Later On

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Archive for May 4th, 2018

At What Age Does Our Ability to Learn a New Language Like a Native Speaker Disappear?

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Dana G. Smith writes in the Scientific American:

The older you get the more difficult it is to learn to speak French like a Parisian. But no one knows exactly what the cutoff point is—at what age it becomes harder, for instance, to pick up noun-verb agreements in a new language. In one of the largest linguistics studies ever conducted—a viral internet survey that drew two thirds of a million respondents—researchers from three Boston-based universities showed children are proficient at learning a second language up until the age of 18, roughly 10 years later than earlier estimates. But the study also showed that it is best to start by age 10 if you want to achieve the grammatical fluency of a native speaker.

To parse this problem, the research team, which included psychologist Steven Pinker, collected data on a person’s current age, language proficiency and time studying English. The investigators calculated they needed more than half a million people to make a fair estimate of when the “critical period” for achieving the highest levels of grammatical fluency ends. So they turned to the world’s greatest experimental subject pool: the internet.

They created a short online grammar quiz called Which English? that tested noun–verb agreement, pronouns, prepositions and relative clauses, among other linguistic elements. From the responses, an algorithm predicted the tester’s native language and which dialect of English (that is, Canadian, Irish, Australian) they spoke. For example, some of the questions included phrases a Chicagoan would deem grammatically incorrect but a Manitoban would think is perfectly acceptable English.

The researchers got a huge response by providing respondents with “something that is intrinsically rewarding,” says Josh Hartshorne, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston College, who led the study while he was a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The small gift to the respondents was a guess about their background. According to Hartshorne: “If it correctly figures out that you are in fact a German-American, people are like, ‘Oh my god, science is awesome!’ And when it’s wrong, they’re like, ‘Ha ha, stupid robot.’ Either way, it’s entertaining and interesting and something that they can think about and talk about with their friends.”

Hartshorne’s tactic worked. At its peak, the quiz attracted 100,000 hits a day. It was shared 300,000 times on Facebook, made the front page of Reddit and became a trending topic on 4chan, where a thoughtful discussion ensued about how the algorithm could determine dialect from the grammar questions. The study brought in native speakers of 38 different languages, including 1 percent of Finland’s population.

Based on people’s grammar scores and information about their learning of English, the researchers developed models that predicted how long it takes to become fluent in a language and the best age to start learning. They concluded that the ability to learn a new language, at least grammatically, is strongest until the age of 18 after which there is a precipitous decline. To become completely fluent, however, learning should start before the age of 10.

There are three main ideas as to why language-learning ability declines at 18: social changes, interference from one’s primary language and continuing brain development. At 18, kids typically graduate high school and go on to start college or enter the work force full-time. Once they do, they may no longer have the time, opportunity or learning environment to study a second language like they did when they were younger. Alternatively, it is possible that after one masters a first language, its rules interfere with the ability to learn a second. Finally, changes in the brain that continue during the late teens and early 20s may somehow make learning harder.

This is not to say that we cannot learn a new language if we are over 20. There are numerous examples of people who pick up a language later in life, and our ability to learn new vocabulary appears to remain constant, but most of us will not be able to master grammar like a native speaker—or probably sound like one either. Being a written quiz, the study could not test for accent, but prior research places the critical period for speech sounds even earlier. . .

Continue reading.

As I frequently point out, one can learn a foreign language better, more easily, and more quickly if s/he first learns Esperanto (which is quite easy to learn, by design). And you can learn Esperanto on-line at, which has excellent lessons. Use your mouse to hover and click to get translations and word meanings.

Then tackle Greek. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2018 at 4:42 pm

Posted in Education, Esperanto

The 5 best books on learning ancient (Classical) Greek

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One of my language tutors at St. John’s said that those who study Latin generally believe that the amount of Latin they know is enough, but those who study Greek generally want to know more.Paul McMullen, who has taught ancient Greek literature, history and religion at the University of Sydney and Pembroke College, Cambridge and has lectured on ancient Greek at University College Cork, has five book recommendations for those wanting to learn Greek. The Five Books interview begins:

We’re going to talk about the best books to read if you want to learn ancient Greek and I’m going to ask the obvious question straight up: Why should anyone bother to learn ancient Greek?

That’s the wrong way to phrase the question. Let’s ask what can you learn by learning ancient Greek. First of all, it gives you access to a wealth of material in the original. Which for anyone who can read or speak French or German or Italian and has access to those works in the original…or Russian and can read Dostoevsky in the original! You know the joy that that can bring you.

And when you consider that by reading Greek in the original you get Sophocles, Herodotus, Euripides, Aristophanes—all this seminal stuff that set the pace for the genres which developed ever after them—it’s really more a case of why would you not learn Greek?

Also—and this will perhaps be seen by some as somewhat masochistic—it’s such a phenomenal challenge. It tests you in learning it and it keeps compelling you to try and master it.

How difficult is it?

It’s not so difficult as everyone thinks it is. A lot of people say, ‘Oh well, unless you’ve learnt Latin first, don’t even try and learn Greek.’ That’s not the way around that I did it. In my undergraduate degree, I picked up Greek and it was only a year-and-a-half later that I picked up Latin.

