A BABEL OF PRESCRIPTIVISM.

Michael Erard is still working on Babel No More (website, and see this LH post), and he wrote me to ask, “Do you have examples of the prescriptive linguistic genre (Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Elements of Style, etc.) in languages other than English?” He’s dealing with “arguments about who/what sort of linguistic behavior constitutes nativeness.” I figured (being the lazy person I am) that rather than try to google up such examples, I’d ask you all, since you’re a polylingual and helpful bunch of folks. I know, for instance, that the prescriptivist strain in Russian linguistic culture is even stronger than in English, but I don’t know what the canonical texts are (if there are such).

Comments

  1. Français au bureau published by the Office Québécois de la Langue Française has a section of “use this devised word instead of that borrowed word” as well as typography, etc.

  2. Modern Hebrew has veDayek, which is a cliche of prescriptivism:
    https://www.hbebooks.com/productsdetail.php?pro_id=568

  3. I’m slightly reluctant to mention it, but Mordkhe Schaechter’s Laytish mameloshn fits the bill. An important distinction is that Schaechter was an incredibly erudite philologist, but this book basically amounts to a collection of his idiosyncratic peeves, albeit very well-informed ones.

  4. I have a modest collection of prescriptivist ouvres and I see that Slovak, Hungarian, Polish and Czech are represented. In the two republics, the banner under which prescriptivists rally bears the motto “jazyková kultúra/kultura” (lit.: “language culture”), so one might want to try to google it.

  5. My only real acquaintance with “Russian” prescriptivism is my Russian instructor’s frequent railings against the word россиянин. She starts with a tirade about Rus’, and how it refers to the Russian people, and derivatives of Rossija refer to the country, and so there’s no such thing as россияне. It’s not like there are citizens of Russia who aren’t ethnically Russian or anything…
    Is this actually a thing in Russia, or do I just have an eccentric instructor?

  6. From Wikipedia: Среди представителей националистической среды российского общества существует крайне отрицательное отношение к термину «россияне», так как, по их мнению, этот термин обезличивает характеристику основного этнокультурного элемента российского государства, которым являются русские[12][13][14][15].

  7. I remember liking Chukovsky’s Живой как жизнь, but it was long ago.

  8. Живой как жизнь is a wonderful book (I wrote about it here, and note the transitional “zizka / John Emerson” signature on the first comment!), but it’s the opposite of prescriptivist.

  9. Just the other day I was asked by a friendly St. Petersburg drunk if I was a россиянин. I thought the usage seemed a little fishy, and I was right: turned out it was part of a series of increasingly anti-Semitic leading questions.

  10. dearieme says:

    “if there are such”: of course, you shoulda said “if such there be”.

  11. Zwiebelfisch / Der Dativ ist dem Genetiv sein Tod
    Wikipedia link
    I haven’t actually read this enough to know how knee-jerk prescriptive it is, but if it’s been added to the “Kanon der Pflichtbücher für das Abitur” in Saarland, my guess is it’s pretty prescriptive.

  12. Ha, I knew I had something on Russian, too! Пожалуйста, говорите по-русски! (Пособие для тех, кто не желает быть смешным) by Марианна Тарасенко. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s a collection of newspaper columns and googling the author’s name will eventually get you to a sample or two (e.g.).
    Anybody wants, um, details, let me know.

  13. Bruno van Wayenburg says:

    Debates about spelling and grammar in Dutch can get quite heated and judgmental in letters to the editor or online, especially in times of spelling reform.
    A TV classic was the appearance of education minister Ronald Plasterk (a former biochemist) on a well known talk show declaring that he wouldn’t allow the pronoun ‘hun’ to be used as a nominative. Officially, it’ means ‘them’ (dative) and ‘their’ (possessive), but it’s used widely as a nominative in colloquial speech, notably Johan Cruyff’s.
    A linguist professor, also invited, got so worked up about this that she couldn’t find words to set him straight.
    But back your question: Jan Renkema’s ‘Schrijfwijzer’ is a classic on writing, spelling and grammar. It gives some stern advice and grammar judgments here and there, but it’s nowhere near as prescriptivist and pedantic as I understand the likes of ‘Eat, shoots and leaves’ are.

  14. Bruno van Wayenburg says:
  15. The N. Americans probably don’t know that Johan Cruyff is maybe the greatest footballer on earth, ever (ok, after Pelé). Here. He invented that.

