Joe Moran on Sentences.

Joe Moran is generally a good and thought-provoking read; I’ve quoted him here more than once. I just came across an essay he published last year called “Good Sentences Are Why We Read” (an excerpt from his book First You Write a Sentence); it’s something of a jumble, beginning in a fairly rote way (“No one can agree on what a sentence is. The safest definition is typographic”) and going on to more interesting material that involves quoting lots of other writers:

A sentence can be a single word, or it can stretch into infinity, because more words can be piled on to a main clause for ever. The Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal wrote a whole novel (Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age) containing just one sentence. But he said that his comic sensibility was shaped by a short one he once read on a dry cleaner’s receipt: Some stains can be removed only by the destruction of the material itself.

Marcel Proust, who in The Captive wrote a 447-word sentence about a sofa, said that he wanted to “weave these long silks as I spin them” and to “encircle the truth with a single—even if long and sinuous—stroke.” For Proust, a sentence traced an unbroken line of thought. Cutting it in two broke the line. Depending on its line of thought, a sentence can be a tiny shard of sense or a Proustian demi-world, brought to life and lit up with words.

This next bit is intriguing, but I’m not sure how much to take seriously and how much is the Higher Thumb-Sucking:

Scientists at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kraków analyzed more than a hundred classic works by authors such as Dickens, Joyce and Beckett, and found that the sentences behaved like a mathematical multifractal: a structure whose smallest part resembles its whole. The best writing is self-consistent. It sounds as if it comes from the same breathing body standing in the same place, rather as wine from a certain terroir is said to have, from its climate and soil, a taste irreplicable anywhere else. What special terroir makes a piece of writing irreplicable? Its sentences.

(I’m not fond of “irreplicable” — it gets a few other Google Books hits, but I fail to see how it’s in any way preferable to irreplaceable, which is actually in dictionaries. [N.b.: There is a difference in meaning, as commenters explain below. I still don’t like it.]) There’s some more good stuff in there, along with filler (“Rhythm holds meaning”) and utter tosh (“Bad grammar is usually a sign of something deeper amiss with the rhythm”), but I want to focus on that “447-word sentence about a sofa.” You can see the sentence about halfway down Nathan Brixius’s page (“A sofa that had risen up from dreamland…”) and the original French here (“Canapé surgi du rêve…”), but why pick on that one? It’s only Proust’s third longest! The longest, 958 words according to Brixius, is from Cities of the Plain I and begins “Their honour precarious, their liberty provisional…”; you can see the French here (“Sans honneur que précaire, sans liberté que provisoire…”), and I note that it’s only 858 mots in French, that succinct tongue. (We discussed long sentences back in 2016.)

Comments

  1. I forgot to say that I thoroughly agree with him on this: “However compelling the subject of a book might be, I find it hard to carry on reading if its sentences are boring.”

  2. (I’m not fond of “irreplicable” — it gets a few other Google Books hits, but I fail to see how it’s in any way preferable to irreplaceable, which is actually in dictionaries.)

    irreplicable and irreplaceable mean different things. Unable to be replicated vs unable to be replaced. Not the same.

    And some of those Google hits for irreplicable are dictionaries, so some dictionaries have it.

  3. I believe Georges Perec’s The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise is one run-on sentence, maddeningly repetitive, irresistible, and hilarious. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t stop.

  4. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Irreplicable should mean something a bit different – that if someone else does the same things, they don’t get the same results*. You could theoretically be replaced by an equally talented writer with a scarf, and a popular language blog carry on, but that person would be unlikely to exactly replicate your style.

    (*I’m quite good at producing computer errors like that, and then they write something like ‘can’t be replicated’ in the report and send you away.)

  5. irreplicable and irreplaceable mean different things. Unable to be replicated vs unable to be replaced. Not the same.

    And some of those Google hits for irreplicable are dictionaries, so some dictionaries have it.

    Oh, all right. I suppose. But I still don’t like it.

  6. Saying something is “multifractal” makes it sound like it is extra fractal, but it actually less fractal than a basic fractal, since there is not a single scaling law that describes a system’s behavior at all scales. That any given author’s sentence structures are statistically multifractal is about the most banal hypothesis possible. The use of “self-consistent” also seems strange—as if Moran came across the term “self-similar” used to describe fractals, but then couldn’t remember it when it came time to write his essay and erroneously substituted in a more common lexeme.

  7. I’m not fond of “irreplicable” — it gets a few other Google Books hits, but I fail to see how it’s in any way preferable to irreplaceable, which is actually in dictionaries.

    I’ll beg to differ. Replacing something and replicating it aren’t usually the same idea at all. Replace implies substituting one thing for another while replicate implies making an exact copy or getting the same result. Since wine-making is a process akin to a recipe or an experiment, it makes far more sense to talk about “replicating” a terroir than “replacing” it. Ergo, “irreplicable.”

    If irreplicable doesn’t show up in most dictionaries, it ought to. I approve. But, if I had to substitute another word, I’d use “inimitable,” certainly not “irreplaceable.”

  8. Well, if you get scientists at the Institute of Nuclear Physics analyze anything, you should be grateful if they come back with fractals, enven if multi. They might instead find an exponential explosion.

  9. John Emerson says:

    When I was studying German I read Kleist, and the first sentence of one of his stories was a page long. I ended up photocopying the page and color coding complex and compound subjects, verbs and drawing arrows
    from modifiers to modifiers half a page apart, etc. Fun, but at that stage I wasn’t exactly reading.

  10. No! No! Not the… multifractal bomb!

  11. John Emerson says:

    “Unreproduceable”

  12. i have a soft spot for “irreproducible”, which seems like the same thing (paging Reviewer Two?)…

    and there’s a gertrude stein pronouncement on sentences hovering just below my memory… i think it’s something about paragraphs being the meaningful unit of thought, but i can’t quite get it to re-emerge. (personally, i don’t think anyone talks in prose, so lines & stanzas are more helpful units than sentences or paragraphs – but we’re stuck writing in it so /shrug/)

  13. John Emerson says:

    “from modifiers to modifieds”

    “compound and complex subjects, verbs, and objects”

    We regret the error(s).

  14. i have a soft spot for “irreproducible”, which seems like the same thing

    Yes, of course — that’s the replacement I was looking for!

  15. John Cowan says:

    From the writer’s room on a comedy program:

    “Who was Goethe?”

    Silence.

    “Who was Schiller?”

    Silence.

    “Who was Kleist?”

    Wearily: “The Chinese Messiah.”

    (I spent seven hours on a train re-delivering my grandson to his family and returning home today.)

  16. When I was growing up I knew only about field marshal von Kleist, who took Rostov and commanded German troops in the Caucasus.

    He was extradited to the USSR, convicted of war crimes and died in Soviet prison in 1954.

    Learned about his literary ancestor much later.

  17. “Who was Goethe?”

    Silence.

    There is an unconfirmed (by me) anecdote that the presidential campaign of George Bush père got in touch with Goethe Institute to organize a meeting between two great men.

  18. Speaking as someone who admittedly has an amazing talent for turning out poorly written sentences, I found Moran’s prose very off-putting. He seemed very enthusiastic about something he couldn’t even define. I kept looking at what he was saying and thinking: “Was that a good sentence, or just a flashy, superficially attractive thought?” The latter, I decided half way through.

