Posts Tagged ‘links’


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.


So, seriously, how many?

July 5, 2010

I am bored, and sitting on a bench, and decided to start asking google some questions. As you do.

First question: how may linguists DOES it take to change a lightbulb?

Possible answers:
Nine, though by this answer my entire department only counts as one person.
One. Plus a photographer, I guess.
One, but apparently this one’s more of a grammarian prescriptivist type. (It’s at the very bottom of the page, after several dozen other jokes misusing my job title. Such as it is.)

And, my favorite, a new question altogether.

Okay, I am a nerd and am going to stop now.


Week Two Friday Roundup

January 15, 2010

This has been a long, weird week, as such weeks tend to be for me. This round-up is just a collection of links to posts I put up today, but backdated; I think this is the best way to keep the notes as clean and non-ridiculous as possible. I’m also trying to switch to a non-tabbed way of nesting the notes, so you can sort of see the progression of that throughout the week. Today’s notes are easily the neatest.

Monday, I was way too tired and sore to deal with much, so I ended up going to school in my pajamas and bathrobe. I’m not proud. The count of professors who have seen my bathrobe is now up to six, actually. I suspect I won’t get away with that quite so much when I’m a grad student, so I’m trying to get it out of my system early on.

Wednesday, there was a bus-missing incident between Bonny Doon and campus, and my housemates and I ended up hiking five miles through the muddy redwood forest to get to class. I was an hour early, they were an hour late, we were all sort of damp and bedraggled. I also managed to step into a bog and get soaked to the knees, and frankly I’m proud that I made it to that class at all.

On Fridays, Prof. Godzich has a tradition of doing a bit of prepared Q&A before delving into his lecture notes, so today’s edition has some giant walls of text wherein I was trying like mad to basically write down his whole answer word-for-word. It’s… semi-successful but I fear I was typing so fast and loud that I annoyed a few of my peers. Ah well, this is why I sit closer to the back now.


Three Links, all somewhat creatively inclined

March 29, 2009

Firstly! I’ve seen a number of blogs/articles about knitted grafitti, but this one has the best pictures I’ve yet seen on the internets. Entire trees are cozied! I absolutely want to do this.

Relatedly! It’s kind of old news, but I just love looking at the dramatically-lit pictures of this crocheted coral reef.

And lastly (and unrelatedly)! I’ve just finished reading a story (fragment? very long excerpt?) called Brains Pt. 1: What is a Valedictorian by Tony Tulathimutte. I have no idea how I found this writer’s webpage, but his prose style is absolutely lovely, very clean and slick and high-brow without feeling uncomfortable or vacuous. The story linked is a pretty simple one, and very elegantly told. I’d very much like to be able to write like that someday.

Actually, you know what, I lied. Twice. First lie is that the above is not the last link, and the second lie is that I do know how I found Mr. Tulathimutte: it was through the links page of the site of artist Justine Lai. Ms. Lai’s Big Art Project, Join or Die, consists of paintings of the artist having sex with all the U.S. presidents in chronological order. It’s a lovely style and a very intriguing concept, especially when viewed within the context of the statement she provides on the site.