Posts Tagged ‘ Linguistics ’

Klingons and Kafka?

Once, long ago, I promised to do a bit on my forays into Klingon language. Here it is! In preparation for a presentation on Klingon that I will be doing next week, I figured I better brush up on the syntactical structures. And what better way than to translate a classic text into Klingon? I pondered the books readily available to me (i.e. the one’s sitting next to me at my desk) and I made a decision. Kafka — The Metamorphosis. The work is slow, so I only have one sentence done. But I picked a doozy! The opening line: “As Gregor Samsa awoke from unsettling dreams one morning, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

In my best Klingon:

wa’ po Qongvo’ vempu’ ghe’ghor SamSa najmeymo’ SujmoHpu’, tu”eghpu’ QongDajDaqDaq DolHom’e’ choHlu’pu’.

A literal, non-grammatically corrected, reading of my Klingon approximates:

One morning from sleep awoke Gregor Samsa because dreams caused him to become disturbed, he discovered himself in his bed into a diminutive entity something indefinite had changed him.

When corrected:

One morning, when Gregor Samsa awoke from sleep because dreams caused him to become disturbed, he discovered himself in his bed, changed into a diminutive entity by something indefinite.

A few notes:

1) I picked the word DolHom’e’ (diminutive entity) as the equivalent of monstrous vermin. Klingon does have a word for cockroach (vetlh) and bug (ghew), but I felt that neither of these words could live up to the hype of Kafka’s “ungeheueren Ungeziefer.” I know ungeheueren is supposed to be more like “huge,” but in terms of Klingon mentality, diminutive seemed more appropriate. I use the word “entity” because I want Gregor’s Being to be shrouded. I’ve italicized the retranslated phrase because of a wonderful Klingon construct. The ‘e’ at the end of the word signifies an added importance; thus I make that word the most important in the sentence even though it cannot grammatically have the most prominent part.

2) Something indefinite: this phrase is added purely because Klingon must designate the subject of each verb.

3) Klingon has no adjectives, so many English constructs present huge difficulties! This is the reason “his dreams disturbed him.” “Unsettling dreams” is impossible to convey as such.

4) Bed: I’ve cheated a bit in my literal translation… QongDajDaqDaq actually translates to “In his place of sleep.”

5) The name: The letters of “Gregor Samsa” just don’t work in Klingon. Therefore, I’ve approximated the sounds with “ghe’ghor SamSa.”

Visit the Klingon Language Institute for pronunciation and other stuff!


Linguistic Analysis No. 5 — Learning

Time to write another post. Specifically, a post in which I gripe about edjumucation.

Allow me to share a quote from an edjumucator-in-training. This was his definition of intelligence:

“The ability to understand knowledge in a learning environment enhanced by internal and external factors.”

One might ask, why emphasize “in a learning environment?” A very simple reason. The speaker was talking about schools. Not “learning environments,” but schools. Humans are learning-creatures, we automatically learn. There is no reason environment needs to be factored in if we are approaching intelligence from such a broad perspective. Proximally and for the most part, all environments are learning environments. Yet the linguistic imperative of “learning environment” so often leans towards “school.”

So, I gave this guy’s definition more thought and decided to translate it into common parlance:

“The skill, based on being taught, to recall information in school.”

Notice how edjumucation does not address learning

Linguistic Analysis No. 4 — Dictionaries

Wow. I don’t know what to say, exactly. Read this.

Yup. Dictionaries are banned. Because a student “came across” a term deemed inappropriate. BANNED.

I would, humbly, like to suggest some parents take a look at the Bible, specifically Song of Songs. Specifically verses 7-10.


So, we have the sum of education. Children are precious snowflakes who must not experience anything that would soil their pristine little existence.

The ghost of John Dewey, like Gollum, needs to go away and not come back.

Linguistic Analysis No. 3 — Metalinguistic Guns

Imagine the scene: “A large conference room, filled with pudgy military men. A new rifle has been designed, and these men are just responsible for final, aesthetic touches. One stands up and says, ‘Jesus is a bullet!’ There is much applause.”

