Friday, May 23, 2014

World Cup 2014

The World Cup is a kind of diversion on this weblog, but four years ago, or was it eight, people were actually tuning in to read whatever some American (me) had to say about it, and I was surprised, but I couldn't help but notice that the blog was actually being read, for whatever reason.

Now you will notice right away that I am a USA fan, but don't know that much, really, about the USA team, or any other team, for that matter. A friend of mine made a comment about the reason Landon Donovan could have been excluded from the USA team this year, and, much as I snickered, I realized that I have no idea why he really was excluded, and very little time to do the research, having way too many children, and having those children more interested in the relationship between Elsa and Sven than in Landon Donovan. But I do know that Ghana is, again, our biggest rival; that our division is considered tough; that the backdrop (Brazil), this year, will be quite interesting; and that interest in the World Cup has been steadily rising in the USA, as part of a general trend toward internationalization in the younger generations.

As to this last tendency, I would like to consider myself a leader. Notice the world, I would tell fellow Americans. In particular, notice how soccer doesn't physically destroy its players as American football does. It is a world spectacle; its players are the kings on the world throne, they get the girls, the Ferarris, the television time, the money; they cheat and pretend, dramatically, to be injured, but hey, I feel better about feeding this monster than the American football one, which gives people repeated concussions, and broken ankles for life. I realize that's not quite justification. If this is an exercise in rampant nationalism, in unhealthy adoration of physical skills, then maybe it's better "Letting it go," as they say. But I'll save that argument for another season. For this one, I'll stick with my tendency, which is to love the USA (underdogs in this situation), like the African teams (always underdogs, for financial reasons), like most of the South American teams (always so passionate, so colorful), and like Mexico (local favorite). I like 'em all, actually, I like watching, and caring. It's an international spectacle, like the Olympics. It's much more fun to talk about, than political maneuverings in Ukraine. It's a little hedonistic, that way. But bring it on, I'm sick of talking about wars. Here the US is threatened with war in the Ukraine, war in the South China Sea, not to mention war in Afghanistan (it's been there all along), war here, war there, drones in Yemen, drones in Pakistan. We just can't seem to stop killing people. Well I say, kick the ball, and stop with the killing. If you can't take care of your soldiers when they come home, let the soccer players go out there, because you don't have to take care of them; they'll latch on to some team like Arsenal, and they'll make a fine living, and they'll marry into money, and everything will work out ok. We'll get our competitive streak satisfied, yelling about the way they "shoot," and nobody will die as a result (generally).

I say, let the games begin!

Labels: ,

May report

So what have I been doing with my life? Several things. My semester of work is over here; I worked half-time, partly in an ITA class, and partly in the University Writing Center, but I will teach full-time in the ITA Workshop in mid-July, so that counts to bring my appointment up to the 3/4 time I am paid for. What is annoying about working half-time is that whenever you teach anything, your worrying expands to fill up the space, so you might as well be working full-time, because you're worrying full-time. I try to put time into other things, and do; I've been writing, I've been working on my music, but above all, we have two new children and have to fit them into our family routine, and this has all been quite draining. I turned 60, and some days, I feel very old.

But, before I give up, I have a couple of things I want to do. I've been collecting essays about acquisition, and I'm thinking of publishing them. I've also been writing about language as a self-organizing system, and I want to collect that writing as well. These, as I envision them, are two separate books, hopefully published this year, as I've already done the vast majority fo the writing. The first has this running title: O to be estar: Essays on language acquisition. The second has this running title: Language as a self-organizing system. That second title is rather boring; it might need some work. But that's where it stands. These are both collections of writing that put my work out into the world. Having them on google docs, or blogs, doesn't seem to be doing it for me. Not that anyone will read it in its CreateSpace form, either. But it will make me feel like I've put it out there better.

In fact, I've become interested in the process of putting things out there in little home-made books, if only because a book is something you can hold in your hand, and bonk people on the arm with. Lately I printed my most recent e pluribus haiku, 875 poems in a single volume which is still only $5 (+ shipping), and I find that quite awesome, sorry about the plug, but basically if I make a string of these, and put out the writing that I do, it gives me a feeling of being an author that I don't quite get from being a teacher, or being a fiddler, or being a father, all of which I am being, but which reward me in different ways. Applying this to my ESL career, there are things I've learned, and I want to say them; I want to put them out there. If I have a single book, I have a place where I can point that encapsulates my philosophy. This blog, obviously, is one place. But this blog is fading into obscurity. The best thing about it is its pink and gray (very stylish) appearance, and even that, to tell you the truth, gets old. I hate the font. I can't keep up the links on the template. I'm getting impatient with it as a mode of communication.