  19. Pronouncing a sentence on a sentence is a sometime thing.

  20. He seemed very enthusiastic about something he couldn’t even define.

    I know. I guess I just enjoy enthusiasm.

  21. J.W. Brewer says:

    Turns out there’s actually a whole article trying to assess the plausibility of attributing the “Chinese messiah” crack to H.P. Mencken versus F.P. Adams. No doubt there are additional possibilities. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26484789?seq=1

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    Just got round to reading the Moran piece:

    A sentence is the largest domain over which the rules of grammar have dominion

    Nope. Not in English, nor in any language that I know of, not by any accepted definition of “sentence.” I wonder where he got that from? It doesn’t look like a sort of Strunk-and-White-y thing.

  23. Stu Clayton says:

    Well, it’s true when you disregard pronoun trouble, tense inductance and suchlike.

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    Quite.

  25. No doubt there are additional possibilities. — that JSTOR article favours Adams. It’s the kind of weak quip that doesn’t get immortalised unless someone famous makes it, like “yes, they have more money”. And unlike the obviously synthetic Joyce/Goethe story.

  26. David Eddyshaw says:

    the sentences behaved like a mathematical multifractal: a structure whose smallest part resembles its whole

    Sentences are homoeomeric!
    Take that, Merge!

  27. @Y: yes, exactly! JIR really should publish an annual Proceedings of the Languagehattery…

  28. David Marjanović says:

    For Proust, a sentence traced an unbroken line of thought. Cutting it in two broke the line.

    Proust actually thought in lines?!? I think in trees and then struggle to represent them in a linear way – spoken or written. In speaking in particular, I often have to back up and start a new sentence.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think in trees

    I’m impressed. My own thoughts arise as a sort of unmotivated flotsam on the surface of an unknown subconscious ocean, and I then have to string them retrospectively into some sort of order to make it appear that some kind of logical process was involved in their creation.

    (This may have been apparent without my needing to point it out.)

  30. David Marjanović says:

    Well, by the time I’ve got it all in words, it’s a tree. It may take a while to grow such a tree.

  31. A sentence is the largest domain over which the rules of grammar have dominion

    Is this an uninformed attempt to elaborate the ‘sentence expresses a complete thought’ formulation?

    My own thoughts arise as a sort of unmotivated flotsam

    Mine are more like jetsam.

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    Jetsam! We used to dream of ‘aving thoughts like jetsam. We were lucky to ‘ave any thoughts at all!
    We used to ‘ave to borrow our thoughts from man down t’road, and if we din’t give ’em back by Friday there were ‘ell to pay.

  33. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @DE, that’s language as an emergent property, quite etymologically.

  34. There is simply no word that can replace irreplicable in meaning, rhythm, and tone. And its perfectly splendid!

  35. When I was studying German I read Kleist, and the first sentence of one of his stories was a page long. I ended up photocopying the page and color coding complex and compound subjects, verbs and drawing arrows
    from modifiers to modifiers half a page apart, etc. Fun, but at that stage I wasn’t exactly reading.

    I read a similar complaint recenly in a review in the TLS, with the reviewer and/or the author of the reviewed book complaining about Kleist’s allegedly long sentences and tangled syntax, and that statement puzzled me, as the Kleist I knew wrote in a perfectly clear and readable style (he was a professional journalist, after all). So I went and took two recent editions of Kleist’s stories (unmodernized spelling etc.), and found out that at least in the samples I took, my memory had been correct: Kleist’s sentences weren’t particularly long (for an author of the early 1800s), in fact my subjective impression was that they were considerably shorter than in Goethe’s or Schiller’s prose (I remember Arno Schmidt once scandalising the admirers of Goethe by pointing out that Goethe’s prose wasn’ t particularly good, stylistically). There was no trace of tangled syntax either (for that you have to read Hölderlin or Hegel). The TLS reviewer also repeated the strange claim that in German sentences the verb is supposedly always at the end, when in fact in German main clauses part of the predicate (the finite verb form) is always in the second place. To me all these complaints showed only one thing: these supposed experts in judging Kleist’s prose didn’t really know German. And of course, Kleist (or any other 18th or 19th century author) shouldn’t be read when you are still studying the language. The difference between 19th and 21st century usage is much bigger in literary German than in English. And if you want to complain about overly long German sentences, read Thomas Mann, or even better, Hermann Broch’s Tod des Vergil. But Broch was influenced by Joyce, he got the idea for his long sentences from the Penelope chapter in Ulysses..

  36. David Marjanović says:

    The difference between 19th and 21st century usage is much bigger in literary German than in English.

    Let me just emphasize that.

  37. In the TLS, I found Beyond reason; Kleist’s modern eye by Michael Lipkin on 9 October but failed to find any mention of verb placement. He did, however, mention “loping sentences and tangled syntax”. Is this the article?

    I read Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts (Eichendorff) in first year university, as well as Das Amulett (Meyer) and Mario und der Zauberer (Mann). In my foggy memory, I recall that none seemed particularly easy… They were, however, far easier for me then than reading Mongolian literature now.

    @ davidly

    On the other hand, “there is simply no word that can replicate irreplaceable in meaning, rhythm, and tone”.

  38. When I was a teacher and assigned reading, some would read and discuss, but occasionally a student would ask “What are the three things I should get from reading this?” As if I could answer “Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with a lead pipe.”

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    What are the three things I should get from reading this?

    It’s the the which is particularly disturbing there. Who has been poisoning the minds of the young with the extraordinary idea that there are precisely three things you should get from any text? (And how can they be kept away from children?)

  40. @bathrobe

    No it was not the Lipkin article. I think it was in the In Brief section at the back, and probably in an older issue as I am a couple of years behind in my reading of the TLS.

  41. I am a couple of years behind in my reading of the TLS.

    Comrade! I’m looking fondly at my new issues as they arrive and thinking “I’ll enjoy you in 2022.”

  42. John Emerson says:

    Ulr: I was neither complaining nor comparing Kleist to other German writers. I love Kleist, but the particular page-long sentence was a damn long compared to almost anything else I read, and at my level of proficiency hard to read, but decoding it was a good exercise. In general I think that language learners should practice reading on texts that are worth reading rather than on texts cooked up for students.

  43. John Emerson says:

    But during my studies, I found Zarathustra wonderful for short sentences. But unfortunately I ended up not liking Zarathustra much, though I love some of Nietzsche’s earlier things.

  44. My first German reader (1965) was something called Lebendige Literatur that seemed to be heavy on stories about WWII trauma.

  45. John Emerson says:

    More specifically. Zarathustra always made me think of Mr. Natural.

  46. David Eddyshaw says:

    According to Wkipedia:

    Crumb has acknowledged that one inspiration for Mr. Natural was a character called The Little Hitchhiker from a comic strip called The Squirrel Cage by Gene Ahern

    Truly, All This is That.
    All Threads are One.

  47. Gene Ahern’s First Squirrel Cages and the Birth of the Little Hitchhiker (1936):

    The Nut Brothers (Ches and Wal) lived a delightfully surreal world that changed from panel to panel as they spouted their jokey vaudeville patter. In one panel, a character might walk on water in canoe-shaped shoes, in the next he might poke his head from a tipi, and in the next, he might straddle his cohort wearing a large coat to appear to be a very tall man (but he’s losing his balance, so he leans back on a unicycle).

