BABEL NO MORE.

Michael Erard, one of LH’s favorite journalists because he writes knowledgeably and sensibly about language (not coincidentally, he has an MA in linguistics), is working on Babel No More, “a book about language superlearners and the upper limits of the human ability to learn and speak languages.” He’s started a website [now replaced by this website] to aid him in his research; it links to a survey for people who “can speak six or more languages.” If you fall into that category (I’m afraid I don’t), help the man out—it’s confidential, but you can give him your e-mail address if you want to see the results, and you can enter a drawing to get a copy of the book.
Oh, and check out his home page: the latest post has an awe-inspiring image of the demon warrior Ravana, whom Erard has designated the god of hyperpolyglots.

Comments

  1. AJP Crown says:

    you can enter a drawing to get a copy of the book
    I thought you meant I can draw something, hand the drawing over and I’ll get a free book. But no, you’re talking abut some kind of game of chance. Oh well. He sounds like an ok guy, though. I like his website, especially the NY Times Book Review protest.

  2. Is math a language?
    Furthermore, are different types of maths different languages? Linear Algebra, Discrete maths, Statistics, Vector Calculus, Differential Calculus, Differential Equations etc.
    If so than every university educated scientist or engineer should fit into the 6 or more category.
    Are programming languages languages in their own right?

  3. If so than every university educated scientist or engineer should fit into the 6 or more category.

    Which is evidence that learning a type of math or a programming language is not equivalent to learning a human language, so the answer to your questions is no. Besides, do you speak linear algebra or Perl?

  4. Ravana … the god of hyperpolyglots
    I’ll take Ravana over St. Gottschalk any day.

  5. it links to a survey for people who “can speak six or more languages.” If you fall into that category (I’m afraid I don’t), help the man out
    Have I missed something?

  6. Like me, I think that LH is mostly a booklearner.

  7. Like me, I think that LH is mostly a booklearner.

  8. SnowLeopard says:

    Well, I certainly *study* more than six languages at least once a week, with as much diligence as professional and family life allow, but I doubt my meager competence in most would make me a useful data point.

  9. But does he make a good piano?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebastien_Erard
    (Erards seem to be the current instrument of choice for HIP performances of 19th century music.)

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Pleyel was Chopin’s instrument of choice, the only one which he felt could do justice to his inspiration.

  11. Like me, I think that LH is mostly a booklearner.
    I might have thought so, but he writes:
    Speaking/reading: English [...], French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, German, Greek (ancient and modern, but the claim of speaking ability applies only to the latter), Persian (Farsi)
    and contrasts this in the next paragraph with:
    Reading only
    By my count that’s eight, which, I’m fairly certain, is six or more. lh?

  12. michael farris says:

    “By my count that’s eight, which, I’m fairly certain, is six or more.”
    I guess you missed the New Math, eight is no longer more than six (we don’t want children thinking some numbers are bigger and better or ….. more than others. Every number is just as good as every other number.

  13. The criterion of six or more is a bit arbitrary: I’d be more impressed with someone fluent in three very different languages — say English, Korean and Quechua — than with someone fluent in all the Romance languages. My daughter is fluent in just three (English, French and Spanish), but with some time in appropriate places she could easily bring it up to seven (adding German, Italian, Portuguese and Catalan, all of which she can pretty much understand). Even I, whose Spanish is fairly basic, can read Portuguese without much difficulty, and if I got used to the weird pronunciation (especially in Portugal) I think I could learn to speak it as well as I speak Spanish in a year or two. So I’m surprised that he didn’t specify something like six languages from a minimum of three families.

  14. Every number is just as good as every other number.
    Yes Michael; but quality is not quantity.

  15. Athel,
    I feel inclined to agree with you, but I also think that it’s not that simple. What you said about Romance languages is doubly true of the Slavic ones. But that’s only comprehension. In my experience, when it comes to actually learning to speak, the similarity turns into a drawback. I actually found learning to speak Polish or Serbian much more difficult than learning to speak Finnish.
    Question number 9 in Michael’s survey is “9. What is your definition of “knowing” a language?”. I’d be very much interested in y’all’s opinion.

  16. I’d be more impressed with someone fluent in three very different languages — say English, Korean and Quechua — than with someone fluent in all the Romance languages.
    I wouldn’t. I would be very impressed by any person who could speak all the Romance or Slavic languages fluently, not mixing or confusing them! I understand half a dozen of Slavic languages, at the very least, but I would be hard pressed to speak Russian; on the other hand, I read so much Russian that I am not able to speak pure Polish anymore, although I am basically fluent in Polish – it is the Slavic language I do speak and understand.

  17. Question number 9 in Michael’s survey is “9. What is your definition of “knowing” a language?”. I’d be very much interested in y’all’s opinion.
    When I can write a long personal letter in that language spontaneously. This has been my definition since I learnt German as a teenager.

  18. By my count that’s eight, which, I’m fairly certain, is six or more. lh?
    Speaking ability is not the same as ability to speak, if you follow me. I have some speaking ability in Italian, German, and Modern Greek, in that I could order a coffee and comment on the weather, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Erard (the author, not the piano-maker) is looking for. I can carry on a reasonably wide-ranging conversation in French and Spanish, and with a little practice to retrieve my rusty speaking ability would be able to do so in Russian, but that’s about it. I like Panu’s criterion of fluency: “When I can write a long personal letter in that language spontaneously.”

  19. In the Caucasus there must be a large number of people fluent in three widely separated languages. For example, an educated Georgian citizen will also be fluent in Russian, but his mother tongue might be a Turkish or Iranian language. Something like this must be true of most educated speakers of isolate languages.

  20. In the Caucasus there must be a large number of people fluent in three widely separated languages. For example, an educated Georgian citizen will also be fluent in Russian, but his mother tongue might be a Turkish or Iranian language. Something like this must be true of most educated speakers of isolate languages.

  21. Definite criteria for ‘knowing a language’ seems to me a typical soritic aporia. The basic contrast I envisage is fairly straightforward: either I’m learning the language or I know the language. I mean, I might improve my speaking, understanding, writing, reading (or any combination thereof) with respect to range, accuracy, fluency, coherence (or any combination thereof), thinking of myself either as learning, or as having already learnt the language. Writing with range and fluency might very well entail knowing a language, but so might speaking accurately and coherently whilst being illiterate.

  22. True, speaking 3 widely separated languages fluently is not a tremendous achievement in many times and places – Cameroon, Habsburg era Galicia, Ottoman era Istanbul, Bombay, the Caucuses, etc. I believe that’s why Erard set the criteria for superpolygots at 6 or more. Though I’m still not sure why 6 and not, say, 5 or 7. I doubt there’s any rigourous analysis of just how many people really speak 5 languages fluently.
    I agree with Panu that really speaking 5 Slavic languages is probably a more impressive trick in some ways than speaking 5 separate languages. I speak excellent Russian, and have at various times learned Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, Czech and Polish. I can still read them all, more or less, but I would be hard pressed to speak any of them with any confidence that I wasn’t actually speaking one of the others. By contrast I still find it relatively easy to speak basic Japanese even though it’s been almost 20 years since I used it on a regular basis and my reading ability is, not surprisingly, far worse than my reading ability in any of the Slavic languages.

