Sunday, February 24, 2008

Second vs., same as the fs.

Some days, it's just the same stuff jammed together in new and teeth-grinding ways. How do you answer a question like this one? Is what choice "gas line vs. polar bears"? What if you choose Carolina vs. Wake? If a false dichotomy falls in the national wildlife refuge, does it still need a question mark? How many words does a polar bear have for "snow"? (Yes, more snow vocabulary in the forecast; see below.) Now that "vs." is both a verb and a conjunction, what peaks does it have left to conquer?

And elsewhere, it's ... still pretty much the same old stuff. Desks are still inventing clever new ways to mutilate innocent verbs:
Police narrate plan to kill, cover up, get away
Despite proof of progress in Iraq, Dems obstruct

History experts still come up with fanciful new bits of history:
South Korea, now the Republic of Korea, once depended on food aid from the United Nations. Now it boasts the world's 11th-largest economy.
Ah, the urgency of "now." You can't run a correction on this one, because it isn't untrue: South Korea is "now the Republic of Korea." But the implication is false. The republic was proclaimed in 1947. The political changes since then have been striking, but they have nothing to do with the name given to the postwar entity.

Mitch Albom still seems to be convinced that Things Ain't What They Used To Be:
Am I the only one who remembers when they actually gave Oscars to movies with happy endings?

And lots of people seem to have ignored yesterday's suggestion that all mentions of the Global Language Monitor's fraudulent Million Word March be spiked forthwith. And Charlotte appears to have made matters worse with some original "value added" (at least, something I haven't seen in other renditions of this tale): the "official" "list" of how many words assorted languages have. English -- of course! -- is at the top, on 995,000 (see yesterday's post for a few other iterations of this utterly bogus number). And guess who's at the bottom?

Right. Those benighted Arabs, with a mere 45,000 words -- including, no doubt, 37 for "snow," half a dozen for political chicanery, and a few score for "camel." If nothing else struck you as absurd about the whole Payack enterprise, doesn't this one set off a few bells? Here's a language that's been cross-pollinating like a rabbit for 14 centuries (around Asia and, for a good chunk of the Common Era, a bunch of Europe as well). It has a pan-national "standard" version and a bunch of diverse dialects, along with its liturgical uses. It talks about all the sorts of things other languages talk about. So -- without even getting into issues like whether any of the Global Language Monitors would know a Form X verb if it jumped up and bit 'em in the arse -- why would Arabic have a word list less than 5% the size of English's? Did it occur to anybody than when an assertion looks ridiculous on its face, maybe there's a reason?

The more worrisome issue, though, is the sort of Discourse Buddies the Language Monitors seem to be choosing. Tut-tut comments about notional differences in vocabulary size aren't as innocent as they look. They tend to be associated with a bunch of cultural generalizations that, to put it gently, do more to reinforce ethnocentric cluelessness about the Fractious Near East than to help us understand the place. Given that Paul Payack has already shown himself willing to lend the mantle of dubious scholarship to the foamy-mouthed camp in American politics, he might want to be a little more careful about the company he keeps.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

My goodness. 45,000 words? Sheesh.

And for a change of pace, I tag you historically (though you don't have too, of course.

7:52 PM, February 25, 2008  

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