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comment by ThatFanficGuy
ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Teaching is Fulfilling: what TFG's been up to #3

Did you know that Russians take classes in Russian all the way through school just to get a grip on the grammar? We have to: otherwise, we drown in our own speech.

Those classes sure come in handy now. Might want to go back and thank my teacher.




kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I spent a summer learning Russian when I was in fifth grade. The tense/aspect matrix was formidable; learning six or seven different ways to conjugate a verb when you're used to one in English takes some getting used to.

Americans take English clear through 12th grade, and I'm unaware of any college program that doesn't require at least a year of college-level English. Technically, the structure of English isn't complex; practically, the amount of borrow words and polyglot adaptations mean that whatever you learn technically gets drowned in a sea of exceptions.

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    Americans take English clear through 12th grade

What do you learn there, though? I was surprised to learn that the British don't take English classes in a sense of learning the language. We've just assumed that our exchange student friend had the same kind of linguistic experience as ourselves when we asked him about it during one of our common classes.

kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Depends. If you're doing advanced English, you never see grammar again after about the age of 14 and instead focus on literature. If you're not, you can do grammar clear into first year college.

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The fuck are you taking grammar apart for twelve years for?

kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Huh. So you aren't actually doing that much.

I find it hard to believe. I want to visit such a class personally, to see for myself.

kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Less flippantly, a subject you never hear about in the United States is linguistic registers. These are effectively different modes of speech which may have different vocabularies, different grammar and - most importantly - different users.

http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/popcult/handouts/register/register.html

English, so far as I know, has one register. That means that Americans are expected to know all of that shit without any acknowledgement that a lot of it is specific use. On the other hand, Thai (for example) has five registers and not everyone can write, speak, read or even understand all of them.

German has three genders. Spanish has two. English has one. The lack of inflections in English increases the vocabulary and the complexity of its use. etc. etc. etc.

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thank you for linking to that. I think I've found my thesis.

    The lack of inflections in English increases the vocabulary and the complexity of its use. etc. etc. etc.

I acknowledge that, but how do you figure?

kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

So take German. Ich bin, du bist, er sie es ist. Depending on the gender of the word, its conjugation is gonna go one of three ways, pretty much no matter what. Meanwhile, a foreign vocab word is much less likely to be adapted because it doesn't fit into the structure - Germans don't have carburetors, they have dopfelvergassers, a compound word made out of existing simple German words.

English, on the other hand, has pate and emoji and piroshkis and all sorts of other borrow words going back to Harald the Great and those words tend to get used the way they were in their original languages. And because there is no rigid structure to it, the plural of "potato" is both "potatos" and "potatoes", which caused a minor political scandal.

Counterbalance that with the fact that you clearly haven't been studying English for twelve years, yet your grasp of the language is impeccable.

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

It's a fascinating topic. Do you have any papers or books I could read on the matter? As a student of language, I can't take anecdotal evidence on such a topic into consideration if it isn't backed up by proper research.

    Meanwhile, a foreign vocab word is much less likely to be adapted because it doesn't fit into the structure

I get the feeling it's not about the structure. German has easily adapted die Dacha into common vocab - even keeping the original word's gender, when the tendency is to make it neuter, like das Handy. Why would they do it so comparatively intimately? Because there were, at a certain point, who worked and lived in Germany and had to bring the reality of their lives into the language. It's not that it was difficult for the structure to adopt the word: it's just some words aren't nearly intimate for the speakers to care enough about the original. Which is how you get der Fernseher when the word "television" was in use quite about the thing's invention already.

And English is damn international at this point. People use it all over the world and bring bits and pieces around all the time. emoji is fairly new, but pierogi dates back to at least 1930's, what with the mass fleeing of the population of Poland and the Soviet Union due to prosecution and the German threat. And what the hell else d'you gonna call it? "Pocket pie"? "Stuffed bread"?

kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    It's a fascinating topic. Do you have any papers or books I could read on the matter?

