Posts Tagged ‘language’
April 24, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
Linguists and grammarians the world over may weep into their Manuals of Style, but the march of progress continues: as of this week, the AP Stylebook has altered its definition of hopefully. As they tweeted, “We now support the modern usage of hopefully: It's hoped, we hope.”
(Previously, the accepted definition was, “In a hopeful manner.”)
As the AP deputy standards editor David Minthorn told the Washington Post somewhat mournfully, “We batted this around, as we do a lot of things, and it just seemed like a logical thing to change. We’re realists over at the AP. You just can’t fight it.”
Naturally, the decision has been controversial. While some have heralded the AP’s flexibility, others, like editor Rob Rheinalda, take a dimmer view, opining, “It’s lazy and it’s subjective. The speaker presumes that everyone shares that hope.” The WaPo piece had generated 680 comments as of this writing. Is Rome burning? Or is language simply in perpetual flux?
We are reminded here of the immortal words of Ken Kesey, who, in his Paris Review interview, remarked, “As you get older and hopefully wiser, you find that blame and punishment beget only more blame and punishment.” Amen.
April 18, 2012 | by Dave Tompkins
In January 1940, a German double agent warned the FBI, “Watch out for the dots! Lots and lots of little dots.” During World War II, German Abwehr agents used microphotography to reduce classified military documents down to a dot, entrusting the period with sensitive intelligence such as tank specs and bomb sites, as well as meeting coordinates, a time and a place. Administered to the page by syringe, the dot traveled under the guise of punctuation and was then enlarged by its recipient—blown up in a world that would ultimately be reduced to rubble. The end of the line harbored secrets.
To an aerosol artist like Rammellzee, this would be the last stop on the A train in Far Rockaway, Queens, where he sprayed his first tag back in the late seventies. The letters—EG—stood for “Evolution Griller.” I once shared the dot’s steganographic past with this Queens-born rapper/letter engineer, a man once described as “micro” for his detailing of subway cars and history. Rammellzee had no time for punctuation, but all night for talking military engineering, tanks, dentistry, deep-sea bends, gangster ducks, and loaded symbols. Hunched over a beer inside the Battle Station, his Tribeca loft, he asked if I was with the Defense Department and grumbled, “Too much information in the room is not good policy.” Under his baleful watch, the only time a sentence called for a period was when declaring the end of an era. With Rammellzee, a single thought—often concerning the welfare of the alphabet—might span centuries: from Visigoth invasions to Panzer battalions to a subway tunnel beneath an African slave cemetery to a band from Buffalo called Robot Has Werewolf Hand. All between a burp and a nod, from a polymath who referred to himself as an equation.
April 16, 2012 | by Thomas Mallon
The New York Times made its first mention of Edgar Rice Burroughs on June 14, 1914, when the paper’s Book Review included Tarzan of the Apes among “One Hundred Books for Summer Reading.” Having asked publishers to supply the hundred titles, the Review editors did “not pretend to say what consideration has inspired each . . . particular selection”—a note of caution that veers toward alarm in the editors’ capsule assessment of Burroughs’s recent creation: “The author has evidently tried to see how far he could go without exceeding the limits of possibility.” The plot description that followed made it clear that, “possibility” aside, plausibility had certainly been breached:
Lord Greystoke and his wife are marooned on the African jungle coast, build a cabin, and become accustomed to the wild life there. A son is born and the mother dies. A herd of giant apes invade the cabin, kill Lord Greystoke, take away the child, and rear it as their own. When the child has become a man he possesses the habits, the language, and the great strength of the apes. One day a white woman is put ashore from a ship, and the ape man falls in love with her, and rescues her from many perils. He also plays the part of instructor to a scientific expedition. The scene then shifts to Wisconsin, where the heroine is rescued from more perils. Meanwhile the ape man has been educated in the culture of his kind, and he finally proves that he has a soul as well as superhuman strength.
Burroughs was surely unfazed by this. Read More »
October 4, 2011 | by Lauren O'Neill-Butler
Shannon Ebner is a Los Angeles–based artist known for using handmade letters, symbols, signs, and other means of representation to call attention to the limits and loopholes of language. Photographs and sculptures from her new project, “The Electric Comma,” are featured in the 54th Venice Biennale and in a solo show at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Two new public sculptures, both titled and, per se and, accompany these shows and are installed, respectively, on the Grand Canal in Venice and in Culver City. Audiences in L.A. can see the eight-foot-tall solar-powered work on the northeast corner of Centinela Avenue and Washington Boulevard until October 14. Ebner’s pictures of “anti-places” and “anti-landscapes” (for instance, dust from emergency road flares that appears to spell out a word) are on view at the Hammer until October 9.
