Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Love God Damned Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in America. It's a day where we all get together and notice that life is altogether pretty good. It's a day where everyone is encouraged to be an optimist. And then everyone gets together and eats everything in site and sits comatose for a few hours.

It's also Fat Tuesday to the miserable Ash Wednesday that is Black Friday* and the impending month of Irving Berlin songs and diamond commercials. But we don't have to think about that now.

Yes, others may take a less positive view on the occasion, and it's probably good not to forget the fucked up circumstances which surround the origins of this occasion, but ultimately it's a day where you get together with the people you care about in your life and think about the good things. One day out of the year that even the cynical can spend with a good meal, maybe a football game if that's your thing, and lots of positivity.

Of note, this is the first Thanksgiving I'm spending without my family in Seattle. And my take on it is that I am going to be spending it with the great new community I've found for myself here on O'ahu. Thanks Linguistics!

Also, I'm thankful for YouTube and bass guitars.


Friday, November 06, 2009

In My Area: Possessive Statements in Hindi

So I'm just about to get started on a study of "quirky" case marking in Hindi (supposedly subjective arguments that are marked as datives). I'm pretty excited about it because it's Hindi and it's syntactic. My Hindi knowledge isn't deep enough yet to make any thorough arguments but I do have initial impressions based on my knowledge of possessive forms in Hindi.

There is no verb in Hindi for "to have." There are plenty of verbs denoting movement of a possession - you can get, take, bring, drop, whatever - but no verb peculiar to the act of possessing. For things that in English are had, there are a couple different constructions:

For something possessable/alienable, you essentially say that one of those things is in your area:
मेरे पास किताब है|
Mere paas kitaab hai nearby book is
"I have a book."

For something inalienable - a relative, a body part - you say that one of those things is yours:
मेरा एक बंधू है|
Mera ek bandhu hai
My.mSg one brother is
"I have one brother."

The having of diseases is put into an experiential pattern, which brings us to the issue of potentially subjective datives:
मुझे बुखार है
Mujhe bukhaar hai
I.Dat fever is
"I have a fever."

My initial reaction to the idea that "Mujhe" is the subject in this last sentence was skeptical. Surely, as the verb is taking the third-person form, the subject must be the third-person "bukhaar," or else the verb would be "huun". Arguments have been made that dative subjects do not have to affect verb forms - an apparently substantiated claim on which I reserve my judgment for the moment. On the other hand, Hindi does occasionally allow subjects to be dropped and I believe the following possible sentence may be grammatically worth considering:

बुखार है
Bukhaar hai
fever is
"I have a fever."

More to come on this phenomenon and probably lots of other Hindi goodies. For now, नमस्ते

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Don't Send a Lit Prof to Do a Scholar's Job

I just read by one an article arguing that the rise of English as a singular world language would be, on the whole not such a bad thing, and really more convenient for everyone because English is so easy to learn. The article was written by John McWhorter, an English literature professor ostensibly trained as a linguist, but his arguments are not those made by any linguist I've ever heard. He argues that the idea of cultures and/or ways of thinking being embedded is weakly if at all supported by simplifying the notion to homophones and phonology. He argues that black English is more quantifiably more different from standard English than any other variety. He argues that English doesn't have hard sounds for learners to get a handle on.

None of these are tenable arguments in the slightest but the last is the easiest to refute: