Posts Tagged ‘comrades and colleagues’


two points don’t make a line in the gap

July 23, 2010

When did the Gap become all I am interested in talking or writing about? It’s sort of getting embarrassing. Ah, well, I’ll stop soon.

So, on twitter, a mild non-debate. Benladen, one of my esteemed colleagues who keeps what I consider one of the weirdest blogs ever, also known as That Guy Mark Yudof Kicked Out of Twitter for a while, posted this:

next time you think something is “beyond words” or you’re experiencing something “past language,” please fucking die you idiot


I retweeted it, which is what Ohhhlala, a good friend of mine, responded to thusly:

There are ways of communicating “beyond words.” A soft touch, a kiss, a smile, tears. And more often, those are more powerful than words.


Now, I’m in a bit of a pickle, because I mostly don’t think anyone’s an idiot, especially on this topic. But I do think there are a couple main points regarding the first tweet which need to be better articulated:

1. Language is an infinite resource. Lexicographers and English majors really don’t like hearing this, but there’s no actual rule about who has the authority to create new words and use them. Which words survive and which never get out of a circle of five assholes on a street corner is sort of up to usage and spreading patterns, but there’s no law that you have to have a PhD in Literature to be allowed to coin words. People do it all the time. Moreover, there are mathematically infinite combinations you can make with existing words, because syntax is iterative and recursive, so you can keep adding on those similes and prepositional phrases with adverbial content until you are literally blue in the face, and there’s no language cop gonna pull you over for speeding.

2. Reality is totally subjective. A bold statement, but not a new or inventive one. To be clear, I do ssssssort of believe that there is some external, objective reality off of which we all base our subjective models in our heads, but since the ones in our heads are the only ones we can prove to actually exist, we’re sort of stuck. Language is one of the mechanisms we use to try and physically realize some arbitrary symbolic code representing the reality in our skulls, so that someone else can interpret those symbols and try to piece it together in their own skull. If we ever encounter a thing, an event, or an idea that doesn’t seem to be able to be expressed in words, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any words for it, just that we don’t have words in our particular understanding of language. Also, see point 1.

Now, on the other side, some equally important points:

3. Not all communication is language. Not every tenuous bridge over that scary two-layered gap between two humans is going to be made of language. Besides the basic so-called “body language” (which has no grammar and the vocabulary of which is largely intuitive but that’s not my specialty and I’m not getting into it), there’s still music, art, dancing, throwing rocks at people… these are all ways of communicating that are not within the mathematical abstract body that we can adequately call language. Are there things in the world that can only be symbolized or actualized in the world by way of throwing rocks at someone? I actually don’t know; that level of specific abstraction makes me suspect that throwing rocks would then become semi- or at least para-linguistic. Ish. Don’t quote me on that.

4. Language is a flawed tool. As demonstrated by all sorts of wonderful people totally misunderstanding me when I try to have serious conversations over text message, language alone is obviously not enough. Actions “speak” louder than words (and I use that cliche very carefully), and there are many things that would be misconstrued or not cleanly and clearly communicated in words that are very, very easily communicated by throwing rocks.

So, uh, there. For any confusion with my weird idiosyncratic gap metaphor I refer people back to my illustration of The Gap

Edit to add: In Ben’s defense, he immediately also posted this, which I then failed to retweet because I didn’t see it. It’s possibly the most crucial point in the whole debate.


if you haven’t completed syntax II, do not read this.

July 8, 2010


This is prompted by my esteemed colleague, Devin, who posted an analysis here of some Chinese sentences that he’s collected on his current travels there. Mind you, even if I didn’t have this severe (and reasonable!) phobia of lowering, I’d still take issue with the whole “let’s just stick a T in some place that has nothing to do with X-Bar” shindig taking place in the last trees of his analysis.

What I’m trying to say here is, I am incapable of going more than two months without syntax. Apparently. I’m sitting in some college library right now, I do not even know what college (they’re thick on the ground in Saint Paul, for some reason), obsessing over this instead of having real adventures. I suppose it’s consolation to myself for losing my cellist. (Sad story. I’ll tell you later.)