    Say, doesn’t that bearded fellow sticking his head in the window in the first panel of the second Nut Brothers example above look a little familiar? In fact, the bearded fellow in the silly skimmer who eventually came to be known as “the little hitchhiker” in The Squirrel Cage made several early appearances in Ahern’s earlier works. Apparently, Ahern found weird hats and disproportionate white beards to be funny stuff, and rightfully so!

    Some good strips there.

  48. John Emerson says:

    You guys can speculate all you want, but really it was Zarathustra.

  49. David Eddyshaw says:

    I wouldn’t dispute that at all. The Little Hitchhiker was Zarathustra.
    (In fact, it’s one of those things that, once it’s been pointed out, you realise it should have been obvious all along.)

  50. David Marjanović says:

    It’s the the which is particularly disturbing there. Who has been poisoning the minds of the young with the extraordinary idea that there are precisely three things you should get from any text? (And how can they be kept away from children?)

    …let me emphasize that, too.

  51. My first German reader (1965) was something called Lebendige Literatur that seemed to be heavy on stories about WWII trauma.
    Yes, that was the kind of things serious German writers wrote about in the late 40s and the 50s. I assume it had several pieces by Wolfgang Borchert?

  52. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hans
    https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Das_Brot
    The article mentions the classification “Trümmerliteratur” or “literature of rubble”. I suppose this literature arises from broadly similar environmental conditions to those Harold Pinter experienced growing up.

  53. I can’t say much about Harold Pinter, but Trümmerliteratur refers to its topics both in a literal way (a bombed-out Germany populated by hungry people traumatised by the war) and metaphorically to a world where social norms, moral and spiritual certainties had been destroyed by Nazism and the war, in which literature had to find its place.
    “Das Brot” is one of Borchert’s best-known works, widely anthologised; I remember reading it at school (it was part of our German literature reader) and it made a big impression on me.

  54. I assume it had several pieces by Wolfgang Borchert?

    Yes, at least one, “Draußen vor der Tür.”

  55. I almost expected that, it’s the work that made him famous (sadly, he couldn’t enjoy his fame, he died young, shortly before the play was performed for the first time).

  56. John Cowan says:

    I wouldn’t dispute that at all. The Little Hitchhiker was Zarathustra.

    May we infer from this a certain degree of Parsi influence among the Hičajqri?

  57. jack morava says:

    Back to the sentence:

    I recall a conversation some years ago with a mathematical colleague (hi Chariya) who mentioned her work on a Royal Commission to develop standards for Scientific Thai. Interested, I asked about their conclusions. We disbanded, she said; Thai is not a scientific language. How can you say that I said, everyone knows anything you can say in one language can be understood, maybe using circumlocutions, yadda yadda. You don’t understand, she said. In Thai we don’t have the period.

    I have since been told that many (South/East?) Asian languages are usefully understood as having a kind of topic/comment structure, in which something is sort of riffed upon, as opposed to an interpretation in terms of propositions. This reminds me of a garbled version of the Wittgenstein’s poker anecdote, which recounts an argument between Bertrand Russel and LW that nearly came to blows, about the meaning of the term `proposition’; the claim being that Russel held a proposition to be, well, a proposition; whereas for Wittgenstein it was something written on a little piece of paper…

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    May we infer from this a certain degree of Parsi influence among the Hičajqri?

    Of course, although largely mediated through Syriac, as you’d expect.

  59. I know nothing about Thai, but “topic/comment structures” are common in Asia. Japanese has a topic/comment structure, as does Chinese. This doesn’t appear to have hindered their efforts to write about science.

    As for not having the period, I also find that mystifying. Chinese uses periods (at least now it does), but Chinese sentences could be regarded as shorter sentences run together, separated by commas. Japanese heavily features ‘cosubordination’, whereby sentences are also run together, joined by coordinating converbs (although they’re not called that in Japanese). Mongolian is similar, although Mongolian typically doesn’t use a topic/comment structure; subjects are grammatically quite salient.

    So I’m really not sure what the problem is.

  60. David Eddyshaw says:

    As “doesn’t have the period” makes no sense at all, I presume what was meant was something like “can’t express (e.g. logical) propositions unambiguously, because Thai only has topic-comment structures.”

    Chapter 30 (“Discourse”) of “A Reference Grammar of Thai”, Iwasaki and Ingkaphirom, CUP, 2005, goes into topic constructions and numerous different topic markers; it does indeed seem to be the case that like Japanese and Chinese, Thai likes topic-comment structures particularly.

    However, on p221 of Chapter 17 (“Copulative sentences”), I see

    “But she’s a calm person.”

    And on p223:

    “The boiling point of water is 100 degrees.”
    “The rector of Thammasat University is Dr Suchart.”

    There seems to be no suggestion that the Thai versions of these sentences are in any way ambiguous.

    I suspect that the Royal Commission for developing scientific standards for Thai may have had lots of other scientists but rather too few linguists.

  61. jack morava says:

    Before I posted that note [all that I know of Thai comes by word of mouth from friends] I tried to do due dilitgence, found this

    Section Two – Punctuation
    There is no punctuation in Thai, including full stops.
    Brackets, speech marks and exclamation marks can be used in the same way as in English.

    at https://www.translationdirectory.com/article937.htm This

    http://jseals.org/seals23/hoonchamlong2013punctuationp.pdf

    is a little more detailed. I once attended a conference celebrating the 500th anniversary of the translation of Euclid into Chinese, by one of Matteo Ricci’s students…

  62. The Translation Directory says:

    • Thai words are written consecutively without spaces until the end of a sentence.
    • Thai uses spacing as a separator without the commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, em-dashes, etc., that English uses.
    • There are no full stops at the end of sentences.
    • There are no capital letters in Thai.

    So spaces are used instead of full stops / periods and other punctuation. However, the second reference says: space may be used to separate words in lists, before and after numbers, clauses or sentences but can be random.

    The illustrative example of what English would look like if written in Thai is:

    howtofryanegg
    overmediumheat warmasmallamountofoilorbutter inasmallskillet crackanegginto thepanandcookuntilthewhiteappearssolid about 3 to 4 minutes

    So the absence of full stops and word spacing isn’t necessarily a problem. There is no word spacing in modern Chinese or Japanese but they do fine. The point is, though, if people don’t have any trouble reading ordinary Thai, why should scientific Thai be any different?

    Since you were speaking only from memory and lack a deep knowledge of Thai it’s hard to know from your comment what the person meant. This is a common problem when discussing language. You can’t always tell what the real problem is from a vague description, and even the vague description might be misleading. (It also depends on the linguistic professionalism of the speaker.)

  63. David Eddyshaw says:

    There were no capital letters or spaces in Euclid’s original text either.

    I suppose it’s conceivable that jack morava’s friend really did mean that Thai was incapable of expressing science because it had no punctuation (I had unthinkingly discounted this possibility as too ludicrous.) If the Royal Commission had absolutely no linguists at all involved, maybe even that interpretation is possible. Sadly, there is no reason to suppose that your average Thai intellectual knows anything more about basic linguistics than your average American or British [add arbitrary further nationalities to taste] intellectual.