  16. I Sweden, descriptivism reigns supreme.

  17. Vi kan bara hoppas, but this tome certainly sounds like your usual prescriptivist fare: “Här hittar man moderna klassiker som valet mellan större än mig eller större än jag…” (You’ll find here modern classics like the choice between ‘bigger than me’ and ‘bigger than I’…)

  18. Bathrobe says:

    I’m thinking very hard about whether prescriptivism occurs in Chinese. My feeling is that prescriptivist energies tend to go into the writing system rather than the grammar. Getting characters wrong (白字) is a no-no, but there seems to be less opprobrium attached to grammatical variation.
    While putonghua is relatively standardised based on northern dialects, influence from ‘southern Mandarin’ in the written language of people from that area isn’t automatically scratched out or corrected. There appears to be a certain amount of flexibility.
    But I’m only talking of my personal impressions here. minus273 would probably know more about this than me.

  19. What reasonable people the Chinese must be in matters of language ! I suppose that’s why they appear inscrutable.

  20. Bathrobe,
    My impression is the same as yours. Chinese (and Japanese) energies seem to be focused on all the obscure characters you should know, and don’t, or are misusing. Chinese with no linguistic background often don’t recognize they have a grammar at all. Japanese language purists, as far as I can tell, also spend a fair amount of time berating young people for not properly mastering “keigo” (the formal language for polite situations. If anyone in Japan ever was concerned about an influx of foreign words they must have lost that battle centuries ago.

  21. vanya: Chinese with no linguistic background often don’t recognize they have a grammar at all.
    I don’t quite understand. Does “with no linguistic background” describe Chinese who don’t know words like “verb” and “grammar” (or whatever Chinese linguists call it) and what they refer to ? In that case “with no linguistic background” means exactly “don’t know words like ‘verb’ and ‘grammar’”, so it is unclear what you mean to say with the word “often”.
    Or does “often don’t recognize they have a grammar” mean that Chinese with no linguistic background often don’t care how they speak, how other people speak, and don’t correct their kids when they’re learning to speak ?
    The last-named claim is unlikely to be true. Most people everywhere have no linguistic background, and yet they do not speak arbitrarily (ungrammatically). In that sense everybody recognizes that his language has a grammar, even though he doesn’t know the word “grammar”, and may not be able to give an account of why he and others speak as they do, other than to say “that’s just how we talk”.
    Gilbert Ryle gave the talking-head misconstruings of “doesn’t know” and “doesn’t recognize” a good kick in The Concept of Mind.

  22. @Bathrobe: Indeed, usually a great deal of grammatical variation is tolerated, but not everything. (My personal feeling is that, as a very rough rule of thumb, any grammatical construct within Jerry Norman’s Northern and Central dialect zones is OK, but Cantonese-only constructs are just met with a blank stare)
    That said, there is nonetheless a famous Northern-Southern peeve: Northern people put a verb in perfective with the particle le in the positive (I eat LE), and a construction with to have in the negative (I haven’t eat). This is generalized in the South (mainly Taiwan, but also the coastal provinces of PRC) in favor of to have: (I have eat, I haven’t eat). This construction stands out as exceptionally salient in peevology, and quite a lot Chinese teachers regard that as “港台腔” (Hong Kong-Taiwan accent), something degenerate propagated by the capitalist pop culture of Hong Kong and Taiwan.
    In the spoken language, debating pronunciations (mostly Pan-Chinese) of words is a famous national recreation. My personal favorite is the name of the Tibetan Empire, 吐蕃. The original pronunciation must be (converted into Beijing Mandarin) tǔfān, but mistakingly seeing the Tibetan word bod, early 20-c scholars made a theory that the word is pronounced tǔbō. As that fits into the Chinese ancient-placenames-are-pronounced-quaintly intuition (大月氏 is taught as dàròuzhī not dàyuèshì for example), this pronunciation has become widespread, eventually official in Mainland China. But still, I personally threaten everyone who says tǔbō on the Intertubes.

  23. Bathrobe says:

    Thanks for confirming that. That conforms with my general feeling. You spelt out the lack of acceptance of Cantonese structures, which are too far off from standard to be acceptable to Mandarin speakers (although I’ve occasionally seen them in SMS’s from southern, non-Cantonese speakers who have been subjected to Cantonese influence). The 有 (‘have’) construction is another. I heard it just the other day from a Fujianese speaker and it struck me at the time that it wouldn’t be well accepted in Beijing, although apparently it is in Taiwan (being, of course, a Minnan dialect area).

  24. Bathrobe says:

    Japanese do have their peeves, and one is indeed the use of honorifics. Poor use of honorifics by the young generation is a constant lament among their elders.
    One grammatical peeve that I’ve heard concerns the regularisation of -eru endings to express the meaning ‘to be able to’. For verbs like hanasu ‘to speak’, the form is hanaseru ‘to be able to speak’. But for verbs ending in -r (with a few exceptions), the correct form is not -eru but -areru. Thus taberu ‘to eat’ and taberareru ‘to be able to eat’. The regularised form tabereru is now in widespread use, but apparently is still disliked by some older speakers. It is also far less likely to be found in writing than the ‘correct’ form.

