Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just go away!

One night a week is Daddy Night where I get the chance to put in extra hours of work. N takes care of B and it is much appreciated. I like to go to this coffee house until 9:00 after which I don't have to pay to park on campus anymore. A nice quiet place to work with Internet and sometimes butter mochi.

Naturally, tonight a guitarist and drummer show up with speakers the size of tables. I can't hear myself think. He keeps mentioning his tip jar. If I tip them, will they go away?! And can I scream that question in the middle of his concert while everyone else is singing along?

Grrrrrr!!!!!

Another Meme

I grabbed this one from Ello.

1. What are your nicknames?

Paca? None really. My real name used to be unusual enough that no one ever bothered. I have been called Coke a few times in high school. As in coca cola, not cocaine.

2. What game show and/or reality show would you like to be on?

I did the phone thing once for Who Wants to be a Millionaire several years ago, but I didn't qualify.

3. What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD?

No real idea. Maybe Airplane! for VHS? And maybe Kiki's Delivery Service on DVD.

4. What is your favorite scent?

Baking bread?

5. If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it?

Home perhaps? I think I'd buy some relatively reasonable 3 bedroom or something. That's probably close to a million in Honolulu. If I lived some sane place, I could blow the rest on travel, musical instruments I wouldn't play, and books I'd never get around to reading. And kitchen supplies.

6. What one place have you visited that you can't forget and want to go back to?

I know there's one, but I can't remember it.

Tai Shan?

7. Do you trust easily?

Yes, pretty much trust everyone unless you give me a reason not to. The dude in the building next door who threatens to kill his gf and gets in fights with his own guy friends while stumbling down the street half drunk? Not so much. In fact, I despise him.

8. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think?

Let me think about this one.

9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days?

I hate my procrastination tendencies.

10. Do you have a good body image?

There's this image taken of me a couple years ago with about 4 inches less on the waist. I like that image.

11. What is your favorite fruit?

I used to say blueberries, but I think I like the idea of blueberries more than actually eating them. I'll buy them and then they sit there until N suggests we eat them. Maybe the banana. How American, eh? Do Macadamia nuts count as a fruit? How about bacon?

12. What websites do you visit daily?

The blogs sitting in the menu on the right there and Yahoo and Google. That's pretty much it.

13. What have you been seriously addicted to lately?

As I said in Facebook, I have an inappropriate relationship with jalapeno cheetos.

14. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?

I am untagged, but Ello is cool.

15. What's the last song that got stuck in your head?

Various lines from that Weird Al tune one post down.

16. What's your favorite item of clothing?

My mom bought me this incredibly nice leather jacket from Saks 5th maybe 10 years ago which remains my favorite piece of clothing. Softest leather you've ever felt. I used to get a completely different attitude when I put it on. But I'm a little too big for it now and Hawaii is a lot too warm. It sits in a chest.

17. Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy?

Well, I made my first batch of rice krispy treats just a couple days ago. Not bad, but no one's eating them other than me.

18. What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground?

Well, I saw $20 sitting on the sidewalk a few months ago at the bus stop across from UH. Seemed too big to just take, so I stood around holding it for a while looking for someone to ask. Then I stuck it on a nearby news stand for a while. In the end, after about half an hour, I either left it there or took it. I think I took it. With $100? I think I'd give it to the campus security.

19. What items could you not go without during the day?

Laptop.

20. What should you be doing right now?

Dissertation proposal. And so....

Monday, September 29, 2008

Eye Palindrome Eye

This is my absolute new favorite video. It's Weird Al channeling Bob Dylan where all the lyrics are palindromes. How can you top that? Seriously, give it a listen.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Non-Profit Donations Rant

Two or three years ago I gave $20 to the USO because I think they do important work, we are in the middle of two wars, and I live in an area surrounded by military families. So far, so good. But the USO just does. not. stop. in its attempts to get more. Every couple months, at least, since then, we've gotten another letter asking for another donation. I used to do a lot of reading on managing non-profits when I was a head of our local arts center in suburban/rural Tennessee, so I know why they are doing this. And it's not the constant mailings that are bugging me. It's that I'd swear they've now blown the entire $20 we gave them trying to get another $20. These aren't just simple letters we are getting. We've got glossies and several page brochures. They need to stop. I feel like I need to give another $20, not because the USO does good things and I still support that, which is the right reason, but just so my first $20 don't go completely to waste.

