Posts Tagged ‘communication’

The Dragons of Grammar–Chocolate Cake and Acceptable Guest Quarters

July 4, 2013 5 comments

File:Porcion de tarta de chocolate.jpgWhen someone asks a dragon why he or she can’t look or act a little more human, the dragon is likely to remind the interlocutor that we humans vary quite a bit in appearance, and yet all of us are the same species. Dragons report, in fact, that it can be quite a drag to be around someone who doesn’t have wings or breath fire. Humans return the compliment by noting how isolated and damp a dragon’s guest accommodations can be.

Well, well! RT supposes that the tendency to categorize things by appearance is unavoidable, but it can lead to some testy conversations. For their part, the Dragons of Grammar have reminded him that these distinctions are found even in the hallowed grammar of Dragonish and, above all, in the grammatical category called noun class. That’s right: in their speech, dragons tag nouns as (among other things) Human-like or Dragon-like.


Just about all languages categorize nouns; the most common category is grammatical gender, a distinction so widespread that it is sometimes used as a synonym for noun class. Other distinctions include moving/static, thinking/nonthinking, and (you guessed it) human/nonhuman. English has a vestigial noun classification system, which mainly distinguishes between 1) gender (he, she, and it) and 2) persons and nonpersons (who and which). But some languages, such as Swahili and its related languages, incorporate an elaborate system of noun classes (in the case of Swahili, there are as many as 22 classes).

Readers should note that in English the process of dropping noun class distinctions has accelerated in recent years; just consider the differences between waitress, wait-person, and server.

Social, political, and linguistic processes such as those responsible for transforming waitress into an example of impolite speech are of course at work in all languages, resulting in arbitrary assignment of nouns to their various classes. For instance, as English speakers who have studied French may recall, there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to un amour de jeunesse (“a young love,” singular, masculine) and les amours enfantines (“childish loves,” plural, feminine). The French will reply that only three nouns in their language are masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural.


And so it goes. Dragonish assigns “big fire blasts” (as from their mouths), “raspberry sherbet,” and  “talking heads” to humanlike, but “smoking mists” (once again, from their mouths), “double chocolate cake,” and “boring conversation” to dragonlike. But just now the DoGs have informed RT that the double-chocolate-cake classification is due to the fact that it was a dragon who discovered the culinary uses of chocolate. RT, however, suspects that that may be a story for another post…and he will add that when he has stayed with dragons, he has been quite satisfied with the accommodations.


Photo: A Slice of Chocolate Cake; Author: Krista. WikiCmns; CC 2.0 Generic.


Why I do what I do



a fine explanation of independent publishing from a practitioner…  RT

(reosted from Cedar Writes)


Why I do what I do.

Poem in Your Pocket Day



RT is carrying a poem around with him today…join the fun!

(reposted from Charlie Chat)


Poem in Your Pocket Day.

Anything but Square



the mystery (and beauty) of strangers…  RT

(reposted from Studio Bahagski)


Anything but Square.

Le Digestif–How to Eat an Essay

File:Cheret, Jules - Quinquina Dubonet (pl 29).jpg

Believe it or not, eating is work. This fact of digestive exertion was recently impressed on RT when he ate not one, but two, breakfasts at a local grill. Hunger can build up, and after a hearty meal, one may find oneself engaged in a postprandial walk or other strategy, as seems appropriate.

The French have known this for ages. One of the signs of health and worthiness among its kings, for instance, was the ability to eat extraordinary quantities of food at a sitting: Le Roi Soleil, Louis XIV himself, was known to consume up to five courses, each consisting of two to five items, at a single meal. The menu was diverse, including deep-sea oysters, chestnut soup with truffles, wild duck, rabbit stew, salmon, iced cheese, and fruit.

Lesser mortals, however, will need to avail themselves of help when indulging at the dining table. And the French answer to such problems is the digestif, an after-dinner alcoholic drink such as brandy, eaux de vie, and various bitter or sweet liqueurs meant to help digestion.


So what does all this mean for the writer of essays? The writer needs to bear in mind that his or her essay should be helping the process of analysis and enjoyment throughout the piece. Some ways of doing this: 1) organize your writing so that your argument and other thoughts are clear; 2) use deliberate contrast in style and tone to help keep your readers alert and on track; 3) withhold some parts of your argument so the reader can make the connections by him or herself; 4) use humor–especially at the beginning–to relax the reader; 5) make the stakes clear–explain why the essay and its subject deserve further consideration and even a second or third reading. This last item is best saved for the essay’s conclusion.

Readers should finish an essay smacking their lips, savoring the bite of good calvados on the tongue…    RT


PosterQuinquina Dubonnet, Jules Cheret (1895); WikiCmns; Public Domain.


Calligraphy Pottery

March 13, 2013 1 comment


some energy on a Wednesday evening… RT

(reposted from Mountain Folkcraft)


Calligraphy Pottery.

What To Make Of This?

February 17, 2013 Leave a comment


the cat sees fuschia tulips…and i see…?  RT

(reposted from Counting Fence Posts)


What To Make Of This?.

RT’s Check List for Translators

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

File:Domenico Ghirlandaio - St Jerome in his study.jpg


This painting of St. Jerome, Patron Saint of Translators, speaks to the translator in RT. The care and precision of the translator is written in Jerome’s face, and his surroundings, perhaps because of their order, suggest something of the ornate riot of a poem. The burden is all the greater when the translator is working with material as important as the Bible (St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin–the Vulgate).

Controversy rages among translators on the principles and focus of translation. Without taking sides in the argument,  RT offers his reflections on the task:

1) A good translator produces work that is acceptable, if not excellent, prose or poetry.

2) If the original material is a fixed text by a single author (say a lyric piece by a modern poet), then the translator should attempt to reproduce the text faithfully, subject to the requirements of item 1.

3) If the original is a fixed text by several authors (e.g., any of the four branches of the Mabinogion), the translator may produce either a version that highlights the discrepancies or choose to smooth them over–as long as at some point he or she points out the attempt to create a more coherent whole.

4) If the original exists in several versions or is only partly recovered, the translator may note this and translate one of the versions or only the extant material–or he or she may attempt to create a version more faithful to the overall sense or history of the materials, noting the existence of the various sources or the fragmentary nature of the original.

5) The translator cannot disappear into a translation. The maker’s mark will be on the translated materials, and so the translator must have taste, good sense, and a flair for his or her native tongue.

6) By the same token, the public’s opinions and feelings for a particular work should be taken into account, but not dominate the translation. The historical facts surrounding the original material should always be respected, and the plain sense of a text should be reproduced, even if this can only be accomplished by euphemism.

7) A translation is finished when the translator enjoys reading it.

8) A translator should love the original materials.


Painting: St. Jerome in his Study; (1480—Church of Ognissanti, Florence); Domenico Ghirlandaio; WikiCmns; Public Domain; source: Source:

Slippery Tongues: Scotland & the Steady Shift of Speech

January 7, 2013 Leave a comment


Since posting on Scottish Gaelic yesterday, RT has run into some interesting facts about that country’s languages. The divide is not, as RT had imagined, a neat one between English and Gaelic. Instead, Scotland has at least two English varieties, one of which, Scots, may count as a separate language. Scottish Gaelic, moreover, is a descendant of Old Irish (though this view has been recently contested).

What we appear to be looking at is a language continuum involving not one but two language groups: English and Goidelic Gaelic.

To help sort out the phenomenon of languages that blend into one another, RT here gives a definition of language (via Wikipedia): Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system.

RT would like to emphasize the word “complex.” Here is where the subtlety and possibility for slight variations arises.  Every language has a standard form, but variants–tied to location and social position–are common. Groups form within groups, and cultures are rarely monoliths.

What is especially interesting in the case of Scotland is the small number of speakers involved–today, the country’s population stands at 5.3 million, of which 53,000 speak Scottish Gaelic and more than a million speak Scots, at least as a second language. Just about everyone understands Scottish English, which shades off into standard English.

What a diversity of language among a relatively small number of speakers! Subsequent posts will search for reasons behind this linguistic richness.



Poster: UNESCO International Mother Language Day. WikiCmns. Public Domain.



December 23, 2012 3 comments




wow! some inspiring words… RT

(reposted from My Far Away Places)