  25. @Bathrobe: I have a detective novel with is called ら抜き言葉殺人事件, referring to this phenomenon.

  26. A theoretical question: what is the difference, if any, between peevology and prescriptivism? Is it simply an function of peevologist’s/prescriptivist’s influence or is there something else at play?

  27. In Russian I think the canon is Dietmar (Elyashevich) Rosenthal‘s ‘Handbook on Orthography and Stylistics’(“Справочник по правописанияю и стилистике”), commonly refered to simply as ‘Rosenthal’. Generations of editors and writers were raised on it, the book is to be found in most editorial offices and in many homes. Russian text online is here.
    He was one of my professors of Russian at the university. In my time he was already a living icon. With modest demeanour, quiet voice, he was popular and very well respected, surprisingly generous at exams. While the book itself is very prescriptive (кофе is only given as masculine), I remember Rosenthal as open to the idea of the language as a living, constantly changing organism, with variations that can be included in the ‘literary norm’ (литературная норма or норма литературного языка), i.e. ‘standard’ language.
    In English Fowler’s King’s English is coming to mind.

  28. Chukovsky’s Живой как жизнь.
    I don’t suppose it’s translated into English?
    a россиянин. I thought the usage seemed a little fishy
    I think it is a PC invention of the late 80s – early 90s to replace Soviet (советский), before that it was mostly used in poetic usage. The nearly impossible problem is that Russia is as multiethnic as the Soviet Union, so using the old imperial russky for all the citizens could have been taken as unacceptable to non-Russians. Similar phenomenon: the French have made an effort to change the commonly used les anglais to les britanniques. Rossiaynin has never been quite accepted. Personally, I don’t like it either, but on euphonic, rather than political grounds.

  29. what is the difference, if any, between peevology and prescriptivism?
    I would say prescriptivism is the theory or basic idea, peevology the practice. Prescriptivism is the idea that there is only one right way to use a language and that those who deviate are in some way lesser beings (whether just uneducated or morally inferior is up to the practitioner to decide); peevology is the day-to-day result of people trying to put this idea into practice, to varying effect depending on their own degree of education and ability to think clearly—it can range from the High Church peevology of a William Buckley to the common-or-garden peevology of the people who make outraged comments about misplaced apostrophes and the like (often with emphatic remarks about wanting to KILL people who do this!!!). No matter how highfalutin’, of course, peevology can never be truly coherent, because prescriptivism is inherently incoherent—even prescriptivists admit that language inevitably changes, so they’re reduced to trying to hold back the tide in places of their own choosing, and no two prescriptivists will choose the same hills to die on.

  30. I think you mean “no two prescriptivists will choose the same HILL to die on.” That’s what we were taught.

  31. des von bladet says:

    ITYM “no two(2) prescriptivists will choose the same hill on which to die, except of course in the case when both (a) all prescriptivists have a hill on which they have chosen to die; and (b) there are more prescriptivists than hills.”?

  32. It’s the mixed metaphors that get me: tide and hills? Really!
    Sorry, now I’m in number trouble. I should say they are the mixed metaphors that get me. I mean, that which gets me is the, are the, …, the mixtures, the mixing of …

  33. There’s a great book like this about Esperanto in English called Being Colloquial in Esperanto. I don’t know of anything quite like it *in* Esperanto.

  34. @des
    I suspect that two prescriptivists on the same hill will devote their energies to building a fence separating North Prescriptostan from South Prescriptostan.
    @Steven BREWER
    Prescriptivism in Esperanto. Wow.

  35. I would say prescriptivism is the theory or basic idea, peevology the practice.
    So essentially two sides of the same coin, right? That makes perfect sense, but I think there are situations where it’s not the case. A peevologist is always a prescriptivist, but does a prescriptivist need to be a peevologist? Consider, for example, members of institutions which some nations have set up to manage their language. Where do they come in?

  36. Jerzy Bralczyk (http://jerzybralczyk.bloog.pl/) and Jan Miodek published books on Polish and even had their own TV/radio shows.