In the essay she wrote to accompany your exhibition at the Hammer, curator Anne Ellegood describes your work as “manifestly American.” How does American identity relate to your recent pictures, and how does landscape figure in?
Robert Smithson once asked if Passaic, New Jersey had replaced Rome as the eternal city, with buildings that rise into ruin rather than fall. It makes me realize that my interest in landscape—for instance, in the work of an artist like Joe Deal, who made pictures from an elevated vantage point, with his camera high up on a bluff or hillside looking down at tract-housing neighborhoods—has to do with this idea of falling while rising. I think that there is a connection between Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Deal’s vantage point. It seems to say that there could be some redemption, some possibility that the kids of those tract-housing communities could be saved from being an American, from rising to fall or, I guess I should say, rising to fail.
December 22, 2010 | by Lorin Stein
We had forgotten all about it, until we received an interesting item from special U.S. Open correspondent (and Team Paris Review catcher) Louisa Thomas. In the current issue of Science, Jean-Baptiste Michel, Yuan Kui Shen, Aviva P. Aiden, Adrian Veres, Matthew K. Gray, the Google Books Team, Joseph P. Pickett, Dale Hoiberg, Dan Clancy, Peter Norvig, Jon Orwant, Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak, and Erez Lieberman Aiden report new findings on the fate of irregular verbs in English:
Though irregulars generally yield to regulars, two verbs did the opposite: light/lit and wake/woke. Both were irregular in Middle English, were mostly regular by 1800, and subsequently backtracked and are irregular again today. The fact that these verbs have been going back and forth for nearly 500 years highlights the gradual nature of the underlying process. Still, there was at least one instance of rapid progress by an irregular form. Presently, 1% of the English speaking population switches from “sneaked” to “snuck” every year: someone will have snuck off while you read this sentence. As before, this trend is more prominent in the United States, but recently sneaked across the Atlantic: America is the world’s leading exporter of both regular and irregular verbs. (From “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books”)
To which we say, good catch, Louisa! It is not every day that The Paris Review Daily finds itself in step with the march of history. We’re not sure it’s something to celebrate; still, we thought our early adopters ought to know.
November 9, 2010 | by Mark de Silva
Have you ever asked someone if the hot water is in the uphill tap? Maybe you’ve warned a friend of the fire ants north of his foot. Or perhaps you’ve merely suggested, with all delicacy, that your date might like to brush the cake crumbs from her mountainward cheek. Doesn’t make any sense? Maybe that’s because you don’t speak Tzeltal, Guugu Yimithirr, or Balinese. In Through the Language Glass, Guy Deutscher discusses these and other differences in thought and perception occasioned by the world’s many tongues. He is currently an honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester. Recently, he answered some of my questions about his new book via e-mail.
In the introduction to your book, you point out the many ways the general public overestimates the influence of language on thought and experience. Why do you think that is? And are there any respects in which ordinary people underestimate language’s influence?
Can it be that we tend to overestimate the influence of language partly because we so often underestimate the intelligence of other people? Think about common arguments on the lines of “if you call something X, people will believe it’s X just because of the name.” We rarely hear, “If you call something X, I will start believing it’s X just because of the name.” I obviously know better. But others don’t. This type of overestimation has a long history. One of the earliest discussions of the influence of language on thought was an essay by the Bible scholar Johann David Michaelis from 1760, which won the prize of the of the Prussian academy. In it, Michaelis explains that if, for example, one gave completely different names to two vegetables which are in reality quite similar, “the people” would never suspect that they are similar. He’d obviously not heard of clementines, mandarins, tangarines, and satsumas.
On the other hand, it is also true that we underestimate the influence of language, as I tried to show in the book. What we are not sufficiently aware of is the force of the habits that language can create, through the distinctions that it trains us to make and the types of information that it trains us to be attentive to from an early age. And ironically, the areas where the mother-tongue can make a real impact on thought are exactly where common sense would expect all languages to be the same, for instance in the way we describe the space around us or the way we talk about colors.