    To be fair, creating a scientific technical vocabulary and style de novo is no mean task. You need real experts, both in linguistics and in the technical fields involved, and even then it’s hard.

  64. The second paper (from jseals.org) also has this:

    Challenges for L2 learners in learning to read Thai

    Lower level:
     learn to “decode” or “decipher” unfamiliar scripts
     learn to identify syllable boundary
    Higher level
     learn to identify word boundary and word meaning
     learn to identify clause/sentence boundary
     Learn to identify “zero” pronouns and other ellipsis

    Perhaps the fact that Thai is “a ‘pro-drop’ language, involving ‘dominance of zero anaphora in inter- and intra-sentential reference'”, and is also a “’discourse-oriented’ language”, would hinder the rendering of Western-style scientific prose in Thai.

    Edit: there is no reason to suppose that your average Thai intellectual knows anything more about basic linguistics than your average American or British

    For a moment I thought the Thai speaker was more sophisticated than you are suggesting because he/she referred to “topic/comment structure”. Then I realised it was jack morava who brought that up, not the Thai speaker. So it really does sound like the person in question was stuck at the level of “Thai doesn’t even have full stops! What can you do with a language like that?”

  65. David Eddyshaw says:

    [even then it’s hard] … and it might even turn out to be the case that everybody finally decided that the game wasn’t worth the candle, especially if practically everybody already working the the technical fields in question already used (say) English textbooks, had attended lectures in English at university, and sat their exams in English.

    Many parts of the world have already come to this conclusion, after all. And if asked to explain it, it would be natural enough to bloviate a bit about the patrii sermonis egestas rather than fess up to the boring and somewhat politically inexpedient explanation that everyone had just decided it was a waste of effort.

    In fact, this is probably the default case: what needs a particular explanation is why in some cases people have thought it worth the considerable effort of creating a whole new technical style rather than relying on a well-known foreign language. And how it managed to catch on …

  66. In the case of East Asia, it was part of a desperate attempt to preserve their countries from domination by the Western colonial powers by “catching up” and so preserving their independence. Since they had literate traditions, it was a matter of “updating” them, not creating them from scratch. A lot of agonising went into this, of course, and at one stage, for instance, it was suggested that Japan should drop Japanese and adopt English…

    But by a similar imperative to that of every little ethnic group in Europe (Latvians, Lithuanians, Greeks, Turks, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes even) wanting to have its own self-sufficient national language, countries in East Asia wanted to build up their ability to deal with the West from a position of strength and equality. (I’m sure the Russians saw it the same way…) China is proof that Western technology can be incorporated into a nation’s culture without sacrificing the entire tradition.

    (I think the Chinese are much prouder than the Thais, and I suspect Chinese look down on Thailand as an easy-going sort of place that, unlike China, isn’t going anywhere. Always semi-colonial and not in the forefront of world domination… ahem)

    In some parts of Africa that lacked strongly developed literate traditions and were under the colonial heel, it would have been much harder to do this. Better to adopt the colonial language instead.

  67. patrii sermonis egestas ‘native language law enforcement’, per lovable old GT.

  68. David Eddyshaw says:

    Well, it beats foreign language law enforcement. At least you know what they’re charging you with.

    It seems reasonable to assume that all Hatters are familiar with Lucretius. We are not barbarians, after all. We have all read the standards.

  69. John Cowan says:

    Reasonable it may be, but right it is not. And a barbarian I am.

  70. Stu Clayton says:

    The productions of German old-philololology often dominate Google search results – but that may be due to my browser language settings. I found nothing but a book offered by all the online sellers – as if L. had written a blockbuster with the title Patrii sermonis egestas.

    Turns out this is by one Thorsten Fögen (* 1971), a mere highschool teacher (Hochschullehrer) !

    Anyway the German WiPe article on L. explains what’s behind the three words. Nice and succinct.

    There’s a pleasant piece of puzzlement in the same article:

    # Hieronymus überliefert zudem die legendenhafte Geschichte, dass Lukrez nach der Einnahme eines Liebestranks wahnsinnig geworden sei und schließlich Selbstmord begangen habe. In lichten Momenten (per intervalla insaniae) habe er sein Lehrgedicht verfasst. #

    Looks like that might mean “in intervals of insanity” (in phases/bouts of), but it means “in intervals [between the] insanity”. Isn’t that cute ! As if “intervals” meant what it says, instead of how I am accustomed to understand it !

  71. Stu Clayton says:

    My notion of “intervals” is, I suspect, heavily influenced by the likes of (0,1]. Here the gaps are reified, not regarded as breaks in a res (the real line). But it’s just a case of indicating (directing attention to) one side of the distinction instead of the other.

  72. David Eddyshaw says:

    but right it is not

    Peccavi …

    OK: patrii sermonis egestas = “poverty of our native language.”
    It comes up in the context where the Mighty L is complaining that Latin hasn’t got a word for homoeomeria; he then goes on to delight the hearts of all anti-Sapir-Whorfists by explaining the concept quite handily in Latin hexameters:

    Nunc et Anaxagorae scrutemur homoeomerian
    quam Grai memorant nec nostra dicere lingua
    concedit nobis patrii sermonis egestas,
    sed tamen ipsam rem facilest exponere verbis …

    “Next let’s go into Anaxagoras’ ‘homoeomeria’, as the Greeks call it; the limitations of our mother tongue leave us without a word for it. Still, it’s not hard to explain the actual meaning …”

    De Rerum Natura I:830

  73. Stu Clayton says:

    And yet words are so useful in situations where one doesn’t care to explain the “actual meaning”, aka is unable to do so. Having a word for something is just as liable to produce misunderstanding as having none. Caveant lectores auditoresque, I always say.

  74. jack morava says:

    “I recall a conversation some years ago with a mathematical colleague…”

    My `language consultant’ is a native Thai speaker, a very sharp-eyed & eared 1988 algebraic topology PhD and a sophisticated lady. The second [jseals.org] paper I cited says

    1917 King Rama VI advocated the use of the new punctuation as detailed in 1900 book, proposed spacing between words
    1981 The Royal Institute set up a committee to review punctuation in Thai
    1987 RI published a punctuation guideline

    which fits the timeline of my memory of the reported conversation.

    I think the takeaway is that punctuation is a matter of culture, not language, as is the notion of a `proposition’ or `assertion’; much like the notion of number, cf the Pirah\~a. Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pm-notation/

    has a very elegant notational system

    ” ., :, :., :: , etc. are dots used for delimiting punctuation; in contemporary logic, we use ( ), [ ], { }, etc.”

    for bracketing, because they need it. I am told that classical Greek is remarkable for its attention to details of action; many North American languages (I am also told) have sophisticated systems to indicate certainty (I saw it with my own eyes, my auntie told me…) of knowledge, etc. Difrint strokes for difrint folx.

  75. David Eddyshaw says:

    I don’t think there are any languages or cultures in which you can’t express an assertion or state a proposition. Not human ones, anyhow.

