Effective Language: Sign Language

One who believes the purpose of language is simply to convey information…is absolutely mistaken. If this was the case, we would write sentences like this:

One who believes the purpose of language is simply to convey information…is absolutely mistaken
if believe (language = information), wrong.

Doing so allows the speaker to say nearly exactly the same thing in only 6 words (as compared to 15) and less than half as many letters. Such a scenario would allow for faster transfer of spoken information and leave us with more time to do other things. So let us invent something to do just that!

In reality… we already have. Continue reading

Radiolab: Leopards, Language, and Mr. Fernyhough

This week, take a load off your eyes and just listen. One of the most influential pieces of technology to ever hit the human race is surely the radio, is it not? Radio, in all its forms, influenced our grandparents and will surely influence our great-great grandchildren. Years ago (and not too long ago, mind you) if you missed a show on the radio, you would either write to the broadcaster for a copy of the program or wait to hear it again…somehow. Today, with the invention of the internet, nearly everything is available for listening consumption at any time you deem worthy…many times in the form of podcasts.

One such podcast that has never let me down both in variety of subjects as well as entertainment value is the American show Radiolab:

Radiolab believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow. Bring your curiosity, and we’ll feed it with possibility. -Radiolab

With a new podcast every week, Radiolab is the perfect way to escape your routine and challenge your mind for twenty minutes to an hour a week on subjects ranging from natural selection and fate, words and language, or time and gravity (as well as many other subjects!) It is to this podcast that I highly encourage a bored blogger to visit in their spare time for it not only offers you a ears a world of entertaining sound but it offers your mind a new way to take in the world.  What with all this reading, our ears certainly are ready for some stimulation!

Radiolab is a member of WNYC radio as well as a part of National Public Radio.  Radiolab is supported, in part, by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

If you have not listened to it before, here are a couple good ones to get you started:

1) Words: Imagine a world without words!
2) Wild Talk : Animals with grammar? Words in the wild.

Top 10 Ways NOT to Start Learning a New Language

In an effort to assist any learner of any language get started in their exploration of said language, here is a list of the top 10 ways not to go about beginning your studies.   This list has been formed out of 10 ways that I tried to learn new languages but then failed epically.  May you not make the same mistakes that I did.

Easy Language?

Easy Language?

10) Easy Phrase Books. Unless you intend to kill your desire to learn any language right from the start, I suggest you steer clear of such books as these.  Books that offer 101 easy phrases in ____________ (insert language here) are sure ways to get frustrated and give up.  The content is often scattered and colloquial, filled with phrases that are at a level far beyond that of the beginner or even intermediate learner.  I have picked up books in Japanese and even Spanish and been befuddled as to the content.  Oftentimes, such everyday phrases are so wrapped in complex grammar structures and vernacular that there is no way that any learner could actually learn any of the individual parts.  For example, in Spanish

Could you speak more slowly? Puedes hablar más despacio, por favor?

If you speak Spanish already, you don’t count.  Please take a minute to imagine yourself completely incapable of any expression in Spanish, and your pronunciation is horrible.  How can you be expected to learn anything (as a beginner) from such a phrase?  The book this was from has no explanation on what any of the words mean, nor is there an explanation on conjugation of verbs etc.  It is a dead-end for language learning.

Language Absorbtion

Language Absorbtion

9) Repetitive Drama/Cartoon Viewing. I once had a friend who, in his attempt to learn Japanese, watched anime…a lot of anime.  In fact, he had so convinced himself that he could learn Japanese simply by listening and absorbing the language that he watched over 100 episodes of Naruto or One Piece before he decided to call it quits.  What was his result?  Very basic listening skills at best, and right next to zero comprehension when it came to grammar and building his own unique sentences.  Though, admittedly, his vocabulary was okay (unfortunately limited to such phrases as found in cartoons, however.) Continue reading

내 국제상의 다국어 여자 친구 Mi Internacional Políglota Polola 私の国際的で多言語の彼女 My Internacional Polyglot Girlfriend

Compared to most of my other entries, this will come off as more of an Op-Ed piece.