  37. Bathrobe says:

    Well, theoretically prescriptivism and peevology are different. It’s possible to have peeves about things other than prescriptive rules. Perhaps we need to be specific about ‘prescriptivist peeves’. I’m sure that there are also ‘anti-prescriptivist peeves’, of which LH might be a good example :)

  38. Michael Erard says:

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone. Very helpful.
    My book about hyperpolyglots and the upper limits of language learning will be out in the US and Canada in January of 2012 (and in South Korea at some point). To give you a tiny taste of what’s in store, check out this video I shot of Alexander Arguelles explaining his language workout (the titling is his):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oudgdh6tl00

  39. Grumbly,
    To explain myself, I meant that your average educated Chinese person who has studied English, Russian, German or whatever, (but not linguistics) will often tell foreigners that “Chinese has no grammar”. What they mean of course is that Chinese verbs aren’t conjugated, nouns don’t decline or have gender, etc. But the exposure to Indo-European grammars has given some Chinese the false sense that since Chinese doesn’t have these painful rules, it has no rules at all. The truth of course is that for most people language is a tertiary concern at best in their lives, and so many Chinese can easily subscribe to a conscious belief that their language has no structure when even a moment’s consideration would show that belief to be false, and that they themselves of course, as you say, contradict that belief in daily life on a regular basis. The whole thing doesn’t strike me as any odder than French people believing that French is exceptionally logical or Americans boasting that English has the most words.

  40. Consider, for example, members of institutions which some nations have set up to manage their language. Where do they come in?
    Are they (some of them) linguists? They ought to be, because it’s a fine line (at least in Scandinavia) between protecting the language and 19C national romanticism. I don’t think these bodies get much respect nowadays. When the academy in charge of Norwegian words tried to set up a Norwegian spelling for bacon (I think it was “baiken”), people just laughed. It’s one thing to do clog dancing wearing homemade folk outfits if your granny did it, but it’s trickier to be innovatively old-fashioned; people find that retrograde.

  41. Here‘s the direct link for Michael’s video, and I would urge everyone to watch it—it’s quite astonishing. Arguelles gets up at 3 AM to spend hours on his many languages before having to interact with wife/family/work, and he misses the time when he could spend all day every day doing nothing but learning languages. I feel abashed now that I ever described myself as a polyglot or a someone who likes learning languages; compared to this guy, I’m the merest dabbler.

  42. It’s one thing to do clog dancing wearing homemade folk outfits if your granny did it, but it’s trickier to be innovatively old-fashioned; people find that retrograde.
    What a brilliant sentence, Crown ! Wilde must be gnawing his fingernails in the crypt. Hats off ! (not Hat’s, he’ll have to do his own doffing)

  43. Thanks for the clarification, vanya. But if the Chinese think Chinese is so much more simple than furrin languages, why is it so damn hard to learn ? I have long suspected that it’s the Latin-based descriptive categories of Western linguists that make it seem difficult.

  44. Bill Walderman says:
  45. But if the Chinese think Chinese is so much more simple than furrin languages, why is it so damn hard to learn ?
    People have no more insight into their languages than they do into themselves.

  46. Bill’s link goes to the Amazon.fr page for Le français correct : Guide pratique des difficultés, by Maurice Grevisse.

  47. When I was in Taiwan in 1983 there was a lot of awareness of the importance of correct pronunciation of Mandarin (getting “4″ and “10″ different was the shibboleth). As the local Chinese became dominant, that may have diminished. My experience may have been skewed, since I was studying Chinese in schools and the teachers were Mainland-oriented.

  48. GeorgeW says:

    @bulbul (Nightingale): I don’t think peevology and prescriptivism are the same. One can find presciptivism, itself, peeve motivating – very proper, formal speech in a casual, social context can motivate some serious peevery.

  49. I’m wondering whether Chinese kids learning Chinese might make fewer “grammatical errors” than kids learning inflected languages, and if Chinese are fairly accepting of dialect forms (a second category of prescriptivist “grammatical error”), that kind of prescriptivism may be less of a factor too. The only thing corrected would then be actual bad sentences that don’t work.
    I’ve read several grammars of classical Chinese, and one example of “no grammar” is that the parts of speech (word classes) are pretty vague. Most verbs can be used as nouns without being inflected, and vice versa, and most verbs can be used as adjectives (though two kinds of verbs form adjectives differently), and most adverbs are also adjectives. And then there’s the absence of plurals, articles, and inflection.

  50. chris y says:

    They ought to be, because it’s a fine line (at least in Scandinavia) between protecting the language and 19C national romanticism.
    Wasn’t it Ibsen who imagined an extreme faction of linguistic romantics who taught their children to scream like apes because their ancestors had done so?

  51. narrowmargin says:

    re: Alexander Arguelles
    I wonder if he’s able now to read Finnegans Wake as if it were a “normal” book.