  76. sophisticated systems to indicate certainty

    In linguistics, evidentiality[1][2] is, broadly, the indication of the nature of evidence for a given statement; that is, whether evidence exists for the statement and if so, what kind. An evidential (also verificational or validational) is the particular grammatical element (affix, clitic, or particle) that indicates evidentiality. Languages with only a single evidential have had terms such as mediative, médiatif, médiaphorique, and indirective used instead of evidential. Evidential is a meaning of nature and statement that is whether evidence exists for the statement and what kind of evidence exists.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidentiality

  77. jack morava says:

    @David Eddyshaw:

    ” How can you say that I said, everyone knows anything you can say in one language can be understood, maybe using circumlocutions, yadda yadda.”

    I don’t mean to say that in some languages one can’t express an assertion or a proposition: rather, that some cultures have a mechanism for indicating that an utterance IS an assertion (or a proposition). This is perhaps reminiscent of legal systems (which, like scientific discourse, can have elaborate such systems) and can sometimes be seen to have been borrowed (in English from Norman French, in Swahili from Arabic…).

  78. jack morava says:

    PS:
    … at one point the hero Menelaus, husband of Helen of Troy, is telling us what he told Telemachus what he told Helen what he told Proteus what he told Eidothea the sea-nymph. There are details of the story told to Eidothea which he cannot tell to Proteus, just as he does not care to tell Helen all that he told Eidothea, and here he is telling it all to us (to us!) as he told it in Sparta to Telemachus, who, because Helen is listening close by, cannot be told everything, either. Quite literally, one finds oneself reading quotation marks more carefully than one reads the text. And then we discover that it isn’t Menelaus we’ve been listening to … but here I must send you to the text.

  79. John Cowan says:

    So the absence of full stops and word spacing isn’t necessarily a problem. There is no word spacing in modern Chinese or Japanese but they do fine.

    However, unlike most scriptio continua languages, Thai line breaks must fall at the end of a word. This means that in order to do automated line wrapping in Thai, a full morphological analyzer is needed, since there is no other way to tell what a “word” is. Chinese, on the other hand, can line-break anywhere that does not leave a left parenthesis (vel sim.) at the end of a line, nor a right parenthesis at the beginning.

    Always semi-colonial

    It must be hard to be anything else when you have never been colonized and have never been a colonizer. Thailand was a buffer state between British India and French Indochina, and so preserved a native administration and an independent foreign policy. (China was not colonized as a whole, but its coastal ports were.)

    the considerable effort of creating a whole new technical style

    English went through this in the 16C with the adoption of a lot of “ynkhorne termes”. It is mysterious why we don’t write “I obtestate you, I am so exolete I have nearly adnichilated myself”, as these words were in use at one point.

  80. OED:

    † obtestate, v.

    Etymology: < classical Latin obtestāt-, past participial stem (compare -ate suffix3) of obtestārī obtest v. Compare later testate v.

    Obsolete. rare.

    transitive. To call upon, beseech, esp. to call (God, etc.) to witness.
    In quot. 1553 the author is parodying excessively Latinate diction.

    1553 T. Wilson Arte of Rhetorique iii. f. 86v I..obtestate your sublimitee.
    1604 R. Cawdrey Table Alphabet. Obtestate, humble, to beseech, or to call to witnesse.
    1632 J. Vicars tr. Virgil XII Aeneids iv. 108 Readie to die, the Gods she obtestates [L. testatur moritura deos].

  81. † exolete, adj.

    Etymology: < Latin exolētus, past participle of exolēscĕre to grow up, grow out of use, < ex- (see ex- prefix1) + ol- to grow; compare adolēscĕre.

    Obsolete.

    a. That has gone out of use; disused, obsolete.
    1611 T. Coryate Crudities sig. P2ᵛ A Greeke inscription which I could not vnderstand by reason of the antiquity of those exolete letters.
    […]

    b. That has lost its virtue; effete, insipid.
    1657 R. Tomlinson tr. J. de Renou Medicinal Materials i, in Medicinal Dispensatory sig. Pp The vulgar Carpobalsame..being..faint, rancid, exolet.
    […]

    c. Of flowers: Faded.
    1727 N. Bailey Universal Etymol. Eng. Dict. II Exolete,..faded, or withered; as Flowers, &c.

  82. I leave “adnichilated” as an exercise for the reader.

  83. David Eddyshaw says:

    Easy. “Turned into a nich.”

  84. John Cowan says:

    I suppose it is pronounced “adnickelated”, but perhaps not.

  85. I dunno — the OED has it s.v. annihilate and both forms seem to alternate freely for a long time, so I’d guess (with no conviction, of course) that it might have been pronounced the same way, with the -ch- just another of those weird spellings everyone was used to.

  86. The translator of Perec’s How to Ask your Boss for a Raise made good use of circumperambulate, coined by his Latin master. It was just the word he needed, and happened to have it.

  87. A fine word indeed!

  88. a very sharp-eyed & eared 1988 algebraic topology PhD and a sophisticated lady.

    Yes, our doubts about the sophistication of your source were uncalled for and (unintentionally) insulting.

    Nevertheless, we are left clutching at the air when we read statements like “You don’t understand, she said. In Thai we don’t have the period”. Was she really identifying this as the sole source of confusion? Or was it just one glaring example of the difficulties of forcing Thai into the mould of Western scientific discourse? And there is no doubt that developing the resources of a language in a way that it can mirror Western scientific prose does involve creating a new mould or style for that language.

    Since Thai has already attempted to implement Western-style punctuation, one would think that one possible solution is to make the use of that punctuation de rigueur in scientific prose, just as mathematical notation is de rigueur in mathematics.

    Since she is an educated native speaker, she will be aware of the limitations of her own language in rendering scientific prose, even if she is not a linguist per se. There may indeed be insuperable obstacles to the development of a scientific style, possibly posed by tradition rather than linguistic facts (by which I mean the kind of hard-core linguistic phenomena that linguists deal in rather than issues of customs and culture). But from your brief description of what she said, and your own personal musings on “topic/comment structure”, I was frankly left scratching my head.

    @ John Cowan

    Yes, I am aware that Thailand was never colonised, which is why I wrote “semi-colonial”. However, the characterisation was ill-advised. China was indeed partly colonised. I was trying to capture a difference in attitudes. China is proud, ambitious, unhappy to be dominated, always striving to achieve its rightful position of centrality. Thailand, while successfully maintaining its independence, does not appear to be a place that is thirsting to achieve parity with the most powerful. “Japan as no. 1”, “China as no. 1”, maybe, but not “Thailand as no. 1”. This is probably a lazy characterisation, but I do suspect that this is how many Chinese see Thailand vis-à-vis their own country.

  89. I believe the Royal Comission was wrong, and I don’t think it is because there were no linguists in the comission:)
    There were some I think. It is because they are homines sapientes sapientes (sapientes…).

    It is usually possible to say to you colleague that what he is saying is wrong (or is nonsense) without implying that you are smarter or more experienced. With people who aren’t taking part in the conversation it is harder.

  90. Disbanding could be the right decision, though, just disbanding with recommendations. i don’t think that a comission can solve the problem.

  91. Trond Engen says:

    Bathrobe: There may indeed be insuperable obstacles to the development of a scientific style, possibly posed by tradition rather than linguistic facts (by which I mean the kind of hard-core linguistic phenomena that linguists deal in rather than issues of customs and culture).

    That’s more or less what I’ve been asking myself. It is, after all, a language that had the need to borrow the pronoun you to cut the cr… avoid the pitfalls. I’m especially intrigued by the native speaker opinion that it can’t be used for assertions. Does writing for, say, an adult audience in Thai force you into a register or a polite voice that can’t be used to pronounce assertively on a matter where you as an expert in the field are in a position to do so? Does the reader expect to be treated as an elder while the writer needs to adress the reader as a peer? If so, I’d be quite certain that it could be done, but it might take more authority than that of grad student to do so.

    I was frankly left scratching my head

    Thai is a left-scratching language.

  92. It would indeed require a superhuman level of creativity to render scientific prose into idiomatic, native-sounding non-European language X, but nobody actually did that. Everyone just clumsily translated European-language scientific prose into a stilted kind of X and declare the result the scientific register of X. The European languages themselves gained their formal register from badly translated Mediaeval Latin.

  93. David Marjanović says:

    Turns out this is by one Thorsten Fögen (* 1971), a mere highschool teacher (Hochschullehrer) !

    You’re kidding, right? Hochschule means “institution of tertiary education” – though not all of those are called Universität, most are. Fögen must be a professor.

  94. What minus273 said.

    Language and style are what you get used to. Developing a new style is a big job and is often a result of translationese (or translation, if you want to be more neutral). Jarring at first but becoming second nature to later generations.

  95. Everyone just clumsily translated European-language scientific prose into a stilted kind of X and declare the result the scientific register of X.

    Yes.

    Any such comission is solving a problem : “how we can create a new langauge without altering the old language”. It is a self-contradictory task.

  96. Trond Engen says:

    The Norwegian system, which is to a high degree based on the German, had three types of tertiary school: Universitet, the classic free education with (ideally) open classes, culminating in a degree of cand.-something or, if that wasn’t enough. dr.-something. The teachers had titles of professor, dosent, førsteamanuensis.
    Vitenskapelig høyskole, which perhaps could be translated as “academic college”. 4-5 year defined courses leading to a professional degree, There were four or five of these, each with its own field. The name of the final degrees varied between schools and over time, but eventually most came to involve the prefix sivil-, generalized from sivilingeniør. There were doctoral programs, and the teachers had the same titles as university staff. All of these, except Norges handelshøyskole are now merged into larger universities, and the degrees are now called “master”.
    Høyskole, roughly “college”, though most came about through the gradual academization of occupational schools. The teachers academies, first lærerskole, then lærerhøgskole, and the engineering schools, first høyere teknisk skole, then ingeniørhøgskole, were the largest constituents in this group, but there was also a set of new institutions established across the country in the sixties and seventies, distriktshøgskoler, usually one per fylke localized in smaller towns. Their fates have been very varied. A couple are still indeprendent institutions, most are merged into larger units that either have become universities or are on the brisk of doing so. Høyskoler didn’t have university titles. My father retired from Høgskolen i Bergen with the title of høgskolelektor.

    (Høy- and høg- used interchangeably on purpose. It’s Norwegian. Get used to it.)

  97. David Eddyshaw says:

    Høy- and høg- used interchangeably on purpose

    And whg not? It’s gour lanyuaye, after all.

  98. Stu Clayton says:

    It’s différant, that’s for sure.

    Derrida may have been “poisoned in the cradle by the dog biscuit of Norwegian orthography”.

  99. how we can create a new langauge without altering the old language

    I don’t think it’s necessarily seen that way. The issue is to create a new language within the framework of the old language. Change is inevitable, indeed often imperative, perhaps more than the culture involved originally contemplated.

    Some cultures/communities (European national languages, major East Asian languages) would see it as a grave affront to their honour, dignity, independence, and self-sufficiency if their language could not do this. Others are happy to delegate the task to a foreign language.

  100. her work on a Royal Commission to develop standards for Scientific Thai.

    What if she did not mean that you can’t speak about science in Thai, but only that standardization is pointless?

  101. jack morava says:

    “You don’t understand, she said. In Thai we don’t have the period”. Was she really identifying this as the sole source of confusion?”

    I apologize for lack of clarity. This thread originated in meditations on the sentence, and I interpreted my distinguished colleague as asserting that `In Thai we don’t have THE SENTENCE’.

    Many people in the sciences hold the charmingly unfashionable position that sentences and other meaningful utterances have `truth-values’, which can be evaluated in various possible worlds or contexts; it’s hard to do this if you can’t parse utterances reliably into `propositions’. This is a matter of style or register, I suppose; I wonder what Hemmingway would sound like, translated into Thai. In mathematics there is something called `Landau-styl’, which is very spare, and everything is labelled: definition, proposition, lemma, theorem. I haven’t found a very lucid description of this, but I did learn that (Edmund) Landau pioneered mathematical prose in the revival of Hebrew.

  102. In Thai we don’t have THE SENTENCE

    I’m curious about how Thai organises prose. Is it just interminable strings of nouns and verbs? Does it have adnominal clauses (relative clauses)? If if it does, how do people know whether a clause is modifying a noun or just ending an utterance?

    The sentence is a dodgy proposition in language, anyway. The old idea that the sentence is ‘a complete thought’ is nonsense. For most people, in writing a sentence is anything that ends with a full stop. But a lot of people don’t actually talk that way, and unsophisticated people will write prose exactly like that. Perhaps that’s how Thai people write….

  103. jack morava says:

    PS: from an obituary of Landau, by GH Hardy and H Heilbron

    Landau was the complete master of a most individual style, which it is easy to caricature (as some of his pupils sometimes did in an amusing way*), but whose merits are rare indeed. It has two variations, the “old Landau-style” … which sweeps on majestically without regard to space, and the “new Landau-style” of his post-war days, in which there is an incessant striving for compression. Each of these styles is a model of its kind. There are no mistakes—for Landau took endless trouble, and was one of the most accurate thinkers of his day — no ambiguities, and no omissions; the reader has no skeletons to fill, but is given every detail of every proof. He may, indeed, sometimes wish that a little more had been left to his imagination, since half the truth is often easier to picture vividly than the whole of it, and the very completeness of Landau’s presentation sometimes makes it difficult to grasp the “main idea”. But Landau would not, or could not, think or write vaguely, and a reader has to read as precisely and conscientiously as Landau wrote. If he will do so, and if he will then compare Landau’s discussion of a theorem with those of other writers, he will be astonished to find how often Landau has given him the shortest, the simplest, and in the long run the most illuminating proof.

    [This reminds me that mathematical prose, is (maybe like classical Chinese?) a written, not spoken, language.]

  104. ə de vivre says:

    I’m not sure why topic-comment structure is being used as an antonym of a proposition. When linguists talk about Japanese or Chinese being topic prominent, they usually mean that they have a consistent and more-or-less obligatory way of marking what the topic of a sentence is. In fact, the category “topic” is defined in terms of propositions (well, sentences, or the domain of a finite verb—but functionally they’re all pretty much equivalent), or rather, the relevant question is “is the topic of this sentence the same or different from the current topic of the discourse?”

    It would be very unsurprising if traditional Thai literate culture is poorly suited for writing texts in the style of contemporary scientific physics articles. That style is a collection of conventions that were developed in a specific place and time and have spread across the world for historically contingent reasons. It would be very surprising if Thai were consistently unable to unambiguously express propositions like “X has the quality Y.”

