The Case of the Missing Article

The Case of the Missing Article by E. Stanley, the Gardener.

“In the days before the arrival of the cicadas, the frogs and the dreadnoughts, in the land of the dead, the gardener tended the garden green. Suddenly a shot rang out.”

The” is definite English, it’s been that way since the Vikings killed the sixteen ways the Saxons (Sachsen) spoke, ways always to denote nouns. A part of speech now dead in the Isles of the Brit, many eons afore days of present kind.

To the victor goes the grammar. “THE” spake the Viking, and it was so.

Word order reigns where inflection governs. Do away with inflection and you become a slave to word order. By good fortune I suffered the arrows and the slings of Latin in high school. An introduction to case-driven tongues, that’s what it was.

scribblers.sculptors.scribes
Wheelock’s Latin

I’ve since revived my high-school understanding of Latin via (a Latin preposition you understand) the Wheelock method. I think that it’s fun to discover unexpected similarities between German and Latin, ones that originated in Indo-European. The preposition “in” uses the same cases (dative and accusative) to denote intra and inter movement, respectively. Now that is what I call a good time. A grand substitute for the dreadnought of sports`. In very fact, I am extraordinarily ignorant of any iota embalmed as sport.

indo.european.migrations

I like to bounce around among crowds of languages, to weigh their lot for commonalities, patterns and purposes.

No writings remain of Indo-European, the common root tongue for hundreds of languages. A tongue spoken in a geography we now call Ukraine and vicinity.

The English word “scribe” finds origin in the German schreiben.

Schreiben — writing.

Scribe – writer, transcription, scrivener (of Bartleby fame).

bartleby

When teaching German I would often encounter worthy mnemonics to aid student learning. Once, while writing the German verb “beschreiben” on the blackboard I noticed that its English equivalent “to describe” possessed an unexpected aspect: pivot the round part around the vertical part of the letter “b”, the letter “d.”

b d b d

beschreiben/describe

rotate the “b” to fashion a “d”, rotate a “d” to fashion a “b.”

be de are inseparable prefixes that lend flavor and spice to a foundational word, such as schreiben or scribe. It’s also great fun to encounter such things — the stuff of useful heuristics.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Languages, Escape Velocity and Bigly Lies

Learning a second or 3rd or 4th language is like escaping the gravity of your native land. You probe about in another way of being, of thinking, of observing. Better still — if you’ve the inclination — learn another tongue via a second or third language. Meet the stranger in a place foreign to each.

I am so grateful for my Palestinian student who decided to learn German via English, without recourse to his native Arabic. He inspired me to do the same — learn Arabic by way of German. “arabisch lernen”

arabisch.lernen

German from the baby steps to fluency. The magic of YouTube brings me teachers who speak their mother’s Arabic in a German-speaking land. I studied in Germany for a year and a half. The other international students joined me to prepare for lessons conducted in German. Japanese medical students already knew anatomical terms, because their forefathers carried it back to Japan — including decades as fellow Axis members. Gray’s Anatomy with German body parts

Some lessons I’ve learned

Iranian students taught me about Savak and their Shah many years before the Revolution of 1979. Krupp established large industrial site in that Persian land. An industrial giant since the 16th Century. A family tradition, Blut und Eisen.

Propaganda relies upon endlessly repeated mistranslations, designed to obfuscate. Weaponized language to serve hidden agendas, to move geopolitical stakes through sabotage, bigotry, racism, straw men, false flags, pacification, liquidation; in other words, chicanery of any convenient kind. Whatever works. No questions asked.

Walls visible and invisible. Sow the seeds of discontent to ignite anger. Divide and conquer. British imperialists deliberately provoked Sunni and Shia rivalries by locating them within an arbitrary borderline. Think of it as double solitary confinement. A technique that works wonders: encourage each to fight the other over differences deep as the empire gathers spoils of conquest, to the victor go the value subtracted.

History remembered is myth created by the most talented liars. Every American recites the same short soundbites: flag-shaded collective memories. Memorized lies to mask disquieting truth. 1,000 memorized lies. Cherrypick and pass on. Manufacture your destiny as something somehow manifest by a deity for your outrageous fortune. Cloying spoilings.

shadid_lewis
Kresta and Spencer find a convenient fool

Conduct experiments on war fodder soldiers and increase your “intelligence.” Handbooks written by Chinese military master torturers were translated verbatim and reapplied in Guantanamo — word by evil word.