It might as well be a true story — see reports here, here, and here. To quickly summarize, a weapons producer was printing New Testament verses on the scopes of their rifles. The rifles are being used in Iraq, so people are upset.

My interest in this is from a different arena. These articles have no metalinguistic self-conciousness; they don’t understand the words they are using. For simplicity, I will use the WP article — which is remarkably similar to that of FoxNews… I will keep this analysis to three points.

1) Theological awareness:

“Trijicon’s rifle sights use tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, to create light and help shooters hit what they’re aiming for.

Markings on the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, which is standard issue to U.S. special operations forces, include “JN8:12,” a reference to John 8:12: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,'” according to the King James version of the Bible.

The Trijicon Reflex sight is stamped with 2COR4:6, a reference to part of the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” the King James version reads.”

So… You tell us that tritium is used to light a path for bullets to kill people. And the quoted verses offer references to Jesus being light. Now, one thing is the disturbed mind that decided that combination made coherent sense (Okay, so my facetious example at the beginning was misleading, the man actually said “Jesus is tritium!”). Another thing, one I consider more important in the moment, is to consider the placement of these bits of information by the WP (and Fox). Neither news source shows any awareness of the disturbing connection between  tritium, murder, and Jesus. I’m sure it’s nice having a Christ who tells you that killing people is okay. It’s probably better when he radioactively points out where the bad-guys are.

2) Clause order — its impacts on semantics

“The company’s practice of putting Bible references on the sites [sic] began nearly 30 years ago by Trijicon’s founder, Glyn Bindon, who was killed in a plane crash in 2003. His son Stephen, Trijicon’s president, has continued the practice.”

Seriously? Glyn’s son has continued the practice of being killed in a plane crash in 2003? Yes, I understand this is an overly critical. But how hard would it be to write: “Trijicon’s founder, Glyn Bindon — killed in a plane crash in 2003 — began putting Bible references on the sights nearly 30 years ago. His son Stephen, Trijicon’s president, has continued the practice.” My version is 5 words shorter. It took me longer to count the words than it did to make the damn thing more concise. And sensible. It should also be noted that the WP wrote “sites” when referring to the “sights” of rifles. Homophones!

3) Weird Specificity

This is not too huge of a complaint. But I do find the specificity somewhat red-flag raising.

“The references to Bible passages raised concerns that the citations break a government rule that bars proselytizing by American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq…”

Um… is it okay to proselytize in other places? Like Haiti?

Come on news sources! You wonder why we don’t really trust you!

Linguistic Analysis No.2 — Star Trek

Astute readers of this blog will note I have some form of affinity for Star Trek. To me, Star Trek is like a particularly stupid animal. Cute, but incompetent. My attitude towards the show ultimately stems from the gorgeous mythos of sci-fi and political/philosophical exploration. It is these qualities that render Star Trek lopsided. The sheer wonder of the universe is remarkable, and I love that. But the elements of political and philosophical exploration that the show meddles with are stupid. Or in any case the show does so in a manner that is stupid.

This leads us to a discussion of linguistics. Specifically, we must look at phonology, the production of sound. Indeed, we must literally look at phonology. We must pay attention to the way we shape our mouths as we speak. From this we gain the art of lip-synching and lip-reading. Combining these two, in a simply brilliant, comedic manner, is the following video (with some naughty language).

In my thinking, the creators of this video have hit nonsense language right on the head. Nonsense at its best forms a kind of quasi-narrative. This, however, is merely the effect of our brains trying to make a narrative where there isn’t one. Perhaps one of the best used techniques in the video is the repetition of one key phrase: apple juice. No explanation of “apple juice” is provided. It is merely there and we must try to fit it into our interior narrative for the scene. “Apple juice” is the call of the Other.

I am currently engaged in reading Emmanuel Levinas’ Totality and Infinity. It is painful. However, Levinas describes the scenario the Other puts us into in exactly the same terms I have described “apple juice.” It is a “signification without context.” There is content, but nothing to tell us what it means. The Other simply calls out to us. We must re-evaluate the way we see things to fit the call of the Other. Or we can ignore it.