  52. Consider, for example, members of institutions which some nations have set up to manage their language. Where do they come in?
    Are they (some of them) linguists? They ought to be, because it’s a fine line (at least in Scandinavia) between protecting the language and 19C national romanticism. I don’t think these bodies get much respect nowadays.Consider, for example, members of institutions which some nations have set up to manage their language. Where do they come in?
    Are they (some of them) linguists? They ought to be, because it’s a fine line (at least in Scandinavia) between protecting the language and 19C national romanticism. I don’t think these bodies get much respect nowadays. When the academy in charge of Norwegian words tried to set up a Norwegian spelling for bacon (I think it was “baiken”), people just laughed. It’s one thing to do clog dancing wearing homemade folk outfits if your granny did it, but it’s trickier to be innovatively old-fashioned; people find that retrograde.
    Only Norway and Iceland tries to dissuade loanwords.
    The Swedish Academy gets a tremendous amount of respect, and their Ordlista is the last word on language disputes, even if people tend to grumble over how descriptivist they are.

  53. Are they (some of them) linguists?
    Hierzulande yes. And although as arbiters of usage they are still way behind the public, they have at least in some aspects of their work (the dictionary) seen the light and joined the descriptivist side.
    Come to think of it, of the books I linked to, only one was written by an actual bona fide linguist.

  54. I don’t know what you mean only Norway and Iceland – isn’t that enough, or does it only count for you if Sweden’s on the list?
    The point about academies, prescriptivists and loanwords is that loanwords can’t be “dissuaded” from entering a language, so the existence of the academies for that purpose is moot.

  55. Bulbul, you’re a polyglot, did you watch Language’s link (12.18 pm)? Is that what you do (have done)?

  56. Just thought you’d be interested.

  57. Bulbul, you’re a polyglot
    Am I? I’m pretty good when it comes to passive knowledge, but actual fluent speaking is a bit more difficult. At this moment, I can pull off maybe 5 or 6. Plus it comes and goes, based on how much practice I’ve been getting.
    Is that what you do (have done)?
    More or less. I am, however, nowhere near as organized and note/record keeping is not in my genes (ask my accountant), plus my day job from hell takes up most of my time. And I do languages in batches, based on whatever catches my fancy and I differentiate between maintenance and learning (essentially: if I can read it without a dictionary, it’s maintenance). So these past few weeks, it’s been Maltese, Portuguese, Catalan and Swedish (maintenance) and Turkish (learning). Pretty soon I’ll have to start working on Finnish, cause I feel it slipping away (perkele). Additionally, I make use of multimedia as much as I can (job from hell comes with a two-hour commute) – audiobooks, podcasts and my favorite tv shows dubbed into all kinds of languages (Chuck and Stargate in Catalan FTW). Thank the gods for iPod/iPad. Finally, there’s the small stuff, like all the software I use is localized into something crazy – Windows in Turkish, Office in Letzeburgesch, Trados in Spanish…

  58. Modern Hebrew has veDayek, which is a cliche of prescriptivism
    There’s also the 1964 Yad Halashon יד הלשון.
    http://yitzhakavinery.wordpress.com/
    I bought this book a few weeks ago and haven’t yet had the time to give it a good going-over. But it seems that author Yitzhak Avinery was well acquainted with Fowler.
    Dave over at Balashon mentions Avineri a few times: http://www.balashon.com/2009/02/botnim.html

  59. Hat: I feel abashed now that I ever described myself as a polyglot or a someone who likes learning languages; compared to this guy, I’m the merest dabbler.
    I see no cause to feel abashed. He appears to be just another male with a knack that has become a way of life – like those who engrave the bible on a grain of rice, or can reach level 49 by playing an internet role game 24/7.
    I think he’s going at it in an effective way, though, with children’s books and Assimil, just as I always have. But – how can I put this discreetly – he doesn’t appear to have that much of interest to relate, apart from his technique of language-learning. Also, he himself hints that when he encounters the item “Marital status” on an application form, he would in honesty have to enter “Subject to change”.
    Like you, I find it all rather depressing, but for completely different reasons.

  60. Office in Letzeburgesch
    Now there’s a peculiar conglomerate language. I heard it recently when I was in Trier, and nipped across the border to Luxembourg. Words sounding German and French fade in and out as if on a shortwave radio program, and the vowels are all over the place.

  61. Windows in Turkish, Office in Letzeburgesch, Trados in Spanish…
    I’m not buying your old computer.
    It’s a bit like highjumpers or pianists; you need constant practise or else, it seems. I wonder if monoglots stopped talking whether they would lose the use of speech.
    Slightly sorry I was rude to you, David Weman. It was quite interesting.
    You’re not the first to compare me to Oscar Wilde, G.
    Well ok, you are.

