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November 27, 2015

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Not political?! You're talking about cultural appropriation!

Echoing the 'not political?!', one need only consider the 1400 year persistence of the Sunni/Shia divide...
... or the survival of the Yazidis.

A splendid book in this vein, cited here before I think, is Albion's Seed:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albion%27s_Seed

Nigel,

I have seen it suggested that the divide is actually older than that. The argument is that Mohammed suppressed various long-standing tribal conflicts, but that after his death they resurfaced, and that the Shia-Sunni conflict was, and is, simply a manifestation of those older hostilities.

Maybe someone who knows more than I do about this - a low bar - could comment.

I'd like to echo byomtov's request for some knowledgeable commentary on the Shia-Sunni divide.

Because what I've heard seems to be a remarkably trivial reason for a split EVEN in the context of intra-christian schisms. (One extra letter in a greek word? srsly?)

I'd be interested to know more about that too, although a faction fight for jobs in the early Muslim hierarchy doesn't sound too improbable to me. It sounds less improbable if you accept the argument of Muslim commentators such as this guy, or this one, that there has not been continuous hostility between Sunni and Shi'a since 680 CE, and that for most of that time adherents of the two traditions coexisted quite happily, intermarrying* and living in the same neighbourhoods. From time to time leaders have appealed to Sunni or Shi'a identity to rally supporters around conjunctural issues relevant to the politics of their own times, but this has been the exception rather than the rule.

According to Murtaza Hussein, linked above, the present round of sectarian conflict dates to the last quarter of the 20th century and has everything to do with modern power politics and nothing to do with the Battle of Karbala. This seems more than likely to me.

In this context, let us not that as recently as 1959, the rector of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, issued a fatwa recognising Shia Islamic law as the fifth school of Islamic law and authorising the teaching of courses in Shia jurisprudence as part of the University's curriculum.

*Those of us with long on-line memories will recall Salaam Pax, the "Baghdad Blogger", mentioning that one of his parents was Sunni, the other Shi'a.

Iran is a good example: if your culture is roughly 5000 years old it's only natural to regard the Arabs as uncivilized upstarts who had the cheek to force their silly religion onto a once great empire a mere 1500 years ago ...

Which brings us to Zoroastrianism, still around after 3000 years with more than 100.000 adherents.

The other side of persistance, of course, is the ease and speed with which pieces of culture transfer around the world today. The obvious examples are Western (mostly American) music and movies. To the horror of parents and grandparents everywhere else.

Indeed, a case can be made that our military and economic strengths are not what keeps the West ahead of the rest of the world. It is simple cultural transfer. That is a hill that the Russians never managed to climb. Russian culture has great strengths. But who voluntarily learned Russian in order to appreciate them?

The Chinese show no signs of climbing that hill either. Handicapped, no doubt, by the fact that Manderian is far harder to learn than English -- good luck with the tones if you grew up speaking a non-tonal language.

Having watch a couple thousand hours of Korean TV drama series probably makes me an outlier. But Korean pop culture is growing in popularity around the world.

One Korean drama streaming website uses crowd sourcing to create the closed captioning for the dramas. Some of the dramas have closed captioning in fifty or more languages.

Sure, Korean pop culture, but not so much Korean language.

Of course, English is such a horrible mash-up of Frisian, Norse, Gaelic, with Latin and French elements, that no one rational would make it a global language.

I guess humans just aren't that rational.

Pervasive, persistent culture? Latin culture.

Which brings us to Zoroastrianism, still around after 3000 years with more than 100.000 adherents.

Very nice showing, but hardly comparable to Judaism.

All the culture Romans ever had came from my people. Aside from deifying their emperors and building with concrete, what did they add to Greek culture? Orgies and gladiators, I suppose.

I kid of course. Some of my best friends, etc.

--TP

no one rational would make it a global language.

A creole (a pidgin which lasts long enough that new generations have it as their native language) is typically quite simplified compared to the languages from which it is derived. And thus it is easier to learn than most languages. Exactly the sort of thing that would be ideal to become a global language.

Notice, for example, how simplified English grammer is: No genders for nouns. Limited tenses for verbs. Ease of absorbing words from other languages, since it was developed by doing so.

Also, the extent to which mildly mispronounced words can still be understood. Compare that to Chinese, where adolescent males are sometimes discouraged from speaking -- simply because, when their voice breaks, it changes the meaning of the word they are saying. Obscenely in the case of some common words. (And English doesn't lose meaning because someone who is the native speaker of a tonal language retains the use of tones when speaking.)

In short, English is exactly the type of language that one would rationally choose as a global language. That it was the specific creole that is becoming the global language is a matter of the chances of history. But it is still a sensible, if not choice, then expectation.

I think it was Charles Darwin who held a personal belief, never opined publicly for lack of evidence, that man had music and song 10,000 years before organised speech. Which is why music can move us in ways words can't. It's a pretty good idea. You don't need words for music, just sounds.

Waiting for the Egyptian delegation to speak up.

being completely ignorant of Mexican history, i've always been intrigued by the obvious German influences in Mexican folk music: the accordion and the polka-style rhythms.

The story of the Mexican style of music you're talking about had its origins in central Texas around 1830 when a few immigrants established the first German settlement.
[...]

Does Mexican Music Have German Roots?: Immigrants' Musical Styles Spread South From Texas

and why are there so many names for Germany?.

Most creoles DO have simplified grammar, but most creoles haven't been infected with BOTH gaelic and germanic grammar.

Do you know what you do, when you speak English?

What is that first "do" for, in the sentence above? It's a leftover from gaelic.

And thus do the Irish conquer the world.

Éirinn go Brách!

As a non-native speaker, I can assure you that English is a difficult language to master. The grammar is horrifyingly irregular. My own nightmare is the set of rules for the use of the definite article in the names of bodies of water. The version I learned had five layers of exceptions to exceptions in it.

If you want a really simple language, the modern-day Swedish is one. It does have two grammatical genders, but those behave in a regular manner. The rules for punctuation are simple as anything and the grammar has been consciously been purified from archaic forms.

Chris-y,

I think that socially, it is important to remember that Sunni Islam is not monolithic. The four schools of jurisprudence are sometimes very much at odds with each other and with different Sufi brotherhoods. Socially, Shi'ism is not necessarily very much different from one more Sufi group, if no one has a reason to underline the difference.

the set of rules for the use of the definite article in the names of bodies of water.

hmmm...

oceans, seas and rivers have "the" (The Atlantic, The Hudson River, The Caspian Sea), lakes and streams do not (Lake George, Lake Michigan).


exceptions... The Great Salt Lake... ?

I was of the opinion that Norwegian was a good deal easier than Swedish (as long as one kept away from Nynorsk, which seems much closer to Icelandic at least optically).

The question is: how long does it take to get enough of a language to be understood by a (non-hostile*) native? In that case English is extremly easy. Try for comparision to produce a German sentence that will convey your intentions even partially correct.

*thus excluding Bavarians and French who will refuse to understand you once they notice that you are a stinking outsider. In the case of Bavaria all outsiders are Prussians. e.g. "Saupreiß, französischer!" ('Pigprussian, French', only genuine with the adjective behind the noun).

"In this context, let us not that as recently as 1959, the rector of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, issued a fatwa recognising Shia Islamic law as the fifth school of Islamic law and authorising the teaching of courses in Shia jurisprudence as part of the University's curriculum."

Only fair as Al-Azhar was founded by the Shi'a Fatimids in the 10th century.

I think Hartmut makes a good point -- which I should have thought of. The issue isn't How hard is it to become a fluent speaker of a language? The issue is, How hard is it to become able to communicate basic things?

You can butcher English to an enormous extent and still communicate. You may get mutters about "damn furriners!" due to your accent, but people will still understand what you want. And, because American English has developed with a steady stream of immigrants with varied accents, we are generally accustomed to coping. Some of us less than graciously, but generally not refusing to admit we got the drift.

oceans, seas and rivers have "the" (The Atlantic, The Hudson River, The Caspian Sea), lakes and streams do not (Lake George, Lake Michigan).

Yet,

San Francisco Bay but The Bay of Fundy. Lake Erie but Walden Pond. The Mississippi RIver but Antietam Creek. The Gulf of Mexico but the Persian Gulf.

Not all problems with the definite article, but a touch inconsistent nonetheless.

i wonder if some of the differences in those are due to which European language first named the body of water.

"The ___ of ____" is more of a Romance language formation, so "El Golfo de México" becomes The Gulf Of Mexico, and "La baie de Fundy" is The Bay Of Fundy, when translated directly to English.

but "[Name] [Geographic Feature]" is a more typical English form: Hudson Bay, Cucumber Creek.

As an added bonus, you'll get some regional variation where "Foo Creek" has "the Foo" as an acceptable alternative - but not always... whereas essentially every river can drop "River". And likewise some lakes can drop "Lake" but it's obligatory with others.

Honestly, though, familiarity with a lot of these sorts of things aren't even proficiency markers, they're fluency markers.

cleek,

I don't think San Francisco Bay fits that theory.

Not to mention Foo Fighters...

But really, it appears that, absent total genocide, culture persisting is the rule rather than the exception.

The problem with English being comparatively easy to learn up to, say, lower intermediate level is that fewer and fewer people actually bother to speak or, God forbid, write it properly - and that includes native speakers.

The problem with English being comparatively easy to learn up to, say, lower intermediate level is that fewer and fewer people actually bother to speak or, God forbid, write it properly - and that includes native speakers.

Language is a way to convey meaning, and most people do pretty well with that. People who use English to produce literary art also are thriving. You'll have to explain your beef with a little more precision.

In fact, I'll be more precise in my response to novakant's comment. It's really an originally 19th century obsession to value grammar and spelling as a must-do in literary culture - this happened with industrial values of replication and conformity. All good, in a way, in that it definitely assisted people in attempting more nuance in vocabulary. But let's face it: the "right" way was most definitely the "white" way.

fewer and fewer people actually bother to speak or, God forbid, write it properly

Let's have a pool. How many centuries has that complaint been made? I'm betting it first occurred long before Sapient's 19th century. (Not to mention that it was doubtless heard when all those French words started sneaking into Anglo-Saxon. ;-)

When I first understood that the various strange patois spoken in America could, quite correctly, be termed English, I realised the concept of 'proper' English to be a parochial absurdity.

Seems even more so today.

1.

Let's have a pool. How many centuries has that complaint been made?

A few.

*****

2.

My son and I spent some time a while back musing about the definite article. He is halfway through his fourth year of teaching English in China, and "the" (such a simple word!) is often a stumbling block for his students in their quest for fluency.

In the U.S. we go to church, or school, or college ... but to the theater. We spend a night in jail ... or in the hospital. (In England it seems to be "in hospital." (No "the.")

We once made a long list, but I can't find it at the moment. We didn't find any pattern, especially if you add in the differences between American and British usage. Maybe there's an etymological pattern; I never had time to explore that possibility.

*****

3.

Funny how a post about culture morphs into a lot of comments about language. Someone surely must have a great time studying the evolution of culture and how it both is and isn't a lot like the evolution of language.

Crap. Someone with super powers should feel free to correct my html.

When I first understood that the various strange patois spoken in America could, quite correctly, be termed English, I realised the concept of 'proper' English to be a parochial absurdity.

I realized that the first time I went to London and tried to understand what the cab driver was saying.

Janie, your wish is my command....

Thanks, wj. :-)

"I realized that the first time I went to London and tried to understand what the cab driver was saying."

Not nearly as incomprehensible as a crusty old Long Islander, IMO, ayup.

I realized that the first time I went to London and tried to understand what the cab driver was saying.

When I was a kid growing up in Iowa, five or six or so, I met my great-aunt Martha, recently immigrated from Liverpool. Nobody told me I wasn't supposed to be able to understand her, so we had a fine afternoon.

In Iceland one has to learn for each and every place, whether the proper preposition is í or á. It's í Reykjavík but á Akureyri*. Probably a trick to identify foreigners (like the people next valley) quickly and reliably. ;-)
I wonder who decides the question for places outside Iceland.

*even Google confirms it. There are 200 times mor hits for à in case of Akureyri than for í, for Reykjavík it's 33:1 in the opposite direction.

I don't think San Francisco Bay fits that theory.

doesn't seem to. but there are hundreds of thousands of Google hits for "The Bay Of San Francisco". and, many of them are books and maps from the 1800s which do use "The Bay Of San Francisco". and some recent hits show both.

maybe the change to "SF Bay" is recent (and still incomplete).

Hey JanieM, nice to see you. This is how I teach that swamp in the jungle of English Grammar:

In the U.S. we go to church, or school, or college ... but to the theater. We spend a night in jail ... or in the hospital. (In England it seems to be "in hospital." (No "the.")

My extended spiel about this is that words without the article incorporate deixis, which is basically where we know that the word has a special meaning depending on who says it. Classically deictic words are ones like 'here' or 'me', and this link has Fillmore's lectures on the subject that, as John Lawler says, 'they're the best linguistic writing of the 20th century'.

'I went home' automatically means you went to your home, and not someone else's, but it is a place that shares some notional characteristics with everyone else's home, and 'when I went to university', you are invoking your university experience as it shares traits of other people's experience at university, but the place is unique to the speaker. (I don't get into 'theatre', but I think it is the phonology of the noun that pushes English speakers to add the definite article)

This only comes up after my claim that the definite article with a noun is essentially a 'pointer', and I ask Japanese students who write 'I was in basketball club' or similar sentences, how many basketball clubs were there at your high school? and when they answer 'one' I make them hold up their index finger and say 'hito sashi yubi "the"' with the idea that 'the' points to something that is shared between interlocuters.

The flip side of this is that 'a' selects one individual out of a group, which explains the progression of 'we got a car, and the car was a lemon'. in that the first instance identifies the noun as one vehicle out of the total population of cars while the following instances, you are referring to a referent that is shared between interlocuters.

I then point out that anytime they have a bare singular noun, it is probably wrong and they should make sure that it is a mass noun. This will catch 95% of the mistakes, so the teacher/proofreader doesn't have to add a or the every god damn time.

This works because Japanese students don't generally produce smart ass examples that don't work, like 'Why is 'the lion is the king of beasts' is ok? That's more than one lion!' (no, it's not, you are talking about the archtype of lions, so you are really only referring to one) I'm relatively safe, and the goal is to produce better, not perfect, prose, it does the trick. Plus, it helps provide a relatively understandable reason for why sets like 'do you like coffee' vs. 'do you like the coffee' (and other examples, like 'would you like a coffee' or 'you have to have the coffee here') And if a students says 'high school is a singular noun, why don't I have to add a or the to that?' I pull out the deixis explanation.

Probably more than you wanted to know, but there it is.

about English's usage of the:

http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/19604/is-there-a-reason-the-british-omit-the-article-when-they-go-to-hospital

When we omit the article before the noun, we are thinking of a state or condition, not of a specific place

ex. if you go to jail, you are going there to be imprisoned (in a state of being jailed). if you are going to the jail, you are just visiting.

Very interesting, lj. Thanks.

How do you pronounce "deixis" and "deictic?"

Oh, and do you know where I can get some deictic stuff to use on my windshield this winter?

Pronunciations:

Deixis (YouTube)

Deictic (YouTube)

man had music and song 10,000 years before organised speech.

I find this completely believable.

I would go further, my guess is that music preceded organized speech, not by 10,000 years, but at an evolutionary scale.

And interstate highway numbers get "the" in front of them in Southern California, but not elsewhere.

Yes, most people manage to communicate somehow in English but the majority is stuck somewhere in the twilight zone between Vicky Pollard and Andy Pipkin. And don't get me started on written English, everybody's a dyslexic these days.

And interstate highway numbers get "the" in front of them in Southern California, but not elsewhere.

This has bled over into Arizona, at least in Phoenix. I was just visiting there, and my sister and brother-in-law, neither of whom are from SoCal, refer to the numbered highways that way.

It prompted me to look up an article on the subject, because it sounds so weird to my ears. I had no idea whether it was a Phoenix thing, an Arizona thing, a generally west-of-the-Mississippi thing, or just a not-Northeastern thing (like tennis shoes instead of sneakers and pop instead of soda).

The article, which I'll try to find, also explained this as a strictly SoCal thing, but at least one commenter noted that "the" was used in front of highway numbers in Arizona as well.

Here's the article I read.

Yes, the beltway road 101 around Phoenix is "the 101".

But I think I-10 is just I-10.

My sister says "the 10," "the 17," and "the 101."

http://linguisticsyall.tumblr.com/

Linguistics, Y'all!

interesting blog.

...in Ontario - major highways get "the" (the 401, the 427), lesser ones get a number (9, 10, 24, etc.)

man had music and song 10,000 years before organised speech.

Steven Mithen, a prominent British archaeologist and palaeoanthropologist has written a whole book about this. There's an interesting discussion between Mithen and some of his peers in pdf here.

A portent suggesting the end of American linguistic dominance of the world's lingua franca ?
http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2015/dec/07/james-bond-spectre-americanisation

if anyone else is going to dominate English, it will be the Indians.

We should probably distinguish between spelling and pronunciation. I suspect that spelling will continue to be split between American and British conventions. Slightly American than British on balance, but only slightly.

As for pronunciation, I don't see that changing. For one thing, English is still a second language for most of India. For another, unless Bollywood replaces Hollywood as the world's largest source of movies, specifically movie exports, that will remain where most non-English speakers will get their initial exposure. I can see increasing numbers of people comfortable listening to Indian pronunciation of English. But it will be only one accent variation among many. And that's a whole different story from it becoming the way non-Indians pronounce English.

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