AM:

a house large enough for a Wolfe-like room of one's own. I thought you must be growing orchids. Or, given your location, perhaps tulips.

#112 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 09:37 AM:


Another data point. My grandparents on both sides were immigrants to the U.S. Almost none of the "first generation" of immigrants from Japan (and none that I've actually met) ever learned more than a few words of English. They simply didn't have the time and energy available to learn the language.

Learning a new language as an adult is HARD. Especially when one is trying to earn a living and raise children. I admire those immigrants who somehow manage to do so. Expecting that more than a few of the immigrants will so manage is totally unrealistic unless a society decides to put a LOT of resources into teaching them.

#113 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 09:41 AM:

Michael I @112: More than that, there are statistics showing that the recent waves of (especially Mexican) immigrants are assimilating in FEWER generations than they used to in the 'good old' 'melting pot' late-1800s ... there were not inconsiderable numbers of born-here-to-immigrant-parents individuals then who didn't speak English fluently EITHER, whereas nowadays by the third generation almost nobody's speaking their old-country language at all, and almost all the second-gens are primarily English-fluent.

#114 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 10:24 AM:


At a guess, the combination of free/mandatory public education for kids and ubiquitous TV mean that even living in the middle of an ethnic enclave where everyone speaks Spanish, everyone, especially everyone young, is still exposed to a fair bit of English. OTOH, the truth is, learning a second language as an adult is a hard slog. It's common to hear commercials for English classes or tapes on Spanish language radio around here, and a bunch of churches offer English for non-native-speakers classes. These wouldn't exist if nobody came to them.

#115 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 10:52 AM:

Michael I @112:
Learning a new language as an adult is HARD.

Lord, yes. Adult language acquisition is a non-trivial exercise. Not just a few words for use in the supermarket, but genuine fluency? Enormous effort, continuous, for years. Long after it's no longer shiny and exciting. And even so, I may never achieve the level of subtlety and complexity in Dutch that I had at 18 in English, much less what I have now.

The kids, meanwhile, are both fully fluent for their ages. My daughter (6) speaks it without accent and with age-appropriate vocabulary. My son (9) wouldn't have an accent if he'd do the speech therapy exercises, but he's so busy with content that he doesn't care. His Dutch exam results still lag behind his other subjects, but less so every year. And his reading level is two years above standard even so.

#116 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 11:53 AM:

I wonder whether Constance would include me in the 'don't want to' or the 'not able to'. I've lived in Turkey for almost 10 years, and although my Turkish is good enough to get by in many situations, I know I'll never be fluent; and as a result I'm not making that much of an effort to improve.

I never expected to fall into this category. Like Abi, I've got a huge number of advantages here and, having been lucky enought to have learnt Latin from 7 and Ancient Greek from 10, and to get to speak French on a daily basis I've always regarded languages (and curiosity about languages) as one of my strong points. And yet, at a certain point one simply runs out of...well, whatever it takes to assimilate a new set of linguistic habits.

And that's before I have to start worrying which cricket team I should be supporting

As abi says, children have it rather easier. My wife and I used to be rather put out when, at around 3 or 4 years old, we were told how good our daughter's Turkish was; and we explained that, well, she'd been speaking Turkish for as long as she'd been speaking her mother-tongue*; that she'd been to a monolingual Turkish pre-school etc.

Until someone noticed our body language; and explained that actually, what they meant was that her Turkish was very good for a native speaker of the same age

* Life being short, we tried to avoid mentioning that her mother tongues was a language other than an English. For some reason this seemed to drive a certain subset of interlocutors into failure mode.

#117 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 01:20 PM:

I was speaking of those who don't want to and won't.

Not those for whom the learning experience is impossible due to even just plain lack of basic learning skills, because they're not really literate in their native language either.

And yes I know how long and maybe impossible it is to become fully fluent in a language. But to refuse to even acknowledge another language, the language of the place you are living, is something else.

I cannot tell you how many smugs I encounter in the tech world for instance, who get sent around to different countries, and plan to retire elsewhere than the U.S., and announce they don't have to bother to learn any other language since computing is English.

And even that is changing and changing rapidly.

Love, c.

#118 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 02:15 PM:

Elliot Mason #113:

I've often wondered why it is that people think the current generation of migrants isn't being assimilated like past generations -- it seems to be a universal phenomenon, and it is so clearly not true.

I suppose part of the problem is that over time the mix of migrants changes and people don't remember that calling a neigbourhood 'Little Italy' wasn't a compliment.

#119 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 02:35 PM:

Thomas @118

Part of the problem is that we'd get a wave for a few years from Lithuania, and then a wave from Italy, and then a wave from Poland, and so on, but now we're getting wave after wave primarily from South America.

When folks keep running into immigrants from the same country, over years and decades, and "they still haven't assimilated", what they may fail to realize is that the folks from ten or twenty years ago, or at least their kids, have assimilated; the people they're noticing are the more recent immigrants. In the old days, the face and accent of the most recent immigrants kept changing, so it was far more obvious that those Italians, say, had mostly learned at least some English, and their kids all had.


#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 02:39 PM:

Constance @117:

I am reasonably certain that the proportion of immigrants who "refuse to even acknowledge another language, the language of the place [they] are living" is much smaller than it is perceived to be, at least within the population that is stigmatized by that perception.

Many of the people who really genuinely do not want to learn the language of the country they've moved to are, as you say, people who already speak an economically advantageous language, such as English. (Another good population to use as an example: British retirees living in Spain.)

Unfortunately, the people who get slammed for not caring are generally not the affluent, pale, educated knowledge workers and pensioners. The PVV doesn't care whether American expats in Amsterdam live in a bubble; they motivate their voters with the Turks and Moroccans in the high rises, many of whom are in the "can't" rather than "won't" sphere. But that doesn't matter to the nativists, who are looking to stereotype, not to understand.

I apologize that I got defensive on their behalf. You struck a nerve.

#121 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 03:05 PM:

I recall vividly taking a band from Texas that played 'traditional' country music from the region to France -- Nice -- for one of those grand international music festivals. They pay the participants generously, pay all expenses and provide a per diem as well.

The Texans complained loudly, very loudly, the whole time that nobody in France spoke English, and that they couldn't understand why the United States didn't make it a law that the whole world had to speak English. They said this often. Very loudly.

They also complained loudly about the horrible food and wanted a McDonalds. The food was free for all the participants, was available and freshly prepared 24/7. It was wonderful food. Of great variety.

We never got invited to bring anyone to that festival again.

Love, C.

#122 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 04:30 PM:

Constance @ 121: I am appalled. But upon recalling an ex-boyfriend who went with his choir to Venice and Rome, and explained to me after the trip that he never left his hotel room except for performances, and on a single trip to buy me a souvenir shirt...I am sadly unsurprised. Though even in that case he merely huddled in the hotel away from all potential cultural contact, rather than proclaiming the superiority of his own loudly. So far as I know.

(It wasn't why we broke up. But it was certainly a contributor to the path of "Perhaps I don't want to spend my entire life with this person.")

#123 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 05:23 PM:

Constance @ 117

First of all an apology - I should have talked to you, rather than about you at 122; secondly, I think I understand what you mean; but thirdly - one thing I was trying to say in my long and ranty post is that I think there are all sorts of shades between 'can't' and 'won't'.

One of the things I think I've discovered after 10 years living abroad is that people's ways of adjusting to being in a different culture don't always correspond to what they think they will be ahead of time. And one reason why - perhaps not the only one - is that the rest of life doesn't always take a break so that you can take the time you need to adjust to a new culture.

I guess I have sticking points of my own: I find it hard to understand people who don't want to help their children grow up competent in the language of the country they're living in. (And just for context, the individuals I have in mind are people who benefit from 'anglophone privilege'.) And yet, I can even imagine circumstances in which that seems a reasonable thbing to do. Hearing your children talking more fluently in a language that's not your own than in one they share with you can be strangely unsettling.

('Anglophone privilege': abi introduced the idea somewhere in the Patrick Roscoe thread, i think; but I also think - it being near midnight here - that I'll probably mung the link if I try to link to it.)

#124 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 05:25 PM:

praisegod barebones, #116, we were transferred around the Ring of Fire so my brother and I learned Chamoru, Filipino, and Tagalog (plus a bit of Cebuano because our grandparents were missionaries there), but we lost them when we'd been back in the US for five years or so.

#125 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 05:51 PM:

I grew up as the child of English-speaking parents in a Spanish-speaking country. (There were other languages spoken there, with several political and cultural issues associated, especially with languages like Quechua and so forth, but Spanish was the dominant/official language.) When I was very young, I played with Spanish-speaking friends, went to a kindergarten in Spanish, and was moderately fluent.

When I grew older, between moving into more English-dominated social groups and so forth, I starting losing my fluency. The more I lost, the more embarrassed I was by the loss, because I knew that I "ought" to be able to speak Spanish perfectly after growing up in a country where most people did. As a childish defense mechanism, I finally decided that I was bad at Spanish because I "didn't want to learn it", and took a very silly pride in not paying much attention in Spanish classes, and so forth.

By the time I was a teenager, I used Spanish only for buying groceries and so forth. It was just too embarrassing to admit I wasn't very good, so it had to be a matter of not caring about being better.

Years later, trying to relearn Spanish as an adult, I keep cursing my younger self for not paying attention back when it was much, much easier.

All of which is just an anecdotal way of saying--yes, it's complicated. People who grow up in a country without becoming fluent in the language often have very different reasons, and that goes for children as well as adults. But oh how I wish these days that I had come to terms much earlier with "can't" and dealt with that, instead of making it into a much more intractable "won't".

#126 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 07:04 PM:

In re cultural competencies, language, and those boorish Texans mentioned by Constance ...

I have been a picky eater for decades, though to a fading degree. However, my current "much more adventurous about food than I used to be" state is still ridiculously pickier than many people I know.

Food items (and other experiences, but especially food) tend to clump themselves into quanta for me. "Comfort food" gloms onto my hindbrain and makes me feel happy and safe and belongy. "Okay" food falls between comfort and adventurous -- I can eat it with no problems, but it doesn't feed my soul or give me an emotional charge. "Adventurous" things I can try and enjoy -- *if* I am in a suitably stable frame of mind as to crave and enjoy adventure. "Weird" food will oog me out even to try, and is usually not consumable in more than tastes.

I discovered on a twoish-week trip to Edinburgh in 2001 (wow. I'm probably a lot less picky NOW than I was on that trip, too!) that having to go more than about three days without ANY access to "comfort"-level food makes me get irritable and squirrelly. It amazed me how annoyed I got at things as small as the fact that I couldn't consistently get a beverage with dinner that wasn't adventurous (because if you order 'lemonade' in Scotland, you get something ranging from limonata to Sprite to actual lemon-juice-and-water, with no waiters seeming to understand that these are DIFFERENT SUBSTANCES and NOT equivalent).

Luckily, my "comfort" foods come from all over the globe, and I really actually enjoy all kinds of cultural experiences. But I can see how if what's "comfort" versus "weird" were rejiggered, but the emotional responses the same as I have, suddenly being plunged into a sea of "weird" for an extended period of time, with nobody you could even ask for anything, it could be pretty traumatic.

#127 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 09:48 AM:

Learning a new language as an adult is HARD.

Learning a language is hard, full stop. But kids have more incentive, and more time to practice, and are unlikely to have people make fun of them for mistakes.

There is a critical period, but it seems to be more an ability to learn language at all than any particular ease in doing so.

#128 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 10:39 AM:

When we lived in Hudson MA (1981-1985), there was enough of a Portuguese community that the local Catholic church had mass in Portuguese. I understand that there were quite a few people who were mostly unemployable because of lack of English, who were third and fourth generation Americans. I understand parents wanting kids not to lose "their native language"; but whatever resulted in the situation in Hudson (may have nothing to do with parental prefs, etc.) did not to me seem to have been serving the younger generations well at all.

In Minneapolis, I've been in a number of small Chinese and Mexican restaurants where the kids translate anything complex for their parents. This seems useful and healthy; the kids still appear quite fluent in their parents' languages (and can watch TV in those languages to maintain fluency, as well as talking to friends and family), but are also fully fluent in English.

Historically, kids of immigrants have mostly not lost their native language, but THEIR kids mostly have. I can see the parents / grandparents finding that at best bittersweet. But preventing them from learning English, even if they could do so, would not be good for the kids.