Accuse Cuba of human rights violations while torturing prisoners on Cuban soil. Announce bounties — turn in someone you hate, an enemy or a randomly selected person, a stranger. Get paid for lying about an innocent neighbor. Extraordinary rendition is spuriously twisted language designed by twisted authority to mask torture by proxy. Look the other way. Justify everything. Celebrate the patriotic art of bigly deals. Endless war for endless profit. Drop MOABS and cut a purchase order for replacement MOABS.

This morning I read a piece from Mark Chmiel’s blog — Mistake. Dark serendipity in the same tone and key. Thank you, Mark.

And

Thanks for reading.

Discovering Patterns in Language

Regular expressions. are powerful metamathematical tools, advanced techniques for matching patterns in a text or multiple texts — something fun and something useful. They are concise chunks of cryptic characters that can search a single text or multiple texts for precise patterns. Select an input file, do one thing or very many things to the file, then drop the resulting text into an output file.

regex-to-fa

Stephen Cole Kleene is the mathematician and philosopher who introduced the concept of the regular expression. He worked with Alan Turing and other pioneering types who were intensely active in the 1930’s. Their understanding of a mathematical maneuver called recursion; that led to breakthrough tools in logic — decisions made at superhuman speed and using the processing speed and memory to process words and numbers thrown together and called data. However, beware of the sorcerer’s apprentice phenomenon. Just bewaring.

recursion

An example: look for successive occurrences of WTF (upper or lower case) and substitute “what the fart”.

Through recursion you can stop, go backward a certain of characters, query the findings. Do something with it. Once you become familiar with the meta characters and the syntax, you can do a lot of useful things or destroy many useful things. So save the original file in a safe place and know where your output file ends up.

 

When I was a freelance translator I maintained a translation memory database that kept track of all my translations so that I might be reminded of earlier translations. The software I used was called SDL Trados; however, that was over ten years ago.

Here is one example of how I used regular expression code to insert a carriage return and linefeed whenever a blank space appeared in the original German. Essentially this created records that were one word long — the number of records was the number of words in the text. Then I queried my database for finds. A lot faster than the technique I used when learning German — looking up the words in a large-ass dictionary that I still have on the bottom shelf over there.

mastering.regular.expressions

The same Unix tools developed in the 1960’s remain in the electrons flowing from my screen to yours. They remind me of Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws

Hoping this is somewhat illuminating, or mildly amusing 🙂

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Now for something incompletely different, something inspired by Hariod Brawn’s comment below. It’s an article on The Sound (And Taste) Of Music by Layla Eplett — she brings a platter to the conversation and complements Mariano Sigman’s TED Talk:

 

SoundTasteofMusic
Layla Eplett

Thanks for reading this postscript 🙂

We’re Just Out Of Waldorfs

Some decades ago, in another millennium, I learned how to teach German language at the Cincinnati Waldorf School — by learning to flow smoothly.

waldorf-painting-turtle

Waldorf pedagogic method follows the thought and moment of Rudolf Steiner.

We’re still here, Bill. And we have a question. Is there a difference between pedagogic and pedantic? By the bye, we are bored.

Yes, there is a difference. My apologies for the tedium that now threatens tedia.

Each student had this blank book and a set of block crayons.

stockmar-beeswax-crayons-16-blocks

A fine point between  a pointed crayon and a block crayon. Boundaries are the literal point of a more muffling model. Art, dance, theater and connection to the Earth. Veganism was the norm, as it should be.

You have a gift for wandering off task. Do you know that?

The German for poison is das Gift. Snow White (Schneewittchen)  bit into a gift from a person of some political moment. The gift was Gift. On a side note — where I prefer to spend my time — you can frequent souvenir shops all over the place called: Das Gift Haus. Caveat emptor!

Bilingual puns are the death of wit, an affront.

Some few years ago, between 1989 and 2013, I enjoyed another singular privilege: teaching at the TriState German-American School. It’s a local institution that arose from a large number of emigrees to Cincinnati, arriving from German-speaking countries.

Pedantry alert. Pedantry alert.

The TGAS principal did not impose a curriculum on my class “Getting Around in German.” If the students were happy she was happy. My students were happy. This happy happenstance allowed me room (did you know that the name Zimmerman arises from the German ‘Room Man’ for carpenter. A Ziegler lays tile. The first mayor of Cincinnati was David Ziegler.

david-ziegler

My green italic critics shift nervously on respective chairs.