So from now on, I will still send a donation to the USO, but I think I will do it anonymously. Either that, or I will just stick cash-filled envelopes in some military neighbor's mailbox.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Whoppers of 2008

Factcheck.org just published a nice summary of each campaign's misleadings, stretches, mischaracterizations, and outright lies. Since I think Obama is a better choice overall for the U.S., I'd love it if only the other team had these, but, alas, all campaigns mischaracterize their opponent. The major difference seems to be that the Obama campaign frequently (though not always) backs off when errors/falsehoods are pointed out, while the McCain campaign doesn't seem to particularly care and repeats them. But maybe that's false.

Here's the link. You decide.

This information's probably more useful not to judge which campaign is the more morally upstanding one, but just so you know what some of the basic facts are. Will Obama raise taxes on all of us? (No.) Will McCain put all of social security in the stock market? (No.)

It looks like the election season is keeping these people busy. In the last three days, they've addressed:

McCain claims Obama's just sat around silent while he (McCain) worked on the bailout. (Completely false.)
Does Sarah Palin support shooting wolves from planes for sport? (No. This charge is from a 3rd party; nothing to do with Obama.)
A 3rd party misleads on Obama's position on abortion, and Obama responds by misleading on McCain's (but maybe not Palin's) position on abortion.
McCain tries to smear Obama because he's from Chicago. (Egregious guilt by association claims.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nanny Software?

As you may have gathered, B, and therefore B's parents as well, are into full-blown Godzilla mania right now. To such an extent that yesterday he no longer wanted a Transformers toy for Xmas, but some sort of Godzilla. But that's a long way away, so who knows what we will be into by then.

His first dictionary of sorts is the box that his Godzilla toy came in, which he got for receiving three "you're awesome" medals at after-school care. On the back it lists several different monsters (Godzilla 1960s, Godzilla Millennium, Godzilla Final Wars, Hedorah, Destoroyah, and one more I'm forgetting, maybe Gigan). He's known since he was about 3 how to use a computer mouse, and he's been working on typing a few words he knows like his name into Google or a Word Processor. He made the leap this weekend such that we can go to YouTube, and he will type in "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" to find clips to watch. While one can obviously argue that Godzilla's not the best thing, I think overall it's good. He completely gets now that words are composed of letters, that you can look them up on the back of the box as a reference, and that you can get information about them if you type them into Google or YouTube.

All of which makes me wonder if it will be time soon for one of those protection softwares like Cyber Nanny. Does anyone have any experience with any of them? I'm rather clueless myself. I know they were once famous for blocking content that you'd ideally want someone to have access to, such as not being able to look up breast cancer because of the word breast or blocking real info on people struggling with sexual orientation issues due to an attempt to keep out gay porn. However, all of those concerns are more relevant for teens rather than 5 year olds.

I'm also well aware that software packages don't replace parents. For instance, B is into transformers toy reviews and lego movies on YouTube. The large majority are all fine, but the guys making these sometimes like to call a toy a piece of ---- and use other words I would prefer B not use at least until age 7. There's no way that software's going to catch that. A parent needs to be there to flip to a different toy review.

All that said, I can see some use to a filtering package. Any opinions on this? Any experience with it?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

B's movie

Here we go with the amazing movie that B and I filmed last Monday. Before starting the little webcam, I thought this would be a first rehearsal, but after experiencing the first item, I decided that rehearsals weren't going to make the final product anymore predictable. This is a complete home movie and I'm just using my blog / YouTube to share.

I had to beat on B for a while to get anything like a story out of him, but this is his creation. And he really did choose the first two songs at least. I added the third and sound effects tonight while he slept.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Is it this simple?

Like probably many Americans, I go back and forth on the wisdom of certain govt. bailouts, but is it as simple as:

1) Estimate how much money the "taxpayers"* would lose should firms such as AIG fail.
2) Estimate the costs of the bailout.
3) Choose the lesser cost item.

??

*Taxpayers should likely not include the direct shareholders of the firm, as these are the ones who knowingly took on risk. Instead, how much would the innocent taxpayers lose due to the collapse? After all, the shareholders took the profits during the good times.

UPDATE: No, not that simple, as it assumes the govt has as much money as needed, when it doesn't. Doh.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Home stuff

N's actually been gone from the isle all week long. She had a business trip over to American Samoa - Pagopago is the main city. Her trips are typically only one day, but a plane only flies into Samoa twice a week. So she left last Sunday and we are going to pick her up tomorrow morning at the lovely time of 5:30 AM. I will update people on Samoa once I know something.