  62. Bathrobe says:

    Windows in Chinese is altogether too depressing. If you have trouble finding the functions you want from English-language menus, you will encounter total frustration with Chinese. Perhaps it’s because they are transpositions from English and are not based on Chinese native-language categories; perhaps it’s because computer types have completely different logical and semantic paths in their brains from ordinary people; whatever the reason, the only conceivable way I could get around Windows menus in Chinese would be by memorising the original English ones…

  63. Bathrobe: Perhaps it’s because they are transpositions from English and are not based on Chinese native-language categories
    German Windows is just as bad. The problem seems to be that some gung-ho preserver of the German language has dreamt up all kinds of artifically spot-on concepts that no one uses in everyday life. I myself try to protect German IT language from excessive invasion by English – for instance by not using the English word “deploy” like everyone else in Germany does, but rather ausbringen or installieren. Until this very second I was convinced that there is a subtle difference between “deploy” and “install”, but I suddenly realize that I’m wrong – or rather, that it is a difference that makes no difference (Bateson).
    Whenever I get a new version of a relational database product such as DB2, I take extreme pains to discover how to install it with English text (if I’m not careful a German version is installed, because my Windows is German and Windows always tries to anticipate what I want, instead of asking). The German versions of SQL notions are completely unintelligible.
    You just can’t win. If English is de facto the language of international communication, then it will be mangled out of all recognition by non-English speakers – this process is already underway. Alternatively, if each linguistic group uses its own language, then nobody will understand the original notions (usually still English), but only a simulacrum in their own language, nor will they be able to communicate beyond their group.
    In that Stuttgart project I’m now in, when the customer’s programmers refer to certain programming constructs they develop, they use the words “plug-in” and (eclipse) “workspace”, but in a way which is only vaguely related to their standard meaning. It’s extremely confusing. Just this morning I went round and round with a colleague who used “workspace” in that strange way, although he should know better. I had to figure out by myself what he meant – something other than what he said (“workspace”). Although I explained what “eclipse workspace” means to me, and to millions of eclipse users around the world, he was unable to grasp what the problem was.
    As Hat put it above: “People have no more insight into their languages than they do into themselves.”

  64. @Grumbly Stu: As you know, workspaces are such a fundamental aspect of Eclipse that the first time you open it, the only thing it can think of to do is pop up a little dialog-box begging for a workspace. How on Earth could someone who uses Eclipse have a different understanding of what it means by the term? What on Earth could he possibly have thought it meant?

  65. Ran: How on Earth could someone who uses Eclipse have a different understanding of what it means by the term?
    What these people mean by “workspace” is a specific set of their eclipse projects that must be imported into an eclipse workspace.
    What they mean by “plug-in” is an EAR project.

  66. Or the deployable EAR itself.
    It sorta makes sense. I think the company’s programmers have only recently emerged, blinking, into the light of Java programming with eclipse. As far as I know, they were previously using some sort of proprietary language and environment for low-level bus communication apps.

  67. Stu,
    the company you’re talking about, its name wouldn’t happen to start with a W, would it?

  68. bulbul: No, thankfully – assuming that would be the scene of your job from hell. Actually, this project is pretty interesting for someone like myself who doesn’t give a shit about “development” as such, meaning that playful activity in which callow young programmers rejoice. I’m on my way to becoming an EJB 3.1 honcho – MDBs, JCA, classloader Krampf and the whole shebang !!

  69. Stu,
    I see, thanks. The “low-level bus communication” bit reminded me very much of a client of mine who is based in Stuttgart.

  70. he doesn’t appear to have that much of interest to relate, apart from his technique of language-learning
    He was being asked specifically about his technique of language-learning. If he had gone into a rant about immigrants or an account of his childhood traumas, I don’t imagine it would have made it into the final product.

  71. bulbul: It seems that most of the interesting IT projects – most of the IT projects in Germany at all, in fact – are in Southern Germany. Do you find that to be the case ? This is why I commute 5 hours each day between Köln and Stuttgart. I could stay in Stuttgart during the week, but that costs money and, after all, I can get a lot of non-IT stuff done on the train, as you do.

  72. Hat: If he had gone into a rant about immigrants or an account of his childhood traumas, I don’t imagine it would have made it into the final product.
    Looks like I expressed myself so delicately that the message didn’t come across. I meant intellectually interesting – you know, computational linguistics, neurobiology and other smarts. David M. kind of stuff. Talking-head artefacts, the ties that bind in conversation.
    I don’t expect everybody to be an egghead, but the linguistic ability in this case seems to be free-standing. I may be doing the guy an injustice, but after all we’re talking about first impressions. I probably wouldn’t have opened my trap if you hadn’t laid claim to abashment.