I missed TESOL this year, and might even miss the one in Toronto, if I'm not careful, and I love Toronto, cold as it is in March. There are people I love who go to TESOL, and I miss them, even though they are busy integrating technology into classes, and I am not. I have gone this far and not mentioned at all how I"m on the cutting edge of using EdModo; I'm not. I've lost the desire to tell the world to get with the program and get students to use the language in new environments. To some degree, this will happen on its own, with or without me anyway. There is one more book in me, though, and that's how technology has influenced the language, the grammar, and the way people learn language and grammar. It has, in fact, created a new world, and I'm in a better position to expound on this than most people, so I should, and perhaps I will. This, you'll notice, is a distant third, it doesn't even appear in my top two. Alas, either it'll happen or it won't, what else can I say?

Stay tuned. Here's hoping this blog doesn't go the way of the wooly mammoth.

Labels: , , , ,

Cars have universals; languages have funny sounds

When I went to Korea, I was curious about why people walked to the left on sidewalks, in order to avoid bumping into each other. The question was, basically, whether it was possible for a whole culture to be what appeared to us to be "left-handed" - which, if you think about it, is just another way of saying that it's opposite of what one has come to expect. The language always had verbs last, and had post-positions instead of prepositions. So I began to wonder: Is it possible for people to just be oriented in another direction?

But alas, they drove on the right, like we do. So I said, why don't you drive on the left, like the Japanese? Is there a reason for these things? And someone said, well, that is the reason, if the Japanese drove on the left, we didn't want to be like the Japanese. At the time we got roads, we were more inclined to imitate the Americans.

I studied these phenomena for a while because of my general sense that language is kind of like random human cultural behavior, which as you can tell from the above anecdotes, is far from random, yet at the same time, does not seem to have a rational physical explanation. In the search for universals, you might do what the Chomskyists did, which is to say that every culture sticks to one side or the other, it's just that the culture determines which side. But I ran across the British, who, when walking on the street, don't stick to either side. Apparently they use a different system to avoid bumping into each other. And keep in mind, virtually every other cultural tendency, starting with the language but including law, we seem to have either gotten from the British or adapted from the British. But my point is, if there are cultures in which people don't stick to either side when walking in the street, then there are really no universals about walking in the street. You can't say that if someone bumps you with their left elbow, they're more likely to bump you with their left foot is a universal.

So it is with language. Some universals, for example, all languages have vowels and consonants, appear to apply to all languages, at least all the ones that are primarily oral, but even that opens up a can of worms. But the ones that deal with word order all assume that word-order restrictions are an inborn part of our language mechanism, and they're not. Plenty of languages have no word-order restrictions whatsoever. So what they refer to as "universals" sound more like physical movement regularities like the one with the left elbows. These are not universals. Some languages use order to express things. Some most definitely do not.

I was most provoked by the assertion that sticking to one side of the road, when driving, is a universal, while the culture itself determines which side. This assertion relies on the assumption that roads have room enough to actually have two sides, which in my experience, is a false assumption. But, allowing that the vast majority of one's roads have plenty of room, I still see no reason why a person born into a world with no cars, few cars, or random cars would necessarily feel compelled to stick to one side, except when encountering another car, or as a cultural habit developed upon encountering other cars regularly. In other words, there is no genetic imperative to stick to one side regularly. It is a cultural habit that people develop for their own convenience (and to save lives, generally) and they might choose either side depending on their whim or their political inclinations (people in the Falklands, for example, might prefer aligning with Britain to aligning with Argentina). People who regularly have entire roads to themselves have no special reason to stick to one side or the other at all, and generally don't. We are in the habit of taking our Western obsessions with word order, road alignment, etc. and imposing them on other cultures, as if, if you don't have this particular obsession, then what are you, radically chaotic? I think the example of British sidewalks, if true, though, reminds us that a culture can be quite rigid and regular about a number of things, and still have no cultural agreement about which side of the sidewalk to walk on. Sometimes people don't agree. Sometimes they have other methods to avoid bumping into each other.

The story of the wave brings up an interesting point. In that story, people in stadiums (stadia?) around the world have taken to standing up, and by the movement of their bodies creating a wave that moves around the stadium, clockwise in the northern hemisphere and allegedly counter-clockwise, more often, in the southern hemisphere (as evidenced by the Olympics in Sydney). Now if it is true that the spontaneous movements of large groups of people can be influenced much in the same way water goes down the drain, then an argument can be made that when there is movement, the movement can be influenced by certain external factors. I'm not sure I buy that argument, or that that argument could apply to language, where Japanese and Korean have post-positions, but English has prepositions. So we place certain things to the left or to the right. But this doesn't come from the movement of the earth, or from our relation to the magnetic pole, or from the fact that we are in the "west". It's simply a cultural agreement, and we could change it if we agreed to change it. That's actually kind of scary, but it's true.

Labels: , , , ,