The Situation Has Failed to Resolve Itself.

February 11, 2010

I have done some thinking, and had some conversations with my father. He laughed at me, um, a LOT when I told him about my qualms about public/administrative figures following me on my public social networking device. He says it’s like standing on the street corner with my megaphone (I have a megaphone, by the way) and then getting mad when people I don’t like stop and listen to my inane rantings.

So, okay, I can accept that. I shall either stop whining, or lock my account so that I have a right to whine.

However! I still can’t accept @benladen’s banning. We’ve had confirmation (I’ll get back to this with links and screencaps) that it was really @mark_yudof’s office that reported Ben. We’ve had confirmation that Ben is not the only one to whom this has happened. I’ve read through Twitter’s Rules again, and the thing is, Twitter hasn’t officially said what Ben did wrong. The mechanism for contesting a suspension is essentially “Tell us what you think we think you did wrong and then tell us that we’re wrong about it.” This policy smells so much like a trap, and I can’t help but feel that @mark_yudof’s office knew this when they reported @benladen.

Ah, that is another thing. I have come to the conclusion that @mark_yudof and Mark Yudof are not entirely the same entity. The behavior on the account is too bizarre and erratic, and it only makes sense if both Mark Yudof the Person and Mark Yudof’s P.R. Staff are both using it. I hope I’m not wrong about this, because if I am the implications about Mark Yudof the Person are weird and unsettling.

Now, I’ve gone through what data we have and I’ve decided that while I remain hugely ambivalent towards Mark Yudof the Person (who can come to my party if he promises to warn me ahead of time and bring some good wine and not kick anyone out this time), I’ve got huge objections to @mark_yudof the Twitter Entity. That @mark_yudof, I intend to keep bugging, because that @mark_yudof is making the other one look bad. Worse. Whatever.
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Mark Yudof, go to someone else’s party.

February 1, 2010

So, I’m having a bit of a hard time with something, and I’ve been a little nervous about mentioning it in public because frankly it could well be slander depending on how I phrase it, and I just don’t know how diplomatic I want to be.

Thing is, Mark Yudof follows me on twitter.

That’s… well, that’s weird enough as it is. Yudof is the president of the University of California. I’ve never met or spoken to the man. I have occasionally sent him angry emails, because being a conscientious UC student requires one to send angry emails at one’s president once in a while. However, I certainly have no personal connection with him. And while I did use my Twitter for a short time while involved with the UC Occupations, I rarely tweet about anything that University administrators should be especially interested in.

My twitter is a personal thing, a toy, a microblog where I talk about what I ate for breakfast and how cool my Translation Theory class is and how I think that kid in my lit section is super cute. Mark Yudof does not need to know these things. I don’t want my dad’s boss showing up at my birthday party, and I don’t want my university president following me on twitter. Mark Yudof is, in fact, disinvited from the party that is my twitter.

But Kirby! You say. Why not just block him and continue blithely tweeting about porn and ice cream as you are wont? Well, the same reason I wouldn’t kick my dad’s boss out of my birthday party if he showed up: I don’t want him there, but I don’t want to get in trouble for kicking him out.

See, a friend of mine, @Benladen, just got suspended from twitter because Yudof decided that he didn’t like his tweets. (My dad’s boss just kicked my loud, drunk friend out of my party.) I do not think he had the right to do this. I do not think Yudof has the right to BE on twitter. But we can’t tell him to leave, because then he might kick US out. It’s not fair, and I feel invaded in what was a safe, fun place for my peers and me. If I want to get to know him, I will approach him myself. It’s inappropriate for him to try and get to know me in this way, because I feel so pressured and trapped.

I don’t follow him back. I don’t expect him to actually read most of my tweets. (Thank god.) But I’m very, very angry about the suspension of @Benladen, and I wish someone would convince Yudof that @mark_yudof has other, cooler parties to go to.