I studied three languages in school (three years of French in gradeschool, 4 years of German in highschoool, two terms of Russian in college), but I can't even read Cyrillic phonetically any more. Very simple German does still seem to go straight into meaning something, but any complex grammar or vocabularly looses me. And of course a lot of the vocabulary for things I'd want to talk about is new since I studied the languages (computers and digital photography). It's good to have the language background, but I don't have the languages any more.

#129 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 11:00 AM:

Carrie S. @ 127:

Children are unlikely to have adults make fun of them for mistakes. They are more likely to have their peers make fun of them for their mistakes, if I remember correctly, which is also an incentive to learn.

The takeaway from this essay is that learning a language is hard, and children learn not because it's easier for them, but because they have to.

#130 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 11:13 AM:

KeithS: That'd be the essay I was thinking of yes. :)

I love

#131 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 12:03 PM:

I encounter people constantly from many other countries, whose native language is not English. But they've learned English and speak it very well. They also speak other languages too.

They've learned these languages from television (I cannot tell you how many excellent Engish speakers from the Dominican Republic who tell us they learned their English very early by watching MTV for hours every day!) and from tourists. It was a matter of survival, it was a matter of a bridge to a better life that they could imagine.

Most people in the U.S. can't imagine living any other way than they do. It is a matter of dogma that their way of life is the best in the world.

That plays a lot into it. From historical accounts this same situation existed among the Romans from the days of the early Republic through the fall of the Empire (in the west). We are number one, we don't need to learn anything from anybody or about anybody. In the meantime the empire falls: "Chinese Supercomputer Is Ranked World’s Second-Fastest, Challenging U.S. Dominance." And then what, when you've lost all capacity for flexibility and adjustment? But we'd rather put the energy into struggling for laws that are "English Only," than into expanding language study in our schools. (But heck, we are at the end of effective public education -- higher and lower -- in this nation too.)

I don't claim the sort of fluency in Spanish that someone like my husband possesses, but fluency comes in bouts, once the basics get nailed down -- and I'm sure that Spanish is a lot easier for an English speaker to learn than Dutch, for instance -- for all kinds of reasons. The most wonderful thing that struggling with learning another language provided me was the expansion of my mind. It was exactly like taking dance classes or doing your workouts faithfully. You feel your body toning, getting better at everything, obtaining new capacities -- you're just more flexible, and your response times are better.

The other thing, which is what probably really drove me -- I'm a smart person. In company with Spanish speakers I was dumb. Literally. Couldn't stand it. Particularly since they could speak English, a lot of them.

I've also met a lot of immigrants who refused to learn any English -- and the other kind as well. I've just come off a semester of students for whom nearly all English wasn't merely their second language, but for some their fifth.

However, it takes a lot more than language capacity to become fluent in a culture. I could see it in every paper they wrote. They know very little about U.S. or European history. It's a handicap. Learning history is easier than learning a language. Still, it's hard. Example -- a student who had been worked with intensely all semester, to improve his thinking, his organization, his research, his writing -- and fact checking and proofing. He turned in a fine final aper, a million times better than what he was doing at the start of the semester. There was only one problem. He stated that Louis 14th was the King of Spain ....

Love, C.

#132 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 12:53 PM:

Oh! I should add -- No apologies necessary!

All of us are posting out of our own experiences in this area of learning languages -- which is frought politically in this nation as well. It's not surprising that these experiences are so varied, and in some ways maybe even oppositional experiences.

It appears that sophistication in languages like everthing else, such a culturally and intelligence-enhancing endeavor, is so strategicaloly devalued, even denigrated, opposed and despised, for reasons that are politically motivated, and have to do with social control. It's teamed with the strategic debasement of discourse and language that we've been subject to for these last 40 years.

Love, c.

#133 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 01:12 PM:

Constance @132: "debasement of language"

Case in point: we have someone in our office who is trying to get promoted to a position in the DC area. Problem? They sound like a hillbilly.

"So-and-so and me" instead of "so-and-so and I" are among the least offences said person commits when they speak. (I haven't had a glimpse of the reports this team has written, but we have editorial staff in our regional office, and they massage the raw material into presentable form.)

The sad thing is that I doubt any of those on the rungs above will tell this person how their speech is shooting down any chance of promotion.
And there's no Professor Higgins in view.

#134 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 01:20 PM:

Constance @132:
the strategic debasement of discourse and language that we've been subject to for these last 40 years.

By stunning coincidence, I am 40 years old. I had no idea the Abiveld was so mighty...

(More seriously, why do you choose that time frame?)

#135 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 01:40 PM:

Constance@131: Why would an English-speaker have an easier time learning Spanish than Dutch? Dutch is linguistically much closer to English.

#136 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 02:18 PM:

Constance #131:

Fluency in Dutch is probably just as easy to acquire as fluency in Spanish. Depends on when you try to acquire it.

I'm sitting in a bar in Paramaribo. I order a beer. The guy sitting next to me starts to speak to me in Dutch. I have to ask him to slow down (Wilt U alstublieft langsam spreken, mijn Nederlands ist niet so goed). He apologises to me in English, and goes on to explain that he thought I spoke Dutch well enough because when I'd ordered the beer my accent had been flawless!

Now, my Dutch is bad (or, if you will erch sclecht) because I haven't devoted all that much time to studying it (and it was 18 years ago at that, how the time flies). I'm reasonably sure that in a Batavophone environment it would improve to the point that I'd communicate pretty decently.

#137 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 03:01 PM:

Fragano @136: I wonder if there's a word for 'memorizing a few phrases with good accent and then being mistaken for native' ... and the trouble it can get you into. :->

I've done it too, with Spanish and a few courtesy-phrases (hello, goodbye, thank you, where's the bathroom) in other languages. I work hard to get the vowels and sound of it right, because, well ... it's RIGHT that way, yeah? But then suddenly the person I'm talking to goes right into mile-a-minute idiom and I'm lost.

It's both gratifying and embarrassing, all at once. And THAT I wonder if there's a word for, too, possibly in German (the language that brought us schadenfreude and gemeinschaft, after all)?

#138 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 03:16 PM:

Why would I think Spanish is easier to learn than Dutch? Maybe because I am surrounded by Spanish speakers? Because Dutch has always sounded (and looked (I spent some time among the Dutch era court records in our State Supreme Court library) really difficult to me, and because I already know and love many works written in Spanish -- not to mention the music, the many world class musics that have come through Spain? Because in Spanish words are pronounced like they're spelled -- well, maybe not in Matanzas de Cuba, where someone who has formally studied Spanish might be as lost as someone who learned English as a second language from a British teacher who is on the faculty at Oxford?

As for why strategic debasement of language usage in the U.S. for 4 decades? It was early in Reagan's first term that words and names for things were officially changed, to make them sound better or less or more than they were. It was with Reagan we got the change from garbage to 'sanitation and waste managers,' for instance. It was also then Rush Limbaugh and other talk radio went national, daily and prime time, the shows which deliberately spoke lies to power, while the very first week of Reagan's first term Public Radio bent over because Reagan made it clear that public broadcasting was one his term's prime targets.

But it really began with Nixon.

And on and on -- listen to the dialog of a recent movie comedy? Well, no, not me listen to such a thing, but sometimes in spite of myself trailers open, or bits get played on, why yes, talk radio, or in online columns. (I have excuses, let me show you them.)

Love, C

#139 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 03:43 PM:


> The other thing, which is what probably really drove me -- I'm a smart person.
> In company with Spanish speakers I was dumb. Literally. Couldn't stand it.
> Particularly since they could speak English, a lot of them.

Yeah, this. Works WRT text, too: foreign-language text makes me feel stupid. Some folk can remember the miracle of suddenly being able to read, as a kid. I can't—I've been able to read English since an infinite past—and to be faced with a wall of text that I either can't interpret or can only interpret at a rate of one sentence per minute with lots of flipping through the dictionary strikes me as ridiculous. Why has reading suddenly become something hard and unpleasant?

#140 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 04:08 PM:

Er, at #138 I dropped what I intended to finish with:

i.e. a person trained in formal Spanish as second language would find Matanzas's Spanish as hard to understand as someone trained in English as a second language by Oxford dons will find the English of the Mississippi Delta rural areas.

Old style, elderly Cuban and Mexican vocalists, with their radio broadcast trained diction are a lot easier to follow in their performances than more idiomatic and contemporary vocalists. But that's true surely in any language.

This is why telenovellas (Spanish) and soap operas (English) are such good second language learning tools.

Love, C.

#141 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 05:05 PM:

#139 - try a really different language - visiting Israel was fascinating, as the alphabet itself required so much work. Hebrew label-maker fonts are particularly hard; most of what I can figure out is easier in serifed black-letter that most Hebrew users regard as hopelessly old-fashioned. Then there's the lack of vowels and the writing direction.

The sensation gives you some understanding of just how frustrating it was to be a pre-literate child.

The first thing I figured out was actually English written in Hebrew script, the packaging on a lunch-time burger. I realized that the package said "some-name" bar-burger (same letters, almost, and "bar" and "beer/bira" actually are written the same.

#142 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 06:08 PM:

re X and I/X and me.

What drives me crazy is the people who say X and I, when they ought to say X and me.

I had a teacher correct a couple of students in the class when one of them said, "he gave his card to Susan and me.", which is correct.

He was actually, very good about my correcting him (after class) and made a joke with me about it (in front of the class) later in the term.

He was, actually, a really good prof.

#143 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 06:31 PM:

Steve, #139: Reminds me of my experience with French Lit in college. We were reading it in the original, and despite my having had French all the way from elementary thru high school, I'm really not all that fluent. I still remember how horribly frustrating it was to spend as much time reading two pages as it normally would have taken me to read a chapter. I also remember that it was a bit of an epiphany into the world of the semi-literate, when I realized that if reading in English were that hard for me I wouldn't be doing much of it either, and certainly not for pleasure.

#144 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 07:10 PM:

Steve @ #139: My approach to that, so far, has been to get two sets of books in the language that I'm trying to learn. (In this case, Spanish, though I've been neglecting it for Latin lately.)

One set of books is children's books from a series I already knew and loved in English. I'm reading through The Horse and His Boy, and even when I'm suddenly lost in a wave of unfamiliar vocabulary, I know from having read the books before that, oh, those are parts of the horse, that's a part of tack, that's probably a turban... In those books, the goal is to read with as little looking-up of words as possible, letting the unfamiliar vocab seep in as it may through repetition, context, and familiarity with the story.

The second set of books is YA (I would've preferred something aimed at MG if I'd found an appropriate series, but I didn't before running out of patience), originally written in Spanish, and is a series I really want to read. Which I have dutifully and carefully not looked at the English translations of. In that case, I look up words I don't know, and keep plowing on, paragraph by paragraph, out of sheer determination to find out how the story goes.

But they both make me feel rather stupid. And also wonder, in the case of the first set, if I really knew what "withers" and "fetlock" were when I read them in English, or if I just picked it up from context there, too, and ran with it. I don't remember checking the dictionary very often as a child, despite reading a lot of books aimed at older groups; I'm hoping that doing that same "I'll figure it out from context if it's important" approach will also work as an adult, and make the reading a little less painful.

(But damn if it doesn't still throw me off that the word for "doll" and "wrist" is the same in Spanish. When describing the appearance of a young girl, it made for a lot of context-driven confusion.)

#145 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 08:11 PM:

Fragano, 136: Just want to note that the term "Batavophone" makes me giggle. It sounds so superheroic! There ought to be a Batavomobile and a Batavobelt to go with.

Elliott, 137: Had that very thing happen at Anticipation, where I ordered dinner in French one night and when the cashier asked me for further info, I was all outta French. I figured I had achieved proof-of-concept on my being able to survive Francophone Montreal and stuck to English thenceforth. You're right that it is flattering to be confused for a good speaker that way!

Fade, 144: A bunch of years ago, I read Como agua para chocolate as an exercise in Spanish reading comprehension, since I had seen the movie Like Water for Chocolate and the general story was fairly fresh in memory. I needed a dictionary for some of the Mexican regional vocabulary, but otherwise managed, slowly. I don't think of myself as anywhere near fluent, though I took four years in school and won awards.

Sometimes when I need to run an errand that has me on the subway for a while without a book or periodical handy, I'll buy a copy of El Diario La Prensa (the NYC local Spanish daily paper) to practice. Dunno what papers are in your part of the world, but keep them in mind for practice - they're cheap and the idiom is sure to be current.

#146 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 10:46 PM:

I remember not knowing 'withers' and reading for pages and then realizing I had no idea what I'd just read... and just going on. Eh. I read differently back then.

