It’s that week again

Stepping up to the microphone.

It’s been that week again when in 1949, Chairman Mao addressed the ex­cited crowds in Tiananmen Square, welcomed them to the People’s Re­public of China, and warned them about how deadly PTSD could be.

“But PTSD isn’t generally life-threatening,” said someone in the crowd.
“It is in my case.”
“Say it isn’t so, Son of Heaven.”
“Ah, I meant life-threatening for you. I’ll be fine. No, no. I’ll live to a ripe old age and traumatise the Empire… Sorry, nation, for generations to come.”
“Can I vote for someone else?” asked the man.

It’s the 65th anniversary of the founding of the current dynasty, although apart from a few posters proclaiming this, it doesn’t seem to have been treated as one of those landmark anniversaries.

I went to Chengdu to see Linda, but since the trip was largely domestic, I’ll confine most of the rest of this post to pictures.

Apart from a couple of occasions when it was grey and damp, the weather in Chengdu was warm and pleasant to the point of being summery, and the air quality was generally very good by the city’s usually dubious standards.

I agnize that it’s antique vocabulary


[07.09.14. I originally posted this as part of a larger entry on the 3rd of February 2007, but decided to extract it from that and make it a se­par­ate entry.]


We read Othello when I was at school. 6th form, if I remember rightly. I remember that no one, apart from me, had the faintest idea about the function of the grave accent in the edition we used so that the meter got mangled at times. Most of the time was spent reading the play out loud, but I don’t remember much about the meaning of the English or the themes. I think I regarded Iago as an interesting character because he was completely without scruples in his quest to destroy Othello.

There is one linguistic thing I learnt from Othello, and that is the verb “agnize” which, not surprisingly, I thought might’ve been some variant of “agonise”, but it actually means “recognise; acknowledge”. It’s only used once in the whole play in

I do agnize
A natural and prompt alacrity
I find in hardness and do undertake
These present wars against the Ottomites.
(Act I, Scene iii)

I don’t know whether it’s ever had any airtime beyond this single instance. A search of Renaissance Editions [dead link removed] yields only two examples – the one above and the following from John Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s Essays.

I hate to correct and agnize my selfe, and can never endure but grudgingly to review and repolish what once hath escaped my pen. (Book 3, Chapter IX: Of Vanitie)

Robert Southwell (1561-1595) uses it in the following stanza from New Heaven, New War.

The same you saw in heavenly seat,
Is He that now sucks Mary’s teat;
Agnize your King a mortal wight,
His borrow’d weed lets not your sight;
Come, kiss the manger where He lies;
That is your bliss above the skies.

From the Twenty Fifth Book of Harington’s translation of Orlando Furioso we have

13. Now when the youth from danger quite was freed,
And all that sought his death away were fled,
He thanks the author of this worthy deed,
And thanketh her that had him thither led
Then, when of helpe he stood in greatest need,
When otherwise he doubtlesse had bin dead,
And executed like a malefactor,
Agnizing him his Lord and benefactor.

I don’t know why I happen to remember agnize. I’ve never used it myself since it’s obsolete for a start and I’d forgotten what it meant until I checked the meaning on

I wonder how much longer it’s going to take before someone agnizes that Shakespeare’s English needs to be translated to facilitate the comprehension of his works. The content may have meaning for us, but much of the language doesn’t.

Now, some homework. Yes, that means you lot. Find other instances of agnize from English lit. When was it last rarely used?

Well, Herr Hirschmann, was talken Sie about?

Those old neologisms in full.

cpo has just released Telemann, Grand Concertos for Mixed Instruments Vol. 1 performed by La Stagione Frankfurt. It came with a complete pdf booklet, which is fairly remarkable because most of my cpo albums have never come with any additional information (the cpo website does fill in some of the missing details, though). This booklet is a strangely large file, weighing in at 62Mb for a mere sixteen pages.

As I said above, the cpo website includes some information about each album. The translations from German to English appear to have been done by machine, perhaps with some post-production editing. The English is often a little odd – grammatical, but with German styling.

The few pdf booklets I have for cpo albums also employ the same slightly pompous, bombastic style, but the quality of the translations appears to be better. However, in the booklet which came with Grand Concertos, we have

Along with the motoric ‘perpetuum mobile’ of the Presto the pendulum again swings toward Italy.

I looked at “motoric” and wondered whether this was some adjective with which I was unfamiliar. My Concise OED didn’t have it, and looking up the German motorisch on line left me no more enlightened. However, according to the OED on my Kindle, the word is usually spelt “motorik”, which is used in music to mean “marked by a repetitive beat suggestive of mechanized action or movement”.

The other adjective of which Herr Hirschmann seems fond, “motivic”, was also new to me, but the meaning was immediately transparent.

I’ve learnt my lesson

[21.08.14. The following review was extracted from another entry, which I originally posted on the 4th of April 2008.]

And finished off Ancient Chinese Miniature Stories.

I must admit that these tend to be a little repetitive, viz.

The King of Chu declared that he was going to declare war on the state of Qi and that if any man opposed his plan, he’d shave his balls off with a bacon slicer. No one dared ask whether the king’s balls were for the chop or those of his critic. Wang Fujing emptied out a sack full of kittens into the courtyard. They scampered about, playing with each other or sleep­ing. The king understood. If he went to war, he could not enjoy kittens stir-fried in a wok; but if he did go to war, he’d be the kitten.

They’re also fairly short, hence it doesn’t take a long time for me to read through a hundred of them.

Deep Space Nine

[20.08.14. This post was extracted from an entry from 2008.]

Deep Space Nine, Series 2

I finished watching the second series last night. If the Dominion hadn’t made an appearance in the final episode, I probably would’ve given up on DS9 when it was first shown all those years ago. The episodes were, once again, very TOS/TNG and probably averaging about a C. There were potential story arcs such as political issues on Bajor; the election of a new kai (the Bajoran spiritual leader); and the maquis, but nothing got going because none of these stories were really Space Opera™ material. The maquis were potentially romantic as settlers defending their lands against the evil railroad company the Cardassians, but they came across as whiny nuisances.

On this occasion, I couldn’t help but note that the series seemed to be more like a Western set in space. If some new race turned up, they were farmers. If anyone went to Bajor, their dealings were frequently with, er, farmers. Obviously the writers have no idea what modern farming entails because it’s not some guy tilling the fields by hand. It’s mechanised, computerised, deodorised. All right, perhaps not deodorised. But it’s a business. And by the 24th century (or whenever this is set), you’d expect things might be a little more sophisticated. I quite like the style of steampunk, but this isn’t even agripunk, which might redeem the general ludicrousness of this conception of agriculture.

If the future is full of farmers in space, then the military are a bunch of cave dwellers. Pretty much every planetary base (secret or otherwise) is in a cave because the military always operates in hills where there are caves. I’m sure that somewhere in The Art of War, 孙子 must’ve written, “Secret bases in caves are kewl.” Now if you’re part of the resistance, you probably don’t have the money to spend on something techie, but it seems that as a rule, the military are cheap bastards. The general wants a new uniform; his troops have to live in caves.

In retrospect, it was probably clear fifteen years ago, if you considered the matter carefully, that the Trek universe needed a Russell T. Davies to overhaul it. I recall noting more than once in the reviews that I posted on my original website that a lot of the ideas for DS9 and Voyager seemed to come from The Big Book of American Clichés.

Language is descended from monkeys

[20.08.14. This was originally part of an entry I posted on the 5th of January 2008.]

That’s right, Mr Garrison.

In his entry Everyone should study linguistics, languagehat makes some observations about Robin J. Soward’s article Why Everyone Should Study Lingustics in the minnesota review. Structuralism isn’t dead if only because the terminology and concepts still survive in linguistics and, I believe, still get used in the field; but who would actually use structuralism as a linguistic theory these days? The French?

Chomskyism needs to join [Marx and Freud] on the dustheap ASAP, so linguists can get back to what they do best, studying actual languages instead of their theoretical constructs.

The language should be the horse and the theory the cart, but I’ve noticed in my time that the cart is often a square peg being hammered into a round hole.1 Most of the peg fits, but the corners don’t. You can ignore the corners or you can acknowledge them, but put them in a corner by themselves.

At the same time, it depends on what your intentions are. (It’s a who’s-your-audience issue.) If you’re describing a language for specialists and non-specialists alike, you won’t be discussing it in terms of a theory, although it’ll still be impossible for the linguist not to intrude in the description (like any author in any work; Richard Steadman-Jones’s Colonialism and Grammatical Representation [ISBN 978-1-4051-6132-9] discusses an instance of this). If, on the other hand, you’re testing a theory, the theory is the primary focus. The problem with theories is that they can be a little mesmerising. On more than one occasion, I’ve thought that a theory has resulted in a mis-analysis / misunderstanding of the data.

But that’s theory at the micro level. At the macro level, I’m reasonably convinced that the grammars of the world’s languages are all formed by flicking the right switches and pulling the right levers of Universal Grammar (UG). Do we really have the faintest idea of the reality of UG and the grammars of individual languages beyond describing the output of native speakers? I don’t think so. We know there are certain universals in languages, although their implementation varies from language2 to language. We know their are strong tendencies which look like universals to begin with, but then get disproved as new data comes to light. Nonetheless, these are features, universal or otherwise, which are observable across a range of languages which are not necessarily related to each other. How can such similarities be explained unless the human mind is a fairly uniform entity with some sort of uniform capacity for language?

Of course, it’s a little paradoxical that everyone’s grammars are really their own grammars. By and large, my grammar and that of much of the English-speaking world agrees on what is grammatical and what isn’t. There won’t be 100% agreement between any two people. When I was acquiring English, I was merely flicking the switches and pulling the levers as I saw fit. In other words, any dealings we have with any language are going to end up being how an observer sees a particular linguistic phenomenon (which gets back to the author being part of the opus). The description may be adequate, but what’s happening inside my head is another matter.3

1. Worst mixed metaphor evah. –ed.
2. Bugger! Bugger! Bugger! I’m sick of typing “langauge”.
3. I think I’m probably kidding myself if I think any of this is all that clever. I’m off to buy some DVDs, something I should’ve gone to do about an hour and a half ago.

One of them

[20.08.14. This post was extracted from an entry I originally wrote on the 24th of September 2009. Richard Hogg was one of the professors in the English Department at Manchester when I was doing my PhD there.]

Or one of us?

Language Log has picked up on Richard Hogg’s untimely death and has a link to his obit. in The Guardian. I note

One class project involved recording voice samples and playing them to unsuspecting outsiders, who were asked to assess the speaker’s person­ality.

I played a part in that once. One of the students in Richard’s class asked me to read a fairy tale which she then played to some factory workers somewhere in Manchester, who, without being able to see me, got my details utterly wrong. I ended up being a bit older than I was at the time; a lot richer; and politically so not me that I’d have to become a totally different person to fit the listeners’ ideas about who I was.

While I’m over on Language Log, I see there’s also a story called Monks and civilians. While I would typically use the word “civilian” to mean “someone who is not in the military”, I know that it has popped up in The Sopranos to mean something like “someone who is not involved in organised crime”; and I think it also occurred in one of the Godfather films where it meant the same. I’d assume that David Chase or whoever wrote that episode probably got it from The Godfather. In other words, it’s easy to see how the sense can go from the particular (“non-military”) to the general (“not a member of our group”).

Actually, I remember the dreadful Liz Hurley (yeah, I know a lot of you will be saying, “Who?”) used the word to mean “someone who wasn’t in show biz. or modelling” years back. In other words, this isn’t a new phenomenon.

Probably the word “civilian” in the stories about Burma is being used to contrast the people who are neither monks nor in the military. From the perspective of two defined groups, these people would be civilians in both the more recent sense of the word and the standard one.

A collective of bats

Batman, Bat Collective.

[18.08.14. I extracted this post from an older one which I wrote back in 2008.]

I’ve commented ad nauseam on the fairly frequent visits I get for certain topics which were merely mentioned in passing, or not mentioned at all, but used an unfortunate combination of words which then acted like catnip. Now a new one has suddenly appeared from over the horizon. I note that I’ve had several visitors of late who, I guess, want to know the collective noun for a group of bats. They’ve all ended up on my entry A flock of bats? which I posted in June 2006, but which supplied no answer. The terms such visitors are looking for are “colony” or (apparently) “camp”.

But is that necessarily right?

The point is that I wasn’t thinking about the static colony, but rather the bats as they flit around in the air. On the other hand, although bats live together, they appear to hunt as individuals. Birds of a feather flock together, as the saying goes; but because bats aren’t birds, they don’t flock. [Such impeccable logic. –ed.] I’d guess that bats probably have to be fairly solitary fliers because of their use of echo location to find their prey. If you had a hundred bats all together sending out high frequency pulses, they’d probably never catch anything because of the confusion of sounds.

It’s not unusual to see a couple of bats, but it appears to take higher concentrations of insects to attract greater numbers of them.

Mangled archaisms


[17.08.14. I originally posted this as part of a larger entry on the 26th of February 2006, but decided to extract it from that and make it a separate entry. I have dealt with the topic of archaic English more fully else­where.]

English as she was never spoke.

This one comes from Icewind Dale II by Black Isle Studios (now defunct). It appears that High Priestess Lysara must’ve been a bit drunk or stoned or both when she tried her hand at a little pseudo-archaic English.

  • Hath thee met…? Nay, thou surely would hath no breath upon entering her presence.
  • Cathin…?! Oria…?! Hast thou abandoned me? … I hath failed Thee, yet still Thee beckons me…

Most people won’t have the faintest clue what’s wrong with that little lot, so let’s have a closer look, shall we?

“Hath thee met…?” Is obviously meant to be “Hast thou met…?” I could also read the original as “Has she met thee…?”, but that doesn’t fit the context. Thou is 2nd person singular nominative; thee is 2nd person singular oblique (i.e., the complement of verbs and prepositions). Compare I and me. Hath is 3rd person singular present. In current English, we use has. Hast is the archaic 2nd person singular present form which thou wouldst use with thou, if thou didst still use it.

“Nay, thou surely would hath no breath…” For a start, it should be wouldst, but that’s nothing compared with hath for have. I’d write “Nay, surely wouldst thou have no breath…” with inversion of subject and verb after the adverb.

“Hast thou abandoned me?” Actually, it’s grammatical, but wrong number because the phrase refers back to Cathin and Oria. It should be “Have ye/you abandoned me?”

“I hath failed Thee, yet still Thee beckons me…” If this was a car crash, then the wreckage would have been mangled into a few more dimensions than the usual three. Lysara is now addressing the goddess Auril. She ought to be saying, “I have failed Thee; yet thou dost beckon me still…” The second clause might be read “He/she still beckons me to You” or “He/she still beckons You to me”, neither of which fits the context.

The forgotten army of the first world war: how Chinese labourers helped shape Europe

The forgotten army of the first world war: how Chinese labourers helped shape Europe.

An article in The Guardian this morning (First world war’s forgotten Chinese Labour Corps to get recognition at last) reminded me of this much better piece on the South China Morning Post about the contribution of Chinese labourers on the Western Front during World War One.

But just as Europe has forgotten about the Chinese Labour Corps, so too has China, it seems. Although the country did enter the war late in the day (1917), there’s been no mention of the centenary of the start of WWI, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s no mention of the war in 2017, either.

This is also one of those disgraceful stories in which the Chinese themselves are treated badly from the way they were transported to Europe via Canada to the conditions they endured and lack of recognition for their work.

Life and whatever in the imperium sericum.


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