  23. Definite criteria for ‘knowing a language’ seems to me a typical soritic aporia.
    Then let me rephrase: what is the line that separates “learning a language” from “knowing a language”?
    BTW, I don’t like the phrase “to know a language”, I prefer to speak of passive and active knowledge. Like Hat said, passive command (reading and understanding) and active *command are two somewhat different things.

  24. Then let me rephrase: what is the line that separates “learning a language” from “knowing a language”?
    When I say ‘typical soritic aporia’ I’m indicating what I understand to be the unavailability generally of definite determinations of this kind – there is no line, but a series of shifting, context-bound, purpose-specific, multi-valent criteria. I might, for example, legitimately claim to know a language in a context of more or less routine practicalities, including the spontaneous writing of long personal letters, but illegitimately make the same claim in the context of an funding-application for professional or research purposes. Similarly, the active/passive distinction cannot apply to an ancient language in the same way as it might to a modern language. I don’t need to learn ancient language x, though I neither speak, understand, nor, maybe, even write it, but I know it nonetheless, because I read it, though perhaps I could stand to know it better. If the question is phrased as ‘how much is enough?’, then the answer is ‘enough for what?’ The difference between learning and knowing isn’t, I think, the difference between a single-digit value and a double-digit value, but the difference between getting the funding and going back to the day-job, or between writing a letter and making a phone call.

  25. anonymous linguist says:

    That survey is a joke. I had my suspicions earlier but then came:
    “I can persuade someone effectively to take a course of action in a sensitive situation such as to improve his/her health, reverse a decision or establish a policy.”
    I have persuaded very few people in my entire life! And this was about my native tongue! The questions got worse after that and I just stopped. There was no sense to continue.

  26. fiosachd,
    I undertand your point, but you made a distinction between learning and knowing. It follows that there must a point in time – however imprecisely defined – where learning is finished and knowing begins. I’m not looking for precise definitions, the line doesn’t have to be micrometer-thin.
    Michael Erard’s survey contains a self-assessment test based on the ILR scale. If you look at the section for speaking, you will 11 levels of competency with detailed descriptions. Does Speaking 4 sound like a description of the abilities of someone who knows the language in question or does is describe someone who is still learning?
    Similarly, the active/passive distinction cannot apply to an ancient language
    Why not? Reading = passive, writing = active.

  27. anonymous linguist,
    well, that question could have been phrased better, I’ll grant you that. But the survey tries to find out what tools you have available, not how good you are at using them or how malleable the material you’re working with is. For example, you would never ever EVER manage to persuade me to stop smoking, but if you can present your arguments, back them up, draw conclusions from them and apply them to my situation halfway convincingly, your answer should have been yes.

  28. anonymous linguist says:

    Szia!
    Nem tudom én. Gondolom, hogy más kérdések is mint az a kérdés.
    I really don’t think much of the other questions either. Just consider the remaining questions:
    I can prepare and give a lecture at a professional meeting about my area of specialization and debate complex aspects with others.
    I naturally integrate appropriate cultural and historical references in my speech.
    I can eloquently represent a point of view other than my own.
    I can lead the direction of the discussion (friendly, controversial, collaborative).
    My language proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of a highly articulate well-educated native speaker and reflects the cultural standards of a country where the language is natively spoken.
    I can use the language with complete flexibility and intuition, so that speech on all levels is fully accepted by well-educated native speakers in all of its features, including breadth of vocabulary and idiom, colloquialisms, and pertinent cultural references.
    My pronunciation is typically consistent with that of well-educated, highly articulate native speakers of a standard dialect.
    My vocabulary is extensive and precise, allowing me to consistently convey complex ideas and details.
    Viszlát!

  29. Some of the standards people are using to describe “knowing” here would disqualify many native speakers. I don’t think that makes a whole lot of sense, though I see the attraction of being modest.

  30. Just consider the remaining questions
    I don’t understand what your problem with them is. Perhaps you’d care to explain?
    Aidan: In my case, it’s not a matter of being modest, it’s simple accuracy combined with a sense of what he wants in the way of hyperpolyglots, which (as I understand it) doesn’t include me. I doubt he wants his database cluttered up with a bunch of people who go “I can order a beer in twelve languages, so yeah, I’m totally on board!”

  31. Studying Chinese made me think about what “know a language” means. My spoken language was never very good, but I read some specific things very well, including things that many Chinese can’t read. (Classical Chinese, modern scholarship about classical Chinese.) But I can’t read the things ordinary Chinese read. Newspapers are a special, not terribly useful skill — you end up learning transliterations of foreign names, the Chinese equivalents of various bureaucratic offices, etc. etc., only to find that the story was an AP story to begin with.
    I came to think of the blind spots in my own knowledge of English. I couldn’t read anything about law or most sciences or finance or medicine, for example. I don’t have the vocabulary, and to get the vocabulary, you have to understand the topic.
    In short, reading competence considered alone is basic knowledge of the language plus the special vocabularies of an indefinitely large number of bodies of discourse.
    For another example, I can read poetry pretty well, but not novels because of the wealth of detail.

  32. Studying Chinese made me think about what “know a language” means. My spoken language was never very good, but I read some specific things very well, including things that many Chinese can’t read. (Classical Chinese, modern scholarship about classical Chinese.) But I can’t read the things ordinary Chinese read. Newspapers are a special, not terribly useful skill — you end up learning transliterations of foreign names, the Chinese equivalents of various bureaucratic offices, etc. etc., only to find that the story was an AP story to begin with.
    I came to think of the blind spots in my own knowledge of English. I couldn’t read anything about law or most sciences or finance or medicine, for example. I don’t have the vocabulary, and to get the vocabulary, you have to understand the topic.
    In short, reading competence considered alone is basic knowledge of the language plus the special vocabularies of an indefinitely large number of bodies of discourse.
    For another example, I can read poetry pretty well, but not novels because of the wealth of detail.

  33. AJP Crown says:

    it’s not a matter of being modest, it’s simple accuracy combined with a sense of what he wants in the way of hyperpolyglots,
    That’s the Groucho excuse. Whereas I wouldn’t join any languages group that wouldn’t want Language as a member. Rusty Russian? i thought you just read War & Peace.
    Just take the test, dammit.

  34. dammit
    Welcome to the inner ring of Dante’s 7th circle, home to blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers. And I was afraid eternity was going to be dull.
    The test sounds like it’s above GS-11, if you compare it to the U.S. Civil Service questions. So it’s “above LHians’ pay grade”?

  35. the line doesn’t have to be micrometer-thin
    In contrast, as I’ve said, I don’t think it has to be a line at all, whereas you clearly do.
    “Similarly, the active/passive distinction cannot apply to an ancient language”
    Why not? Reading = passive, writing = active.

    You misleadingly half-quote me. I wrote:
    Similarly, the active/passive distinction cannot apply to an ancient language in the same way as it might to a modern language.
    My point was that writing in ancient languages has nothing like the role writing in modern languages has. It’s mostly confined to exercises for learners in the furtherance of their reading abilities, and, with Latin and Greek for example, the duties of a public orator. No-one ever spontaneously writes (present tense) a long personal letter in Cuneiform Luwian. Is that because no-one really ‘knows’ Cuneiform Luwian, or because standards vary according to language, purpose, point of comparison, &c.?

