February 11, 2004

Some stuff I couldn't resist blogging

I'm stuck with a viciously complicated little problem in linear optimisation that I don't know how to solve. In fact, the whole reason that I have this problem is that I know that there is no linear solution and I haven't got time or resources to find a less constrained solution, so I'm going to have to come up with something half-assed that works anyway. Until I come up with it, I'm stuck. I do have another project, but it's not terribly difficult, requires the help of my office partner, who is at home recovering from surgery, and isn't due for another week when my boss gets back from Norway.

So, I decided to surf the blogs.

  • Ampersand identifies three key anthropolical causes for rape in western society. I entirely agree on causes 1 and 3. And, I think there are grounds to think that causes 1 and 3 are diminishing in social importance, although they are far from gone.

    But, I think cause 2 is somewhat problematic. Although rape does certainly involve a lack of empathy with the victim, Ampersand hasn't made a case that this lack of empathy is focused on women. The rapist may not care much how men feel either, but he doesn't get much kick out of raping them. The link back to lower pay and less social esteem is weakened by this lack. I suspect the perception of weakness is the key element here, and I think the causes of that perception are harder to pin down.

  • Zizka on the Finnish conspiracy to take over the world. The most interesting bit is this article, which I saw back when it was first written.

    The Finnish government has been a major sponsor of the new East Timorese government, and shipped a load of school books of to them, in Finnish, at the request of local government. Why?

    The reason behind the unusual deal was the thorny language question facing East Timor. When the order for schoolbooks was placed, the official language for East Timor had not yet been chosen. As the area used to be a Portuguese colony, the older generation still speaks Portuguese. The generation that grew up during the Indonesian regime, on the other hand, speak primarily Bahasa Indonesian.

    The original East Timorese language, Tetum, has a fairly primitive grammar and thanks to eight or nine different tribal dialects, even this language does not unite the population.

    For "original East Timorese language", read the largest language in terms of population that isn't Bahasa, and just ignore the "fairly primitive grammar" quip as clueless reporting. This situation almost certainly won't persist. I haven't found a follow-up story, but I suspect new school books are in English or Tetun.

    However, this poses a question that I've long asked myself. Imagine you run a well-off but small country with a language that isn't really spoken outside your borders. You're not terribly attractive to immigrants because of your size and language barriers. It's far easier to acquire an education in English, French or German wherever immigrants come from, so it's much easier to immigrate to a country where those languages are spoken and hit the ground running. How then, do you sustain your language when there is little cultural input and no global usage?

    What if you could just buy new speakers? It wouldn't be colonialism per se, but what if you gave education assistance and scholarships to your universities to students from some far less well-off third world nation? If you dangled enough carrots in front of them, how much money would it really take before learning your relatively obscure language became a good investment for them? This would introduce new ideas and traditions into your national arts and give your tongue a more secure foothold in the world. Furthermore, it would offer your national arts an export market.

    Would it be possible to enhance aid to the underdeveloped world through linguistic sponsorship? There are certainly plenty of countries with entrenched linguistic conflicts that could benefit from a more neutral player in their language policies.

  • Via Silt, I see this "Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles":

    A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5)

    B. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

    C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

    D. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

    E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)

    F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

    G. In lieu of marriage, if there are no acceptable men in your town, it is required that you get your dad drunk and have sex with him (even if he had previously offered you up as a sex toy to men young and old), tag-teaming with any sisters you may have. Of course, this rule applies only if you are female. (Gen 19:31-36)

  • Geoffrey Pullum is getting tired of seeing the same linguistically dubious claims about out of the way languages in the press. I can't say I blame him. Decades of efforts to educate the public - or at least people who ought to know better - including his own famous essay on the topic, "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax", have failed. It's as if people still believed in phrenology.
  • Also, I have new piece up on the headscarf law in France over at AFOE.

Posted 2004/02/11 12:45 (Wed) | TrackBack

Here's a big article on the languages of East Timor. No mention of Finnish. There is, however, a Finnish-Tetum glossary here.

Posted by: vaara at February 11, 2004 13:50

It's as if people still believed in phrenology.

s/phrenology/astrology Switch from incredulity to resigned contempt with a sed one-liner! All the cool computational linguists will be wearing them next year!

Posted by: des at February 11, 2004 16:06

I've read the thing about Eskimo words for snow and it was hilarious. As a covert from Whorf I've argued that language is usually NOT causal (e.g., Mongols, Turks, and Scythians who live similiar lives are not made significantly different by their different language groups).

There are cases where this is true. For example, any pastoral people (including modern stockmen and horse breeders) has an incredible proliferation of words for small distinctions. For example, a castrated chicken is a capon, a goat is a wether, a horse is a gelding, a beef is a steer or ox. I even used to know several species-specific words for veterinary diarrhea, though "scours" is the only one I remember. And I wasn't even a farm kid. Likewise for ages and conditions -- a virgin cow is a heifer, IIRC. And some year old animals are yearlings, and others are soemthing else. When you get to colors of coat, markings, and other visible traits (especially when omens and sacrficial purity are a factor) I'm pretty sure that the Nuer had well over a hundred words for types and conditions of cattle (and as far as I know, they were not different breeds, but variations of one standard breed).

Likewise for Chinese, with its well-articulated kinship system with a dozen or more terms translatable in English only by "cousin" or a phrase: e.g. "mother's sister's daughter".

So there is some stuff there, though pop versions are tedious and, as we see, will live as long as there are journalists who need filler or cheap metaphors. (Sort of like the story of Gore's claim to have invented the internet, which may be around a century from now.)

Posted by: zizka at February 13, 2004 18:04
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