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Iversen’s Multiconfused Log (see p.1!)

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Iversen
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 Message 3345 of 3959
12 August 2013 at 10:34am | IP Logged 
I saw a clip where a group of chimpanzees caught a lone foreign chimp, ripped him apart alive and ate him. It may be nature's way of dealing with things, and I have no illusions about nature being soft and nice and just so I don't advocate that we let the chimp species perish just because of episodes like this. But sometimes the thought strikes me that the support for nature conservation may dwindle if photographers and script writers on the search for the brutal truth constantly show the gory sides of nature. If films about gardening were made by the same kind of people we wouldn't se anything but weeds and bugs, and gastronomic programs would just show oversized or poisoned people carted away to the hospital or churchyard (well, some gastronomic programs do look scary to me - like those where people try to eat 28 burgers or a bucketfull of clams in 20 minutes and things like that). By the way, I wonder how films about bonobos are shown in American television. After all they are our nearest cousins, and I suppose there would be quite a bit of editing done if humans behaved like bonobos in public.

Speaking about behaviour, I have the same gluttonous attitude to zoos and aquaria as I have to languages, and I have also travelled quite a bit in my life. My zoo/aquarium list contains somewhere between 420 and 430 places, including a fair number in the States (5 zoos and 1 aquarium in New York alone). Once I stayed in Jo'burg preparing for a roundtour to several national parks in South Africa, and the people at the lodge were deeply surprised (bordering on outraged) that my first thought after arrival was to take a taxi to the Jo'burg Zoo. Zoos also have another advantage, namely that they are visited by local people as much as tourists, which means that you can sit down on a bench and listen to people who speak their own dialect or sociolect instead of some standardized lingo. Here in Denmark I have (re)visited 10 Zoos and aquaria since the beginning of July, so I can't deny a certain interest in that type of institutions.

And finally TV: I have cable TV, where I have bought the biggest standard package of programs I could get plus some special channels on top of that. Which means that I have X Danish and English/US channels, 4 in German, 3 in Swedish, 1 in Norwegian, 2 in French, 1 in Spanish and 1 in Italian. And there are programs in for instance Polish, Serbian(Croatian, Turkish, Urdu and Thai on offer - but getting them would be fairly expensive. Besides we have subtitling here in Denmark, which is much better for language learners than dubbing. The downside is that I didn't choose the concrete channels, and most of those I have got in the minor languages are general channels with a lot of irrelevant or even disgusting stuff.

I remember from my TV watching in the States that you might have a Spanish Channel or two on your TV (in addition to all the stuff in English - and French in Québec in Canada), but other languages were totally absent - or only delivered as special pay channels to households in certain areas. In that situation the internet is the only available source, but watching matchbox size moving pictures on a computer is not the same as having it on your TV set, and besides I normally use my computer for other things when it is switched on. But for minor languages I also have to watch matchbox TV or podcasts on my computer. Or just listen to internet radio.

Edited by Iversen on 12 August 2013 at 10:58am

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Iversen
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 Message 3346 of 3959
13 August 2013 at 11:29am | IP Logged 
RO: Ultima noapte am lucrat cu pasaje din unele dintre sursele mele obișnuite, de pilda ghidul român la Schönbrunn, ghidul rus la Palatul Dogilor și un text în bahasa indonesia despre parcul de pasăre din Bali. Am scris, de asemenea, câteva sute de cuvinte polonezi și rusi pe listele mele de cuvinte. Dar de toate acestea nu este nevoie să spun mai mult, deoarece aceste sunt activitate destul de obișnuite.