  36. Dante’s 7th circle, home to blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers.
    And prescriptivists, of course.

  37. In contrast, as I’ve said, I don’t think it has to be a line at all, whereas you clearly do.
    Then we shall agree to disagree. Still, I’d love to hear your comments on the ILR scale.
    Is that because no-one really ‘knows’ Cuneiform Luwian
    No, it’s because Cuneiform Luwian is poorly preserved, i.e. there just isn’t large enough vocabulary available (IIRC, mostly votive and religious stuff).
    Why not give Latin as an example? Most of us here can read Latin, but apparently there are also people who can actually conduct a flamewar in it. And while I can barely read Syriac, I personally know people who do write letters in it.

  38. Rusty Russian? i thought you just read War & Peace.
    Rusty spoken Russian. At reading, I’m a champ; I probably have a larger passive vocabulary than many Russians. Hell, I even know the genitive plural of кочерга!

  39. AJP Crown says:

    Anyone who knows the genitive plural of кочерга is fluent. It happens to be my criterion.
    Regarding bulbul’s Latin flamewar, notice that they tutoyer one another: …”bellum semper responsum falsum est,” dicis, Oenipontane?… I don’t think Marie-Lucie would approve of that.

  40. I’d love to hear your comments on the ILR scale.
    As it happens, I have more than once checked myself against the ILR scales and have even periodically regarded level 4 as a decisive threshold, but not thereby the sole (or even an especially rare) standard by which to feel legitimized in claiming to know a language.
    Cuneiform Luwian is poorly preserved [...]. Why not give Latin as an example?
    Actually, your suggestion illustrates the point I was trying to make. Standards vary according to language and according to the object of comparison.
    And while I can barely read Syriac, I personally know people who do write letters in it.
    By the same token I know people who know [ancient language] by every standard with which their career has ever presented them who nonetheless can’t write letters in it, nor would I consider letter-writing ability in [ancient language] much use in determining who’s best able to fulfil any other requirement in that language.
    It’s an interesting question, but not one that leads me to reconsider a default Pyrrhonian ἐποχή.

  41. anonymous linguist says:

    My main problem with these questions is that they are so very vague as to be useless, at least if you’re honestly answering them.
    Let’s take for example “I naturally integrate appropriate cultural and historical references in my speech.”.
    Now, I for one have some knowledge of, say, Hungarian culture and history. Nevertheless, it is far from extensive. Still I say I speak with Hungarians in Hungarian if need be (as I have done on vacation in Budapest). I know that I also am not that good a speaker but not THAT bad either. When I lived in Germany the “appropriate cultural and historical references” aspect (German one that is) was easier to be had. The point is that “appropriate cultural and historical references” and speaking, understanding and so forth do not necessarily correlate with each other. Also it is, for me, difficult to say what those references might be. I don’t really pay that much attention to what is so very appropriate culturally.

  42. What are you hiding from, anyway?

  43. anonymous linguist says:

    :-) From doing linguistics. Unfortunately :-(

  44. fiosachd,
    I have more than once checked myself against the ILR scales and have even periodically regarded level 4 as a decisive threshold.
    Thank you.
    Our exchange has cemented my view that the phrase “to know a language” is useless. I’ll stick to “I’m able to read/understand/speak”, if you don’t mind. And as much as I like Panu’s criterion, I suggest the ability to take part in a flamewar as the ultimate test of language competence.

  45. anonymous linguist: You are doing what they call on MetaFilter “overthinking a plate of beans.” It is really not that hard to answer those questions, and I imagine Erard finds the answers useful.

  46. notice that they tutoyer one another
    Of course they do. AFAIK, Latin simply has second person singular and second person plural. I believe using “vos/vous/voi” as a polite form is a medieval innovation.

  47. Don’t worry, it was a feeble joke based on another fred.

  48. the phrase “to know a language” is useless
    One reason I’m happy to keep using ‘know’ of a language is its use in Census 2001, where, for example, statistics for Gàidhlig-use are reported such that respondents ‘knowing Gàidhlig’ are glossed as ‘Persons able to understand spoken Gàidhlig and/or able to speak, read or write Gàidhlig.’ Where terms are in use for recording such information (esp. on an endangered language), it does seem to me a non-trivial choice to regard that term as useless.

  49. fiosachd,
    well, it is vague and therefore useless, unless you tell me what exactly you mean, i.e. which skills are you referring to. In your example, that definition was provided.

  50. anonymous linguist says:

    > You are doing what they call on MetaFilter “overthinking a plate of beans.”
    Yes… …now. I’m analysing. But my gut reaction when I first saw these questions was also “How can I possibly answer this?”.
    > It is really not that hard to answer those questions, and I imagine Erard finds the answers useful.
    Honestly, I don’t know should I pick yes or no to answer these questions.

  51. I began my comments on this post by referring to the fallacy of the heap. With that in mind, my point was, and remains, that vague does not mean useless. The definition from the census doesn’t, for example, specify what counts as speaking, understanding, reading, writing Gàidhlig. And why should it? How many grains of corn is a heap? Does it have to reach level 4 on the Interagency Grain-Heap Roundtable scale?

  52. anonymous linguist says:

    > With that in mind, my point was, and remains, that vague does not mean useless.
    I agree. Still, I don’t know what answer to pick. And that is a problem.

  53. I’d say that someone who has trouble answering those questions is likely to be one of the people the guy is looking for. For most people, including LH and me, the answer to many questions is an unequivocal “no”.
    My guess is that most of the people who pass his test will not be geniuses or academics, but adventurers, wanderers, shipping brokers, itinerant peddlers, refugees, inhabitants of the Caucasus, etc.

  54. I’d say that someone who has trouble answering those questions is likely to be one of the people the guy is looking for. For most people, including LH and me, the answer to many questions is an unequivocal “no”.
    My guess is that most of the people who pass his test will not be geniuses or academics, but adventurers, wanderers, shipping brokers, itinerant peddlers, refugees, inhabitants of the Caucasus, etc.

  55. The definition from the census doesn’t, for example, specify what counts as speaking, understanding, reading, writing Gàidhlig. And why should it?
    Agreed, it doesn’t have to. It’s a census, after all, most data is self-reported. But such approach is not useful everywhere. Even in this particular case, how useful/reliable is the data for someone who tries to persuade the government to subsidize a Gàidhlig TV channel? How many of those who claim to ‘know’ Gàidhlig actually understand it and would thus benefit from watching the channel?
    Also, I have a beard and it’s cold outside.