Therefore, it's just been B and me all week. I think we did fine, though I did get super lazy and drove the car everywhere instead of riding the bike. Exercise Schmexercise. B and I created a little move together on Monday, but I've never gotten around to finishing it yet.

I did create a couple of made-up recipes this evening that came out pretty decently. We had:

Honey ginger porkchops
Gochu Wine mushrooms.
and umm crescent rolls, you know from the can that you roll up and stick in the oven.

Gochu Wine Mushrooms

I knew B had about a 1% chance of trying the mushrooms no matter how I prepped them, so I just got experimental. Here's the pseudo recipe, though I'm going to modify it a bit based on what I learned.

1 TB butter
1 standard 8 oz. package of white mushrooms
1/3 c. red wine (cabernet in this case)
1 tsp Thai fish sauce (it's kind of like a soy sauce)
2 tsp gochu jang paste
good bit of black pepper
good bit of garlic powder
a pinch of salt

Preparation:

I sliced my mushrooms into thirds and sauteed for a while in 2 TBs of butter. I stuck the butter in because my only other real mushroom recipe uses butter and cream and is yummy, but I think for this, just add enough to sauté a bit. I ended up with some oil floating on top that wasn't needed. I also think whole mushrooms would be better. More mushroom to the bite later, because the final sauce is strong. So in the end, my recommendation is to just wash and trim the stalks and then cook them for about 5 minutes in a bit of butter. Oh, do all this in a small sauce pan just big enough for the mushrooms, likely your smallest sauce pan. After a few minutes, you should have some liquid coming from the mushrooms. Next, add in the gochu jang paste. I've mentioned this stuff before back in my bi bim bap days; it's a Korean chili bean paste, rather spicy. So if you aren't into spice, go to 1 tsp. (I actually used a whole TB in mine, which is equivalent to 3 tsps, but that was a bit much.) Stir the paste around with the mushrooms. Add the wine and fish sauce. Add the spices. Bring to a boil and then let boil for a while to reduce the "broth" a fair bit. How long? About as long as it took for those canned rolls to bake -- about 15 minutes. Pour some, including broth in a little bowl for each diner. This was a pretty good dipping sauce for bread, too.

Those mushrooms were pretty decent. My guess is you don't need the gochu jang (I was deliberately experimenting because only I would need to eat the concoction), but it helped make the flavors a lot more interesting than just wine and spices. If you don't use the paste, sprinkle in a bit of Cayenne or Tony Chacheres (the latter is a reference for my Louisiana brethren)? Also, if you don't have Thai fish sauce, try regular old soy. Thai fish sauce is in a lot of recipes for Thai curries, so if you ever want to do those, just buy a small bottle. I imagine you could toss in a fair bit of parsley flakes too to fine effect.

Honey Ginger Porkchops

This was another one I wouldn't usually attempt when N is here because she basically despises sweet foods for meals. All sugar is to be isolated to dessert. And so Hawaii's love affair with making everything sweet is not in her interest. However, these actually came out well, not too sweet at all and even B was gobbling it up instead of his crescent roll. Again, this was a made-up recipe on the fly. I have a feeling it would be better to make a real glaze with these ingredients. Instead, I just tossed them all in the skillet at a good time and smeared them around. To get to business:

3 medium thick pork chops
3 TBs soy
1 TB lime juice
1 TB honey
ginger powder
black pepper
paprika (sorry, I never measure spices; I only sometimes measure sauces)

Put a little oil in a skillet and cook your pork chops until about 3 minutes from being done. Assuming you are buying decent pork at the store, it's okay for it to be just slightly pink in the middle when done. You don't need to dry it out for it to be safe to eat. If your chop is relatively thin, then when it is decently cooked on both sides, it's probably close to sauce time. Sprinkle a good bit of ginger powder on there. Add in the soy, lime juice, and honey to the skillet, pouring on top, in the skillet itself, whatever. Cook your porkchops, pushing them around the pan so that all the sauces are mixing and bubbling together. Smear the meat in the yummy liquids. Flip and smear some more. Sprinkle pepper and parika on top and keep smearing. You can turn once more, but try to end up with a few spices still on the chops themselves. Cook until done. That's it. Eat. I actually added some lime juice first, then 1 TB of soy. Then when I saw it cooking away too quickly, I added more. I think adding it all at once will work, but you don't want a soup in there, so if you want to add half of the stuff, then the other half, that could be worth trying.

And that's all I got. For the record, while I did do the beef and broccoli the night before, I did get lazy and we went to a restaurant on Tuesday, and the night before that I had left over lasagna and B has his personally selected lunchable. I worry that perhaps his fave of all these meals was the lunchable.

Pacapaca

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Now here we go

Best political ad of the season so far. No pigs, no emails, no misleading sex ed ads. An actual plan. (This doesn't mean I agree with the plan 100%; I'd put it in the 65-75% range of agreement.) I hope this video gets out to undecideds.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Now that's freaking attitude!



This is a concept car called the Mazda Furai. If you click over to the article, I don't think the car is all that great from the side, but I absolutely love this evil grin. The little blue eyes peering at you.

Awesome.

You can influence the election

I just read a terrific analysis of this year's presidential electoral map from Al Giordano. In short, it's really, really tied and the single thing that will decide the election, even more than normal, is likely to be the ground game.

As the article states, "the 2008 presidential election is about registering those voters mentioned above, and getting them out to vote. Period. End of story. Little else matters."

If you have a strong opinion about the next President, be it McCain or Obama, and particularly if you live in a battleground state (Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, maybe Mississippi), it really might be worth your time to volunteer locally.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Large Hadron Rap

In case you need to get up on your CERN Large Hadron Collider, here's a YouTube rap on the project. Stunningly, the thing's got over a million and a half views, but that's largely because people are waiting for the created black hole to destroy the solar system.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Critical Period

Dammit, that title is entirely functional and contains no puns or weird allusions whatsoever. I'm off my game on these Ask Paca answers.

Today's question comes from a long time reader, known to all of you only as WrittenWyrdd. I happen to know that she's actually Tyra Banks, supermodel, but I'm not supposed to tell. Tyra, I mean Wyrdd's question is:

"
I'm curious about language learning windows, myself. Regarding the hardening of the palate and other physical speech issues, where is the optimum time to learn languages like Chinese with sounds we do not make in English from a physical standpoint crossed with the optimal brain stage? Do these cross at all? I seem to recall that theory used to have the optimal periods were very young for the brain, but once the palate hardened up, so did the brain's wiring. Sort of.
"

Again, entire books could be, and have been, written about this. There's only one fact that we know for sure and that people of all different theories agree to: Children learn any language they are exposed to sufficiently, while adults have much greater trouble. But exactly what causes this additional trouble and just how strong or important it is is hotly contested every few days.

In one school of thought, language is some sort of cognitive organ or something in your mind and it develops on a biological schedule just like other parts of your body develop along a rather set plan. Your language organ (this is really the term) gets set by puberty at least and it doesn't change. And therefore the way that people do learn new languages as adults is completely different than they do as kids. As kids, it's part of a natural biological process. As adults, it's a general puzzle or skill that you have to pick up like taking up knitting or learning to rebuild a car or something.

In another theoretical framework, people argue there's no real biological timetable, but instead people just become set in their ways with their first language, and this first language just can't get out of the way to allow you to pick up the new pattern. In grammar, you might speak English first in which the basic sentence word order is subject verb object. But then you try to learn German or Korean, which has subject object verb, and you just can't get your mind to flip. That's grossly simplifying, but you get the idea.

Either way, the period in which language seems to come easily is typically called the critical period. After that, you are out of luck.

One problem with all of this is that it's not clear that people really are out of luck. There are many adults who move into another nation or culture with a different dominant language, and they live their for 40 years, with only 20 in the 1st language, and they still clearly speak with a huge accent, limited vocabulary, odd syntactic patterns and phrases, etc. But there are also adults who move as adults to another nation and really pick the language up quite well. I've certainly met people who learned English at least only starting as a teen, and it's hard to tell it's not their first language. (Though of course also when you get to know someone as a person, you often stop hearing any accent at all; I only hear my parent's southern accents when they are on answering machines, but rarely in person.) Some number of adults are actually still quite good at language.