I speak several languages and understand several more.  On top of that, I pride myself on being able to distinguish and identify many languages almost immediately (both upon hearing them spoken or seeing them written).  It is a strange kind of pride to many, I am sure, but as strange as it is to be a single polyglot (at least that is what I strive to be) the experience becomes ever-stranger when I interact with my quite gifted—and quite adorable if I might add—polyglot girlfriend. Continue reading

Calligraphy: Eastern and Western

Calligraphy: from Greek κάλλος kallos “Beauty” + γραφή graphẽ “Writing”

Caligrafia: Spanish (similar meaning to English version)

Shodo: Japanese しょ、書 sho-Writing, どう,道 do(pronounced doe)-“Way”

Shufu: Chinese 書 “Writing”、法 “Law”・”Rules”

Seoye: Korean 서 「書」Seo “Writing”, 예 「藝」 Ye “Craft/Skill/Technique”

Think of the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. Got it? Good. Now think of one of the most ordinary things on the planet earth: handwriting. Don’t just think about any handwriting though, think of your own. Now superimpose the beauty of the first thing onto your handwriting and what do you end up with? A sunrise. A quiet morning. A rainbow. A smile. What I mean is that you get a writing system that impresses the masses regardless of the content. You don’t need to know who is smiling or over what country the sun is rising to feel joyous. We experience joy simply in knowing that someone is smiling or that the sun is rising. Similarly calligraphy, if it can be separated from its inseparable relationship with the host language, is a language on its own. A universal language that resonates most strongly with art and speaks to the masses much more than the words it makes up.

What is most interesting is the universality of calligraphy. No mater where in the world and no matter what period, there is a system of writing that is considered more beautiful or more correct. For thousands of years the Chinese have developed these rules of correctness into laws governing the writing system. Elsewhere the literate scribes were the sole keepers of language and each had to adhere to strict rules regarding copying. Notably of these are the many glorious and awe-inspiring illuminated texts of the Middle Ages, the work of skilled and dedicated hands. In India too there exist beautiful styles of calligraphic text. Muslim nations will often use calligraphic text for decoration on mosques or tapestries. Around the world and over time beautiful, albeit difficult and painstaking, styles of writing sprang up alongside the development of the society to which they were (and still are) tied.

It is a common denominator, to put it in mathematical terms, that connects all languages. This blog aims to explore ways in which the languages of English, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean are tied together (or split apart) and writing style is one of those ways. On a basic level, these languages have a written form. Check. Within each language though, is there a specific style which is considered most proper or most beautiful? (I realize that the latter term is subjective) To answer this question let’s look very briefly at some possible candidates: Continue reading

Happy Kanji: Positive vs. Negative Japanese


Eternal Kanji Symbol

Hand-Painted Kanji: Eternal

As a way of mediation, contemplation, and preparation for the new year, I decided to write down 400 kanji (the sino-Japanese text).  In an effort to call forth positive energy into my life  this new year, only characters that had some positive connotation were chosen.  The kanji  are chosen from a list of 1,947 kanji that can be found in the reference book “Kanji in Context” The list includes all Joyo kanji.  Joyo simply refers to the set of kanji that have been set up by the Japanese Ministry of education as mandatory for all students up through secondary school.  The Japanese language in total consists of roughly 3,000 separate kanji characters but luckily for us non-native speakers any kanji outside of the list of 1,945 Joyo kanji that is used in Japanese newsprint must be accompanied by corresponding furigana.

So with this in mind I set out to create a list of 400 kanji that have some kind of positive denotation.  Of course it occurrs to me that there will be some subjectivity when it comes to determining what things are positive and what things are not so please do not regard this list as definitive.  There are certain characters which may have positive connotations if not widely then personally and I am sure that we all can agree that certain gray areas are quite acceptable. Also be aware than many kanji can have more than one meaning: 安(AN) for example can mean either safe or cheap.

What becomes clear as the list is being made is that there are relatively few kanji that have positive denotations.  Out of the 1,947 kanji reviewed only a few hundred can really be handpicked as uplifting, positive, soothing, etc.  The final hundred or so come down to things that I would like to consider as positive.  That is to say, these final kanji are no more positive than they are negative but because I have no more positive kanji I simply have to settle for something which is at least not harmful or negative.  You will see that many elements of nature stand in for the final section. Also notice that I chose to include many elements of the body because any and all good feelings must originate and radiate from the body.

The list is as follows:


(If you want to know the meaning: Go to this site->Polarcloud and download Rikaichan for Firefox, Thunderbird, or Seamonkey.  Then download the corresponding dictionary.  Now all that is left is to simply activate Rikaichan and hover your mouse over the kanji you want to know more about and VIOLA! )

That’s it.  That should be 400.  For those of you who can read Japanese (or Chinese as well) it should be easy to tell that some of the characters above are a bit of a stretch;  “Peach Tree” (桃) would be one such case. No matter, my point is not that there are exactly 400 examples of positive kanji but it is that fact that there are really quite fewer than that number.  While the amount of kanji people are required to know in order to read a newspaper in Japan may be roughly 2,000, of those less than 1/5th of them are positive even just slightly!  Let me repeat,  fewer than one-fifth of all the Chinese characters used in Japanese text are positive even slightlyContinue reading