Archive for the ‘Linguistics’ Category

Via Sullivan, Keljeck (nice blog template) posts the full transcript of an interview between John Lofton and Allen Ginsberg, as printed in a 1990 issue of Harper’s Bazaar (though itself apparently a reprint!):

LOFTON: When you say you suppose this could have applied to you, does this mean you don’t know if you are mad?

GINSBERG: Well, who does? I mean everybody is a little mad.

LOFTON: But I’m asking you.

GINSBERG: You are perhaps taking this a little too literally. There are several kinds of madness: divine madness—

LOFTON: But I’m talking about this in the sense you spoke of in your 1949 poem “Bop Lyrics,” when you wrote: “I’m so lucky to be nutty.”

GINSBERG: You’re misinterpreting the way I’m using the word.

LOFTON: No. I’m asking you a question. I’m not interpreting anything.

GINSBERG: I’m afraid that your linguistic presupposition is that “nutty” as you define it means insanity rather than inspiration. You are interpreting, though you say you aren’t, by choosing one definition and excluding another. So I think you’ll have to admit you are interpreting.

LOFTON: Actually, I don’t admit that.

GINSBERG: You don’t want to admit nuttin’! But you want me to admit something. Come on. Come off it. Don’t be a prig.

It’s not too long (maybe three to five minutes of reading in full), but it’s really engaging because many of their remarks are so unctuous, and many others quite dazzling. I like, for instance, the way Ginsberg includes in the passage above the clause “though you say you aren’t”, as a way of acknowleding that he understand Lofton’s first attempt to rebuff the former’s charge of misinterpretation. It’s a good rhetorical device and worth remembering. There are, of course, contentful insights to be had throughout the interview, as well.


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Luke’s recent LHC post has goaded me into making sure other important events do not pass without appropriate comment.

The talk about town is all of the US government’s proposal to nationalise (or ‘go all European on,’ as I predict it will soon be derided) the parcels of extremely bad debt owned by important financial companies; my mother, for instance, describes it as ‘bad’ in her most recent weekly letter. It seems to me that the text of the legislation becomes more penetrable if one replaces the phrase ‘mortgage-based assets’ with ‘chocolate’.

Sec. 5. Rights; Management; Sale of Chocolate.

(a) Exercise of Rights.–The Secretary may, at any time, exercise any rights received in connection with chocolate purchased under this Act.

(b) Management of Chocolate.–The Secretary shall have authority to manage chocolate purchased under this Act, including revenues and portfolio risks therefrom.

(c) Sale of Chocolate.–The Secretary may, at any time, upon terms and conditions and at prices determined by the Secretary, sell, or enter into securities loans, repurchase transactions or other financial transactions in regard to, any chocolate purchased under this Act.

(d) Application of Sunset to Chocolate.–The authority of the Secretary to hold any chocolate purchased under this Act before the termination date in section 9, or to purchase or fund the purchase of a chocolate under a commitment entered into before the termination date in section 9, is not subject to the provisions of section 9.

Dire stuff; if you are reading this post, you are affected by this proposal. Though the market reaction to the announcement of the plan on Friday was extremely positive, the American political-economic blogaxis (too polar to warrant the term ‘sphere’) has now metastasised in a unified bloc of opposition, with each end trumpeting objections along their idealogical fault lines.

Of course, it is not the place of this blog to editorialise, especially when there is chocolate to be bought; the purpose of this post is to direct attention to a lengthy and cogent discussion of the legislation and reactions to it, though I do not endorse their opposition whole-heartedly.

Update (ca. 9pm BST) An off-blog dispatch from B. M. Jackson spurs me to sketch out those fault lines a little more; he suggests Greenwald, who unsurprisingly (and understandably) zeroes in on the ‘no-oversight’ clause:

Put another way, this authorizes Hank Paulson to transfer $700 billion of taxpayer money to private industry in his sole discretion, and nobody has the right or ability to review or challenge any decision he makes;

one of Greg Mankiw’s friends makes the same point with a bit more outrage:

Has more money ever been given with fewer restrictions on how it is used? Ever?

Greenwald also quotes Atrios, who seems to have assimilated his Chomsky without difficulty. One could go on, and indeed Sullivan does. But all one needs to know is contained inside the fresher-level summary from Jim Manzi, followed by the comments of an allegedly well-placed reader of Yves Smith:

[JBJ: This is Smith, then her reader indented below] Yet as we discussed, the plan makes no sense unless the Orwellian “fair market prices” means “above market prices.” The point is not to free up illiquid assets. Illiquid assets (private equity, even the now derided CDOs were never intended to be traded, but pose no problem if they do not need to be marked at a large loss and/or the institution is not at risk of a run). Confirmation of our view came from a reader by e-mail:

…Anyway, I wanted to let you know that, behind closed doors, Paulson describes the plan differently. He explicitly says that it will buy assets at above market prices (although he still claims that they are undervalued) because the holders won’t sell at market prices. Anna Eshoo pressed him on how the government can compel the holders to sell, and he basically dodged the question. I think that’s because he didn’t want to admit that the government would just keep offering more and more.

Photo by Flickr user ansy used under a Creative Commons license.

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I should be doing a spot of science writing, but my goodness this is too delicious not to share. From Vlastos’ Plato’s Universe (OUP Clarendon 1975 edition, from p. 1; I’ve naughtily screen-captured the amazon scan with GIMP, but we all know I could have typed it by hand):

On the meaning of ‘cosmos’


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[Ed.: I started writing this and it turned into gargantupost, so I’ve broken it into chunks. This is Chunk the First. The others will appear whenever I’m short of ideas.]

So – some languages are more difficult to learn than others. Not intrinsically, mind you – the difficulty is the result of not being familiar with the language family (Teutonic for, say, German or Romance for, say, French). The U.S. State Department has a system for categorising the difficulty of a new language for a native English speaker. It goes:

  1. French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili
  2. Bulgarian, Burmese, Greek, Hindi, Persian, Urdu
  3. Amharic, Cambodian, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Lao, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese
  4. Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean

The direction of the ordering is evident as soon as one picks up a book in French and a book in Japanese, and decides which is easier; I have no idea how the classification was arrived at. In primary schools in Australia during the late 1980s, there was a rush to study Japanese to prepare for the nation’s impending engagement with Asia, but after the Keating government was foreclosed the wedding was called off; I think everyone learns French and Indonesian now. The positive: we learnt about a culture well outside the continental European orthodoxy of languages taught throughout the 20th century. The negative: after studying Japanese throughout primary school, high school and a semester of University, I don’t speak a foreign language.

(Prof. Friedman says: “Try talking French with someone who studied it in public school”)

This is a bit unacceptable – being monolingual in Europe is like not being toilet-trained. Seriously. Britons are pretty bad offenders here too, so any Australians seeking asylum in the U.K. are sheltered from having to face their inadequacy fully, but this has the downside of allowing ignorance to fester. I worry that whenever I travel to the mainland the Dutch air stewards are making abominably witty multilingual puns at my expense.


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