I do not. I find the subject dry as dirt and the codification of language to be counterproductive. As such, I study it enough to piss off English teachers and leave it at that. I've been able to intuit proper structure my entire life and breaking it down into all this subject-predicate bullshit mostly pisses me off. But, counter-example:

Humbows, piroshkis, pierogies and pastys are all meat pies. But in English, all these are meat pies, but they don't get special names. Meanwhile, this is a pie:

but this is a pie:

and this is a pie:

...that's the sort of cultural collision you get when your language is used by many different ethnicities sharing space. and god help you if you mix up your pierogis and your piroshkis. Not only is one boiled and the other baked, but one is made by The One True People and the other is made by The Foreign Enemy. And if you don't want to find out which is which, best remember.

blackbootz  ·  120 days ago  ·  link  ·  

ThatFanficGuy Can I humbly submit this essay by Dave Foster Wallace up as one of the most interesting forays into language and register?

ThatFanficGuy  ·  119 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thank you. I'll put it on the list.

Would you recommend Dave Foster Wallace as an author of interest otherwise?

blackbootz  ·  119 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I would heartily recommend DFW, and only with a few small reservations. He's stimulating and expressive and inventive with the English language. He's really smart, and he knows it. Sometimes this self-possession leaks into his writing and this rubs some people the wrong way (an example would be his tendency for verbose language where simpler may do, but to me this is a matter of style). But at the same time, he was incredibly hard on himself. He cherished the general reader, striving to respect her intelligence. Some of his writing is the most expressive I've ever read, nailing down thoughts, associations, and feelings that I chalked up as non-communicable, or that would otherwise require some sort of brain interface technology because those thoughts operate at a level beyond words or even pictures.

I roughly recall that KB thinks DFW dazzles with words rather than true insight. But I find DFW an enormous pleasure. He's at times irreverent then sincere, a-million-miles-a-minute and then slow and purposeful. I've never had to use a dictionary more than with Wallace. Or temporarily stop reading just so I could enjoy the sheer power of what I read.

For his fiction, my favorite short story of his Good Old Neon.

Edit to add: the original essay I linked, called Authority and American Usage, ranges all over everything you guys touched on in this thread. I can't imagine a more relevant essay, and from one of my favorite authors, so I felt very compelled to recommend it.

rd95  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

No way stylistics takes you years to figure out. We did a year on that - over the normal Russian classes.

...and another one in the university...

rd95  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

To kind of piggyback off of kleinbl00's example and some of the ground he's already covered, English has "rules" in the sense of "ideally speaking, this is what you're supposed to do." Unfortunately, the rules are more like guidelines and because we borrow elements from Latin and Germanic languages, culturally entrenched coloquialisms, and academic fads and trends, the rules are all muddled up. Combined that with the fact that it's very easy to be ambiguous in English, both intentionally and unintentionally, for some degrees and studies, a heavy focus on grammar is necessary.

Edit: Personal anecdote, I collect antique books. There's a noticeable difference in editing styles starting in books from the '50s. The further back you go, the more noticeable the differences become. Punctuation becomes weird. Syntax gets weird. Shit, even something that you take for granted like indentation and spacing gets weird.

kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

To the best of my knowledge, English is the only language where "inflammable" meant "can catch fire" but fifty years later, meant "cannot catch fire" because of colloquial use.

Mark my words. Fifty years from now, "literally" will mean "figuratively."

oyster  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I'm guilty of saying " Literally, in the literal sense of the word"

rd95  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

There are TONS of words like that, I'm frustrated I can't think of any off the top of my head other than "terrific." What's amazing is that there are English linguists who track when words first came into use, how their popularity and use fluctuates over time, etc. I'm sure they're doing a very necessary job, but at first glance, it seems trivial.

johnnyFive  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

My favorite example is "nimrod."