I want a Batavarang.

#147 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 10:51 PM:

I still don't know horse parts in French because I'm not especially excited about them in English. When reading Dumas, for example, I go, "Huh. A horse has been wounded in a body part," or "Huh. That seems like an awful lot of money Athos just lost there," and then I go merrily on my way, because It Does Not Matter. It's easy to figure out when a random word is actually a plot point; if it isn't, I just keep reading.

But I can tell you in exhaustive detail about dance and textiles. Obsessions are handy like that.

#148 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 01:33 AM:

Fade @144:

I tried reading books that I knew in English in Dutch. Like you, I used Narnia books, in this case The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. But I found that knowing roughly what was going to happen next was robbing me of narrative pull, and I need that to keep me going through the rough patches.

So now I'm reading the second of a pair of books originally written in Dutch. (It's been some time since I finished the first one; I keep getting sidetracked by English-language books and I'm notably short of brain in my off-season.) I find wanting to know what happens next is a really important way to keep my momentum going. It helps, too, that I'm that little bit further along; I look up maybe two words a page (and guess the meanings of four or five more by context).

My long-term intention is not to read Dutch translations of English books, unless there's a good reason to (for instance, the Dutch translator of the Discworld books is said to do such a fabulous job that the Dutch versions are worth reading in their own right). But there's a lively and thriving YA market in Germany, and reading Dutch translations of originally-German books seems like a reasonable idea.

#149 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 02:36 AM:

I am finally getting around to reading "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" and enjoying it very much. I'm reading it in German, and suspect that the writing style of the original particularly lends itself to German; i.e., formal and correct, but without being awkwardly stiff. Kudos to the translators! (Pratchett, on the other hand, is much better in English. The translation isn't bad, and the books are still entertaining, but so much of the wordplay gets lost. The same with Rowling.)

On learning languages in general, I think it's a YMMV thing. I had French in high school and college, enjoyed it, and didn't find it particularly difficult. There were plenty of connections with English. But when I started learning German, oh my! there was a greatly increased level of comfort and ease. Many people don't have that sort of positive feeling about German :)

Henry Troup @141 -- I had a similar experience in Russia in 1977, at an art museum. I found myself peering more closely at the signs, trying to figure out who the artist was, than at the paintings themselves. With great effort, I spelled out LeRoy Neiman, and stepped back to see one of his sports paintings.

#150 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 03:26 AM:

Constance @138

At least we still have Shakespeare. And Casablance. And I don't think Tolkien's use of language hurt the LotR movies.

We had the Eurovision Song Contest at the weekend. The British entry came last, and deserved to.

A few years ago, I was on course. Had one of these team-building exercises, and then we each had to write a poem about what had happened.

In accordance with Fluorospherian traditions held since time immemorial, I wrote a sonnet. Some of the doggerel that others turned out would have been outrun by any not-quite-dead caterwaul. They probably though rhyme was the frost on a window pane, and that a metrical foot was about a third of a metre.

And I didn't even write a good sonnet.

#151 ::: Hanneke ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 07:48 AM:

Elliott Mason @136 - I'm trying to learn Hindi, because as a great lover of Bollywood I am able to sing along in Hindi like a native, but I've no idea what I'm saying. And I was terribly worried that I'd be doing the equivalent of a perfect Anita Ward imitation, singing "Ring My Bell, dingedingedong" and not knowing it. Think of *the trouble that could get you into* :-)

Learning Hindi, and being Dutch, I discovered to my great surprise and delight that some words are similar, some the same as in Dutch. The old Indo-Germanic link of course, but still a surprise. I had the same with Russian: puzzle out the Cyrrilic, and there are some familiar Dutch and English words underneath! These words are there because of the war ships that Peter the Great liked so much, back in the day that ours were the mightiest. (ddb @78: other way round - good warships, bad merchants: those were built wide and shallow to navigate across the Zuyderzee to Amsterdam, and a wide, shallow built ship crabs and wallows and corkscrews and whatnot)

That I am able to recognize words in Hindi as well as in Russian, for me shows that we're *living together* in a much bigger space than just wee little Holland, and over a much bigger span of time than just the current moment. And that this alone would void the argument of Wilders et al that we're under a cultural attack. What they're perceiving as a threat - people from elsewhere influencing "our" culture - is just that we're a small country and that we have *lots* of outside world to explore and influence. And I think that to see that as a threat is extemely silly and counterproductive. If we have the power to leave words in Russian, what else can we do? Sell ideas to Americans? (Thank you, abi, for trying :-))

#152 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 09:31 AM:

Chris Quinones @145 said: Sometimes when I need to run an errand that has me on the subway for a while without a book or periodical handy, I'll buy a copy of El Diario La Prensa (the NYC local Spanish daily paper) to practice. Dunno what papers are in your part of the world, but keep them in mind for practice - they're cheap and the idiom is sure to be current.

Also, newspapers (and not just in other languages, English too) deliberately keep themselves to a fairly low reading-level; I think the Chicago Tribune aims for 4th-grade fluency.

Hanneke @151 said: Elliott Mason @136 - I'm trying to learn Hindi, because as a great lover of Bollywood I am able to sing along in Hindi like a native, but I've no idea what I'm saying. And I was terribly worried that I'd be doing the equivalent of a perfect Anita Ward imitation, singing "Ring My Bell, dingedingedong" and not knowing it. Think of *the trouble that could get you into* :-)

Ahhh, phonetic memorization of musical works! My grandfather (who was involved with our local Chinese consulate) gave my mother several cassette tapes of traditional Chinese operas, as performed by [some very famous national opera company in China]. We had no idea what the works were called or who performed them, because -- being Chinese cassette tapes in the mid-80s -- there was no English anywhere on the liner notes, and none of our household read Chinese.

Now, I enjoy watching Chinese opera, and have since I was very small, because once you learn the formalized dramatic language, you can tell pretty well what's happening from the mime and recognizing the cues about who is what stock character -- you don't need the dialogue to get the gist. I actually find Chinese opera easier to follow than Western non-English, because there's such a formalized gesture-language component.

However, these were audiotapes, so we didn't exactly have those cues. My mother decided she kind of liked the wackiness. For those who have not heard it, The excitiing parts of Chinese opera sound to the untutored ear almost exactly like throwing some angry cats down a flight of stairs in a sack with several loud clangy pots -- repeatedly, plus some whistly/twangy musical bits (links go to examples on YouTube).

Mom had occasion to drive a moving van from Chicago to San Francisco, and brought along the Chinese Opera tapes (up to then a bit of a curiosity in our household, but not seriously listened to) for company. She found they were really good driving music to keep you awake on boring interstates, and ended up listening to them all end-to-end repeatedly, and learning to 'sing along' (including the instrumental bits in parts) to some of them.

In later years, she met a new Chinese acquaintance, and in the getting-to-know-you conversation, said acquaintance mentioned they were a fan of the Peking Opera. "Really," said my mother, "I used to have some tapes."

"Which ones?" was the logical question. My mother, mildly embarrassed, said, "I'm not sure what it was called, but it had a big battle scene right after the song that went like ...." and 'sang' part of the aria. She was amazed to find that her rendition was instantly recognizable to her new acquaintance, who named the piece.

Mind, it helped that all the tapes turned out to be big seminal 'famous' operas; kind of like if someone were phonetically quoting dramatic lines from 'some play I had a tape of' that turned out to be part of Hamlet's soliloquy -- if you get it even SORT of right most college-educated English-speakers will have some idea what play you meant.

#153 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 10:07 AM:

Hanneke@151: Not sure I understand you; warships of the period needed a lot more speed than merchant ships, and had to be steady gunnery platforms. Broad, shallow, ships made very poor warships, but were acceptable for many kinds of merchant service (and the large capacity was a plus there).

#154 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 01:11 PM:

Debbie @149 -- I'm curious whether Walter Moers is more fun in German than in English, as I like the translations into English quite a bit. Not curious enough to learn to read German, mind you. I'd be interested to know how well either The City of Dreaming Books or The Alchemaster's Apprentice comes across.

#155 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 01:51 PM:

If I could read German, I'd run out and get Aron Nimzovich chess books.

#156 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 03:47 PM:

Tom Whitmore -- I'm aware that our library has at least "The City of Dreaming Books", but I haven't read it yet. I'll have to give it a look. Some of his other stuff varies from clever and fun (Captain Bluebear) to YMMV-irreverent-humor (Das Kleine Arschloch).

#157 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 03:56 PM:

152 Elliott Mason: I'm not sure if that's true for German newspapers. Or at least, it wasn't 20 years ago when I was trying to flesh out the grammar that I'd assimilated quite quickly with vocabulary from the Suddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine.

144 Fade Manley: reading translations of books in parallel with the original can apparently have its drawbacks

(Second link may amuse fabric fiends; first may provide a chuckle to abi or other present and former inhabitants of Edinburgh.)

#158 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 04:14 PM:

Henry@141: I have some Japanese and Chinese learning materials. I never crack them open but it's reassuring that they're there, since those languages really are (from my point of view) inexhaustible: it would be a long job to get decent reading comprehension in either of them, and true fluency would be a life's work. I'm never going to run out of stuff to learn.

Lee@143: I keep meaning to get my French up to a decent level; I did it at school and a surprising amount has stuck, though they left a lot of stuff out, quite deliberately (in the 1980s in Britain, the past historic tense of French was some kind of freaking state secret that you only got to if you did A-level French). A lot of adults in this country want nothing to do with the French language simply because they so closely associate it with memories of childhood tedium. (There's also a distinct snobbish hierarchy about what languages are offered at school—Latin is posh and Ancient Greek is very posh indeed; French is run-of-the-mill; at the last school I attended Spanish was distinctly looked down on as something you might try if you'd made such a hash of French that it was better to abandon it). Language teaching over here has been a disgrace for years. As Mary Beard pointed out in her blog not long ago, there's an awful lot of talk about how we should be teaching Mandarin, when in fact even German has been pretty much abandoned in state-sector schools.

Fade@144: with texts in foreign languages I'm always dithering between looking up every word religiously and just ploughing on, trying to get the sense from context. Looking things up gets very tedious very soon, and I forget the English translation as soon as I've looked it up. Ploughing on feels like cheating, and I always go too fast and ultimately skim the paragraphs picking out the words I recognise and trying to concoct sentences that use them all in the right order. When I was pretty poor at Russian I tried reading some simple excerpts from War and Peace in an old reader I have, and it was instructive to notice how much of fiction (or just of Tolstoy's fiction?) consists of describing how people move around the room, enter the room, stop in the doorway, go up to other people. Lots of lovely prefixed verbs of motion to recognize, but also a lesson in the stagecraft of novels, getting your characters in the right place and letting your readers know where they are. The sort of thing you wouldn't notice unless you were reading slowly and with difficulty.

From the start of a French translation of a famous book on my shelves:


Quand M. Bilbon Sacquet, de Cul-de-Sac, annonça qu'il donnerait à l'occasion de son undécante-unième anniversaire une réception d'une magnificence particulière, une grande excitation régna dans Hobbitebourg, et toute la ville en parla.

Discuss. (And they've missed out most of the appendices! They're the BEST BIT! I want to read about Elvish runes in French!)

#159 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 04:57 PM:

Elliott, 152: I find the vocabulary in El Diario to be enough outside school subjects to pose a nice challenge sometimes, though the grammar and syntax are rarely complex.

And the Chinese operas sound fascinating! I worked with a Chinese company for a while, but never got to talk music much with my coworkers(except to introduce the company's controller to Stephen Foster and Irving Berlin!). The opening to the excerpt in your first link reminds me of Abbott and Costello in full dudgeon. (But in a good way.) The Chinese vocal music I've heard is awfully squally and I haven't adjusted my ears to it yet, but the instrumental music is generally pleasant.

(Now I'm reminded of the occasion when I asked a coworker what a certain instrument was called, and having him look for the info and tell me, "It is called 'dulcimer.'" The word I wanted was yangqin. I had this sort of disconnect happen often, it was actually kind of charming.)

#160 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 05:17 PM:

Steve with a book #158:

In a French translation, should the Rohirrim still speak something with Old English roots, or should they be speaking Occitan?

#161 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 06:19 PM:

Steve with a book @158 -- one of the more amusing items that has been in my collection is a set of two different translations of Fredric Brown's Night of the Jabberwock into French. My French is good enough to tell me that the meaning is similar but the specifics are very different.

