January 2nd, 2006

breaking bad

Digital and download

I think my favourite present this year was a little digital radio with headphones (one of my presents from H). I'm getting much better reception and I can wear it as I go about (and exercise!). I got H a new MP3 player. I like listening to the radio better than downloads because you never know what you are going to get next. We were having a discussion about it over Christmas and most of my family agreed that a song heard on the radio - even if you already own it - seems fresher and more interesting. Also I get to hear stuff I wouldn't have otherwise.

I first heard 'King of the Mountain' by Kate Bush as I was driving back from hypnotherapy one evening this autumn. I was pretty much tripped out from being hypnotised all afternoon, and it went bang straight in to the cortex. I didn't know it was KB, I just thought 'Bloody hell what's this?'

I know this might be an unpopular choice but I also really like Advertising Space by Robbie Williams. This year I also listened a lot to Franz Ferdinand and I took a liking to Kasabian and Hard-Fi. I have been listening to a lot more mediaeval music too.

A poem can surprise you in the same way as a song. I wish there were more radio programs where they read out poetry. Last night Radio 4 broadcast this excellent New Year poem:
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breaking bad

A horse was animaling-about with me

ozarque posts today about that perennial favourite, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (or, do you remember, as one woman described it, the Sapphire Wolf hypothesis). Roughly, this is that language forms influence perception and thought. Particularly interesting as she has written SF about this relationship.

There's the famous example of the two sets of parents bouncing a ball for their toddler. One set, native speakers of English, says "Look! Ball!" The other set, native speakers of a Native American language, says "Look! Bouncing!"

The implications for science of using such a linguistic form are obvious (if the original atomic values were the motions not the particles). However, as a linguist she is sceptical, as am I, that the relationship between thought and language is as simple as it is sometimes described.

There's the set of sentences I gathered (for a conference paper) from a variety of languages, all of them the equivalents of the English sentence "I was riding a horse" when said in response to the question "What were you doing yesterday afternoon?" The Navajo equivalent is "A horse was animaling-about with me"; the Hopi equivalent is "I was using a horse to move about with"; the French equivalent is "I was being at a horse." Does this mean that English speakers perceive the horses they ride the way they perceive the dog in "I was bathing the dog," while the Navajo speakers perceive their horses as courteous companions, and the Hopi speakers perceive them the way they perceive shovels to dig holes with, and the French speakers perceive them the way they'd perceive a restaurant or a bus stop?

A danger of falling into 'noble savage' territory, or exoticism, and imagining that other cultures are wiser and stranger than they really are. Or not? I don't know.

She links to an even more sceptical and crotchety post on the subject at language log. There he argues that all languages are rich and interesting but that so called 'native' languages are not magically more spiritual, they just have interesting contrasts to our own.

ETA - someone in ozarque's comments adds the Polish version 'Jeździłem konno' = '"I was going (not under my own power and with no particular destination) horsely." So many ways of saying I rode a horse.