  56. Without having had time to parse every word in this thread (I’m supposed to be doing something else) it sounds like the main problem with the questions is that they are yes/no questions instead of on a continuum. And they aren’t necessarily anything that native speakers, even very educated ones, would necessarily do in their first language. For instance “I naturally integrate appropriate cultural and historical references in my speech”…I don’t do that at all, because my typical daily interactions are with people whose first language is not English. Even though the staff is bilingual and the administrator probably has a larger English vocabulary that I do, I don’t want to embarrass someone who might not understand what I say and be afraid to say so since their job description says “bilingual”…and who might be writing my review somewhere down the road. I match what I say to the audience. If you don’t have a job as an academic, you’re not going to use that level of your first language, even if you can. If instead, you say “I can integrate appropriate cultural and historical references in my speech”, then I can do that–I like to bring Felipe Calderon and Ana Guevara into the class discussions… :~)
    The other thing that strikes me is that maybe the questions are not a screening for who the guy wants to study but that he is trying to find out what kind of person believes themselves to speak that many languages. Maybe he is just looking for preliminary data?

  57. For instance “I naturally integrate appropriate cultural and historical references in my speech”…I don’t do that at all, because my typical daily interactions are with people whose first language is not English.
    That is an extremely unusual situation. I don’t think most questionnaires are designed with rare edge cases in mind.
    If instead, you say “I can integrate appropriate cultural and historical references in my speech”
    I’m pretty sure that’s what the question means. A Trappist monk who doesn’t actually speak at all could answer “yes” with a good conscience.

  58. AJP Crown says:

    Appropriate to what? A sense of humor? Mine or yours? A sense of surprise? Hostility? I told Stuart his team suck, but that was by accident. I wonder if you could enter if you can’t speak any languages, but you can answer all the questions.

  59. SnowLeopard says:

    I’m reminded of a telephone survey I was asked to participate in shortly after 9/11 as a resident of one of the nearby apartment buildings. Did I have feelings of anxiety in the last seven days? Difficulty breathing? Trouble sleeping the night before? And so on. I started arguing with the questioner, because although the answer to each question was yes, I consider myself very self-aware and was confident that none of those affirmative answers were “because” of the events of 9/11. In exasperation the questioner finally said that I wasn’t being asked to speculate about causation –searching for correlations and possibly drawing inferences about causation was the point of the study. All they needed was for me to answer the questions as they’d been posed to the best of my ability. Perhaps the same sort of notion applies to the present polyglot survey. Presumably, idiosyncratic variations would sort themselves out, as would those counterintuitive polling phenomena where a lot of people’s responses to certain kinds of questions are essentially random. That doesn’t preclude trends from arising from the data despite all our best (uncoordinated) efforts. For example, what if a significant number of participants really only considered themselves fluent in one or two languages, and able to do little more than order a beer and ask for the tab in four or five others, and also played one or more musical instruments? I don’t know what it would mean, but it could be interesting in its own right.

  60. AJP Crown says:

    That’s a good point, but aren’t we, only fluent in two, excluded from participating? I don’t play any musical instruments, either. I’m an experienced gardener. That must count for something. Carpentry skills? I can drive.
    I used to work around the corner from you on Cedar Street, Small world.

  61. The questionaire seems to be a way of finding certain sorts of people, rather than a source of data to analyze.
    A recent LH about WWII Burmese language teaching told some funny stories about the two available people bilingual in Burmese and English, both of whom seemed to be professional criminals.

  62. The questionaire seems to be a way of finding certain sorts of people, rather than a source of data to analyze.
    A recent LH about WWII Burmese language teaching told some funny stories about the two available people bilingual in Burmese and English, both of whom seemed to be professional criminals.

  63. A recent LH about WWII Burmese language teaching
    Not actually all that recent (except from the perspective of eternity), and I’m still waiting to get the full story.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    Why not give Latin as an example? Most of us here can read Latin, but apparently there are also people who can actually conduct a flamewar in it.

    To quote the last post: “[goggly smiley] Id credere non possum.”
    Well, of course I can believe it — but that even these people don’t know what an ad-hominem argument is is beyond my understanding!!!

  65. I agree 100% with Nijma:

    … it sounds like the main problem with the questions is that they are yes/no questions instead of on a continuum. … The other thing that strikes me is that maybe the questions are not a screening for who the guy wants to study but that he is trying to find out what kind of person believes themselves to speak that many languages.

    as well as with SnowLeopard and JE:

    The questionaire seems to be a way of finding certain sorts of people, rather than a source of data to analyze.

    and, summing it all up in my opinion, AJP:

    I wonder if you could enter if you can’t speak any languages, but you can answer all the questions.

    The survey questions are mere patterns into which arbitrary content will fit, of the form “Does X do Y?”, where Y is A Good Thing. In the list of questions under “Defining a good language learner”, we find, for instance:

    The good language learner monitors his own and the speech of others. That is, he is constantly attending to how well his speech is being received and whether his performance meets the standards he has learned.

    This question is loaded. I suppose it is not going too far to say that the predicate (including the second sentence here) describes A Good Thing. Over an extremely wide range of Not A Bad Thing grammatical subjects, for a given respondent the answer will be the same “yes” or “no” no matter what the grammatical subject is. The respondent is expected to evaluate the predicate, not the subject, and not the predication:

    The socially competent person monitors his own and the speech of others. That is, …

    or

    The successful car salesman monitors his own and the speech of others. That is, …

    And so on with all the other questions. The survey will succeed only in measuring whether the respondents can recognize A Good Thing when they see it. The surveyors are cleverly milking Kants “categorical imperative”, i.e. they are setting up Catch-22s. They formulate the predicates in such a way that no self-respecting, right-thinking person could dissent. As Nijma points out, these are “self-assessment” questions.
    I see no connection with the measurement of linguistic ability – except insofar as this is required to understand the questions.

  66. SnowLeopard says:

    Ah, I had a slightly different reading of the questions, not necessarily better or more accurate. I only skimmed the questions quickly the first time around, and for some reason it won’t let me page through without answering questions any more, but I interpreted at least some of them as trying to identify what did and didn’t work for me when trying to learn a language, a question on which I and probably most people here have strong opinions. I consider your quoted example, for example, to be almost irrelevant to my language-learning efforts, for better or worse, even though in my professional life as an attorney I “monitor my own speech and that of others” far more than some seem to.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: notice that they tutoyer one another: …”bellum semper responsum falsum est,” dicis, Oenipontane?… I don’t think Marie-Lucie would approve of that.
    Vanya has already given my response to your observation.
    Even if the comment were relevant in relation to Latin, whether I would approve or not of the bloggers’ style of address is also irrelevant -what I would actually do if I felt like responding is another matter. But it is neat to be referred to a place where current affairs are being discussed in Latin! a great refresher.

  68. AJP Crown says:

    Even if the comment were relevant in relation to Latin, whether I would approve or not of the bloggers’ style of address is (also) irrelevant
    My point was that you disapprove of uninvited use of the familiar form.
    what I would actually do if I felt like responding is another matter
    There’s not much you can do. You can use the ‘Sie’ form yourself. In that event you are merely reversing the convention. You are saying ‘Sie’ to someone who is saying ‘du’ to you, just as i was with the old Gräfin in Hamburg. The most you could do would be to claim it was ironic. The whole set up is a patronising vestige of semi-submerged internecine competitiveness, lumped together with an old-fashioned idea of order. It should have been dispensed with in Germany and France by now — note that Scandinavia managed to do so without any ill effect, it is only beneficial!

  69. AFAIK, Latin simply has second person singular and second person plural.
    There’s Vergil’s Vos, o Calliope, precor amongst other transitional examples.