Moreover, compare how a child learns to speak with how an adult does. The classic American way to learn a language is to show up in a class for 3-5 hours a week, maybe have another 3-5 hours of homework, and then ignore the language as much as possible in between. In between everything you do uses language 1. Compare this to a child. Anyone who's had a young one knows that they NEVER SHUT UP. All day long, they practice their new language. Every meal, during the movie, when you're on the phone, watching TV, in the car.... They truly seem to practice their language all. the. time. When they aren't speaking, they are thinking, and often we think in our language. I've known a couple people who were language sponges. One of them did the semester abroad in China with me. She started out, having just taken one summer course, and left after 5 months at least on the 3rd year level. But she studied Chinese all the time. I'd be doing nothing on the bus to some tourist site, and she'd be there reading the dictionary. While I was shy to meet people that I couldn't talk to on the train and sat with my friends or read a book, she'd wander straight into the "hard seat" compartment and talk to Chinese people for hours on end.

Regardless, languages for adults are still harder in general than for children who are still in the "critical period". And while no one agrees on why this is the case, it's certainly mental/neurological in some manner.

But that's not quite what Tyra asked. She asked about the palate hardening up and whether that affects the speech sounds we can make. Honestly, I've never heard of that. I typed a couple Google searches in and didn't come up with anything. While I imagine the palate in infants can harden up, I'm guessing it's not really all that important to language. To review anatomy for others, the roof of your mouth is divided into two palates, the hard palate in the front closer to and above the teeth, and the soft palate, which is actually a fleshy muscle behind it. The hard palate is covered cartilage and is immovable. The soft palate (also called the velum) is soft and fleshy and moves. If you run the tip of your tongue from the teeth back touching the roof of the mouth, you will feel the hardness change to softness at some point. It also might tickle a bit. All of us have unconscious control over moving the soft palate up and down, but we often only gain conscious control by taking a phonetics course and practicing.

In speech, both palates are used to make sounds. In both English and Chinese, you make lots of sounds by arranging your tongue in different positions along the palate. The [sh] sound of English is made by bringing your tongue right to the front of the hard palate. A [g] sound is made by touching your tongue to the middle of the soft palate. In both of these examples, and all sounds in between, the palate doesn't do anything. It just sits there, and by moving your tongue, you create different acoustics in your mouth.

The soft palate, however, is movable, and we take advantage of that in speech. The soft palate can be raised to close off the passage way to your nose or lowered to open it up. Both Chinese and English have [n]s, [m]s, and [ng]s which are all nasal sounds, so called because you make them by lowering the velum to let air go through the nose. You raise it up for everything else, so that air only goes out of the mouth.

You can see all of this in action by watching this X-Ray of a phonetician speaking. Notice the big white thing flapping up and down in the back. That's the soft palate. You will see the tongue approaching the hard palate most clearly on words with the [ee] sound.

Here

And so I can't see how a hardening palate would affect speech development. I can certainly imagine that a newborn's hard palate isn't yet hard, but newborns don't speak. It would have to be still soft until around one to two years old for it to be relevant to actual speech production. But even in adults, the hard palate doesn't do anything other than be there. One would have to come up with an argument that language actually shapes the palate itself during development. And all such accounts would run up into at least two facts 1) children who start a new native language at 4 or 5 learn the language just fine. This age would be long after any palate hardening and yet still long before the critical period passes. Also, 2) there are many native bilinguals of Chinese and English (meaning neither is a second language for the person; they are both first languages).

Finally, the problem that people typically have in producing new speech sounds isn't that they can't make the sounds individually. Certainly, they will have problems with it on day one, but after some time, they can produce each individual sound pretty decently. It's stringing all the sounds together. I can get a decent South African click to come out of my mouth, but ask me to put a click into a whole word with a bunch of other sounds, and I fall apart. I think this again points to the critical period being a mental thing, even for weird speech sounds, more than a physical thing.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dorothy Paca Sayers

I just found myself typing this little bit into an email to a journal reviewer and board member (since she's on the board, I can be a little less formal than normal):

"Flowerdew certainly is a catchy name, isn't it? Maybe I will start addressing everyone with it. It will cause great confusion but sounds imminently pleasant."

I think I'm turning into a 1920's English detective novel in my speech patterns. Next thing you know I'm going to come out with "By Jove!" and grow a gigantic huge white mustache.

Factcheck.org

In case you haven't found it yet, I highly recommend Factcheck.org, which monitors the truth of statements from major political players. Since the RNC convention just closed, much of the front page is about Republican misstatements and stretches, but if you go to following pages, you will see them correcting items from the Dems, too.

