Thursday, 26 June 2008

The End of Gay Culture

It's late and I don't have time to write anything about this article but I found it and I wanted to post a link to it so here it is:

The End of Gay Culture by Andrew Sullivan.

I found it while reading another blog which I will be going back to, as the writer[The Accidental Activist] has good taste in music and seems to be writing about stuff I'm interested in including Sigur Ross, Bjork, gay issues, atheism and I'm sure there's more...[yawn...stretch...very tired.]

Why not check it out at:

Must go to bed now.

Gravita - Some inside insights into it's creation from p[ aolo]

So I was chatting to Paolo recently and I found out some stuff about the song Gravita that I thought I would share with the blog.

In case you haven't seen/heard Gravita yet, here's your opportunity:

1:.The Title

The song is in English but Paolo chose to give it an Italian title as an homage to a question that was often put to him when he lived in London, namely as to whether his dreams were in Italian or in English. Paolo says he doesn't actually know for sure and guesses that it's probably a mixture of both. I know from experience that if you wake Paolo suddenly he is more likely to speak to you in Italian but hey...

Anyway, knowing that he had probably given all sorts of answers to the same question he decided to reproduce this inconsistency between the title (i.e. what he thought his dreams were like) and the actual content of the song.

2. The syntax of Gravita's made up dream language

Apparently this made up language is not as random as it may sound at first. In fact this made-up language of dreams, as featured on the track, is, I am reliably informed, made up of universal phonemes, and it also has a syntax.

The "words" come back in different combinations, but they are [theoretically at least] recognisable as independent words, not just random sounds. There, you see, method behind seeming madness!

3. The events behind the song: Not being able to fall in love

I always want to know what a song's supposed to be 'about'. I'm sure that most people imprint their own 'abouts' onto songs, whether it's a positive or negative feeling/event/etc. is by the by. The song and the video both impart a sense of unrequited love - the video does so in what I can only assume is an intentionally controversial portrait of unrequited love. And a very beautiful portrait it is too.

But knowing what a song is about - i.e. what it means or what it meant to the artist at the time of writing sometimes adds extra dimensions to my listening pleasure so it may please you [or not] to know what I know of the 'about' for Gravita:

Back in 2001, Paolo was torn between falling or not falling in love with a guy called Francesco. He was in Cairo and Francesco was in Berlin. I knew that Paolo was going through something difficult with this relationship but he didnt seem keen to really talk about it much at the time. I have since been told by Paolo that he found himself caught between surrendering to his feelings and obeying his misgivings about the relationship - at that time he didn't feel that he could give himself to the relationship without sustaining real damage to his dignity. More than that I don't know, except that the pink shirt in the video is a visual reference to Francesco, who was apparently wearing a shirt of the same colour the first night he and Paolo went out together.

I don't know if anyone else is interested in things like this, but for me, I always like to know new things...[except when I don't] :-D

Esperanto - a changing [but not evolving] language?

My previous post had a comment from someone I don't know [thanks for stopping by Bill, it's lovely to know that someone has read something I wrote, especially as I only just started this blog! :-D]
He wanted to chat about Esperanto, and why not? I do remember that people used to [and may still] laugh at Esperanto. I think that much hilarity seemed to come from the fact that it was a 'made up' language - but what's wrong with that - aren't all languages 'made up'?

Anyway...he wrote:

"I am confident that people can and do succeed in intervening consciously to ensure the survival and expansion of particular languages. The birth and growth of Esperanto are examples. As most people know, Esperanto is a planned language which belongs to no one country or group of states."
Nothing wrong with a planned language in my opinion. No problems there then. He talks about the use of Esperanto and includes a link to and I have visited it and will go back for a more thorough inspection when I get time [more time, more time NEED more time!] but his last comment has me befuddled a bit:

"Esperanto continues to change - the word evolve seems to imply inevitability, so I won't use it."

Which brought me up short and confused. I thought that the word evolve meant to change gradually, over time. I suppose there are Darwinian connotations and maybe that's what he means by implied inevitability. But what's wrong with inevitable change in language? And anyway, maybe I'm being really obtuse [in which case please forgive me,] but isn't change inevitable in all languages? Even constructed languages?