  70. I couldn’t disagree more, AJP – unless you might care to step outside with me?
    I have found the availability of Sie and du to be wonderfully practical. I used to think as you do, before I settled in to life in Germany. All this talk about “knowing a language” misses an important point, in my view. The structures of sociality are there, whether you like it or not. It is the case that one wants to defer to certain people, and to put others in their place – on different occasions, for different reasons. Sie and du are only one set of tools for this purpose, but conveniently ready-made.
    At my job, I always use Sie towards people at customer sites – if only, primarily, to help ensure that I (knowing myself) don’t step out of line in what I say, and the way I say it. But is that nothing? Almost everyone else uses du to each other, but not to me. I’m 60, and that brings a certain deference in this respect. The guy I am currently working with is 30. Having gotten to know each other, we now often joke around at a fairly vulgar level, content-wise, but in a worldly manner. A few times I slipped up, at which he would say “Es heißt “Sie haben nicht alle beisammen, Herr Lück”". He’s getting back at me for insisting on the Sie – but he holds to it. Such larks!
    Language is only one organ among others. It’s not the brain, and even it it were, brain surgery is not always indicated. If the Scandinavians want to play at puppies in a communal basket, so be it.
    As English-speakers, we can only peer longingly though the window, like the little match-girl, at such a phenomenon as de Beauvoir and Sartre se vouvoyant dans leurs écrits, et en toute occasion publique, pendant presque cinquante ans. What they said to each other in private, is none of our business. In the spectacle of life, we have no backstage pass. It’s all up front, so it’s important to keep our hats on. In English, we are exposed to every weather of address.
    Like I said, Sie and du are only part of the parcel – they’re just the thin top layer of 100-dollar bills concealing the brickbats of life underneath. Here is the beginning of a review of the English translation of Hélène Cixous, Love Itself, in the latest TLS.

    In a passage at the centre of Love Itself, Hélène Cixous’s poetic “I” receounts an episode which took place – on Tuesday, November 12, 1993, around noon – while she was crossing the Avenue de Choisy in Paris. Her companion, one of the text’s nameless lovers, takes her arm as she rushes into the traffic and says “fait attention mon amour” (“pay attention, my love”). He receives no reply, but in the dramatic response that is Cixous’s Love Itself, her “I” dwells in retrospect on the incandescence of these words of love which have slipped out once in a thirty-year friendship, which have infinite value because they have been unspoken before, and which, unacknowledged at the moment of their utterance, may perhaps have been imagined. As she continues to examine this exchange, and her companion’s possible complicity, or obliviousness, she notes that this moment of the past begins to look like a dream: “it has the fragile clarity, the trembling visual substance of a dreamed event”.

  71. marie-lucie says:

    “fait attention mon amour” (“pay attention, my love”)
    that is: fais attention mon amour = be careful, my love (using the verb form for tu). It is not clear from this paragraph whether the two friends were using tu or vous with each other previously – I think that they were probably using tu already and it is the mon amour which causes the woman’s psychological reaction).

  72. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: (In replying to a comment on a blog) You are saying ‘Sie’ to someone who is saying ‘du’ to you, just as i was with the old Gräfin in Hamburg.
    The situation is not the same at all: YOU were the much younger person. If I had been in the shoes of the old Gräfin, or rather in a comparable situation in France, I would have said Sie/vous to you unless you were less than about 15 years old. If YOU had said Du/tu to me in return, I would have corrected you, both because of my own feelings and because of the adverse social consequences to you if you persisted in addressing adults, especially older people, as Du/tu.
    Doing so with upper class French people would mark you as not well-brought up, or simply ignorant of French, but with people who find or perceive themselves to be in an inferior social position (other than that caused a large age difference), it is very important to be addressed properly with vous as a last stitch of recognition of their social value. For instance, should you ever encounter French homeless people, they will be extremely offended if you address them with tu unless you are homeless yourself, as they will take the pronoun as an indication of your utter contempt for them. I wrote earlier that the use of tu by French police is a clear indication to minority youths of racist attitudes. Without going so far, it would be very rude to address, for instance, a cleaning lady, or even a salesperson in a store, as tu. Much is forgiven to foreigners, but they are expected to learn the current mores, and stubborn persistence in a social faux-pas (regardless of how the foreigner feels) would definitely hamper good relations.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    … other than that caused by a large age difference …

  74. Grumbly, if you started a blog, I would read it regularly.

  75. Marie-Lucie: AJP: (In replying to a comment on a blog) You are saying…
    Marie-Lucie, what I actually said was exactly the opposite of how you have abbreviated it. Therefore i came to the same conclusion that you subsequently did, which is why I used the word ‘irony’. What i wrote was this: You can use the ‘Sie’ form yourself. In that event you are merely reversing the convention. You are saying ‘Sie’ to someone who is saying ‘du’ to you, just as i was with the old Gräfin in Hamburg. The most you could do would be to claim it was ironic.
    As for your example of the advantages to be had from this system, in a nutshell, you’re saying it’s an additional way to put other people in their place. But then you point out where that ends up, the use of tu by French police is a clear indication to minority youths of racist attitudes. And you still think this is a good system, Marie-Lucie? Unbelievable.
    I never said i would address anyone using a more familiar form than was expected, however I’ll take my chances with the French upper class. In my experience, it is no more of a monolith than any other upper class in Europe. Some people go straight to using ‘tu’ with me and others don’t.
    Grumbly:I used to think as you do, before I settled in to life in Germany.
    I lived in Hamburg for three years, so I don’t need to find out any more about their absurdly petty system of social put-downs. Thank god for the social and political sophistication of the Scandinavians.
    Note that I’ve nothing against the system of your forefathers in Hungary, Grumbly. Five levels of intimacy for the second-person form is a very different matter from two.
    But I’m supposed to be clearing out the cupboard in our kitchen, so I can’t go on with this discussion.

  76. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, if I (a lady older than you) said “Sie”, or rather “vous”, to someone (older than about 7 years old) who said “tu” to me, it would be because I was trying to remind them of their manners and also to indicate that their “tu” was not welcome. This is how a French person would perceive the conversation. With an older child or an obvious foreigner I might explain. Whether the system is good or not is not the point: that is the system as used and perceived by the majority of people. You might as well ask me if I think that French or German nouns being categorized by “gender” is a good system or not, just because as an English speaker you don’t see the point and would prefer to have it otherwise.

  77. “fais attention mon amour” (“pay attention, my love”)

    Thanks, Marie-Lucie. I fumbled at the keyboard twice while copying the review.

    Grumbly, if you started a blog

    Hat, I actually do have a blog. I’m trying to breathe life into a kind of “set-piece” site. That is the real background to the Stein site-logo “remarks are not literature”. Everybody is having fun making remarks, and I enjoy it myself, but want to do something slightly different.
    Trouble is, my set-pieces there don’t seem to invite comment – not yet, anyway – and somehow I think that is my intention. I would prefer counter-set-pieces, rather than comments, but not everyone has the time. As you know from my contributions here, like a rude waitress I tend to slam the plates down on the table in front of the customers, then high-heel right back to my grumpy cigarette. Although I hate poker, it’s just occurred to me that, with my site, I want to poker with words – high stakes, even.
    At your site, after a few bouts of crockery-rattling, I finally felt I could pull off those heels – they were killing me. At that point I was still innocent. But then the Dark One came, and whispered: follow closely how Hat manages all this, and so well. It may help you to clean up your act. Then you can get a pair of sensible shoes and a better job than the one at Schweinske’s.
    So I must ‘fess up to having become an industrious spy on your site. I learned a lot for myself – for instance about how there’s no need to bristly – but nothing to pass on to the competition, nothing everybody else doesn’t already know, so the Dark One is probably going to strike me off His list.