#162 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 06:29 PM:

Steve with a book @ #158: I spent about a third of La ciudad de las bestias looking up the same words over, and over, and over again--all the more frustrating with ones where I'd have forgotten by the end of a paragraph a word that had appeared at the beginning of it.

Then I got my own copy of the book, and started writing the translation in with pencil, very lightly, above the word. (It helps that as a YA trade paperback, there was better line spacing than in a standard adult mass-market.) That way I could pick up again where I last left off more easily, glance back to a word I'd just translated earlier that page, but not be distracted by the very light markings when reading on.

Of course, in a year and change of working on this, I've gotten through one and a quarter books in Spanish, not counting the Narnia one. So I'm not sure if I should be recommending my approach to anyone else.

#163 ::: Gennis ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 06:32 PM:

I was always better at reading than understanding or producing spoken French, so when I was trying to refresh my French last year, I added the Radio France Internationale podcast "Le journal en français facile" to my list of things to listen to. It was fairly useful, if not quite as "facile" as I needed sometimes. I could have done with less soccer news, though.

Their site at seems to have several resources aimed at language learners.

#164 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 07:16 PM:

@157 Bear in mind that the Stuttgarter Allgemeine is about equivalent to the Wall Street Journal in terms of language complexity. It was the only German-language newspaper that my university had a subscription to (this being of course Before Internet) and in the intermediate classes we periodically got assignments to Go Find An Article, Read It, and Tell Me What It Was About.

Over fifteen years later I still hate the Stuttgarter Allgemeine.

But when I was on student exchange I did find the small local daily paper (I think it was called the Schwaebischer Tagsblatt) more or less comprehensible, if I had a dictionary on the table and picked an article that was about something I already had heard of on TV.

#165 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 10:27 PM:

Steve with a book @ 158:

One of the biggest problems with language classes taught/inflicted in school is that a lot of students don't try, and even the ones who do forget if they don't have any continuous, real-world practice. Seven years of French and four of Spanish, and I can just about read a basic newspaper.

The people learning English get a lot more practice in because it's the current lingua franca.

Does "Hobbitebourg" have the same sorts of connotations in French of a small, country town that "Hobbiton" does in English?

Elliott Mason @ 152 and Chris Quinones @ 159:

In listening to bits of Chinese opera on Youtube (I have been doing this for a little while for other reasons), I find I am actually growing to kind of like bits of it. Since my previous comparison of it was with Klingon opera, I'm not sure what to make of this.

Tom Whitmore @ 161:

Gödel, Escher, Bach has a copy of Jabberwocky in English, French, and German. It's interesting to compare the translations.

#166 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 11:18 PM:

Steve with many books at # 158: undécante-unième

I love it!

#167 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 11:24 PM:

I think it odd that the "Etats" from "Etats-Unis" is State spelled backward.

#168 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 11:37 PM:

KeithS, #165: Since my previous comparison of it was with Klingon opera

I'm glad I'm not the only one who had that reaction. Less bloody, though.

#169 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 11:38 PM:

Constance, Marilee, Fade, KeithS, Carrie (and anyone else interested the discussion going on between 120 and 130

I'd be interested to know what people thought of this.

(1 sentence summary: there's a tendency for people to think of monolingualism as the default state for human beings; but it's in fact a minority status)

Apologies for the hit and run comment; much to my annoyance, I've worn myself out pursuing a silly argument elseweb and cannot brain right now. Which is a pity, because of all the topics to come up at Making Light this is the one that I find most fascinating.

#170 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2010, 11:50 PM:

praisegod, I'm sure someone is WRONG out there. Good luck.

#171 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 12:04 AM:

Constance, Marilee, Fade, KeithS, Carrie (and anyone else interested the discussion going on between 120 and 130

I'd be interested to know what people thought of this.

(1 sentence summary: there's a tendency for people to think of monolingualism as the default state for human beings; but it's in fact a minority status)

Apologies for the hit and run comment; much to my annoyance, I've worn myself out pursuing a silly argument elseweb and cannot brain right now. Which is a pity, because of all the topics to come up at Making Light this is the one that I find most fascinating.

#172 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 12:09 AM:

praisegod @ 169: I'm afraid I don't have a very coherent response, because the repetition of "monolingual" and "multilingual" started making my eyes glaze over after a point. (It's also a bit late at night now.) "There are more multilingual people than monolingual ones" is an interesting point, but I sort of lost where the argument was going with it because it read as a lot of angry fist-shaking at enemies whose arguments I'd never encountered in the first place.

That, and the question of "Why do all these people treat monolingualism as the standard, when it's less common in the world?" seems like it has a very obvious answer: because the people writing about such things are coming from a culture where monolingualism is the standard.

There may be some very interesting things said in the book being discussed, where there's more space to unpack things. I didn't follow the essay itself very well.

#173 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 01:25 AM:

You know what they say: a person who speaks two languages is bilingual. A person who speaks three languages is trilingual. A person who speaks only one is American.

#174 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 01:32 AM:

Thomas@160: that's an interesting question which my French isn't good enough to answer—a quick glance suggests that the French of the Rohirrim isn't particularly antiquated or rustic but no doubt there's an awful lot I'm not noticing...

Tom@161: haven't tried reading much SF in French but I've got the Foundation trilogy, which is probably pitched at the right level for me.

Fade@162: that's something I've tried in the past, but I keep being distracted by guilt for the terrible sin of writing in books, so I don't do it any more. (Seriously, I can't get over the awful feeling of wrongness at adding annotations to books. I can't do it.)

Keithe@165: you'll love Hofstadter's Le Ton beau de Marot, which is all about translation and analogies. I spent a week reading nothing else some time ago.

Allan@166: I was being so fussy about coding the accents correctly that I didn't notice that!

#175 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 01:37 AM:

Apologies for the double post.

Xopher: Umm, thanks. I guess...

#176 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 05:07 AM:

153: Not sure I understand you; warships of the period needed a lot more speed than merchant ships, and had to be steady gunnery platforms. Broad, shallow, ships made very poor warships, but were acceptable for many kinds of merchant service

Well, yes and no. Forester's "A Ship of the Line" goes into detail on this. Warship design was all about compromise - the book mentions one ship, the Pluto, that was unwieldy and slow because it had been built to cram in as many guns as possible, and another, a captured Dutch warship called (coincidentally) the Sutherland, that showed its Dutch origin by being designed with a shallow draft to allow it to fight onshore - even though this made it poor at seakeeping, because it tended to be leewardly.
Speed generally means a long, slim hull, like a clipper, and that means instability and a small hold - less cargo for a merchantman, and less range (food and water) and firepower (powder and shot) for a man o' war. Shallow draft means you tend to drift to leeward (less of a keel). Firepower means high sides, so you can fit in more gun decks, but that means you need to be broad in the beam to avoid capsizing - or, less seriously, heeling so far you can't open the leeward gun ports. It also means more weight, from the guns and the shot and powder. If you're building a ship of the line, there's not much point in making it faster than the rest of the squadron, because it will have to keep station with them anyway - you tended not to detach single ships of the line. And so on...

#177 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 08:51 AM:

Thomas 160: Occitan is a language of sophisticated and extremely Latinate poetry--that's what the troubadours wrote in. So I very much doubt that the Rohirrim would speak it. They'd be much more likely to have a Norse-influenced language, except that most Norse words in French have to do with ships.

#178 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 09:00 AM:

praisegod #171: It's interesting stuff (and so are some of the other articles linked to from that page). I think that some of the European languages have become so dominant that those of us who have the privilege of being native speakers forget that it's possible to need more than one language in daily life.

There are plenty of situations where no one language will take over, and in those situations it's rude to insist that everyone else learn yours; you might as well pick up enough of theirs to at least buy things and ask where the toilet is.

#179 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 09:50 AM:

I really need to get back into Spanish. I was really good at it, in a college-course way, mostly because I have a good grasp of English and a decent memory for vocabulary. Maybe the baby-time spent in Honduras helped, maybe not. But it's been almost five years and I was never brave enough to use it in actual situations-- it felt condescending.

I once did a paper on the differences between Spanish and Occitan. That was lots of fun. I requested a bunch of things from the library and got an email saying, "You do realize this isn't a book or magazine but someone's dissertation, right?" Made me feel all academic.

#180 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 10:39 AM:

#169 praisegod barebones

The idea that the default is monolingualism, at least here in the 'west,' is probably due to the Old Testament tale of the Tower of Babylon.

From much reading in history, much traveling, much daily contact with people from all over the world, my sense is that multi-lingualism has always been the default of the urban and the mercantile life. That this has changed in the 20th century is due to the insulation of the multi levels of the corporation.

Even rural people needed to be able to negotiate prices with commodities buyers and those who attended the local and further-away ferias to buy and sell horses and breeding stock.

The basis of literacy came out of trade. One of the first drivers of trade, if not the very first, was for smelting and working metal ores. Communication was essential.

Love, C.

#181 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 10:42 AM:

Do you think that the "Tower of Babylon" was originally created by some curmudgeon who couldn't understand why Yewah didn't make everybody speak HIS language? Who was po-ed that the people on the other side of the river who had the wool he wanted to buy spoke some other language than his own?

Love, C.

#182 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 10:51 AM:

...actually, I just realized that part of what confused me about that essay may have been a matter of Defining Terms.

When I think "multilingual", I think "able to speak two or more languages at native fluency, or very near to it." Or possibly even "raised to speak multiple languages since childhood, with native fluency in all of those." But a lot of people in this thread are discussing it in what seems to me more like "able to speak one language natively, and one or more other languages with enough fluency to buy something in a store and ask for directions."

I wouldn't consider myself multilingual: my reading in Spanish is very slow and requires a dictionary, after all. But I can certainly ask for directions, find out when the next bus is coming, order a meal with a few substitutions, argue over a bill, and hold a casual, if halting, conversation about the weather and such. If that constitutes "multilingual," then my reading of that essay changes enormously.

#183 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 11:11 AM:

One of the very good things we did back in my highschool German course was read fiction serialized in current German magazines. (The teacher thermo-faxed them onto ditto masters and printed them for the class; this would seem to have been a copyright violation.)

It was good because reading fiction (and the ads that made it through the copying) in an actual current magazine made it clear that we were reading the same thing actual German people today could read. (Yeah, I don't think I read it as well as the actual German people; but I was pretty comfortable reading it, and didn't need the dictionary that much.) Somehow the text-book-like editions of German novels we'd read earlier weren't as convincing in that regard; they were clearly "school materials".

I did read a few SF novels translated into German that my parents brought back from their 1973-74 sabbatical year (while I was in college, so I wasn't with them). This was an attempt to keep my German going after I stopped studying it. Didn't last long enough to help, though. But it was nice to see that I could actually read Poul Anderson in German.

(I only very briefly considered continuing German in college. The problem was, I'd already exempted out of the language requirement based on my SAT German Achievement test score of 800; so the only courses left were German literature in the original. Which would have meant that I, a computer / math / SF geek, would have been taking literature courses with junior and senior Modern Languages majors. Maybe I should have done it anyway; I could have taken them pass/fail to protect my GPA. But it didn't sound like FUN either. So I started taking Russian instead, lasted a term and part of a second and dumped it when I needed to drop some ballast.)

#184 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 11:21 AM:

"When I think "multilingual", I think "able to speak two or more languages at native fluency, or very near to it." Or possibly even "raised to speak multiple languages since childhood, with native fluency in all of those."

That's what I mean by multilingual. But there is other lingual capacity which is necessary before one reaches that level of fluency.

Trade involves all levels of fluency, at least according to the memoirs and travel writings of people like Herodotus and Marco Polo.

Greed, a great motivator! :)

Love, C.

#185 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 11:26 AM:

Earl Cooley #167: You might want to try that exercise with Evian.

#186 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 11:34 AM:

Elliot Mason #137: In English we can speak of having " smattering" of a language.

#187 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 11:36 AM:

Chris Quinones #145: "Quick! To the Batavocave!"

#188 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 12:11 PM:

Constance #184:

The defining feature, to me, of multilinguality, is the ability to live in a bigger world. I'm not close to native level fluency in Spanish yet (I'll admit that I just don't get most Spanish poetry, in complicated conversations I often miss stuff and have to ask for clarification, and I still have a hard time eavesdropping or handling a lot of background noise or specialist jargon), but sometime in the last two or three years, this has happened to me. A substantial part of my information intake is in Spanish (local radio, podcasts, online newspapers, going to Mass in Spanish about half the time). Sometime a few years ago, I noticed that my English was changing a bit--I was conscious of when I was in the subjunctive or conditional tense, or which kind of past tense I was in.