Nimrod in the Old Testament was a great hunter archetype. Fast forward to the 1960s, and Bugs Bunny uses it to insult Elmer Fudd--basically calling him a great hunter sarcastically. Too few people understood the reference, but gleaned the idea Bugs was going for, i.e. to make fun of Elmer. From this, nimrod came to mean "dummy."

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    the rules are more like guidelines and because we borrow elements from Latin and Germanic languages, culturally entrenched coloquialisms, and academic fads and trends

I'm still dumbfounded over how you (not any singular "you") consider this worthy of keeping the subject up for twelve years. School English sounds more lazy to me the more you talk about it.

Then again, I'm aggrivated over being "too late with your advice" despite never having seen the situation coming or at the moment right now, so my perception is skewed.

kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

None of us do. We universally hate it. It is the drabbest, least interesting shit in all of pedagogy.

I was in honors English pretty much from the moment I learned to read (shocker). My friends were not. So when I'd long since stopped having to bother with what the fuck a gerund is, my friends were still diagramming sentences.

I observed how stupid it was that they had to put up with this shit. That instruction in grammar was effectively codifying yesterday's language, not today's. That English, being so heavily reliant on borrow words and assimilation, needed to careen through the bumper cars of colloquialism in order to achieve efficiency and that in teaching grammar, their teacher was effectively stagnating the language along the lines of the Spanish Academy whose labors over the past 400 years have effectively rendered Castilian a different dialect than the Spanish spoken by the majority of the world.

One of my buddies took that tirade and related it back to his teacher. For several years afterward, the teacher referred to grammar studies as "stagnating" when he taught it.

But he still taught it.

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The argument my Grammar teacher in the uni replied with was that we study "the language of the educated", and "as soon as the changes of the language [using past simple where past perfect is due, e.g. I just found it] are incorporated by the majority, we will study them as well".

What are your thoughts on that? Do you think it encourages stagnation? Do you think it encourages grammar nazism?

kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Dante chose to write The Divine Comedy in Florentine rather than Latin so it would be more accessible to the masses. Petrarch, Bocaccio and Macchiavelli followed suit and before too long, Florentine was Italian and nobody spoke Latin anymore.

It is the people of a language that speak it, not just its scholars and when scholars are allowed to codify language, the language dies. Europe had a mother tongue uniting scholars from Sweden to Sicily but by keeping it inaccessible to all but scholars, it became nothing more than a pompous, elaborate system of taxonomy.

I'm "the educated" and I find the quickest way to provoke a stranger into antagonism is to talk like it.

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

It's a damn shame I'm not educated enough to dig deeper into the subject. There must be something better to talk about here than just "language of the scholars vs. language of the people".

kleinbl00  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Ignorance is one of the easiest things in the world to correct. But I get what you're saying. If I were to provide my own counterargument, it's that the "language of the educated" is far more likely to extend and buttress the beauty and utility of a language than the "language of the personal ads" and that Latin died out because it wasn't being taught to the people. Now that we're teaching people "the language of the educated" we're making it available to the masses.

Here's the problem: it takes scholars a generation or two in order to reach consensus about anything literary. Nobody is a genius while they're alive; you will never see a literature class pulling anything off the NYT Bestsellers' list to teach. From the perspective of the student, the only examples of literature and language held in high regard are old and dead and therefore irrelevant. From the perspective of the teacher, exposing students to old, dead but brilliant works of literature helps them appreciate it more than if they didn't get it at all and hopefully that appreciation will rub off on them as they create tomorrow's literature.

Really, one side is saying "I hate peas" while the other side is saying "peas build a healthy body." Neither are wrong. I'm more of an "I hate peas" guy because my mom's parents were Harvard/Radcliffe while my dad's parents were blown off their farm by the Dust Bowl and never finished 8th grade. I can still imitate my mom's parents' inflection and manner of speech; it's an extremely pompous dialect that offends anyone who isn't monied East Coast. I can imitate my dad's parents inflection and manner of speech, too, but I also remember their wisdom, their simplicity, and their insight into the world. And lemme tell ya - there's a reason I tend to deliver my hardest truths with cuss words and misappropriations of language.