  78. your forefathers in Hungary, Grumbly

    Hat was being facetious. I’m not Hungarian, for Chrissake. I was born in Memphis, Tennessee. My folks all come from Mississippi. My maternal grandfather was a Baptist preacher, the other one a no-good drunkard. So there!

    Five levels of intimacy

    I only know one. Are you talking about Hungarian or The Other Thing?

  79. AJP Crown says:

    No, Language made a post, last month, I’ve forgotten the title, in which the 5 (count them, five) second-person verb forms in Hungarian was discussed. Bulbul, who knows more languages than anyone, knew them. If you are trying to put me off the track of your Hungarian ancestry, you’ll have to do better than that. I know a magyar when I read one.

  80. AJP Crown says:

    Marie-Lucie, something is not irrelevant just because you chose not to acknowledge its relevance. My point is that this is a bad system, that’s what we have been discussing, not whether this or that French person would like it if I called them ‘tu’. It is not similar to the gender system, because that could not be abolished, whereas you yourself admitted in the previous discussion that you could envisage the time when in the French-speaking parts of Canada everybody will use ‘tu’. It is clear that that will happen, and in France and Germany and the other French-speaking former colonies, you only have to look at the Scandinavian example to see that it can and will happen.
    I have finished cleaning out the kitchen closet, by the way.

  81. I actually do have a blog.
    *smacks self on forehead*
    Yes, now that I hold the cursor over your name and click, I see that you do. And I am enjoying it: “so A is incompatible with B, so what? Is the world a syllogism?” Right on, as we used to say in the late lamented Sixties.
    Hat was being facetious.
    Yes, I was quoting My Fair Lady. If I’d continued with “…and not only Hungarian, but of noble birth. She is a princess,” it probably would not have been taken for actual research.
    Kron, you’re taking pronoun systems awfully personally. Did a sie-vous bite you at an impressionable age? You can tell us. We won’t mock you. Except maybe that awful John Emerson, he’ll mock anything.

  82. the time when in the French-speaking parts of Canada everybody will use ‘tu’ … it can and will happen

    AJP, so now you take refuge in the future? The yellow peril lurks there, not the decline of vous. Isn’t Chinese chock-full of esteem-onymics (can’t remember the damned word)? The Chinese adore the French, so perhaps they’ll take Vous on! Aren’t you being here, a teeny bit, KULTURIMPERIALISTISCH? But I guess on this site, one has to throw down the PRESCRIPTIVIST glove.
    Moving right along, à propos de presque rien, Pound once said of a writer: He was poisoned in the cradle by the dogbiscuit of Milton’s rhetoric.

  83. Bulbul, who knows more languages than anyone
    bulbul doesn’t know any languages – he told me so himself.

  84. AJP Crown says:

    Milton went to my school, as it happens. Or maybe i went to Milton’s. Whatever. And i eat dog-biscuits*. Yeah, you know Emerson reads this thread even if he’s not saying anything, so I couldn’t tell you about what happened to me at an early age, even if anything did and I’m not saying it did.
    The thing to remember about Language, Grumbly, is that everybody likes him, they like Conrad too, and why? They never says rude things to their customers. That’s why I could never have a blog, you have to be too polite. Thirty-five years ago, I worked at the cooked-meats counter at Harrods, the department store in London, for two weeks and three days, but i had to quit before I strangled a customer — rudeness is in my jeans. If you go over to Language Log you’ll see Language Hat being rude to practically everybody. Well, he was rude to me there once, something about Chom(p)sky. He was right, now I think about it.
    *Not really, John.

  85. AJP Crown says:

    bulbul doesn’t know any languages – he told me so himself.
    Sorry, that’s right, but what does he do? Speak them? Translate them, read them, try to get a feeling for them? We can compromise by saying he knows languages, but not in the biblical sense.

  86. he knows languages, but not in the biblical sense
    So you’re saying he’s a language-tease?

  87. AJP Crown says:

    Grumbly:Aren’t you being here, a teeny bit, KULTURIMPERIALISTISCH?
    The wonderful thing for me is being able to hide behind the Norwegian flag. Nobody can accuse the Scandinavians of cultural imperialism, look at who they give the Nobel prizes to for one thing.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, there was a similar situation in England a few centuries ago, with thou/thee and you/ye, and the form considered polite and respectful won out in most circles, and became the current neutral form, so it is not clear that Du/tu would be the ones to win out everywhere. The French Revolution tried to impose universal tu, but everyone reverted to mostly vous afterwards.
    Reread my previous postings about the not only social but emotional connotations of these two pronouns: to me it is a matter of personal space rather than of social hierarchy. Just as I wouldn’t undress in front of strangers, or treat my house as a public thoroughfare, I don’t want them to use a pronoun indicative of shared personal space with me, and I would not use that pronoun with strangers either. People who use tu to adults without the situation between them making it appropriate (with or without a verbal request) are invading their personal space against their will, like the police breaking down a door. With children it is different because children need personal contact with adults and are not independent (and also because they don’t know all the unwritten social rules yet), but between adults, especially with those who are or feel themselves in a dependent situation, using vous is an indication of respect for their personal space and tu in a situation of non-reciprocity (the police again) is felt as a violation of that space.

  89. Two Finns, two Norwegians, two Danes, and two Swedes were stranded in a desert island. When the rescue ship arrived a year later, the Finns were fightinh, the Norwegians were drunk, the Danes had started a small export co-op, and the Swedes were waiting to be introduced.
    Which nationality told that joke?
    NOTE: Yes, I’ve told it before. I like it.

  90. Two Finns, two Norwegians, two Danes, and two Swedes were stranded in a desert island. When the rescue ship arrived a year later, the Finns were fightinh, the Norwegians were drunk, the Danes had started a small export co-op, and the Swedes were waiting to be introduced.
    Which nationality told that joke?
    NOTE: Yes, I’ve told it before. I like it.

  91. David Marjanović says:

    Isn’t Chinese chock-full of esteem-onymics (can’t remember the damned word)?

    Honorifics? Classical Chinese AFAIK is, but modern Mandarin ain’t. It’s not like Japanese (let alone Javanese) where the whole vocabulary gets exchanged depending on with whom you talk about whom. There are, granted, two forms for the 2nd-person pronoun (well, four: normal/extra-respectful x singular/plural — note the refreshing lack of confusion between being polite and seeing double), but, in the north at least, you probably don’t get to use the extra-respectful form much; it’s not automatically used with all adults the way European polite forms are.
    Addressing people (reminding them of their names and/or occupations) is different, though. Four levels: personal name, “small” + surname, “old” + surname, surname + “Mr”/”Ms” or name of job. AFAIK, colleagues and neighbors of about the same age call each other “small” + surname; when their ages differ sufficiently (don’t ask me how much that is), the younger one uses “old” and the older one “small”. All the way into the highest of these levels, the normal form of the 2nd-person pronoun is used.