All this has the effect of expanding your world. There is a bigger universe of ideas, information, stories, songs, friends, communities, etc., that is available.

From what you've said, I gather that's even more true for you (and I think you're further along that path), but I'm curious if I'm right. I mean, I still have to almost physically force myself into a conversation with a native speaker, because I am so damned conscious of all the places where I don't quite know the right way to say stuff. And as you said above, it's weird to see myself just not be as smart in Spanish--I miss social cues everyone else catches, get confused in funny ways, normal stuff is a few percent harder than it should be, etc.

#189 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 12:13 PM:


My old joke about this is that when an American says he speaks a language, he means he can order dinner and ask for directions to the bathroom. When a European says he speaks a language, he means he can discuss philosophy in it.

#190 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 01:18 PM:

Re newspapers: Russian papers are not aimed at lower reading audiences. Not only is written Russian at least as stylistically different from spoken as English; those differences are such that the flavor of the language is very different. Imagine the London Times, ca. 1880, and compare it to people's letters to each other.

The most interesting (for values of interesting which lead to students desiring to switch from the study of Russian to arts and crafts [most esp. papier-maché]), is the large use of participles in written Russian. Since they don't have some of the connotative associations those of the same name have in English it can be vary tricky to parse out just what is being meant.

But reading about Nixon's funeral was at least as satisfying in Russian as it was in English.

I really like the German Jabberwocky; the French, enh.

praisegood barebones: I smell a strawman, of sorts. If, as asserted, monolingualism is the minority state, who then are the dominant promulgants of the idea multilingualism is non-normative? One suspects (and I think the paper's point of origin supports) the idea that a certain (odd) parochialism is taking place, in which an aggressively monolingual culture is the setting by which this advocate of multilingualism is measuring the relative status of both in the world at large.

#191 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 01:30 PM:

I took Spanish from 7th grade on and was tolerably fluent by the end of high school (was reading literature in the original and helped give tours to some visiting Spanish-speaking educators). I then arrived at college where my major required me to take French, German, or Russian. I took a year of Russian, in which I made an A. 30 years later, I struggle with the Cyrillic alphabet. The Spanish, which has gotten some booster shots with trips to Mexico and Honduras along the way, is still there at some level. I am totally unable to generate anything but the present tense of verbs, but I can usually puzzle out past/future tense in writing.

And on one of our trips to Mexico, I had one of those sound-too-fluent moments. I carefully prepared to ask for directions to a particular site and clearly was successful - but I didn't understand a word of the reply.

My husband, who took German in high school, learned Spanish while he was working for most of a year in Mexico. I'm pretty sure he couldn't discuss philosophy, but engineering issues and equipment upgrades to a chemical plant, he could do. His joke with his coworkers was that he could speak Spanish better than he could understand it, but his wife said he didn't listen very well in English either. ;-)

#192 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 02:55 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 169:

I am by no means an expert, nor have I performed any research whatsoever on this topic. Nonetheless, I'd say that monolingualism is the default state for people, because the majority have never had to (or been able to) travel significantly. Merchants would need to know at least the local trade language as an extra (if the trade language wasn't their native language), and various high-ranking government officials would probably need to as well. These aren't the majority of people, however.

I share Fade Manley's definitions given at 182.

Steve with a book @ 174:

Thanks for reminding me of Le Ton beau de Marot. I keep meaning to pick it up, and then I forget.

#193 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 03:50 PM:

KeithS@192: In modern India, for example, it's standard to grow up speaking both some local language, and either English or Hindi. I don't know how it works in China. In most of Europe you encounter at least a second language in school. Africa is such a mosaic of little languages, with other languages used as trade languages, that I'd expect ordinary people to be multi-lingual there as well.

I think the USA is actually pretty weird. (I did have a second language in grade school in public school, but I don't think that's all that common).

#194 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 04:23 PM:

ddb @ 193:

China is an interesting case. (I claim no expertise, I've merely visited a few places there a couple times.) For the purposes of this discussion, I consider the various Chinese dialects to be separate languages, because the ones I know of are mutually unintelligible.

In theory, everyone in China is supposed to speak Mandarin, since Mandarin is the official dialect. I think it's the case that most people know their local dialect. Given both of these, many Chinese, barring the native Mandarin-speakers, should be multilingual. In practice, not everyone, especially in rural areas, knows Mandarin.

English is taught in the schools there. With the exception of the strangely large number of "art students" who wanted me to check out their gallery (and buy stuff) who I encountered in Beijing, the most English I got from strangers on the street was "hello", and "how are you?" (understood responses: "hello", and "good" or "fine"). Not enough to carry on a conversation. People at hotel desks for nice hotels typically spoke pretty good English.

(Aside: after being greeted by yet another fluent, English-speaking, native Chinese person in Beijing: "You're an art student?" Them, surprised: "Yes, how did you know?")

The USA is pretty weird from a linguistic standpoint, as it benefits from speaking the dominant trade language. The same was true of England before it, France before it, and so on.

I will certainly concede India, though, and, if you're right, parts of Africa.

However, language acquisition is hard, and given that people seem not to learn two if they can get away with learning one, I'd say that there has to be enough outside pressure to overcome that.

#195 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 05:23 PM:

Debbie #149 writes "Many people don't have that sort of positive feeling about German."

Surely you mean: Many people about German that sort of positive feeling do not have..

#196 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 05:36 PM:

albatross #189: Large numbers of Africans find it normal to speak three languages or more (their own language, a language of rule, a trade language, and sometimes a neighbouring language). Often all at the same level of fluency.

This has interesting results. I had a fluent conversation in Spanish with a taxi driver here in Atlanta some time back. Nothing unusual, except for the fact that the taxi driver in question was from Nigeria. He'd lived in the Dominican Republic for several years before coming to the US.

#197 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 05:45 PM:

Fragano at #187:

With a Batavocado and industrial quantities of dip!

ObMuppets: one, two, three... Dip!

#198 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 05:50 PM:

Terry Karney #190: values of interesting which lead to students desiring to switch from the study of Russian to arts and crafts [most esp. papier-maché]

As in, ripping up the Russian materials? LOL! :-)

#199 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 07:32 PM:

KeithS #194: Britain in the 19th and early 20th century wasn't simply the dominant trading power, it was a territorial empire that reigned over actually or nominally (in 1933) a quarter of the surface of the Earth.

#200 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 08:27 PM:

#188 albatross

My earliest experience of attempting to carry on a conversation in Spanish came very early. I was in Havana for my first stay, and it was a long one. We were living in Havana, meaning an apartment, not a hotel. This wasn't my first time in Cuba, but those previous were all always moving, staying in hotels, etc. This was very different. When you need to shop and make meals in a place rather than have them provided, you are in total immersion.

I spent most of that visit compulsively studying Spanish. The women of our Cuban 'familia' were champing at the bit for me to get just enough so that we could talk "entre las mujeres." They helped me in every way. They were crazy to have those conversations. They also made it clear how glad they were I was there, and how much they liked me. They'd known my husband for quite some tiome before, and they love him. They were crazy to know me too. So there we went. I title his period, in fact, "Entre las mujeres." The only other English speaker was my husband, and he mostly forgot to speak English in those days in Cuba, he was so immersed in the culture and music. He was very occupied. He wasn't with me most of the time.

Total immersion, with some basics, and constant teaching and study, gets you pretty far pretty fast.

Love, c.

#201 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 11:01 PM:

Wandering from the discussion of multilingualism and language learning, back to the original topic of tolerance. It's reminding me of a psychology professor I once worked with, whose specialty was vocational psychology, in particular, individual differences and how those played out in occupational choice and success. I remember him saying something along the lines of it being fairly easy for a society to have any two of the three of individual differences, freedom, and order, but much harder to have them all at once. You could, for example, have both freedom and order if your population was quite homogenous; individual differences and order if you bagged freedom; individual differences and freedom if you didn't care how chaotic things got.

Now, obviously, there are degrees to all of this - individual differences of what kind? (IMHO, the most important would be presence or absence of shared values, e.g. the value of samen leven.) Freedom of what kind and to what extent? (Range from repressive police state to total anarchy, with most people's idea of a desirable place to live falling somewhere in the middle. And of course not all lack of freedom is produced by government action; intense social pressure to conform and/or lawless bullying can reduce people's options.) And how precise of order, and what are external constraints on the need for order (like the need to keep a communal resource functional, or keep the sea out of your town)?

But still, I think he was on to something. All societies balance those three dimensions in one way or another.

#202 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2010, 11:56 PM:

Fragano at # 195: I think it should be Many people do about German that sort of positive feeling not have.

#203 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 12:08 AM:

I tried posting this last night (Turkish time), but something went wrong, so I'm trying again now. I'm slightly behind where the thread has got to.

Thanks for responses to that piece of hit and run linking

Constance - I like that idea about the Tower of Babel. (Given the number of Hebrew myths that have Mesopotamian parallels, I'm also having fun imagining that the version of the story we have is a translation of an ur-version in another language.

(Naq abj V'z nyfb guvaxvat nobhg gur Neal Stephenson novel gung ortvaf jvbgu gur ocvmmn qryvirel obl...)

Fade @ 182: I think that what they mean by 'multilingual' is 'fluent in two or more languages', raher than simply 'some knowledge'.

I think the reason why it's thought to be the norm is because that degree of multi @lingualism is very common in both India and China, since most people speak both a local language and a lingua franca

Terry @ 190: I guess the claim is that within anglophone academia - or maybe more narrowly within the anglophone community that studies language-learning academically, the assumption is that monolingualism is the norm.

Given what I've said above that seems at least consistent with the claim that it is not actually the norm. So, not as obviously a strawman as that.

What makes me thnink that there's some truth in the claim is that huge amounts of studies in developmental psychology are done on middle-class American and British children, who are largely monolingual. I once heard a talk about research done on English/French bilinguals in which it was suggested that children brought up bilingual had a slight edge on tasks that involved perspective switching, I don't know that that's ever been replicated; but it interested me. But what was clear was that it was being treated as 'this interesting thing about an odd minority'.

(A possible analogy, if the idea that multilingulaism is the norm - imagine going to a talk on, say, infant immunology and hearing breast-feeding described as though it were a very strange, and medially dubious, but possibly beneficial minority practice. And of course, I'm sure that this has happened...)

Terry 190 again: I don't think I understand what you're saying about Russian; and I'd like to. Can I ask you to say it again.

(To give you some idea of the level at which you could pitch the explanation: I had 3 fairly intensive years of Russian at school, at which point I had a reasonably good knowledge of the written language; and I've retained enough to be able to understand conversations between parents and toddlers in a playground.)

#204 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 12:23 AM:

...and I see that ddb and Fragano have in the meantime got there with some of what I wanted to say.

#205 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 01:57 AM:

praisegood barebones: I think the issue of the argument for the assumptive normalness of monolingualism is because the people that person are talking about are only looking at the studies being written in English, about English speakers. For most of the world a second language is far more the norm; so there is some question begging going on.

About Russian, may I ask what level of schooling, and where? One of the things I noticed when I was taking a college course in Russian (as maintenance: I studied at the Defense Language Institute) was how little they covered in a semester. It was scary how much ground we covered; a college quarter every nine days.

But one of the things I discovered was the greater level of comfort those students had with written Russian (esp. the creation of written text) than I did. Relative to the amount of time they had using the language verbally, they had huge amounts of time to read/write it.

But, to take an example I'll offer up the poem, "Я вас любил/I have loved you"

Я вас любил: любовь еще, быть может
В душе моей угасла не совсем;
Но пусть она вас больше не тревожит;
Я не хочу печалить вас ничем.
Я вас любил безмолвно, безнадежно,
То робостью, то ревностью томим;
Я вас любил так искренно, так нежно,
Как дай вам бог любимой быть другим.

There are a lot of passive elements in that poem. The second line is really difficult (if you follow the link you will see some discussion of how to translate the poem).

My translation is here:

I loved you: perhaps I love you still
but forget this love which pressed on you
no tears, only laughter. I do not wish to cause you pain.
I loved you quietly, hopelessly, jealously; afraid
I loved you with tenderness, and sincerely
May God grant you love like this again.

Those are pretty active sentiments, but look again at the structure of the Russian.

Here is another translation (one which tries to keep some sense of the Russian meter, which, like Greek poetry uses all those odd metric structures like anapests, and dactyls, but I digress).