You stray like a thief in the night, Herr Ziegler. These Pults are a horror.

God save us from the prison that the Prussian system of student control imposes. Just my 7 1/2 cents.

From Fawlty Towers: “I want a Waldorf Salad.” Fawlty: “I think we’re just out of Waldorfs.”

fawlty-out-of-waldorfs

It’s quite a comfort to holiday at the Fawlty Towers. Let’s listen in on a few fellow guests recently arrived from Deutschland.

“We didn’t start it. Yes you did, you invaded Poland.”

But to return to something completely different, I developed a number of techniques in my Saturday German class that offered a more gentle way in my lesson un-plan. I introduced concrete objects without recourse to the succor of English.

Point at the sun, define a circle with your fingertips. The sun is big. She is yellow. She is big, round, yellow and hot. How can you remember that something is round — leave the round part “o” out, and so rund.

Two favorite verses did I glean from Waldorf and refresh in my class:

Hutsch He! Hutsch He! Der Ackermann sät.

The classroom floor became a plot of land to sow in Spring. In Autumn (Herbst/harvest) that same floor became a field of wheat that flowed with the wind and became ready for harvest.

Hutsch He! Hutsch He! Der Ackermann mäht. 

Use the same arm movement used for sowing the seeds, but then suggest a scythe that cuts the grain and readies it for baking bread.

sowing

Spring to Fall   —sät to mäht.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

German Grammar in the Everyday Every Day

Fashioning a German Lesson Plan from Anything at Hand

Class topic of the day (des Tages): how picking up a plastic bag off the street and reading the language printed on that bag may help you learn language. The one I have here is your classic bad-news-for-the-environment plastic bag. I retrieved one for each of you, so it’s a handout. Later in the day you can three-hole punch this handout and put it in your binder under today’s date.

handout
Your handout for this class: Let’s say I had snagged this bag from under a parked car in the Kröger lot, before the plastic could pose a wildlife hazard. Now it’s in the lesson plan as an instructional resource. Note: 3 holes have not yet been punched. Please include margin notes using your felt-tip pen. Thank You. THANK YOU.

Today’s exercise allows you to use innate perceptual senses to discern meaning from everyday texts, and to discover potential contexts for your favorite words. Remember that new knowledge is fragile knowledge, so be gentle with yourself and feel free to make mistakes. In this class the student who makes the most mistakes gets the highest mark since she learns from her own mistakes. Also, if the present-moment reader finds an error in this post I get a point.

Use this bag later in your life for sandwiches, knickknacks, sturdy water bottles and items with words written upon them.

Anyway, pick up your red Sharpie and write ‘rot‘ on the handout. Think about how similar ‘t’ and ‘d’ sound: “Ta Da!” and recall the apocryphal tale of Saxons (Sachsen) moving to England to start a new language. On that hypothetical boat Saxons decided to change their ‘t’ to a ‘d’ and say ‘good‘ rather than ‘gut‘ and day instead of ‘Tag‘. And then call it English.

migration routes around 800 C.E.
migration routes around 800 C.E.

Draw a rainbow with your Sharpies and label each color separately in your language of choice or else in German. Gather the things you want to put in your handout. Label that bag with its contents, z.B.:

  • Apfel (grüner)
  • Brot (rotes)
  • Papier (weißes)
  • Banane (gelbe oder grüne oder schwarze oder schwarzgelbe oder oder oder)
  • Apfelsaft (süßer)

Now place each object (each noun) into the bag (in die Tüte) and take a walk (einen Spaziergang machen). Connect the Umlaut dots atop the ‘u’ to form an ‘o’, thus reminding you just how crafty those dang Saxons were (Tüte becomes tote). Those tapfere Sachsen even simplified the ‘chs’ in their former German language to an ‘x’ in the new language (nächste becomes next).  While on this relaxing stroll let your friends (strangers optional) know about the contents of your bag:

Hallo. Hier in meiner Tüte habe ich einen grünen Apfel. Gebrauchtes Papier ist immer das Beste. Glaubst du das.

Let’s say you forget to bring your own shopping bag to Kröger. At least save those plastic hazards in your vehicle or Rücksack and drop them into the fiber recycling drum in their foyer (the place where you grab a shopping cart).