  92. I was in a Chinese class once where a Hong Kong Chinese learning Mandarin gi=ot quite angry at the use of the word “nin” (= polite “you”) because in context he thought it was servile. The teacher was an old school Beijing Nationalist and it got a little sticky.
    I think that the use of titles and offices in address may be more common in China than in the US, though I’m not sure.

  93. I was in a Chinese class once where a Hong Kong Chinese learning Mandarin gi=ot quite angry at the use of the word “nin” (= polite “you”) because in context he thought it was servile. The teacher was an old school Beijing Nationalist and it got a little sticky.
    I think that the use of titles and offices in address may be more common in China than in the US, though I’m not sure.

  94. So you’re saying he’s a language-tease?

    Phonologically, shouldn’t that be fric-tease?

  95. AJP Crown says:

    It’s a Norwegian joke, John. At least, I heard it from a Norwegian, a room mate who was describing the differences. She thought it was great, but I didn’t really understand it until later. That was about… 35 years ago. Since then, I’ve always just told the punch line — as an observation about Swedes, in other words — I can never remember jokes.

  96. AJP Crown says:

    Marie-Lucie:
    I must say I haven’t heard anything to convince me that there are advantages to the 2-pronoun system.
    That’s a good point you bring up about English using ‘you’. It reminds me of reading DH Lawrence (who came from no further North than Nottingham, an hour from London). Anyway, he uses ‘thou’ between lovers but not between many other characters. Although I was never a big fan of his it is something in his novels that has always sounded to me like fingernails on a blackboard, totally creepy. My reaction goes some way towards my being able to at least empathise with your dislike of inappropriate ‘tu’, even though your discomfort is for other reasons than mine with ‘thou’.
    I recently was talking to Siganus Sutor, who remarked that there are two or more 2nd person pronouns used in Hindi — perhaps Stuart can tell us more. We agreed that there seem to be many more languages that have this system than don’t. Are there some languages that have never had it? What do linguists attribute its significance to (if anything)?

  97. Arabic doesn’t have it–but it does have a gender specific second person singular. You (f) is intee, you (m) is inta.
    Possessive also takes gender. For example, every popular Arabic song is about love; 99% of them have the word “habibi” (my darling). I was amazed to find out this was masculine when my sometime roomate called me “habibti”, the feminine form. (I suppose technically it’s the noun and not the possessive -i ending that has gender.) Arab women don’t talk to men unless they are family members or fiancées, in fact, if they do their brothers may be teased to the point where they have to kill their sisters to preserve the family “honor”. But as might be expected in a place with strong taboos against expressing romantic notions, love springs eternal, and the enamored Arab guys protect the quite female objects of their attention from discovery by referring to them with the masculine ending.
    It would be interesting to know if languages in the same family like Hebrew or Aramaic have the same forms. I have a Yemeni student this semester, so here is an opportunity to answer any burning questions about the more southerly Arabic speech patterns.

  98. David Marjanović says:

    Are there some languages that have never had it?

    Thousands, I suppose: all that have always been spoken by halfway egalitarian societies.

    the enamored Arab guys protect the quite female objects of their attention from discovery by referring to them with the masculine ending.

    But surely pretending to be gay is dangerous for life & limb? Isn’t it simply pretended that the woman sings it — as was often the case in medieval Europe, which imported the troubadour tradition via the Arabic world from Persia?

    It would be interesting to know if languages in the same family like Hebrew or Aramaic have the same forms.

    As a generalization, /t/ as a feminine marker is all over Afroasiatic ( = Semitic, Old Egyptian/Coptic, Berber, Chadic, Cushitic). For example, IIRC it’s Kabyle where “Roman/foreigner/Frenchman” is arumi and “Roman/foreigner/Frenchwoman” is tarumit.

    I have a Yemeni student this semester, so here is an opportunity to answer any burning questions about the more southerly Arabic speech patterns.

    Depending on where exactly he comes from, he might know a completely different Semitic language, too.

  99. “Unfogged” used to be run by a Lur who normally called himself an Iranian-American. He was not keeping to the ancient Lur ways.

  100. “Unfogged” used to be run by a Lur who normally called himself an Iranian-American. He was not keeping to the ancient Lur ways.

  101. the enamored Arab guys protect the quite female objects of their attention from discovery by referring to them with the masculine ending
    While I’m sure this is true in some cases, it is also true that there is a long tradition of pederasty in Middle Eastern (especially Persian) poetry, and the beautiful young men addressed in such poems were often given a sex change by decorous Victorian translators.

  102. But surely pretending to be gay is dangerous for life & limb?
    I’m aware of the prohibition of homosexuality that some read into the Koran and the danger that homosexuals have been in in Iraq, but the whole concept of homosexuality–in Jordan at least–isn’t even on the map. Although I did know a transgendered (?) Egyptian who was living openly with an Iraqi male partner, in public he prayed at the men’s mosque (and shaved), but at home he wore a negligee. When people confronted me with why I was talking to a man in public, I just told them “He is my sister”, and they laughed and accepted it as being without impropriety. Ordinary men greet each other very affectionately on the street, not just with kisses on both cheeks, but holding hands and carrying on as if they will need to “get a room” at any moment. Here it would be very gay, there it is a normal male interaction. The idea that my roommate would also call me “habibti” also makes me think that it’s not a gay thing–even if she was American, she had a lot of Jordanian sisters in the family she stayed with. Of course I don’t know that my roommate isn’t gay, maybe I just missed a big semantic clue to something.
    Isn’t it simply pretended that the woman sings it
    Very possible. My information came from a bilingual American/Hispanic (Latin American, not Castilian), but one who had a lot of right-on cultural insights. It would be interesting to know whether a female singer like the Lebanese Fayrouz sings habibi or habibti…
    /t/ as a feminine marker
    I would be a mualimaht ingleezi, a male English teacher would be a muahlim inglizi
    Kabyle where “Roman/foreigner/Frenchman” is arumi
    There is also the Turkish mystic philosopher Rumi (Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī), originally Afghan, whose nickname means “foreigner” or “Roman”.
    he might know a completely different Semitic language
    Fascinating, I never knew that about Yemen. The first day of class I always do an introduction exercise; he said his first language is Arabic. Last semester I had an African student who spoke French–as well as a language that wasn’t even in the language ethnology website.

  103. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: Marie-Lucie:
    I must say I haven’t heard anything to convince me that there are advantages to the 2-pronoun system.