    Many Hatters, myself included, are or have been professionally involved in academic publishing in some capacity. That experience should give us a good idea of how many highly educated native English speakers have difficulty using their native language to express their ideas with minimal ambiguity (if a total lack of ambiguity is required for scientific prose, I’m afraid no human language is up to the task). The structural ambiguities in Thai are surely different than those in English, but that’s why it’s so hard to write good scientific prose—no matter what language you use, you have to thread the needle between making it look like human language while minimizing the ambiguities in the important parts of your argument.

  105. Many Hatters, myself included, are or have been professionally involved in academic publishing in some capacity. That experience should give us a good idea of how many highly educated native English speakers have difficulty using their native language to express their ideas with minimal ambiguity

    Amen.

  106. ə de vivre says:

    I’m not sure what it would look like for a language to be such that it would be unidiomatic to express simple propositions like “X is Y” or qualified ones like “When X happens, X is Z.” Functionally, these seem like the kinds of things that people universally need to express to each other. A language may express them in ways closer to “as for the topic X, that topic is Y”, or it may lack a single verb whose semantics line up well with “is,” but are Thais unable to warn each other “your house is on fire!” without resorting to clumsy circumlocution or hopeless ambiguity?

  107. jack morava says:

    @bathrobe: “The sentence is a dodgy proposition in language, anyway.”

    niinpä, as we say

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0229924/

    in Finnish. Thanks!

  108. That IMDb link went to

    Raid
    TV-14 | 8h 24min | Crime, Drama | TV Series (2000)
    A police official is assassinated by a sniper through a glass window, this action and its sub sequential investigation introduces us a slew of interesting characters and gets the whole story rolling.

    I’m not sure how that relates to anything.

  109. jack morava says:

    They say niinpä a lot: it seems to mean something like a very dry `indeed’. It’s a good series; I don’t mean to be a troll.

  110. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I am well able to imagine a language that does not have a copula, which means that a content verb heads all possible predicates. If we are discussing that.

    Cf E’.

  111. It’s a good series; I don’t mean to be a troll.

    I certainly didn’t think you were trolling, I just had no idea what the connection was. Thanks for explaining.

  112. How do English speakers express simplest ideas, e.g. “by me aches head”?

    I have a headache

    As it is news about “me”, they start with “I”, the topic, and there is a rule: a verb agrees to left (regardless of semantics).
    How do they reconcile these? They make “I” a virtual agent of have, and stuff the actual agent (A) and the verb (V) into a compound “headache”.

    Despite all this they are able to clearly express mathematical ideas.

    Just don’t tell that in “I am drasvi” and “drasvi is me” it is a subject at left:/

  113. Jack morava’s comments have been very stimulating. They have prompted an interesting discussion (even if I’m doing a fair bit of the discussing), but what is missing is certainty about what the exact issue was that your friend had with Thai as a “scientific language”. This is not their fault; it is almost totally due to a lack of knowledge of Thai in this community.

    It seems to come down to punctuation, but that only raises the question: how does Thai get by as a language for non-scientific academic purposes, or even just for writing newspaper articles?

    Chinese had similar problems to Thai, in particular a lack of punctuation. The Chinese response was to adopt Western-style punctuation, but even now they don’t use it the same as we do. Chinese sentences often read like a collection of short, distinct statements divided up by commas, with a full stop signifying the end of the string. I have a Chinese friend who thought she’d come up with the perfect solution for writing in English in a way that was more congenial for her: semicolons! Well, she didn’t use one or two semi-colons in a sentence; she used five or six. It didn’t work. But it was certainly a good illustration of the difference between punctuation in Chinese and punctuation in English. And, I might add, why the issue isn’t necessarily just one of “punctuation”. But due to lack of knowledge on our part, we still don’t know what that issue is.

  114. But seriously, I think copular constructions are not the place you should expect problems:

    They do not have an agent, and they do have a topic. Just call them topic-comment structures:/

    the category “topic” is defined in terms of propositions

    Yep.

  115. Young Chinese sometimes complain at capitalization too. Once such a question made me realize that I have no idea when and where this habit was picked. Quick googling didn’t help – I found no texts on history of capitalization. Some 3 hours with scans of manuscripts also weren’t enough.

  116. There is actually an article about Writing Scientific Research Articles in Thai and English: Similarities and Differences

    The article does not refer to any linguistic problems in writing scientifically in Thai (there are many examples of Thai sentences translated into English). However, it does bring up differences in the way Thai and English articles are written.

    I quote some of the conclusions:

    Discrepancies in structural organizations of articles in the two languages can be due to the scope of an individual study. As known, English is an international language being used around the world by both native and non-native speakers of English. Research articles published in English are thus of international interest. Meanwhile, research work published in Thai is geared towards Thai scientists. The topics of research studies are specifically contextualized in a Thai context, satisfying and fulfilling the local wisdom within expectations.

    Renowned scholars are obviously inclined to publish their work in international journals, rather than local ones due to the prestige and recognition earned in return. Therefore, publishing studies in Thai journals is likely to be a venue for novice scholars due to relatively more relaxed or less demanding criterion in evaluating manuscripts.

    For instance, in the Results section, Thai articles do not frequently restate procedural issues … nor comment results … (only 22.22% [each]) and do not provide justifications for the decision made. Given the small scale and scope of the studies presented in Thai articles that entail a small number of objectives, research questions, or hypotheses addressed, these details are not restated. Similarly, no justification of selecting one procedure is needed because such a choice is more or less established in the field.

    In contrast, the articles published in English journals always addressed the objectives of the study in the Methods section (…100%). In the Results section, to remind readers of those multiple objectives, they are frequently restated (…95.06%). Similarly, justifications for procedures (…91.01%) are provided to assure each step of the entire procedures was carefully planned and implemented. In short, it is very likely that the scope of the study being presented in the two languages contributes to distinct discrepancies in the use of certain moves.

    Interestingly, the Thai articles prefer not to report findings in Introductions but to state the implications of the study. This proclivity can be explained by the research scenario in Thailand that tends to promote applied research rather than basic research. Consequently, although the implications of biochemistry research is imminent, Thai biochemists feel obliged to make explicit statements claiming the values of the study to comply with the national policy of Thailand.

    This phenomenon [of criticising flaws in earlier work] can be explained by the “critique culture” which is deeply rooted in the Western world. In academia, particularly in an English-speaking scientific community, an individual scientist’s critical comments and evaluations are regarded pivotal, not only providing the driving forces for the progress of the discipline but also enhancing the recognition of individual achievement. Therefore, being critical is a positive trait instilled in scientists to enable them to fully engage in research projects.

    Interestingly, Western critique culture is in conflict with basic social interaction expected in Thai society and might seem unduly harsh by Thais for a number of reasons. First, Thai people hold strong traditional beliefs regarding family. For Thais, the family includes not only those related by blood but also non-related persons who have established close social relationships. Within this system, age plays a salient role: the greater a person’s age, the greater the respect extended. Based on this notion, the language used to speak about an elder must be appropriate. In the milieu of research article writing, despite apparent weaknesses prevailing in previous studies conducted by professors or senior fellows, showing perceived disrespect to, or expressing negative comments about, one’s elders is not encouraged in the close-knit Thai society.