I have loved you; even now I may confess,
Some embers of my love their fire retain
but do not let it cause you more distress,
I do not want to sadden you again.
Hopeless and tonguetied, yet, I loved you dearly
With pangs the jealous and the timid know;
So tenderly I loved you- so sincerely;
I pray God grant another love you so.

It is more accurate to the technical passivity of the russian structure but I think it loses the russian sense.

Which is what I was talking about.

#206 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 02:11 AM:

Fragano and Allan --

Many people have that positive feeling about German not. OR

Many people have not any that positive feeling about German.

#207 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 04:10 AM:

Terry Karney:

Same school as the current British Prrime Minister (school here and in my previous meaning 'school' not 'university' - ie secondary, not tertiary education). Russian classes: for all 3 years a minimum of 45 minutes a day, plus fairly extensive homework. (And we'd all had experience of learning Latin and Greek so, were fairly used to coping with a non-Latin alphabet and a case and gender based brammatical system, which must have speeded things up in the early stages.) More emphasis on the written than the spoken language; but by the end of it I was able to read a novella by Turgenev (With frequnet recourse to a dictionary.

Probably not as quick as the army - my Dad learnt Russian while doing his national service in the British Royal Air Force, and got to the same level in 9 months, before being sent of to monitor Russian air pilots' radio messages. (And one of his class mates, with pleasing symmetry, ended up being one of my Russian teachers at school)

Anyway: the explanation is just right (and in a way perfect, since I had to learn that poem by heart in - I think - the secnd year of doing Russian; and still have it more or less by heart.) You're absolutely right, of course. I suspect that one reason why I'd not been struck by that feature of Russian before might be early exposure to Latin, which also does lots of odd things with participles. (As does Turkish: one of my problems with iT as a language is that it does almost all of the things which one does in English with subordinate clauses, of which I'm inordinately fond, by means of participial constructions)

But I'm also now wondering whether calling Lermontov in evidence mightn't be stacking the deck - rather like calling, say, Henry Fielding in evidence for the pecularities of written English. One of the things I most enjoyed reading in Russian was a collection of very short short stories by Mikhail Zoshchenko, which used a very colloquial style, and were, i seem to remember, much easier to get my head round.

OtterB (and abi): apologies for the repeated derail.

#208 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 04:31 AM:

I'm sorry, my English is clearly not very good. What is this "derail" of which you speak?


#209 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 04:41 AM:

praisegood barebones: Pushkin is perfect for this. He's not all that different to other written Russian, and the language isn't archaic.

More to the point that poem is known. It's been translated a lot, and one can see the ways in which the, apparently, passive structures aren't.

Mind you, it takes being able to read Russian, at least a little, or reading a lot of the translations to have a feel for what might be going on.

I also think this poem does a really good job of revealing that trait. I recall the first time I read it in Russian (I'd seen it in several translations) and laughing out loud; because suddenly it was clear to me why the ones I'd not liked were so flabby feeling.

#210 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 05:21 AM:

Britain in the 19th and early 20th century wasn't simply the dominant trading power, it was a territorial empire that reigned over actually or nominally (in 1933) a quarter of the surface of the Earth.

More than a quarter, I think, given that Britannia, canonically, Ruled the Waves. Probably more like 80%.

#211 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 06:33 AM:

Debbie #206: But that does not at the end of the sentence the triumphant main verb place.

#212 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 08:50 AM:

Fragano -- But that does not at the end of the sentence the triumphant main verb place.

Because those sentences only a main verb have. (And also don't start with "because", which has its own rules. German is sneaky like that.)

More generally, with regard to abi's original topic, German society isn't ruled by "the concept that no matter how much we differ, we all have to find a way to not just coexist but actively cooperate." This is purely speculation on my part, but I suspect that German history has as much to do with the status quo as Holland's history of managing encroaching water does with theirs. The fact that the country was so very divided into duchies, palatinates, and mini-kingdoms meant that there were strong hindrances to travel. Many neighbors were potential enemies. Conversely, one identified with one's particular area. A lot of that is still true today. Germans identify heavily with the region where they grew up. And unfortunately, the courts are clogged with neighbor vs. neighbor lawsuits. In terms of OtterB's scale, I'd say German society is heaviest on the order and individual freedom dimensions.

Interestingly, I have often heard two variations of laments that things used to be different -- and better, of course -- with respect to neighborliness. One is from people coming from the ex-DDR, the other is from older people recalling the time during and immediately after WWII. In both cases, I suspect there's some glossing over of the actual degree of cooperation, but I don't doubt that life these days is more anonymous and individualistic.

#213 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 08:57 AM:

What is this "derail" of which you speak?

What abi said. One does not derail a reticulated conversation.

(I've always liked that word. Reticulated, that is, not derail or conversation.)

#214 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 09:44 AM:

212: I think that older Germans who recall a more neighbourly Germany during and after WW2 are probably suffering from survivor bias. As in: the ones who didn't get on with their neighbours didn't survive.

#215 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 09:47 AM:

OtterB (213): One does not derail a reticulated conversation.

That's reticulous.

#216 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 10:01 AM:

213, 215--

wasn't that dr. johnson's definition of a network?

"anything reticulated or decussated, with interstices between the intersections".

or words to that effect--it's been a while since i read it.

anyhow--that's how dr. j saw the net.

#217 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 10:42 AM:

While it's wandering a little further off original topic, I found this essay by Dorothy Sayers fascinating. It's all about learning Latin (especially as a child), and why some of the languages she learned stuck while others didn't, and the benefits of learning other languages--and Latin in particular--and how it should be approached... I don't necessarily agree with all her conclusions, but it has some really interesting takes on how to make a dead language like that stick when you really can't do immersion the way you could for something like French or German.

#218 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 11:14 AM:

I've been fascinated by the Russian discussion too; I only had a semester of Russian in grade school, and can mostly transliterate with care. I'm pretty monolingual, but can read some Latin and a bit of most of the Romance languages. I'm fascinated anyway by how different languages work, and how differently languages work.

#219 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 11:24 AM:

Fade Manley@217: She does seem to have missed the benefit of training the ears to hear and the mouth to make a wider range of sounds; in fact in her discussion of Latin pronunciation she treats it as an actual disadvantage.

She was also writing from a period when the pernicious effects of Latin grammar on English grammar were not yet recognized, I believe.

#220 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 11:53 AM:

Mary Aileen That's reticulous.

Appreciative snort.

#221 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 01:27 PM:

ddb@219. DLS gave the address in 1952. I don't think you're wrong about the bias, but the pernicious influence of Latin grammar was already being criticised by the 1920s. Consider Fowler's Modern English Usage and the famous entry on Split Infinitives. There's plenty more scattered through that text. Looking at where and when DLS learned Latin, she might have been a trifle old-fashioned from the start.

#222 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 01:29 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 211: "But that does not at the end of the sentence the triumphant main verb place." My stepmother's mother, a native German speaker, kindly helped me translate some veterinary papers I needed for my PhD (I understood the long scientific words - same as English, except for the endings - and she understood all the other words). She got very irritated with German sentence structure and the way way she would have to read three or four lines to reach the verb, then, armed with that important word, look at the rest of the sentence again.

#223 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 01:31 PM:

ddb @219: Given that she apparently could speak French just fine, I don't think she was missing the uses of knowing different sounds, but saying that it's fairly irrelevant to Latin learning, which I think is a fair cop; it's the sort of language that is much more useful to read than speak, and with all the different "official" pronunciations around, it does make sense to me that it's more important to choose one and stick to it than to try to cover them all immediately. (My professor prefers the derived ancient pronunciation, so I'm partial to it, but I have nothing against the "pronounce it like it looks for your language" or "pronounce it like Italian church Latin" approaches.)

I'm sort of torn on the matters of its pernicious effects, at that. On the one hand, I do agree that trying to make English use Latin's rules is silly: a quick look at a list of verbs in Latin that are active there, but translated as "to be X" in English, should be enough to prove that. Ending sentences with prepositions bothers me not at all, and splitting infinitives serves a useful purpose for emphasis and rhythm in English.

On the other hand, I found my own ability to say what I meant in English improved significantly once I took Latin, because I had a better idea of what different parts of speech were doing, just through being forced to pay attention to another type of grammar. I think that a study of nearly any language could give this same focus: however, in a way, a lot of the best approaches to learning foreign languages thoroughly and quickly--immersion, practical conversation, that kind of thing--aren't the best way to teach that grammar, because by their nature they're teaching someone to do it by ear and instinct, not by carefully thinking through why a particular language is working in one way and not another. I learned more about how English works from one year of Latin than seven years of Spanish, and that's when I had a professor who explicitly acknowledged that applying Latin rules to English grammar (in the sense of following the Latin rules, that is) was silly.

#224 ::: Teemu Kalvas ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 02:03 PM:

Terry Karney @205: I've always meant to ask: how were the studies in the Defense Language Institute structured? Did you study Russian 60 hours a week, or did you have courses in different things at the same time?

If you really worked on it full time, and were actually motivated, I don't find it too hard to believe that 9 days of it corresponded to a semester of school by bored teenagers.

Lack of motivation is possibly even worse an issue in language acquisition than any other sort of learning. I live in a city with 50 thousand Swedes, have studied Swedish in school for 6 years - but it is a mandatory subject. Net result is that I can buy beer in Swedish and that's that. I have better skills in Japanese which I studied of my free will for one year. (English was a sort of special case here, I didn't have any choice, but OTOH I was in an English speaking country which managed to motivate me quite a lot. And I was much younger then.)

#225 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 02:18 PM:

Dave Bell@221: Oops, forgot how far back things like Fowler went. I tend to associate them with the age of the editions I first encountered :-) .

Fade Manley@223: Well, but she's getting into the subject of the benefit of learning foreign languages at all, and it's an important point there.

I think of my knowledge of English grammar as being entirely derived from German; although, on consideration, my 9th grade English teacher had me mostly skip the grammar unit since I clearly didn't need it, and spend the time writing a program to correct the test for it instead (which probably saved her a lot of time).

Between history, prejudice, Snow Crash and other SF, and who knows what else, I do find myself considering English to be in some good way a "more advanced" language than those weird old languages with all that silly grammar. I do kinda like the theory that languages really evolved for a non-literate culture, like classical Greek, used the grammar as an error correction mechanism for memorization. Very clever, and we don't need it any more :-) .

#226 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 02:20 PM:

ddb, 225: That's, uh, really not how grammar works.

#227 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 02:20 PM:

Wow, there's nearly nothing on this on the web, so I can't verify my memory. But with the discussion of German sentence structure going on, I must say:

Let's wait for the verb!

#228 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 03:13 PM:

ddb @ 225: Between history, prejudice, Snow Crash and other SF, and who knows what else, I do find myself considering English to be in some good way a "more advanced" language than those weird old languages with all that silly grammar. I do kinda like the theory that languages really evolved for a non-literate culture, like classical Greek, used the grammar as an error correction mechanism for memorization. Very clever, and we don't need it any more :-) .

That's very much not matching up with anything I've learned about grammar, pre-literate or otherwise. But I've only taken one linguistics course, and it was some time back: so I will freely admit that this is not an area where I can speak as an expert.

#229 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 03:34 PM:

From Fade's link:

the Local Gossip and the Daily Ghoul, eager though they always are for the personal angle on every subject from the habits of the liver-fluke to the higher mathematics.

Do you think there's any chance that this publication might have its archive on the 'Net somewhere?

Having had an education in Latin not entirely unlike DLS's in both form and upshot, at least as far as ability to read Latin is concerned, I can spot that the first tag is from the beginning of Aeneid 2, where Dido asks Aeneas to tell the story of the fall of Troy, but am wondering if anyone can help with the second?

And I think the idea of getting learners to read mediaeval Latin rather than the Aeneid seems an idea well worth a try. Ploughing through 300 odd lines of Aeneid 1 at 15 years old did nothing for my appreciation of classical literature. And the reasons she gives seem plausible enough.(Although I'm still able to giggle about the class-mate who having been given ikt as an assignement to prepare managed to translate the first line of the Aeneid first as 'A man with hairy arms', and then as 'the hairy arms of men')

#230 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 03:44 PM:

The psych and brain science in Snowcrash is based on long-discredited models.

The linguistics...well, it's about on the level of the physics in "The ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs." Bullshit, in other words.

I know he has many fans here, but Stephenson cannot be depended on for accurate science.