People pay closer attention.

If you say something smart while sounding like you went to Harvard, people tune you out. If you say something smart while sounding like you just got off a tractor, people think you're sagacious. Not just because they assume you should be stupid - but because they understand you.

It is the easiest fucking thing in the world to put together a well-constructed, erudite sentence that says fuckall. When forced to take an English class in college I would often construct words and arguments in such a way that they actually said the opposite of their face value to see if the TA would notice. He never did. When you can stack words like a legal briefing you can get away with murder; there's a reason graduate theses tend to be written like a build-your-own thesaurus kit.

It's harder to hide your ignorance in simple language, which makes your knowledge come across more clearly. But the art of using simple language well? Yeah, they don't teach that. They teach you how to navigate byzantine jargon so that you can snow undergraduates with it.

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

What kind of language did you write your thesis in? Did you follow the high consensus because that was required of you, or did you simplify it somewhat?

    But the art of using simple language well? Yeah, they don't teach that. They teach you how to navigate byzantine jargon so that you can snow undergraduates with it.

Can you tell me more about this? I'm curious but can't find a sufficiently specific question.

kleinbl00  ·  120 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I have an engineering degree. My thesis was in engineering english, which means strunk'n'white with lots of jargon and equations. It was also only like 20 pages because they don't require theses of undergraduate engineering students. So really, it was more of a sales brochure for a device Procter & Gamble asked me design. With way more equations.

    Can you tell me more about this? I'm curious but can't find a sufficiently specific question.

-I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

Blaise Pascal

So the above paragraph is five run on sentences. It is literally how I speak conversationally, rendered as type. As is this paragraph. The way we speak is different from the way we communicate formally using the written word, however, and the art of writing is the art of knowing (and exploiting) the difference.

If I were writing the above for an editor, or for anything other than the ephemera of the Internet, I would write

Engineers don't write theses. My capstone design project involved a presentation of the device I created for Proctor & Gamble, but it was a brief, not a thesis. It was written in English, with lots of jargon, figures and tables.

If you write that way in technical English you will be graded down. They make you start sentences with participles and bury it in jargon and if you don't do that, you're an idiot.

My Finite Element Analysis TA graded our assignments based on how much they weighed.

johnnyFive  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I think this varies from place to place. I learned what was "correct" as a kid like most people do, namely listening to older people and reading a lot. They taught us spelling through fifth grade (so about age 10-11), although obviously not everyone needed it that long while others never got it...plenty of adults still can't spell for shit. But I think some of the problem, as others have alluded to, is that there's very different "versions" of English. I know you and I have talked about this before. I grew up middle class, white, and with well-educated parents, so what I heard from my family (and friends, who tended to come from similar backgrounds) was the more educated register, which is usually what someone means when they talk about "correct" English. For someone growing up in an inner city, at best they may've heard that kind of English on the news or something, but it's not what they're used to day-to-day. So in many respects they come to school having to almost learn a foreign language, but I don't think this fact gets quite enough recognition (or at least didn't when I was in school). Instead, they're told that what they and everyone they love is speaking is "wrong," and then we're surprised when they push back or refuse to learn it out of pique. This remains something we have to deal with: a huge part of my job is explaining complicated legal and medical concepts in ways that can be understood by someone who never made it out of 8th grade. But it would sound really condescending if I were to switch into, say, AAVE in a formal court decision, and that's without getting into the problem of how much profanity is an integral part of that way of speaking.

But for my part, I've never diagrammed a sentence in my life. English classes were mostly just learning by doing, whether it was reading or writing. Over the course of the next couple of years "English class" transitioned to be strictly about literature, which I also hated. It wasn't until I started learning foreign languages that I began learning linguistic terminology. But certainly by 9th grade (so age 14) our English classes were exclusively focused on reading "great" works and writing the occasional paper.