  73. des von bladet says:

    Arguelles has had a demonstrably wider range of intellectual interests in the past. To what extent that has given way to monocultured polyglottisme, I would not wish to speculate.

  74. Stu,
    I meant intellectually interesting…
    …the linguistic ability in this case seems to be free-standing.

    From DvonB’s link:
    “I have truly attained my goal: I can read Great Books texts written in the language with approximately the same levels of understanding and appreciation of style that I have for texts written in English.”
    What other reason does one need?

  75. Thanx, des. Imagine my embarassment. Goddammit.
    But I stick by my now-sodden guns: that video clip does give an uninformed viewer the impression that Arguelles is a pleasant-mannered obsessive. I checked again, and see now that the clip’s intro title says “A Polyglot’s Daily Linguistic Workout, by Alexander Arguelles, PhD.” So Arguelles himself, not (only) Erard, is responsible for that impression.
    Please accept my apologies, Mr. Arguelles, if you’re listening. I only intended to cheer up Mr. Hat.

  76. IN my book research I didn’t find a book but a beaut of a grouchy rant about Hebrew: The author Hillel Halkin complained that “Ben Yehuda would be dismayed by the demotic Hebrew being spoken today. ” And Edward Ullendorf grouched, after pointing out a few usages he disliked, that “similar monstrosities had not arisen in Ben Yehuda’s Hebrew and I am glad it is left to those who nowadays watch over the health of contemporary Hebrew either to come to terms with such horrors or to endeavor to discard them.”
    What I thought was funny is how little time it took the god damned kids to ruin Hebrew; less than a hundred years…

  77. I found that piece by Alex Arguelles to be interesting in the way of an old-time (Mr Shawn) New Yorker profile. What a guy. And so different from my own home life. Thanks, Des. It’s nice to read about someone with such a seemingly benign addiction, but now I want to read what his wife and son think – there was that time he said he always took a thick book in nederlandsk to read when he went out for a drive with them, that didn’t sound so good.

  78. Bathrobe says:

    Windows always tries to anticipate what I want, instead of asking
    Another of my (non-prescriptivist) peeves. Things were so much better in the old days when websites actually asked you what you wanted.
    I’ve had problems with websites that notice that my IP address is in China, direct me to a Chinese-language interface page, and refuse to recognise that I might be non-Chinese, usually with the result that I can’t get what I want from the website. (I can’t remember now exactly which sites they were — could just as easily have been Microsoft or Apple — but it would have been nice to just let me choose my country and language by myself. That doesn’t seem to be an option nowadays)

  79. Bathrobe says:

    Arguelles gets up at 3 AM to spend hours on his many languages before having to interact with wife/family/work, and he misses the time when he could spend all day every day doing nothing but learning languages. I feel abashed now that I ever described myself as a polyglot or a someone who likes learning languages; compared to this guy, I’m the merest dabbler.
    Yeah, but the guy still can’t speak Mandarin (smirk).
    Sorry.

  80. Bathrobe says:

    Sorry if that sounded smug. Chinese is different, but it’s not really that difficult. I realise that it’s always possible to run up against a language that you simply can’t master (like Mongolian for me). But when this guy claims that he’s got deep into Korean and Japanese (although I notice his Korean reading ability came way down the list, and Japanese didn’t even figure in the top languages), it seems strange that Mandarin has stumped him. It makes me question exactly how well he’s mastered all these other languages that he claims to know. It all looks very impressive, but for a serious polyglot to be completely stumped by Mandarin just seems strange.

  81. Chinese is different, but it’s not really that difficult.
    That depends. I’ll take Georgian-style morphology over tones any day. Even the writing isn’t that difficult, but I swear, I couldn’t tell rising from falling if my life depended on it.
    It makes me question exactly how well he’s mastered all these other languages
    That’s the question, isn’t it? The list with the scores he provides gives you an idea, except it’s all ‘just’ reading (plus if you ask me, that’s some very fine scale he’s got there – what exactly is the one point difference between French and Spanish?). Michael, if you’re still around, how do you measure that sort of thing?