#231 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 03:55 PM:

As I'm currently struggling terribly with a bit each of Cicero and Catullus--and these from my textbook, with lots of footnotes about the presumably most unusual bits, and any unfamiliar vocabulary--I admit that I am dreadfully tempted to toss it all aside and go try some Church Latin. I still recall from the first time I took Latin, many years back, the one passage of medieval Latin that we actually got to do in class. And how all of the students were shocked at how very easy it was, compared to the usual texts.

#232 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 04:12 PM:

Catullus has many more dirty words than most of the Church Latin, though....

#233 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 04:15 PM:

David Drake talks about classics on

Thanks for the link to the DLS essay. Strikes me that the Catholic abandonment of the Latin Mass in the 60s was a huge blow to the status of the language, even in the so-called 'Protestant' countries: it severed a connection running all the way back to old Rome. Anthony Kenny's autobiography A Path From Rome, which tells of how he became a priest in the 50s and then ceased to be one in the 60s, is very good on the details of the clerical training of the time, and in particular what it was like to use Latin as a living language—not really with fluency, but certainly competently.

Praisegod Barebones@207:

> Probably not as quick as the army - my Dad learnt Russian while doing his national service
> in the British Royal Air Force, and got to the same level in 9 months, before being sent of to
> monitor Russian air pilots' radio messages. (And one of his class mates, with pleasing
> symmetry, ended up being one of my Russian teachers at school)

The JSSL really knew what they were doing, and they demonstrated that the British are no worse at learning languages than anyone else, it's just that they rarely have the motivation. JSSL students had very powerful motivation to keep up with the course and pass the tests: the ability to avoid the futile spud-peeling/coal-whitewashing/cleaning-the-urinals-with-razor-blades boredom faced by most National Servicemen. No-one who'd got away from that to go to JSSL wanted to be Returned To Unit...

There's rarely a financial motivation for British people to learn a language, but when there is, we're good at it: Anthony Burgess pointed out that generations of Colonial Service personnel were able to become very good indeed at difficult languages since they had proficiency bars, with increases in salary, to aim at.

#234 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 05:19 PM:

Oh, and Dr William Smith's Principia Latina, which Dorothy Sayers talked about, is on the web. Fero ferre tuli latum!

#235 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 09:33 PM:

My brother stuttered as soon as he spoke. Nobody knew back then that it's just the way your brain works and besides the people making fun of him, lots of people suggested ways to make him stop. When he took his first foreign language class (in the summer -- Mother was a teacher and always took a class in summer, so we did, too), it turned out he didn't stutter in that language.

That continued in other languages and I've always thought that was one reason he became a missionary. When they were home for a year (for political things: getting money, giving out brochures, giving souvenirs to big donors, etc.) a few years ago, he tripped on a stepping stone and smacked his head on another stepping stone.

He now has a metal plate in his head and doesn't stutter. Hasn't gone back to being a missionary, either. (And one of those odd things -- his brain was damaged at the same place that both of my strokes damaged my brain.)

#236 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2010, 11:29 PM:

Re: the Sayers essay, it has become a celebrated text in certain educational circles. There is at least one charter school here using it as the basis of their curriculum (and many others nationally), and it is the basis for a couple of home schooling curricula that I know of as well. It has tended to attract those of a more conservative Christian bent, although not the more Evangelical, since it is based on pagan philosophy rather than the Bible. Googling around might give more detail, if anyone is interested, on how her system is working out in modern practice.

#237 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 12:46 AM:

Juli Thompson @ 236: ...y'know, I find that a little unsettling, actually. I found her essay very entertaining, and full of a lot of points to consider seriously, but using the whole thing as a how-to guide seems a bit in the way of overkill. On the other hand, I assume that those who use it that way have done a lot more research and planning than "This sounds like a good idea."

I am thinking a bit wistfully of looking up the texts recommended there, either way.

#238 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 07:39 PM:

Xopher @ 230:
I know he has many fans here, but Stephenson cannot be depended on for accurate science.

Except that his many descriptions of models of the canonical Turing Machine in "Diamond Age" are all correct (and all equivalent to each other). And much of the descriptions of the use of computers and software, and even the description of Van Eck phreaking (which sounds like BS, but very definitely isn't; ask the NSA). Computer science he does know.

#239 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 08:02 PM:

Fade Manley @237 - I had something of the same reaction, actually. I thought of sending my daughter there, and decided against it. While I am a humanities person, and majored in Latin, and think all these things are important, I didn't like the lack of strong math and science. (I had the same reaction to the Waldorf school.) My child is just finishing 3rd grade, so they may have beefed that section up a bit in the intervening years. OTOH, I have a friend whose daughter went there and she seems very satisfied.

I'm a little leery of any education that's based on a theory, or a system. This is probably the effect of having gone to several different schools as a child, each of which believed in a different theory. The school I sent my dearest child to has ended up writing a lot of their own curriculum, and their number one criterium is that it is research based. It all goes through a board and a committee for review, and I have to say that I'm happy so far.

#240 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 01:09 PM:

Xopher, Bruce

Lots of the brain/psycholgy stuff in Snowcrash seemed to be based on Julian Jaynes 'The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.' Did anyone ever take Jaynes especially seriously? I guess I'd be quite surprised...(although I do vaguely remember reading Daniel Dennett speaking positively of it). But the idea that the Hittites - or the preHomeric Greeks (possibly also in Jaynes, but certainly to be found in someone like Paul Feyerabend)just seems too silly to take seriously for more than five minutes. I mean, shouldn't we also have been finding the same to be true in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, for example?

(I still think Snowcrash is a cracking good story though, and mhuch prefer it to the Baroque Cycle, which only just managed to keep me reading to the end)

Bruce: have you read 'In the Beginning Was the Command Line'. If so, waht do you think of it. I picked it up while stgaying wiht a couple of academic computer scientists, and, while not having any real grasp of how these machines work, found it both intutively persuasive and quite illuminating.

#241 ::: Michael Bloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 01:34 PM:

Re multilingualism: In Indonesia, I was told, each of the thousand-odd inhabited islands has its own traditional language, which is the first one children learn. Then they go to school and learn Bahasa, the national language, derived (they tell me) from Malay trade argot. And of course ambitious kids study an intenational language like English too.

There must be other countries and/or cultures with this model. I'm also thinking of the idea that the Koran is best understood in the original Arabic, which reminds me that Indonesia is also the world's largest Muslim country. BTW, Indonesians outnumber Americans, a bunch.

With the rise of a pervasive mass media, I wonder how long that'll last. My understanding is that there isn't much of a living literature in the traditional languages, mainly origin myths and similar ancient epics, but I'd love to be wrong.

#242 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 03:09 PM:

Michael Bloom @241:

In Indonesia, I was told, each of the thousand-odd inhabited islands has its own traditional language, which is the first one children learn. Then they go to school and learn Bahasa, the national language, derived (they tell me) from Malay trade argot. And of course ambitious kids study an intenational language like English too. ... There must be other countries and/or cultures with this model.

Well, many parts of the Netherlands have local dialects, so children's language learning in those areas is much as you've described.

#243 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 04:33 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 240: Julian Jaynes 'The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.' Did anyone ever take Jaynes especially seriously? I guess I'd be quite surprised...(although I do vaguely remember reading Daniel Dennett speaking positively of it).

Dennett's take, IIRC, was something along the lines of "at least he was asking the right questions," and that the idea that language predates consciousness was worth exploring. I don't think anyone takes Jaynes' timeline seriously, though.

While that was where Snow Crash went off the rails for me, it wasn't because of the implausibility--I think "what if this crazy pseudo-scientific idea turned out to be true?" is a perfectly valid basis for SF. It works better if you don't expound it in sixty-page infodumps that give the reader plenty of time to think about the implications, though.

#244 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 06:34 PM:

Michael Bloom, #241, the Phillipines, which also has lots of islands.

#245 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 01:32 AM:

Bruce 238: Computer science [Stephenson] does know.

It's positively peculiar how many expert computer scientists are absolute lunatics when it comes to linguistics.

Noam Chomsky, for example.

praisegod 240: (I still think Snowcrash is a cracking good story though, and much prefer it to the Baroque Cycle, which only just managed to keep me reading to the end.)

Snowcrash was my first taste of Stephenson, and it turned me off him for good. And Julian Jaynes' work was the "long discredited" part. It pissed me off that Stephenson seemed to credit Jaynes' warped notion that e.g. ancient Sumerians were not actually conscious.

Tim 243: I think "what if this crazy pseudo-scientific idea turned out to be true?" is a perfectly valid basis for SF.

True, but if someone decided to base their story on nineteenth-century ideas about the inherent superiority of European-descended people, this would be irritating to say the least. It's been years since I read Snow Crash, but I remember thinking that parts of it really amounted to anti-Pagan bigotry (admittedly I don't remember precisely why I thought so). Which is OK, because there aren't any Pagans any more, right?

Wrong. Pissed-off Pagan here.

#246 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2010, 04:41 AM:

245: I think we've had this back-and-forth before, but I don't think there's anything anti-Pagan in Snow Crash. The novel's attitude to religion, IIRC, is
a) none of it is actually true;
b) despite this, it's perfectly possible for religious people to be extremely intelligent and pleasant (two of the novel's smartest characters, Da5id and Juanita, are deeply religious)
c) TV evangelists are ridiculous shysters (the Holy Trinity of Jesus, Elvis and the Reverend Wayne)
d) one ancient religion, the Sumerian cult of Asherah, is associated with a peculiar virus
e) ancient peoples heard voices in their heads and believed they were the voices of gods, or a god - this applied to monotheists as well as polytheists.

Yes, here we are:
including my quoting a passage from Cryptonomicon that's extremely approving of pagan beliefs.

#247 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 11:25 AM:

Xopher 240: 'anti-pagan bigotry'.

Point taken.

Maybe my enthusiastic comments reflected a bit of 'monotheistic privilege'...

(Takes deep breath and deletes long parenthetical comment)

Re Jaynes: I guess the only thing we differ over is whether he was ever credited enough tom be discredited

#248 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 02:45 PM:

Serge: I wish I was able to skip the comments.

Usually I do skip Karl. Almost 15 years of watching him argue, in APAe, and online, have shown me he does not argue in good faith, but every so often I have to respond to him, lest he lead others astray.

re Russian at DLI: It was 36 hours a week in class. 10-20 hours per week of homework. 10-20 hours per week of study.

I also lived with people who were doing the same thing.

We had some really strong incentive. Fail the course and one might end up in a Multiple Launch Rocket Artillery unit in Korea (while not likely it did happen; most of those who were, "rocked" got a pretty decent MOS, they weren't; as a rule, stupid, just not quite up to the task of language. As result most of the jobs the Army had were open to us... "needs of the service," permitting).

But we also had the usual run of things soldiers have to endure. PT, Parades, Flag Detail, fatigues, Commanders Call, battalion runs, field problems, CQ, etc.). They were pretty long weeks.

It was 13 months of Hell in Pretty Place.

Xopher: re Chomsky. He is a linquistics professor. The real problem (and I wish I knew where the book was: I know I still have it) is that Linguistics seems to have a poor institutional memory. Lots of things get "discovered" which had been, "discovered" before. The new gloss is a little better than the old gloss, but is treated as if it were a fuel sell replacing a gasoline engine, not just a new means of carbueration.

#249 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 04:46 PM:

Quick OT query that seems to be more appropriate here than on the open thread

- is there someone on the thread whose Norwegian is good enough to tell me if what is below is a Norwegian sentence, and if so, whether it is a) grammatical and b)correctly spelt?

'Dem sum sir dem a dum, dem a dem a dum'

#250 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 06:02 PM:

I don't speak Norwegian, but Google Translate gives "You sir total them a stupid them a them a stupid." I suspect they're just not translating 'sir' or 'a'. Sounds like a semi-nonsense refrain to me, but again, I don't speak Norwegian.

#251 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 06:07 PM:

You never know when something that sounds too neat to be grammatical really is.

As the Dutch would say, rather self-referentially in this context, raar maar waar, strange but true.

#252 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 08:44 PM:

Just today I encountered a very interesting case of samen leven:
Necessary background - almost all Dutch supermarket chains have their own freebie customer magazines: Every month, there is a new 100+ pages booklet with product information, seasonal recipes, housekeeping tips and of course lots of advertisements. As they cater to all customers and just try to make them buy stuff, they are as inoffensive and apolitical as possible - there is virtually no controversy covered, well, perhaps whether to put salt on steaks before or after cooking.
And one of these magazines [1] does homestories: Every month, they visit a family of customers and talk about the place they live, what they buy, such stuff. This month, the featured family is a bit special since the four children are two sets of twins. Oh, and there are two married daddies and no mommy. But while that was clearly said (they even explained that one man was called Papa and his husband Pappie), it was not the main subject, not at all - that was about cooking and getting the kids to eat their veggies and making a "wrap" out of a Dutch pancake with a fruit-honey filling.