    I haven’t said anything about “advantages” of this system or expressed a preference for it as opposed to another system, I only described the system as it is used and my own reactions to being addressed the “wrong” way for the situation. I repeat that this is the way the system works, and a person wilfully ignoring the rules of the system might face unpleasant consequences, such as being taken for a boor or a provocateur, and ruin their chances at participating in normal social life.
    reading DH Lawrence … he uses ‘thou’ between lovers but not between many other characters…. it is something in his novels that has always sounded to me like fingernails on a blackboard, totally creepy. …
    I haven’t read too many of his novels but in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the lover (who is from a rural family and pointedly uses the local dialect) addresses Lady C with “thou”, something which makes her very uncomfortable. But Lady C speaks standard English and therefore never uses “thou” herself. It is not clear whether her discomfort is at his use of dialect, which emphasizes the social distance between them (since he also speaks Standard English when he wants to) or at the implications of “thou”, since this form is essentially foreign to her (except for its religious uses) and emphasizes the distance even more. This is not quite the same situation as in French, where everyone over the age of six or seven knows how to use tu or vous depending on the person addressed. What is clear in the novel is that although Lady C is in a socially superior position, the lower class lover has the upper hand in their relationship, which proceeds on his own terms.

  104. AJP Crown says:

    I repeat that this is the way the system works, and a person wilfully ignoring the rules of the system might face unpleasant consequences, such as being taken for a boor or a provocateur, and ruin their chances at participating in normal social life.
    The reason you’re getting nowhere with this, Maroe-Lucie, is because no one is suggesting taking such a course of action.
    This is not quite the same situation as in French, where everyone over the age of six or seven knows how to use tu or vous depending on the person addressed.
    Yes, but you may have misunderstood my point, which was not about the similarities of the two languages.

  105. bulbul doesn’t know any languages – he told me so himself.
    I’m not sure I did explicitly, but it’s true. I can read texts in some of them, watch movies or tv shows in some of them and there are some I can even use to conduct a conversation while also integrating appropriate historical and cultural references. But I really don’t know what it means “to know a language” and frankly, it does sound a bit presumptuous or even arrogant.
    One of the more unusual items in my library is an essay in Afrikaans by a South African linguist (sorry, bad with names) on Afrikaans language policy. In the introduction, he describes people’s reactions to him identifying himself as a ‘taalkundige’, i.e. a linguist. They essentially fall into three categories:
    1. Oh, great, we just had a discussion in the office about whether Minister should be capitalized or not. So?
    2. A linguist, eh? I guess should watch what I say from now on.
    3. Wow, a linguist. How many languages do you know?
    I don’t remember what his answers to the first two were. But the third one was “Geen een nie.” = “Not one.” So there.

  106. SnowLeopard says:

    For non-linguists, the automatic assumptions seem to be (1) if you’ve studied a language, you’re fluent; and (2) if you’re studying a language, you have some fundamental but non-obvious connection to the group in question. They study my face for a while, get nowhere, and finally ask why I’m studying [fill in the blank]. My stock responses of “because it’s like candy”, “it’s relaxing”, and “it takes the edge off” generally elict a nervous laugh, and then the person slowly backs away.

  107. (2) if you’re studying a language, you have some fundamental but non-obvious connection to the group in question
    And thus every Arabist is truly fucked. A friend and classmate of mine was interviewed for the public radio. It was supposed to be his take on the Gaza situation, but about two-thirds of the interview consisted of the interviewer’s attempts to find that fundamental but non-obvious connection. In our neck of the woods, that usually includes questions like “So you are fascinated by that culture, right”?
    The remaining questions were of the “And so Arab countries like Iran…”-type.

  108. marie-lucie says:

    In my case it is usually “How many languages do you speak?” My answer is “it depends what you mean by speak”. Linguists learn bits and pieces about a great many languages, but those are rarely useful for actual communication. Unfortunately I am not as much of a polyglot as some of the people here.
    AJP: I am sorry that we seem to be constantly misunderstanding each other.

  109. “I’m enthusiastic about clitorectomy, Bob, and you really can’t find much of that outside the Arab aorld.”

  110. “I’m enthusiastic about clitorectomy, Bob, and you really can’t find much of that outside the Arab aorld.”

  111. AJP Crown says:

    I’d try Somalia if it’s really a possibility for you, John.

  112. From polyglottery to clitorectomy in 101 posts. I bow to your skills, gentlemen.

  113. You won’t find much of that (clitorectomies) in the Arab world either. It’s really a North African practice, not originally Islamic and definitely not Arabic. It’s most common in Egypt, Somalia and Sudan. I believe it’s pretty much unknown in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

  114. AJP Crown says:

    Age sixty is later than normal, from what I understand.

  115. marie-lucie says:

    (Arabic habibi ~ habibti, where -t- marks the feminine))
    It would be interesting to know if languages in the same family like Hebrew or Aramaic have the same forms.
    Hebrew for “my love”:
    woman to man: ahuvi; man to woman: ahuvati
    The gender marker is for the possessed noun, not the possessor.

  116. the possessed noun, not the possessor

    When I sez “my love”, aint a noun I mean, it’s a man. An’ when a man sez that to me, then he sure don’t possess me already – I mean, I only just met the guy!

  117. marie-lucie
    حب Arabic “hobe” like or love (Arabic doesn’t have “v”)
    ah’na aheb’ shai I like tea.
    ah’na beheb’ik I love you. (feminine object)
    ahna behebek I love you. (masculine object)
    There is also a rural/slang/ pronunciation behebich, behebetch, as far as I can tell the masculine/feminine pronunciation is practically identical.
    (All Jordanian Arabic, not MSA.)
    Clitorectomies
    I never heard of the practice in Jordan, although I did hear some things about plucking pubic hair. I read there is an Egyptian tribe that practices it near Aqaba on the Red Sea, but when they migrate to Amman they drop the practice. JE might try Dahab, Egypt. It’s on the Red Sea in Sinai; I had a rather interesting conversation there about the practice. Who is Bob and why is he collecting this information?
    [Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: weьcam][I don't even want to know.]

  118. David Marjanović says:

    In the introduction, he describes people’s reactions to him identifying himself as a ‘taalkundige’, i.e. a linguist. [...]
    3. Wow, a linguist. How many languages do you know?

    Not that I knew any Afrikaans, but I bet that -kundige part literally means he’s knowledgeable about language(s) and thus openly invites reaction number 3.

  119. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, and… clitoridectomy. Clitoris, clitoridis, clitoridi, clitoridem, clitoride.

  120. marie-lucie says:

    Some time ago I read a book by a female gynecologist. She described having breakfast at a conference with four or five male surgeons, one of whom specialized in sex change operations. As he went on at length about how to transform male appendages into something resembling the female equivalent, none of the other male doctors was able to finish his breakfast, while the female one listened with interest with no lack of appetite. I am beginning to feel like the male doctors at that breakfast.

  121. For those who have already eaten, here are more words for (FGM) Female Genital Mutilation in even more languages from the World Health Organization.
    I’m afraid I’m a bit queasy about sex change operations too, but at least they’re voluntary and have the goal of trying to restore wholeness to someone who perceives themself as not being whole.

  122. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I learned Arabic for nothing!

  123. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I learned Arabic for nothing!

  124. JE, maybe you better tell us what this is all about. If your imaginary friends can’t straighten out, who can? We promise not to laugh.

  125. Edward Clayton Rowe says:

    My old roomie was a polyglot. He usually acquired new languages by comparing Bible verses. Oddly enough, he never to my knowledge attempted Hebrew or Greek. His mother seems to think he was autistic.

Speak Your Mind

*