Highly recommended.

FactCheck

Ambiguous headline

I just came across this headline:

McCain and Obama dead even in opinion polls

The first time I read it, I read:

McCain and Obama dead, even in opinion polls

As in they are both toast as far as we are concerned and even opinion polls show that. Of course, the writer meant:

McCain and Obama dead even - in opinion polls

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Paca's Story

Thanks, all, for the super nice comments about my silly puppet video.

Freddie's post where she reads my own little excerpt is now up, too. It can be found

here

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Freddie's Story

I think I'm a few hours early, but I have no more patience. I rather like my little movie and so I'm posting it now. It's a YouTube video. There are some sound effects and music in it, so volume is a good thing in this case. If you don't have an okay computer speaker, maybe plug headphones in?

For those not in the know, robin s organizes a monthly or so "read aloud" for a group of bloggers, most of whom are authors to some varying degree (I'm the degree at the bottom). This time robin paired us up and we switched readings with the partner. I am reading a story excerpt here from Freddie. I had to create something in an hour for Freddie to read since I don't seem to write anymore "unless I can put citations in it" (Paca, 2007, p. 132). Freddie's reading of me should be up some time tomorrow I assume. You can likely check out Robin s' blog ('really robin' on the blog roll there) to see who else has posted.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Answer 2: Hey, Danny Boy, I'm Billy Bob

Today's question came from robin s:

"I have a question about 'accent traveling'.

When we were in Ireland a few summers ago, I heard people say "shar" for "shower" in the same way that people in parts of Louisville (where I'm from) say "shower". Could the remnants of an Irish/Celtic accent remain in a largely Irish neighborhood/region of a city, even though no one around there had ever even remotely seen Eire?

It seems so to me - just asking you for a reality check. Thanks!"

Why, yes, madame! Zis is possible. I mean, luke at me? Am I French? No! Buut I can steel speak wiz a French accennnt on a blog, even zo I am note from France and 'ave neverr seen une filme de Jerry Lewis.

Note how I did the bad French accent by the way. French doesn't have the "th" sounds of English and so they sub in with the closest sounds, which are z and s. Also, they do not distinguish between the vowels in heat and hit, as well as luke and look, so the latter of each pair (hit and look) get pronounced with the vowel of the former (heat and luke). Also, I tried to stick some indications of French placing stress on the final vowel.

Of course, this has nothing to do with Irish, but I haven't seen any French movies where they speak in bad Irish accents and debate coconuts in order to study the dialect's obliteration. To get to the actual question:

Is it possible for people to retain bits and pieces of their grandparents' or great grandparents' dialects even when they've never been to the home of the accent to hear the real thing? Mais oui! Yeah, sure. Have language / accent, will travel. In fact, it's not just possible, it's de riguer. (I don't know what's up with me and the French thing today. Just go with it, okay? okay, I'll try to stop.) Seriously, this is how language works. People from central to west asia move into Europe speaking "Indo-European", which becomes Germanic, which becomes West Germanic, which becomes English, which becomes Irish English, which becomes American English with some Irish hints in the hills of Kentucky. Amazingly, it's possible to tract just bits of that old Indo-European from the plains of West Asia still in the language of Louisville.

One thing that will control how much the language changes is who the children, in particular, speak with. If almost everyone they speak with has a standard Kentucky Southern accent or standard American accent, particularly if that accent is socially prestigious, they are liable to drop almost all of the old Irish way of speaking that they heard from their parents. However, if the group is somewhat isolated from other speakers or if there just is a community of old Irish-tinged speech that people want to belong to, feel a part of, then more will hang around. And, depending on tons of factors, this can go on for generations. English, for instance, has been under enormous pressures and Old English is essentially unintelligible to a modern speaker today, but I've always heard that contemporary Icelandic is pretty similar to old Norse in many ways.

So one possibility is just that a few words have stuck around, but there are a couple other possibilities.

1) Sometimes people get it into their heads to revive traditional ways, or what are perceived as traditional ways. And so they study Irish history and read folktales books and watch RiverDance, picking up little Irish-ey things here and there. Whether or not any of this has much to do with their actual ancestors' language or culture is not as clear. Their great-great grandparents may have wanted to slit their throat if they had ever seen the Lord of the Dance. More relevant to the question, people might listen to contemporary Irish English and pick up some bits of that, when their ancestors emigrated 250 years ago with an Irish dialect that didn't sound much like what's current. Anyway, in short, sometimes people recreate a past in themselves instead of continuing one.