And in the case of the “Happy in Paraguay” video, ignore it and laugh.

Linguistic Analysis No. 1 — Roman Catholicism

This is the first of a many part series I plan to do. Occasionally — as is my habit… Basically, my goal is to analyze some word or phrase from a linguistic point of view. I think my passion/patience blog was a forerunner to this concept. Now, I shall begin:

Someone recently told me, “Roman Catholics are hypocrites because they believe homosexuality is a sin, but the Romans were totally gay.”

Oh yes, I did indeed smirk. Even a glance at the assumed logic of the statement makes it laughable. Jesus was not a Roman. Jesus was a Jew — get over it! Such an issue is pure semantics, yet is surprising. Such confusion, thinking the common word “Roman Catholic” without thinking of Christ, is terrifying in my mind. It really emphasizes this idea that it is not religions that are out of touch with young people, but young people who are out of touch with religion. I might be tempted to ramble about the rise of “spirituality,” but that may be for a different post. Still, is it not odd that we live in a world where people increasingly want to be spiritual; increasingly want to be spirits, not bodies?

Anyways, more amusing results can be discovered if we approach this from a different lens. I consulted my handy OED. “Roman Catholic” is not a terribly old word in English! It was first used in the early seventeenth century — which means it only comes into use after the Protestant Reformation. In fact, the first quotation, from Sandys’ Europae Speculum (1605), mentions the recently emerged contrast, “Some Roman-Catholiques will not say grace.. when a Protestant is present.” Yes, even words about religion have a historical precedent.

My point here must reduce to this: English is a remarkable language in its ability to absorb other languages and new words, yet this quality demands of us to know not just what these words mean, but where they come from as well. If not, our logic (*logos — word: therefore, semantics) falls into stupidity even excluding political and theological interpretations.

*I believe the root of logic can be brought further back, to legein — draw out. Heidegger certainly uses this sense of the word, but I think my point still stands. Especially as semantics do draw out, quite exactly or inexactly as the speaker allows.

A Pitter-Patter of Patti

So. I went to bed last night (this morning) a little after 3 A.M. Normally, that would be fine, I suppose. But today I needed to wake up at 8 to get to work on time. Given that I never can fall asleep right away… Let’s just say that I’m a little tired and a little cranky. And a little loopy. My favorite thing about being tired is the heightened perception it allows. Sure, the typical degree of perception is weakened (lack of ability to concentrate), but that tiredness is good for thinking about things in creative ways. Or at least ways that are abnormal.

Last night was my birthday. Now, I honestly cannot remember a birthday I had that was actually fun. Every birthday I can remember has been either neutral or just plain bad. I’m going to qualify yesterday as a neutral birthday, which may begin to seem odd as I describe it.

For some time now there has been a girl I’ve been very attracted to. We kept a fair amount of correspondence up over the summer. Our conversations are always extensive and rambling; they are wonderful. I even asked her out once, long ago — and she had a good reason for not accepting. I was going to attempt to ask her again last night, but I kept holding back. Not out of cowardice, but out of a sense that not asking her was the thing to do. Shortly before I left she changed the topic of our conversation. She described to me that she doesn’t tell people much about some parts of her life — she is currently dating.

I was not surprised. I mean, I was surprised! But it made complete and total sense. Now, I can’t consider myself an expert at reading women — I thought she was flirting with me at some points earlier in the evening. It was totally reasonable that she should be dating someone and that I should be left out of another potential relationship. I found that I wasn’t even sad. Of course I was sad that I’m still single, but I wasn’t (and am not) able to be sad about how the night turned out. And so I went to bed with that mentality.

I was dead tired coming into work this morning. The Quad is totally empty. Save for me… Without anyone to help (I work as a tutor), I just let my mind wander for a while. It suddenly hit me that Patience and Passion are the same thing! I rushed to a dictionary to check my discovery.

Passion: from Latin “passus” — patti = to suffer

Patience: from Latin “patiens” — patti = to endure

So, to end, I shall simply say that only those in pain are truly patient.