  82. michael erard says:

    Bulbul, Alexander wanted to get out of answering questions about his proficiencies, so I let him. But with another person, I used the revised ACTFL self-assessment tool in reading, speaking, and listening (no tool for writing or translating yet), which means it measures functional tasks with an educated native speaker as the highest level. Some people don’t like that. Plus, it’s a self-report, which is another admitted weakness. With my budget, it was the best solution, though. In my book I also tell the story of the Polyglot of Flanders and Polyglot of Europe contests, which were like speed oral proficiency interviews (OPI) and fairly rigorous, for what they were.
    Bathrobe, Alexander told me that he has (or had) an affective block against Chinese; he never liked the way it sounded, he said, so when he was allocating time to languages, he found it very easy to drop Chinese for a while.
    One related question is whether or not these people prefer inflected languages over non-inflected ones, which would also explain Alexander’s reluctance about Mandarin (as well as some other people’s repertoires), but it’s complicated. Maybe LanguageHat will let me do a guest post on that one someday…

  83. Bathrobe says:

    The other question I have is, what are these Great Books? I just can’t help but feel that there is a big difference in both quantity and (more provocatively) quality between Great Books in, say, Nynorsk and Classical Chinese, or (Old) Occitan and German.
    I must admit that I found his account of the problems of getting language study for its own sake taken seriously academically make rather interesting reading. In my case, the decision to concentrate on one (Japanese) was due to a desire to get it to a seriously high level (a result of a fixation with ‘native speaker level’) before getting confused or distracted by others. What I didn’t realise at the time, of course, was that it’s generally better to start earlier than later. I’m sure a lot of things would have been different if I’d had the confidence to plunge into 4 or 5 different languages in my 20s. How limiting are our own choices!
    I can’t watch the video (Youtube blocked here), so I’m not sure what he reveals there. Since his wife is Korean, I just wonder whether she might be more forgiving of a ‘wild-eyed foreigner’ than a woman from his own culture. I would think it would take a very brave or trusting sort of woman to follow her husband to Beirut, with child in tow.

  84. Bathrobe says:

    a big difference in both quantity and (more provocatively) quality
    I won’t be provocative. I’ll say a big difference in the nature and subject matter of Great Books in different eras and different languages. Poetry vs philosophy vs novels. Not to mention their degree of accessibility (archaic language, abstruse language, etc).

  85. Bathrobe says:

    Also, I wonder whether Singapore is the ideal place to learn either Chinese or English. Their Mandarin isn’t terribly good, their English is, well, distinctive, and while most people are from dialect backgrounds, their policy is to play these down in favour of Mandarin. Not that Singapore isn’t vibrant or fascinating linguistically, but for pragmatic reasons I would have thought that going to more conventional English or Chinese-speaking countries would be a better choice.

  86. Bill Walderman says:

    Aulus Gellius represents the ancient Latin prescriptivists. I’m not sure there was a single identifiable prescriptivist for ancient Greek, but for more than two millenia Greeks were expected to adhere more or less to the fossilized standards of 5th-4th century BCE Attic prose.

  87. Bathrobe says:

    Well, if you want to go back that far, there is Panini for Sanskrit :)

  88. “I wonder if monoglots stopped talking whether they would lose the use of speech.”
    Yes, actually. I think there is evidence for that, but you probably would have to be deprived of reading materials and other language based media.

  89. Thanks Michael. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the book :)
    Well, if you want to go back that far, there is Panini for Sanskrit :)
    He’s a grammarian, not a peevologist. I’m not saying those two categories are mutually exclusive – Arab grammarians, for example, started out partly as peevologists bemoaning the decline of Arabic.
    Speaking Arab peevologists, these guys might have actually invented the genre: laḥn al-ʕāmma / al-ʕawwām (speech errors of the common people) it’s called and there’s a buttload of them, including at least one complaining about how Arabic spoken in Sicily is going to the dogs.

  90. Bathrobe,
    I can’t watch the video (Youtube blocked here)
    Try this.

  91. Thanks, Vanya.

  92. Bathrobe says:

    Thanks bulbul! It took something like 20 mins to half an hour to start playing, but I saw the video. Amazing!

  93. Anthony says:

    I notice nobody has mentioned any literature in Spanish or French. Is this because all the prescriptivist energies in those languages are absorbed by the Academies?

  94. Is this because all the prescriptivist energies in those languages are absorbed by the Academies?
    That’s a neat idea. I vote for an American Academy of English that will put all the free-lance prescriptivists out of a job. It’s easier to ignore one Academy than many gripers.

  95. Anthony says:

    My mother tells me that the Colombian Spanish equivalent are the linguistic works of Miguel Antonio Caro, who, aside from being a President of Colombia, founded the Academia Colombiana de la Lengua, which was the first Academy of the Spanish language outside Spain.

  96. Anthony says:

    Grumbly Stu – if one Academy of the English Language proves insufficient, we could follow the Spanish model, and institute an academy for each English-speaking nation.

  97. This one is definitely not enough.

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