And either way, what's wrong with the concept of inevitable change in language? I find it reassuring to know that as we change, our language will inevitably change to accomodate and reflect that. Maybe I'm just splitting hairs, or missing the point or, I don't know, failing in some way.

I genuinely don't know - I'm not trying to be cute or clever I just don't know. But inquiring minds want to know! Bill, if you're still reading, please do tell! :-D

Language Evolution - Should we oppose linguistic natural selection?

I was surfing around the web, as one does, and came across an article by Michael Erard, who has written a couple of times (that I know of anyway) for Wired Magazine ; firstly about the spread of the Chinese language (The Mandarin Offensive, issue 14:04) and then more recently contemplating the tranformative effect that English's success as a world language may have/is having on the languagse itself (How English Is Evolving Into a Language We May Not Even Understand). Have a read, it's kind of interesting, I think.

And it set me wondering if this is a good thing or a bad thing - the evolution of language. And either way, since languages seem to just go ahead and change, regardless of the fuss such changes may cause, is what appears to be an academic question worth getting all hot and bothered about? I think the answer to my last question is - definitely - otherwise where's the fun? As for the first, hmmm, I don't know...yet...

I remember from the small amount of old English that I studied at university, followed by looking at Chaucer and Shakespeare that the more recent the writing, the easier it was to approach without translational footnotes. These linguistic changes seem to just happen and over time - what passed for 'plain English' moves through 'old-fashioned' to 'quaint' to 'belaboured' to 'pass me the Cliffs Notes' to 'where's the library?' to 'whoa what the hell is that?!'

This would seem to indictate that almost any language, particularly one as widely spoken as English, is going to be subject to huge change. I know that the French have (in the past if not recently,) kicked up a fuss about English words creeping into their language and that they did have (and may still have, for all I know) at least one society that was campaigning to have words like 'weekend' removed from their dictionaries for good. I remember that my Dad laughed about this and posited that the French lost a great chunk of their elevated vocabulary when they sliced off the heads of their aristocracy, and, through his guffaws, remarked that they could do with a few new words from somewhere.

I don't know if it's true but he may have a point - perhaps the French do need a few more words and decided to borrow from English. And why not? We have so many words that we have borrowed from other cultures - so at what point should we resist change? When does ignorance of say spelling and grammar (and yes, I know that mine isn't anywhere near perfect) stop being ignorance and simply become common usage? Is there ever a case where this trend is destructive to language and the culture it communicates?

Lynne Truss, the lady that wrote Eats, Shoots Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, "uses amphibology, a verbal fallacy arising from an ambiguous grammatical construction, and derived from a joke on bad punctuation as her title" [ps I didn't already know that this was the linguistic, technical term for it, I looked it up - on Wikipedia - that was a quote from Wikipedia and who knows, it may even be wrong! But anyhoo..]

The joke goes like so:

"A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
“Well, I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Apparently Ms. Truss has had several of her own grammatical idiosyncrises (and even mistakes) held up to ridicule, parody and debate. That's not what I intend to do here but apparently you can find some here, here , here, here, here and here [on the popular blog, Language Log] as well as many many more all over the shop.

So yes, improper use of language can be funny, it can be misleading and I suppose there are instances where it could even be fatal. But I am inclined to venture that there is a delicate balance to be struck between observing the rules of the language games we play to facilitate the best possible quality of communication, and becoming so slavishly devoted to the rules that we care only for semantics etc. and nothing for what is being said. [And no, I don't think this is some inspired idea - I'm pretty sure it's common sense and hopefully you are too!]

When I'm not ranting 'Truss-stylie about using possessive singular apostophes to express plural nouns, I am genuinely thinking, " this is the way it should be done now?" Especially as such usage is so common (and in my experience I would say over 95% of CVs from the lowest paid to six figure salaries carry at least one and often all of the mistakes I talked about in my previous post,) then maybe the rules are just silly.

I don't know. I need more than an hour to think about it but the baby will wake up soon.

I'll think about it some more and edit this post then.

In the mean time, if anyone [including you, Paolo] has anything to add, please feel free to comment.