2) Co-evolution of language. Sometimes languages that were once the same language, but have now split off, evolve in similar ways. English has been dropping its old case endings on nouns for hundreds of years. One tiny vestige is the who/whom distinction, where, roughly, who is nominative and whom is accusative. Old English was filled with case, but it's all disappearing now, and so, there might be pressures in contemporary Irish English and in American English to drop whom from the language, even though there's no direct connection between the two accents anymore.

If I had to guess, I actually like the separate evolution idea based on the example of "shower" to "shar". English is rather ambivalent about how many syllables are in words like "fire" "flour" "tire" "shower" "higher" "hire". My guess is that all of you will have different opinions about how many syllables are in those words. For me, "fire" is usually one syllable, though it's super easy to make it two. I'd want to say that "flour" is usually two syllables, but I can get away with one syllable and not sound too weird, though it is kinda southern. (I'm guessing a one syllable "flour" will very southern to some of you.) By default, I want to say "higher" is two syllables, while "hire" is one, but if I put them in phrases and try not to think about it, they sound almost the same to me. "did you decide to hire her?" "Aspen is higher up than Denver." Shower fits this same pattern. If you say it alone, I'm guessing most of you will think "shower" is clearly two syllables, but I can almost get away with one syllable in "did you shower this morning?" but it's not as easy as some of the other words. Anyway, there could be one syllable pressures in certain dialects of English, including southern and Irish. If so, "shar"'s not inherited, but created separately.

By the way, there are likely actual answers to your question, but you'd have to ask a dialectologist for them. These people travel around the world, mapping dialects, their changes, features, etc. They might know a bit about the Irish-influenced version of Kentucky English. Um, yeah, but I'm not one of them.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Constants

For some inexplicable reason, I've always been interested in constants. Like in physics and math. The gravitational constant, planks' constant, e, pi, etc. It's those little numbers that are stuck into equations that are nothing other than a number, but without them, nothing works. The natural question is always, "why is the constant what it is? why is pi 3.14... and not 3.15...?" I've never read one of them, but my understanding is that intelligent design books often take off on this. If any of these numbers, they argue, was different by a billionth, then the universe falls apart and therefore something must have designed it.

Before we start, remember that pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. c/d. A better way to understand that is that if you took the line out of a circle that represented its diameter and then wrapped it around the circle, you'd find that it wraps around pi times or 3.14.... times. It takes 3.14... diameters to be the same length as a circle's circumference. But pi is a rather odd number. It's apparently been calculated out now to over 1 trillion places (yes, a trillion) and no one's ever seen a pattern. It's just this random sequence of numbers going on and on forever. There is no way, if it's random, to predict what a later number would be based upon an earlier number. But pi is used in a vast number of mathematical and physical descriptions of the universe from anything involving a circle to relativity to quantum mechanics to a million other things. Why is there this random series of numbers seemingly embedded in the very fabric of the universe?

I've been reading a non-mathematical intro to superstring theory called The Elegant Universe with which to fall asleep. (I mean that in the best way.) So far, no strings. To get to strings, the author has to walk us through Einsteinian relativity and quantum physics, because the main purpose of superstring theory is to unify the two well-confirmed theories. All of this is new to me, so I'm good.

General Relativity, as I understand it, provides the first successful account of the mechanism of gravitation. Newton previously was able to describe describe gravity's effects, calculate its effects, unify actions on Earth and around the solar system with it, but he admitted he had no idea how this mysterious force worked, what it was. How does the Sun actually affect the Earth 83 million miles away? Einstein reformulated gravity as the effects of mass on space-time. Mass curves space-time and it is through the warping / curving of space-time that gravitation acts. (To know more, read the book! :) )

One implication from general relativity is that pi is no longer the ratio of circumference to diameter when space-time is curved. Pi assumes flat (Euclidian) space. Only when space is flat is pi the number you want.

Paca's lightbulb. A-ha! So why is pi the number it is? Well, pi only holds when space-time is not curved. And so pi, in a sense, is the expression of idealized flat space. Could one define what it means for space-time to be flat, and therefore find a natural process which "generates" pi? If something generates the number, it's not random anymore, but has structure.

I'm sure this is all illogical to people who know stuff, but it's cool to me.