I worked on some of my usual sources yesterday evening, like the Romanian guide to Schönbrunn, the Russian one to the Ducal palace of Venice and a text about the Bird Park on Bali. Besides I added a few hundred Russian and Polish words to my wordlists, but all this is fairly banal stuff so there isn't much more to say about it. So instead I would like to mention an article from the internet which I read yesterday: "Guessing Word Meaning from Context Has Its Limit: Why?" by Ahmad Azman Mokhtar and Rafizah Mohd Rawian. In spite of the missing plurals in the title this was a quite interesting article, which concluded that some language learners simply can't make 'far' guesses, i.e. guesses based on elements which aren't adjacent to the dubious element, and that even for good guessers the mental processes which children use to learn their native language can't be used because of limited exposure - but language learners still use and believe in guessing because of their early success learning their native language (p.292:

this study finds that though guessing strategy is preferred by the students, it does not help to increase ESL learners’ vocabulary knowledge. This finding demands an answer. There are several possible reasons why such a phenomenon occurs.First of all, it is an unquestionable fact that guessing vocabulary from context is how English native speakers most frequently learn the meanings of new English words. One of the advantages they have is the rich exposures to the language. They live in an environment where English is used everywhere and all the times. However, as explained by Martin (1984), “The luxury of multiple exposures to words over time and in a variety of meaningful contexts is denied to second and foreign language students. They need prodigious amounts of information within an artificially short time”


And on page 300:

Research by Prince (1995) is worth discussing since it directly compared learning vocabulary from translation-pair lists versus vocabulary in context. (…) There were two testing conditions for all students: a translation recall in which students had to translate a word and a context recall in which students had to fill in the blanks with the correct target word. The most important finding of this research is that L2 words were more successfully learned when presented with their translations. Adding a sentence context did not raise learners’ retention of these words. Earlier Nagy and Herman (1987) state that experimental studies conducted by Margosein, Pascarella, and Pfaum in 1982 also revealed that inferring meanings from context is less effective than more intensive or explicit forms of instruction.

Apart from supporting my own opinions (based on years of study) the text also has given me something else to think about, namely certain types of relative constructions which aren't allowed in standard English, but exist in other languages. A certain Stahl has apparently formulated the following categories in some slightly jocular idiolect:

Stahl (1999, p. 15) suggests that there are four levels of word knowledge: (1) word that one never saw, (2) word that one has heard of but does not know what it means, (3) word that one recognizes in context and can explain that it has something to do with…, (4) word one knows.

There is a good summary in Wikipedia, and speaking about Romanian and English, let's see what it says about the so-called "Pronoun retention type":

In this type, the position relativized is indicated by means of a personal pronoun in the same syntactic position as would ordinarily be occupied by a noun phrase of that type in the main clause — known as a resumptive pronoun. It is equivalent to saying "The man who I saw him yesterday went home". Pronoun retention is very frequently used for relativization of inaccessible positions on the accessibility hierarchy. In Persian and Classical Arabic, for example, resumptive pronouns are required when the embedded role is other than the subject or direct object, and optional in the case of the direct object. Resumptive pronouns are common in non-verb-final languages of Africa and Asia, and also used by the Celtic languages of northwest Europe and Romanian ("Omul pe care l-am văzut ieri a mers acasă"/"The man who I saw him yesterday went home"). They also occur in deeply embedded positions in English, as in "That's the girl that I don't know what she did", although this is sometimes considered non-standard. Only a very small number of languages, of which the best known is Yoruba, have pronoun retention as their sole grammatical type of relative clause.

Edited by Iversen on 13 August 2013 at 12:33pm

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Iversen
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 Message 3347 of 3959
14 August 2013 at 11:06am | IP Logged 
Since yesterday I have read a couple of articles about non-standard relative clauses, including this one by Adriano Murelli. And while watching QI I even heard Andy Parsons say something like "Is it a little (Something) that you don't know what it is?").

The special thing about this construction is that the relative pro-word competes with a regular pronoun for the role as subject - and then the relative pronoun "that" is getting perilously close to losing that role and becoming a mere conjunction like its homonym "that" in "You know that it is something different". "What" is of course object in the clause "what it is", but at the same time it functions as conjunction. Consequently the whole thing constitutes a socalled a 'sentence knot' (Danish: sætningsknude). This is a complicated construction where the subordinate clause has its own embedded clause, and the defining factor is that the relative element that ties the subordinate(s) to the topmost level belongs to the lowest level, not to the middle level.

