Monday, February 18, 2008

Exploring the English Language

A friend sent me this. Apart from the humoress side of it, its interesting to look at the structure of the English language and reflect on the extent to which it:
1. Reflects how English-speakers speak
2. Impacts on the way English-speakers speak.

As will be apparent the English language is very illogical. It borrows words from everywhere, and there is no logic at all for the arrangement, no consideration of whether the terminology will be easy or hard to learn. I think if I was Asian president I would attempt to create a new 'logic' based language that is easier to learn, and solicit the support of other countries. Clearly people need to be united by communication. Why not make it easier. Sure starting afresh would make it initially hard, particularly because there is no one to practice on.

I personally think it would be easier to modify an existing language than start afresh. I dont know many languages, but Japanese strikes me as a very easy language to learn because words consistently sound as they spell. There is a great deal of logic to the language. The problem with Japanese is that its characters are anti-conceptual, but that is easily overcome by shifting to a romanised interpretation.

The problem with language is that people always attempt to change it, I guess in an attempt to be different, to convey style. But at the end of the day I think they want to be understood. Will society accept a codified language? Can you have enforcement of a language, or is language always destined to be corrupted? The Japanese seem to maintain the integrity of their language. They are a very disciplined culture, but it has more to do with compliance than belief in the system. Is that a price worth paying to retain a consistent language - I think not!

I dont know what the Chinese language is like. I dont like the way it sounds, though it does not sound so bad from the mouths of educated people. I guess its like Japanese, and could similarly be romanised. There is the clear benefit that Chinese people represent 1.3 billion of the world's 4.7 billion people. And might the Chinese government want to integrate its people under one language? This seems like the place to start.

I wonder if poetry would sound the same?

Can you read these right the first time?

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to

present the present .

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row .

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger. Neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea, nor is it a pig.

Moreover, why is it that writers write; but fingers don't fing; grocers don't groce; and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese! One index, two indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends, but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes, I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all! That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. - Why doesn't "Buick" rhyme with "quick?"

You lovers of the English language might enjoy this.
There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is "UP."

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP ? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP , and why are the officers UP for election, and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report ?

We call UP our friends. Moreover, we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house, and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times, the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP . We open UP a store in the morning, but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP ! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP , look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about 30 definitions. If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say, it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing UP.

When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.

When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP .

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP , for now my time is UP , so… Time to shut UP !

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Journalist Thinking

I consider one of the most important jobs in the world being a journalist, and its probably one of the most interesting, or at least it could be. Though I think for any intellectual it is no longer that. The value proposition for intellectuals has disappeared for intellectuals. Why? Because investigating journalism is no longer appreciated. Why?
1. Investigations take time. Why spend time gathering evidence when there is plenty of syndicated information to fill the tabloids.
2. Investigations cost money: For the cost of having some journalist trying to get an interview, or chasing traffic, or constructing a story, its easier to get a journalist to copy & paste some syndicated feed from AAP. You might ask where does the AAP get its feed from. I believe it comes from newspapers that merely report what people say, with little analysis.
3. Investigations piss people off: People have no sense of reality. If they hear something said could potentially undermine their self-value or standing, they alienate the source of the problem, rather than deal with the issue honestly. Why? Because that is the way they were raised. That is what was framed as practical growing up. As a journalist you might expect not to get any interviews if you take that posture. Maybe in the Philippines you might even be the object of death threats.
I have explored this issue more in another blog.
Andrew Sheldon

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Scientific Thinking

You could be forgiven for thinking that scientists would count among our best thinkers given that they are champions of the 'scientific method'. But actually I would make the assertion that scientific thinking is actually often dubious at best and sometimes even poor.
The problem with the way scientists think is that:
1. Empiricism: They tend to recognise only empirical evidence as a basis for determining the scientific veracity of a hypothesis. They totally disregard deduction as a means of testing hypotheses. This leads to the unsavioury attitude that a hypothesis is wrong or of no merit because it has not been tested. The implication is that any idea that breaks with conventional wisdom is thus rejected out of hand. This is not simply conservatism in the face of peripheral knowledge. This book has been in the market more than 10 years. I see it as scientists undermining the standing of deductive thinking.
2. Rationalism: There is a tendency for people without critical thinking skills to rationalise. Ignorance is of course another basis for rationalisation, whether from deduction or induction. This is particularly more likely in specialised fields of scientific inquiry. Critical thinking is closely associated with deductive reasoning, but I would suggest that it also requires a 'healthy scepticism.

By 'healthy skepticism' I dont mean doubt as to the veracity of scientific conclusions, but rather a thinking process that imposes on new ideas a counter argument. Within my character is a tendency to question everything I think about. That is a basis of several things:
1. Contingencies - what things could happen - forecasting insights, things that could go wrong
2. Testing hypotheses - are there any contradictions
3. Alternative routes - Is there a better way of doing it

To a lot of people that makes me a 'negative' person to be around. But the implications are stark. I solve problems better than anyone I know. Been able to do that since a very young age. I get so many ideas, and I am sorry too few make it to my blog at

An example of the way that science has disparaged good ideas is the example of Dr Peter J. D'Adamao. Read about his observation here. Deductively I would suggest there is alot of merit in his scientific work, though I would accept that more work is required.
Andrew Sheldon