In other words, in the Netherlands, a married gay couple does not need a "special" different treatment - and obviously, a mass-market publication without *any* political agenda has no qualms about giving a glimpse of their family life next to the part with the puzzles and jokes for the customers' kids.

I cannot describe how glad I am to see this happen. Is it wrong that this makes me a little bit proud to be European?

[1] FYI, it's Boodschappen, at Deen, Deka, Plus and Coop supermarkets

#253 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 08:48 PM:

Michael Bloom @ 241: "There must be other countries and/or cultures with this model."

In my experience, take your pick. This whole idea of "national languages" which are perfectly regular over large stretches of land is at best a couple hundred years old, and considerably less than that in most places. Chinese has local (like, one village) dialects that are unintelligible with neighboring villages, not to mention all the language groups belonging to entirely different families. India is probably even more eclectic, due to a nice central location that has sent dozens of different language groups swirling across the continent. Even Japan, peripheral island nation Japan, still has enormous linguistic variation--what we call "Japanese" today is just the Meiji-period Tokyo dialect systematized and taught to everyone.

In the world the United States is freakish in its linguistic cohesiveness, because it a) has a relatively recent settlement pattern, b) a highly mobile population, and c) has had popular education for most of its history. Elsewhere the usual question is: is the unintelligible gibberish your neighbor is spouting a language that split off from yours a hundred years ago, or ten thousand?

#254 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 09:03 PM:

Please let me clarify my statement in posting #252:
When stating my bit of pride in being European, it was directed against those online voices (nearly all right-wing US Americans) asserting that Europeans were morally bankrupt and doomed. Please do not read this as claim of superiority over any ethnical group.

#255 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 09:17 PM:

Jorg Raddatz @252 and 254, I didn't take your comment to be claiming superiority. I took it to be indicating a rightful point of pride.

#256 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 09:52 PM:

Jörg, I concur with OtterB. You're right to be proud, and I just added another point to my count of reasons why moving to the Netherlands might not be such a bad thing.

#257 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2010, 11:37 PM:

heresiarch @253 said: In the world the United States is freakish in its linguistic cohesiveness, because it a) has a relatively recent settlement pattern, b) a highly mobile population, and c) has had popular education for most of its history.

Also, for the last three generations✦, commonplace mass communication by recorded (as with newsreels) and broadcasted voices, most of which ended up standardizing fairly quickly to what I like to call the 'Cronkite Accent' ... this tendency also allows educated epi-Great-Lakes urban Midwesterners to claim with privileged bafflement, "But, but, what accent? *I* don't have an accent, all of *you* have accents!" Because pretty much all newscasters across the entire USA speak like an e.e-G-L.u.M.

✦ I feel justified in claiming any technology my own personal grandparents grew up taking for granted as '3 generations old'. Though YGMV, of course. :->

#258 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 12:14 AM:

kid bitzer 219:

Is it possible not to have interstices between the intersections?

#259 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 03:58 AM:

So it's election day today, and I see that someone has gone and plastered Geert Wilders' face over all the other parties' posters in my village.

Samen leven mijn kontje.

#260 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 05:45 AM:

Good Lord, abi, tell me "kontje" isn't a cognate!

#261 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 05:56 AM:

TexAnne @260:

Like most terms, that morpheme migrates back and forth in various languages (cf "fanny" in British vs American English). In this case, it's in the back rather than in the forth, if you see what I mean.

(I considered writing "mijn ezel", but translating a pun into a language where it isn't a pun is super-advanced linguistic mischief, not to be attempted unreticulated.)

#262 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 06:09 AM:

abi: aha, yes.

#263 ::: Michael Bloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 06:34 AM:

Thanks all. What I was trying to say was more along the lines of India-- different languages spoken by diverse ethnic populations who nevertheless have to get along in a polity-- than trying to figure out at what point dialects become distinct enough to qualify as languages. That said, how close is even a nation like India to the point of linguistic homogeneity enforced by mass media? I remember an old PBS documentary about Indira Gandhi saying "Television is her legacy," implying that they were well along that road.

#264 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 07:31 AM:

praisegod barebones @249: see here. Or is that where you got it from?

#265 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 08:08 AM:

Tykewriter 264: That is indeed where I got it from. But a half-Swedish friend of mine expressed some skepticism (at least as to spelling and word-order.) Although, as he went on to say, he can hardly order a cup of tea in Swedish, let alone Norwegian, so what does he know? So I thought I'd ask here, in case the fluorosphere had any Norwegian-speaking members. My guess is that Xopher has shown that he was right at least as to spelling...

abi @ 256: commiserations.

(I know that one shouldn't, other things being equal, laugh about things in foreign languages sounding funny, but would it cheer you up even slightly if I mentioned that the name of Rita Verdonk's apparently rather right-wing party, which I learn from Quirksmode is called 'Trots op Nederlands' sounds, to a British ear, absurdly comical - as though it was either something from the forgotten reaches of the far left, or a national stomach upset?)

#266 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 09:48 AM:

Jörg Raddatz@252: Given the general history of humanity, being in a place that's not homophobic (or so little that a controversy-free magazine can feature that family) is something one can take some legitimate pride in, I would think.

I suppose the alternative would be to be embarrassed, as a human being, that that still constitutes news.

#267 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 11:24 AM:

abi @ 251... that morpheme migrates back and forth in various languages (cf "fanny" in British vs American English)

Fanny Ardant as a morpheme?
Be still, my heart.

#268 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 11:45 AM:

TexAnne #260:

You just won today's internet.

#269 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 12:06 PM:

How does a Nobel Prize-winning paleontologist react when confronted with a crocheted Hallucigenia and a technical question? Go here and find out!

abi, #259: Around here, something like that might backfire -- it could easily disgust fence-sitters into voting for someone else just to say FOAD. May it work the same way in your election.

TexAnne, #260: I'm afraid my vocabulary isn't up to providing any English word that it might be a cognate of. The nearest I can get is "donkey" (or, if I restrict my search to proximate body parts, "cooter"). If that was the point and I'm just slow, I beg mercy on the grounds of not being fully awake yet.

#270 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 12:19 PM:

Lee @269:

-je is an affectionate diminutive. The core word is kont. If that doesn't help, there is a useful list which may be of assistance in reminding you of candidate terms.

#271 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 12:22 PM:

Ironically, "donkey" is relatively close to what the word I used actually means, but not what it sounds like.

#272 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 12:25 PM:

The paleontologists have decided that Nectocaris, another one of the weird Burgess shale critters, is really a primitive cephalopod with two sort-of-tentacles, a fin around the body like a cuttlefish or a squid, and a jet.

#273 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 12:36 PM:

joann, 268: Winning the internet. Because for that is what I am doing.

#274 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 01:01 PM:

Elliot Mason @ 257: "Also, for the last three generations✦, commonplace mass communication by recorded (as with newsreels) and broadcasted voices,"

True, but also true for places like the Netherlands or Japan which still preserve a downright Babel of dialectical variations. Mass (aural) media is an important part of establishing/maintaining a common national language, but I don't think it does much to suppress preexisting dialects--the way their parents and neighbors talk has more influence on how people talk than what they hear on TV.

(I am reminded of this video--I especially like fine distinction between the West Coast American accents.)

#275 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 02:58 PM:

praisegod barebones @ #249 asked for someone who knew Norwegian:

I'm a native speaker.

'Dem sum sir dem a dum, dem a dem a dum'

It is recognisable when you read it with English letter-sounds. The original is something like:

"Dom som sier dom er domme, dom er domme dom!"

In English it's something like "Those who say they are stupid, they're the stupid ones." But not as alliterative.

But it's transcribed dialect from somewhere in the rural east country (possibly Oppland), and not correctly spelt or grammatical when written in either Bokmål or Nynorsk.

#276 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 03:19 PM:

heresiarch @274 said: (I am reminded of this video--I especially like fine distinction between the West Coast American accents.)

Except the 'Toronto' accent is really more of an 'Ottawa Valley' accent. :-> Still, darned impressive as a feat of skill. The last one sounds a lot like Eleanor Roosevelt, which isn't really surprising.

My husband loved it when our local NPR station was carrying some Vancouver-CBC chat show whose name I forget, because there were all sorts of regional Canadian accents on the callers-in, and it felt homey to him after years and years of being immersed in USian. He didn't even realize he knew how to spot all of them, but some new guy would come on the radio and he'd blink at me and say, "This guy's from north of Calgary," or whatever, and darned if he weren't right.

#277 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 04:06 PM:

Something I just posted went into review (with a busted link).

#278 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 05:09 PM:

Wall Street Journal: "An exit poll in the Dutch elections Wednesday indicate a draw between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party, setting the stage for difficult coalition talks to form a majority in government."

Thus confirming what various people said about how the results would be portrayed in the USA. (Not that coalition talks aren't somewhat difficult even in places where they're frequent.)

#279 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 05:27 PM:

ddb @278:

Well, that's better than the BBC's article, whose "Analysis" sidebar earnestly informs readers: "Because no party has an outright majority, the Liberals and Labour will have to forge a coalition with at least two other parties."

As if an outright majority was ever a possibility. Have they met any Dutch people?

#280 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2010, 06:26 PM:

Watching the accents video, when she got to California I found myself thinking, "Well, that's pretty good, but not quite ri— oh, Southern California. Okay." I wish she'd done a NoCal accent for comparison — I'm guessing she'd do it well.

#281 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 02:55 AM:

The accents video was extremely interesting. The SoCal accent was spot-on -- I was reminded of my sister-in-law! I thought the two southern accents and the Toronto accent were just a tiny bit overexaggerated.

I watched the two-part "How to Learn Any Accent" as well, and looked at her web sites. She avoids divulging just what her native accent is (I think deliberately) but my guess would be the Pacific Northwest one; she seemed to slip into that one more often than the others.

She goes into more of what makes an accent than most people seem to: not just pronunciation, but also melody and body language. I've always felt that John Barrowman's American accent (which is his native one) was just a tiny bit off, in ways I couldn't quite put my finger on; now I wonder if his melody and his body language have been affected by living in the UK.

#282 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 03:08 AM:

Roy Ovrebo - Thanks!

#283 ::: JCarson ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 03:02 PM:

David @281

Your feeling that Barrowman's American accent isn't quite right may also be influenced by the fact that it's not actually his native accent - he lived in Scotland until he was eight, moved to the US, and developed an American accent as a defense against teasing. You can hear the Scottish particularly if he's excited or upset.

#284 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 05:22 PM:

Don't get me wrong here: Barrowman's American is very good, it's just (to my ear) not quite perfect. (And there are British actors who can get to perfect: Bob Hoskins and Jamie Bamber spring to mind.)

#285 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 06:01 PM:

The Texas accent sounded a little off to my ears -- but Texas does actually have regional accent variations*, and she may have been using a Valley or West Texas accent rather than the Mid- and East Texas with which I'm more familiar.

OTOH, the Deep-South Carolina accent was spot on. I went to college with people who sounded exactly like that.

* cf. King of the Hill, which to me sounds well beyond the level of parody (as in, "No real live human being actually talks anything like that!") but my partner swears is dead-accurate for certain parts of Texas.

#286 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 06:13 PM:

Lee, 285: For my part, I have never had any trouble understanding Boomhauer. I suspect it's because I'm an Aggie.

#287 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 06:53 PM:

Comedian Benny Hill's impression of an American accent (augmented by spectacularly garish tourist garb) was hilarious.

#288 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 08:22 PM:

David Goldfarb, 281: Having spent last Saturday in the company of my Brooklyn-born mother and one of her fellow-native friends, I can tell you that Amy Walker lays the Brooklyn on a little thick. But only a little.

And really, we're not that angry!...Only when provoked.

#289 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 10:21 PM:

Lee@285 touching the Carolina accent: I bow to your superior knowledge.

#290 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2010, 01:27 PM:

And in Belgium we have...what's the opposite of samen leven, again?

#291 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 03:53 PM:

RE: batavophone

Anyone else notice that this word has the same number of syllables as "bananaphone"?

This earworm brought to you by the letter B.

#292 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2010, 05:18 PM:

TexAnne: Apartheid.

#293 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2012, 05:59 PM:

OTOH it made me go back and read this excellent post about one of the saner aspects of Dutch (or any) society.

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