Thinking back to when I first started learning Russian, I really didn't find the grammar to be that hard. (My problem is that I suck at learning vocabulary, so that was always far harder.) But putting the pieces together correctly (with the correct endings and what-not) never really caused me any trouble. I actually came to enjoy Russian's pith, like the way you could use дательный падеж for so much, and how many incredibly versatile words Russian has (вот is one of my personal favorites). Random anecdote. I was in the dining hall one summer (taking summer classes), and the guy next to me was evidently Russian. He saw a cute girl across the way, and said under his breath: вот эта такая. That was the whole expression, and it expressed his feelings perfectly. But putting it into English is surprisingly difficult...we just don't have constructions like that. Now you're making me miss Russian :(

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    Instead, they're told that what they and everyone they love is speaking is "wrong," and then we're surprised when they push back or refuse to learn it out of pique.

That's an interesting way of looking at it.

Alfred the Great, I've learned recently, was praised for pushing for education as well as making English out of all the tribal languages spread across the British Isles. Now, what's praised is the extreme diversity of the human language.

I wonder if it's because of the increased historical awareness of humanity, because people don't like things to die or because there isn't such an urge to join forces anymore.

    He saw a cute girl across the way, and said under his breath: вот эта такая. That was the whole expression, and it expressed his feelings perfectly. But putting it into English is surprisingly difficult...we just don't have constructions like that.

Just tried it. Best I came up with is "there she goes". That being said, I have difficulty translating "So it is" into Russian, or doing so straight-forwardly with "It's raining". "Дождит"? Ни в коем случае. Of, course, the correct version would be "Идёт дождь", but the semantic structure is obviously different in the translation.

    Now you're making me miss Russian :(

My rate is 20 USD per academic hour.

johnnyFive  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    I wonder if it's because of the increased historical awareness of humanity, because people don't like things to die or because there isn't such an urge to join forces anymore.

If I had to guess, I'd say that it's because it didn't happen to us. So since we got the benefits of it without having to give anything up ourselves, we tend to overvalue that aspect while undervaluing the damage done to people who didn't speak that way. But I think you're right in terms of increased historical awareness too, or at least a sense that maybe cultural Darwinism isn't all that it's cracked up to be. I think many people on the political left particularly appreciate a kind of cultural hybrid vigor. I certainly do, which is part of what got me into languages to begin with.

    Just tried it. Best I came up with is "there she goes".

Yeah, it's tough, 'cause to me at least that loses a lot of what he was conveying :)

For "so it is," I guess the hard part is the connotation of surprise? Because otherwise couldn't you just say да and/or правильно?

I also struggled with conveying the idea of "what if x?" I tried translating the lyrics to this song into Russian as a practice exercise when I was getting tutored a few years ago. The chorus was hard to get across without it being super awkward. But that's just the nature of language, i.e. that some are going to be able to convey ideas that others have a hard time with. I'm still working on translating the prologue to Don Quijote for the next literary thread on here, but it is super fucking hard.

    My rate is 20 USD per academic hour.

I have every intention of taking you up on that one of these days. But don't want to over-extend myself!

ThatFanficGuy  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    For "so it is,"

Imma dummy. "В самом деле" does the trick.

    I also struggled with conveying the idea of "what if x?"

"Что, если" or, in this context, "Вдруг" should do the trick.

    Что, если вещи вокруг тебя

    Горящий шелом?

    Что, если знакомые изгибы

    Оказались сном?

The "горящий шелом" is the reference to the Russian saying "На воре и шапка горит", "шелом" being the old Slavic spelling of "шлем", 'helmet'. It's a convoluted outcry to the English "liar, liar, pants on fire" from my tired brain.

rd95  ·  121 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Eh. English/Grammar is like math. Most of us are gonna learn more than we need to, then only remember what we need to get by. However, just like rocket engineers need really good math, there are some professions such as lawyers who need really good english.