I have written about such constructions in 2011 in this very thread, but without the added layer of confusion that stems from the 'extra' subject in Mr. Parson's sentence.

In Murelli's article there is also a Danish example:

Kender du den mand som der talte med hende?
know you that man RPAR SRE spoke with her?
‘Do you know the man who talked to her?’ (Platzack 2002: 83)

Let me as a non-standardized native Dane add that you even can hear

Kender du den mand som at (der) talte med hende?
Know you the* man who that there spoke with her?   *(not that)

Like English 'that' our "at" can function as conjunction: "Jeg sagde at manden talte med hende". But using it as a relative pronoun is definitely nonstandard - though not unheard of (but strictly not something to be emulated): "manden at talte med hende".

Using "at" in combination with true relatives as in my example above is nonstandard, but nevertheless more common than the use of 'at' alone in relative clauses. Now how do we analyze these examples with two or three conjunctions/relative pronouns? The classical idea is that there is one conjunctional role (or slot), and in a relative clause that role is taken by a relative pronoun (or occasionally by an empty space as in 'the man I saw' or Danish: "manden jeg så"). But it is not acceptable to the purists that two relative pronouns compete for the job. The question is however whether this really is the case here. Please notice that you can't invert the order of "som" and "der": *"Kender du den mand der som talte med hende?". This suggests that the intrusion of "der" may be facilitated by its use as a preliminary subject: "der kommer nogen" (there comes somebody).

You may ask: are these wacky constructions a sign that some native speakers can't even construct a proper sentence when it gets slightly complicated, or are they perfectly legal in some dialect or sociolect? The reality is that the constructions in question are not only legal, but actually the norm in certain languages, and they aren't as sick as it may seem at the first glance. For instance it is quite normal in certain languages to have preliminary or 'dummy' unstressed pronouns hanging around in a sentence, like in Irish or in Romanian with their unstressed personal pronouns or in the isolated case of our Danish "der". And then ordinary language users will of course do the same things in subordinates, whether it is allowed by the powers that be or not.

You could even say that it is strange that most Western European languages accept that one word can function both as a conjunction and as another member of a sentence. Maybe we are the weird ones.


EDIT: I just saw the following construction in another article by Murelli about relative constructions ("Relative constructions in European languages: a closer look at non-standard varieties."):

Den fyr som at der købte bogen
DAN that boy REL COMP PTC bought the.book
‘The boy who bought the book’ (Platzack 1997: 91)


Edited by Iversen on 14 August 2013 at 4:17pm

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newyorkeric
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 Message 3348 of 3959
14 August 2013 at 11:15am | IP Logged 
I am a zoo and aquarium fan, too. I've always liked them and now that I have kids it makes a nice destination when traveling. Our most recent visits were to the zoo and aquarium in Osaka. The aquarium was first rate. We also have some a nice zoo and two aquariums here in Singapore as well as a very nice bird park.
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Iversen
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 Message 3349 of 3959
14 August 2013 at 11:18am | IP Logged 
Plus a turtle museum/zoo, unless the hapless owner has given up because of the burglars who steal his animals. The crocodile farm adjacent to the bird park unfortunately died before I managed to visit it.

Edited by Iversen on 14 August 2013 at 11:19am

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montmorency
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 Message 3350 of 3959
14 August 2013 at 1:09pm | IP Logged 
I can't quite understand what the sentence from Andy Parsons was all about. Without
hearing it in context and knowing what the (something) was, I don't think I'll be able
to guess.


There is a fairly widely-used non-standard English construction that uses "what"
instead of "that", perhaps more common in London / Cockney than elsewhere, when it is
sometimes rendered semi-humourously as "wot".

"You know that girl wot called out to you back there...."

Or a famous line from the comedian Ernie Wise:

"I'd like to perform for you from a play what I wrote".