To better enhance the academic discourse

January 9, 2010

I will, starting this weekend, be posting a weekly round-up of notes from the lectures I attend – with permission, of course. One part of these notes will be much more prolific than the other, because of different professors’ varying rules about computers in class. For lectures in which I take notes on paper, I will be posting scanned images of my notebook; my margins are far too colorful and exciting not to, of course.

I’ll be doing this for a number of reasons:
1. My good friend and colleague Joey managed to get food poisoning on the second day of class, and it turned out to be quite handy that I had taken very detailed lecture notes interspersed with my own extracurricular commentary. If another of my peers is not able to attend a lecture, or if one of my peers cannot enroll in one of my classes but is interested in the topic, this will be an easy and dynamic way to share my class experience.
2. I’m kind of obsessive about archiving things, and posting my notes publicly online will enable me to organize them and access them from any computer.
3. The blog enables interested parties to comment upon and discuss the material more freely without taking up class time, and could prove as a community sounding board for ideas and questions.
4. My classes this quarter are awesome.
5. The weekly commitment will encourage me to take consistent, detailed, thoughtful notes when I might otherwise allow myself to become distracted or complacent.

A few points on my methodology:
1. Not everything I write down when I’m taking notes is necessarily a direct quote or even paraphrase of the professor’s lecture. I’ll include questions that I have (when I don’t feel they’re worth interrupting the lecture for, or when I want to look them up later), astute contributions to the discussion from my classmates, hi-larious asides or puns, ideas for later paper topics I could explore, and ways in which one lecture might connect thematically to another class I’m taking or have taken.
2. Not everything I include will be appropriate for all ages, nor will the tone be especially formal or professional. The university is an adult environment at which adult topics are often discussed; also, I do sometimes still giggle at the word “oral.” These notes are not intended as serious academic work, but rather a fun and comfortable way to bring my academic life out of the classroom.
3. As my notes will not be terribly professional, I don’t expect any discussions on this blog or related to it to be formal either. However, I do not especially wish to host a flame war, and I will exercise my editorial powers on the comments of this blog whenever the discussion strays to any kind of personal or inappropriate attack. I will not delete or edit any comments for adult content or content that I disagree with.
4. I will do my best to provide links, citations, and external references to topics in the lecture. However, I won’t spend an exorbitant amount of time putting that together, as I do also have to do reading and homework for these classes.
5. I will gleefully welcome and post links to any other discussions or commentary upon related topics if anyone takes it upon themselves to send them to me.


Displaced Rantypants.

November 18, 2009

I’ve started a second blog to talk about the issues with the funding and fee hikes at the University of California. You can find it here: Whose University?. I’d love to get some discussion, dissent, and dialog going over there, so drop on by and comment, and spread the link to those you think might want to do likewise!


So three linguists walk into a bar…

August 26, 2009

(I’m not going anywhere with that, it just sounds funny to me. Like how many linguists does it take to change a lightbulb? Depends on the arguments of changing.)

So today I was in the Pacific Cookie Company enjoying a cookie and scoop of ice cream with my friend and fellow literature major, Heather. We were discussing our majors and class selections and what languages we were planning on learning throughout the course of our degrees, when who should walk by but the head of the linguistics department, Jim! (That’s Professor McCloskey to you.) It’s always distinctly odd to see one’s professors off campus, and even more so when you’re pretty sure they have no idea who you are. However, before I could help myself, I waved at him. To my utter shock, he saw me and came in to greet me.

This is notable primarily because our department’s not small, and our school’s just gargantuan, so usually undergraduates only bond with their T.A.s and peers that way, not with the upper ranks of the tenured and the published. It speaks to the amazing coziness of the Santa Cruz linguistics department that the chair not only recognizes his random undergrads by face, but remembers what other majors they’re doing, has random advice on the languages issue (Latin and Greek are okay! I don’t actually have to subject myself to any more live ones if I don’t want to!), and will take time out of his day off to dispense said advice with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.

I am not at all ashamed to admit, I half expected him to offer me a lemon drop. (And I’m not terribly disappointed that he didn’t.)