Thinking about Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Gießen and Savak

The culture where I live does not seem particularly interested in learning foreign languages. But the written, the spoken, and the audible become a part of the soul and a blessing to humanity when civilized thought can gain a foothold.
Nelson-Mandela-on-Language

My interest in German language led to an opportunity for study in Giessen, at that time West Germany, from 1971 to 1973. Upon arriving at Justus Liebig Universität I learned German as a second language with fellow students from Iran, Japan, Egypt among others. German was the tongue we shared, so that we could talk to the brain. Then we could join the citIzenry and talk to the heart.

Abteilung der Uni
Just be natural! It’s important when learning languages

Some people take on an alternate identity to ward off conversation. It was common for Americans traveling in Europe in the early 1970’s to attach a Canadian maple leaf to their person. This to avoid conversations about Vietnam. It was convenient to merge into the background. But such maneuvers may lead to a false sense of comfort: ease and convenience have long-term consequences. It is just as convenient to avoid discussions on long festering Middle East issues today. Are the sound bites you hear from a source without an agenda? Unfortunately, the truth can be hidden, often deliberately by perpetuating lies that simply make life more convenient or comfortable for the liar.

Under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Shah from 1941 to 1979) many Iranians studied at German universities such as Justus Liebig. Our Iranian fellows shared an ability to converse in German about Savak and the Persian experience. Neither Farsi nor English was necessary to bridge a gulf separating us from each other. Who knew that Pahlavi was complicit in dark matters. The Iranian people knew.

Farsi Keyboard
Farsi script is so similar to Arabic!

Guy Wallace explains Savak.

Imagine a monarchy that is 2500 years old, that began with Cyrus the Great and ended with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s deposition. Might a civilization both ancient and modern have evolved a complex history and culture In 2.5 millenia? Might Farsi hint at subtleties in the Persian soul? What about the country name itself: Persia, Iran? Does its religion suggest potential geopolitical significance? Can we question the translation of the colloquial Farsi into English of the conveniently repeated  Death to America (More accurately translated as Down with America).

Farsi speakers use this invocation to express transitory frustration, perhaps at stubbing a toe. In a future post I want to discuss the nature of curse words in Farsi, Arabic and Hebrew. Stay tuned.

German Grammar: Strong and Weak

Why is German easier to read than English? And why am I writing this post in English? Those are the questions for today’s class. First, let’s take a break and read about the Mann family residences during the Exile Period. This time in Manhattan: 1938. Read the text and then watch the video at the end of the web page.

 

 

 

Thomas Manns zweites Zuhause im Exil

You can mark, highlight, underline and pronounce strong and weak endings as you encounter them.

Again, you might want to grab some discarded envelopes from the waste basket and jot down the strong and weak endings you hear. If there is room on the back of the envelope you could note the occurence of weak endings as follows, since they can only be ‘e’ or ‘en’

z.B.:

e – IIII

en – III

Of course, an adverb is distinguished from an adjective by its lack of an ending, an adjective is distinguished from an adverb by the presence of an ending.

Now back to our first question: Why is German easier to read than English?

Since case is a signal for function the first or second word in a German sentence often signals that function. Try doing that with ‘the’. So, Let us say that a sentence begins with ‘dem’. It has to be dative and it could be either masculine or neuter. We also know that it signals an indirect object or a prepositional object that takes dative only or a preposition that indicates all action occuring within a bounded area for those prepositions of relative position. All that by reading only one or two words.

Now, on to the second question: And why am I writing this post in English? By seeing ‘dem’ we immediately know all those things discussed in the previous paragraph. I first really learned German in 1971. Reading ‘the’ in English conveys nothing of that panoply of information conveyed by ‘dem’. Unless you are a young person learning German from a parent or a playmate you are unlikely to determine the meaning of ‘dem’ on your first encounter with the language.

The bell is about to ring, ending this class. Let me end with a metaphor. A German noun looks to its left for a strong ending that signals a function. By seeing that strong ending it knows its function or at least it narrows the number of functions. The adjective to the right of the strong ending sees that strength and relaxes, knowing that it can now become weak (e or en). If that same adjective does not see strength it cannot relax: it has to take on the strength itself. No chance for weakness. If that noun sees an ein word to the left without an ending (ein, mein, dein, sein, unser, euer, etc.) it says to itself “An ein is certainly not an einem or an eines or an einen, so it looks like I am on my own, so the adjective to the right of ‘ein’ will just have to take on the strong ending.

For homework grab any German text and think about nervous nouns looking to the left for support.