    Another institution that plays a key role in suppressing the adoption of critique culture by Thai scholars is Buddhism – it teaches Thais to be modest and humble. Therefore, in the Thai scientific discourse community, modesty and humility are both appreciated and expected in academia. As a result, while announcing the flaws of a prior study to the public to promote or justify the existence of one’s own research is anticipated in English-speaking research
    communities, such a practice is condemned in Thai society.

  117. There is also an article on The Increasing Role of English in Thai Academic Publications

    I quote from one section:

    When focusing particularly on science journals, we found an interesting pattern of language choice as summarized in Figure 4. Overall, in biology and veterinary science and science and technology, more Thai language articles were found (78% and 83% respectively) compared to English (22% and 17%). Surprisingly, English was more preferable in medical science articles (53%).

    If we take a closer look about time differences, we can clearly find an increasing pattern of English articles in these three disciplines, especially medical science as illustrated in Figure 5. In 2005, as expected, Thai played a more prominent role in writing science articles in every discipline as reflected in the vast majority of articles. In 2015, the number of Thai articles relevant to biology and veterinary science and science and technology still exceeded those written in English; nevertheless, the former experienced a twofold increase from 15% in 2005 to 30% in 2015 while the latter experienced the opposite trend. Conversely, a substantial increase in the number of English articles in medical science journals rose to 79%. To sum up, even though Thai is still the dominant language of Thai national science journals, the data analysis reveals the compelling growth of English particularly in the field of medical science.

    So there is actually scientific writing in Thai.

  118. To sum up:

    1) There is definitely scientific writing in Thai.

    2) The Royal Commission to develop standards for Scientific Thai was disbanded.

    3) Given 1., it’s difficult to see how 2. can have a linguistic justification. It seems likely that other factors were involved, which I’m guessing were cultural factors, the lower quality of writing in Thai, and overwhelming pressure to use English, the international language of science, over Thai.

  119. John Cowan says:

    I am well able to imagine a language that does not have a copula, which means that a content verb heads all possible predicates.

    Languages without copulas may simply have nominal predicates. Loglan and Lojban have copulas, but they are normally used only to assert identity when something is known by more than one name: “Hesperos is Phosphoros (is Venus)”. An important special case of this is mathematical equality. But “George runs”, “George is heavy”, and “George is a horse” all have the exact same structure: a name followed by a verb.

    Another possibility is that the commission decided there was no reason to standardize how Thai is used in science, and left the language to evolve (whether by loanwords or by calques) by itself. But perhaps this is too enlightened a view.

  120. This article presents an analysis of syntactic and pragmatic characteristics of copular constructions in Thai with both elicited data and data taken from naturally occurring texts. In this article, we claim that Thai presents copular-construction complexities.

    Unchalee S. WONGWATTANA. 2015. Complexities of Thai Copular Constructions.
    Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 8:97-120
    http://hdl.handle.net/1885/95200

  121. David Marjanović says:

    history of capitalization

    A schoolbook of mine presented how it happened in German by quoting 16-th and 17th-century style guides. It started with “capitalize the names of princes” and gradually expanded to “capitalize all nouns, diewyl es zierlich ist / vnnd hübsch” – “for it is ornamental and pretty”.

    Renowned scholars are obviously inclined to publish their work in international journals, rather than local ones due to the prestige and recognition earned in return.

    …and, y’know, to the desire to let colleagues in the whole world know what they found.

    For instance, in the Results section, Thai articles do not frequently restate procedural issues … nor comment results …

    …that belongs in the Discussion section anyway? I think most of the differences found in that paper are actually cultural differences between disciplines, not between languages. (And indeed I see the data are all from biochemistry papers; I’m not familiar with publications in biochemistry in any language.) Whether the choice of methods is justified, or there is no choice because only one method is known, is the most obvious case of this.

    the articles published in English journals always addressed the objectives of the study in the Methods section (…100%).

    Strange, because that belongs in the Introduction.

    In the Results section, to remind readers of those multiple objectives, they are frequently restated (…95.06%).

    Strange, because that belongs in the Discussion. 🙂

    Interestingly, the Thai articles prefer not to report findings in Introductions but to state the implications of the study.

    I’ve not often seen findings reported in Introductions. They do belong in the abstract. Implications are commonly explored in the Introduction and the Discussion.

  122. 1) upper case and lower case as distinct concepts. ‘Case’ refers to printing, but the concepts do not.

    I know a stage where a monk spends an evening on drawing a beutiful initial for a chapter. I know a stage where we have two sets of glyphs. What was the trajectory? And what other stages it passed through?

    2) Use of ‘unusual’ letters for punctuation, proper names, nouns in German and other purposes. How did rules evolve, what stages they passed? How these trajectories 1 and 2 interact?

    3) Roman capitals for upper case, someting derived from medieval minuscle for lower case.

    These are easier to date: first books printed by Italian humanists already have this. They are based on handwriting of an Italian guy or gal, or gals and guys). I suspect, one person. I’m not sure, but hands of different Italians differ more from each other, than what we see right now on the screen from what you see in the first books printed by them. If I am right, it is more than remarkable: we all are staring at handwriting of some Italian, whose name even Google doesn’t know. And no monuments:)

    If I am wrong and it is a “community and a printer” rather than a pair “a scribe and printer” who developed the modern shape (diffrences between modern typefaces are tiny), where are festivals named after this printer?

  123. Speaking of case conventions and terminology:

    When I teach separation of variables as a solution method of the Laplace Equation and the Helmholz Equation, it is conventional to write a separated solution in Cartesian coordinates as Φ(x,y,z)=X(x)Y(y)Z(z). Once this form is assumed, it is possible to reduced the original partial differential equation to a set of ordinary differential equations, via the introduction of a number of auxiliary constants. However, the ordinary differential equations are confusing to state aloud, since they involve things like d²X/dx². As I am working things through at the whiteboard, I have to talk about a large number of these equations, and it starts to get tedious to say, “d squared big X, d little x squared” over and over, so I try to switch up the terminology a little. I usually get a laugh from the students when I start using “minuscule” and “majuscule.”

  124. Brett: Eh. Technical communication could be far more challenging. Consider the case of the smooth eversion of the sphere, i.e. turning a 2-sphere inside out in 3-space, allowing surfaces to cross each other, but without any kinks or pinches. It’s surprisingly possible, and surprisingly difficult and difficult to desribe. Scan the pictures here, then skip to the last paragraph.

  125. @Y: I thought everybody my age interested in mathematics had already read that Scientific American article. Martin Gardner frequently referred to it in his own writings about topology problems.

    Thanks to readily available computer-animated video, it’s much easier to show explicitly how to evert the sphere now. This entire 1994 film (split in two on YouTube) is worth watching, but the actual process of turning the sphere inside out is here.

  126. I am well able to imagine a language that does not have a copula, which means that a content verb heads all possible predicates.

    You can imagine further — well, at least Borges could:

    There are no nouns in Tlön‘s conjectural Ursprache, from which the “present” languages and the dialects are derived: there are impersonal verbs, modified by monosyllabic suffixes (or prefixes) with an adverbial value. For example: there is no word corresponding to the word “moon,” but there is a verb which in English would be “to moon” or “to moonate.” “The moon rose above the river” is hlor u fang axaxaxas mlö, or literally: “Upward, behind the onstreaming it mooned.” (“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”)

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