(Combining his mock pretensions as a playwright with non-standard=uneducated use of
English)


One modern usage which is now common but sounds incorrect to me is to use "that" for
persons, when I always want to write "who" (or "whom"):

Incorrect(?):   "The girl that called out to you".
Me:         &nb sp;   "The girl who called out to you".


Haven't had time to absorb the Murelli article, but the English examples don't look
very non-standard to me. Perhaps I'm just so used to those constructions. (I must say
that I've always had problems when attempting to translate English embedded clauses
into German, and would still have to think very carefully about it).


Hope it's not just a case of academics making simple things unnecessarily complicated.
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Iversen
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 Message 3351 of 3959
14 August 2013 at 4:16pm | IP Logged 
The issue is not really the "what", but the "it". Stephen Fry has asked what a certain thing is, and unless I have misheard the sentence Andy Parsons answers as quoted: "Is it a little (something) that you don't know what it is?" (I had forgotten the fifth word when I jotted the sentence down - the construction was my main concern).

Let's have a closer look at the construction.
If you ask "what is it?" then "it" is the subject and "what" is the subject predicative ("it is XYZ"). If somebody says "you don't know what it is" then the two words have exactly the same functions - subject and subject predicative. If you were really pedantic you might embed this two-tier phrase into "a little thing about which you don't know what it is", and then you have given the relative "which" a role as regimen after a preposition" where it can't possibly clash with anything coming after it. But which sentence function does the word "that" have in "a little (something) that you don't know what it is" (apart from the conjunctional role)? THat's the question!

In a 'normal' relative clause you can normally take the thing the relative pro-word refers to and insert it in its place in the embedded phrase. But here there already is an "it" in the innermost (last) clause with the role of subject predicative, and the inserted element clashes with it big time: "You don't know what {the little something}/{it} is". And this situation doesn't seem to depend on 'that' - you could have used "which" or "wot" instead without changing the construction or the degree of non-standardness: "Is it a little (something) wot you don't know what it is?"

If the relative term is fairly neutral, like the English "that" which also is used as a 'pure' conjunction, then the interpretation of the construction may slide towards one where it too is interpreted as a mere conjunction without anaphoric tendencies.

If the relative term is fairly neutral, like the English "that" which also is used as a 'pure' conjunction, then the interpretation of the construction may slide towards one where also its relative 'that' is interpreted as a mere conjunction without anaphoric tendencies. You wouldn't see that in Classical Latin, where the relative pronoun was fully inflexed. The old normative grammar authors however often tried to make their grammars conform to the Latin models even when those models didn't conform to the contemporary realities. And then the school teachers waded blindly in the footsteps of the grammarians …

The point is that this kind of clash isn't described in classical normative English grammars, and I'm fairly sure my teachers back in the 60s would have corrected me mercilessly if I had used such constructions in school. But they do exist, and in some languages they are actually the normal way of doing things.

By the way, not "wot" but "wat" is a regular Dutch relative pronoun, whose normal uses are listed here. And in Afrikaans "wat" has even encroached upon the territory of other relative pronouns.

Edited by Iversen on 15 August 2013 at 11:25am

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meramarina
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 Message 3352 of 3959
14 August 2013 at 7:20pm | IP Logged 
Quote:
I remember from my TV watching in the States that you might have a Spanish Channel or two on your TV (in addition to all the stuff in English - and French in Québec in Canada), but other languages were totally absent - or only delivered as special pay channels to households in certain areas.


Yes, in my experience that's true. You'll get more variety near a city or community with a large language community, but overall, there's not much. However, I was able to listen to local radio broadcasts in several languages when living near New York.

I don't bother much with TV at all, even in English, but I could handle even the dumbest shows in other languages. And target language nature and history documentaries? LOVE them! Now and then I find a good one online.

I think that zoos, besides being fascinating in their own right, are excellent places for a language learner. Learn basic grammar, vocabulary and animal words and you can eavesdrop on the zoogoing humans, maybe even have a conversation!


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