Studying Greek introduced me to a lot of grammatical concepts which, technically, I should have learnt in high school. But this is so often the way for native speakers of a language: You know exactly how to use it but you don’t know why it’s correct for you to use it in a certain way. That was my experience of learning ancient Greek: suddenly syntax makes sense, you learn what cases are—even though it seems we don’t have them in English but we actually do. It was a learning curve for me in my own language, as much as it was about learning another language.

It gave me access to all these texts and to all this historical evidence for me to think about patterns in history and causality and causation and time and all these big concepts. It was everything all together, at one time.

Did you find Latin a lot easier than Greek?

I suppose if I’d done Latin first, Latin would have been harder. They’re both still challenging languages for sure. For anyone who’s had a crack at learning either one or both, in whichever order, you know the challenges that come along with it. But it was definitely easier learning Latin after having broached the concepts that exist in Latin, which also exist in Greek, and doing those first by learning Greek.

A lot of people often, incidentally or on purpose, do it the other way around and use Latin as a way into Greek, if nothing else just because in Latin at least the alphabet is the same. Some see the alphabet as a barrier to entry for Greek and that’s why they’re a bit hesitant to go Greek first. But why not?

I think we should just dwell on the alphabet for a second. I think it puts off people way more than it should. If you set a day aside to learn it, you’re sorted, aren’t you?

Absolutely. A lot of the letters look very, very similar and the sounds are the same. If you set a day aside to learn the alphabet, then you’ve got it in hand. I remember in my first lesson at university learning ancient Greek, it wasn’t so much a day that was set aside as 48 seconds. ‘There are this many letters in the alphabet, this is what this means, this is how this sounds. Great, let’s begin reading shall we?’ So a day will be plenty.

How long before you could read your first Greek text that hadn’t been abridged?

It was about nine, ten months. It’s definitely possible in that time.

So on to your first book. Where should people get started?

I think a really good place to start is with a seemingly formal textbook. It’s called Reading Greek and it’s published by Cambridge University Press. The revised edition of this textbook is very informal and very accessible. It introduces you, step by step, to each part of speech and each concept of the language, at a very manageable speed. And, most importantly—and I think this is the great triumph of the book—it’s in a very accessible order as well.

It’s not the kind of textbook or learning experience where they throw every single minute detail about this particular verb or about this particular grammatical construction at you at one time and say, ‘Right, master all that’ and then move on to the next one.

They introduce one very accessible part of a verb, or a noun, or a concept, or a grammatical construction and say ‘Right, okay, it won’t take you long to master that. Master that, and now we’ll give you the next part.’ So you build up your mastery of the language very much block-by-block, step-by-step. You feel very comfortable moving on to the next block or having it revealed to you what the next form is to learn because it’s not overwhelming in its detail.

When was it written?

So the first version of this textbook was published in, I think, 1978.

Okay, so the reason I ask is that the 1970s, it’s a bit post-hippy culture, but what I’m associating that era with, in terms of language learning, is not rote learning. I have to put my cards on the table, I’m a big fan of rote learning. I think you have to go through the pain. Tell me, does this book encourage rote learning?

It doesn’t make it the frontline of learning. But inevitably, it must be part of it. You can’t learn any language without a bit of rote learning, that’s for sure.

So it doesn’t pretend that you don’t have to?

No, it definitely doesn’t mask the hard bits of learning ancient Greek by any means. But, at the same time, it doesn’t inflate how hard they are. In fact, it cushions the blow of how hard they are by the way that it introduces you to each new block in turn. You can’t get around rote learning, it’s just one of those things. But it pairs the inevitable rote learning with the right way of explaining concepts.

Obviously people’s problem with rote learning is that it’s desperately dull, but I would say learning Latin or Greek is a desperately dull enterprise. But one great antidote to that dullness is that quite quickly you can be introduced to readings and not just readings, but salacious readings. I had a quick look and I noticed that this book doesn’t shy away from saucy or controversial material. They’re interested in introducing you to readings that are entertaining, even when really, on the sly, they’re trying to persuade you to learn the aorist.

That’s a brilliant observation. They do smuggle in the harder tenses under the guise of salacious jokes.

And he’s got quite a good authorial voice. He’s a bit sarcastic, isn’t he, about some of the challenges he sets you? Which I like. You feel the writer is a friend.

Absolutely. Ultimately you feel there’s a person on the other side of the book. Particularly when it gets hard—as learning any difficult thing does—it’s strangely comforting to know that a human person sat down and wrote this and thought about you and how easy or difficult you might find the material when they were arranging it for you. It’s a very pleasant experience.

To your next book. In some ways, I see this as a duplication of the Cambridge book. Why have you put another book that seems pretty similar on your list?

I’ve put this book on the list because people learn in different ways and there are some people out there, some may call them masochists—I would not—who very much like to know every single thing about a concept or if we’ve talking about language, about linguistic forms or about parts of speech or syntax or grammatical constructions.

They want to know everything about it right then, no matter how detailed or complicated it is; to have it dispensed all at one time, so that they can situate themselves in that landscape of all that material and arrange that for themselves before moving on to the next new thing. So this book is another textbook and it’s by Donald Mastronarde. It’s called Introduction to Attic Greek, and it’s published by Berkeley. It’s published significantly later than the first version of Reading Greek: it was published in 1993. And it says in the preface that it’s aimed at, if not university students, then students or potential learners of ancient Greek who feel very confident in their ability and want to get up to speed quickly.

Potentially this is a really good option for people who have some previous experience with other languages that are not their first language. I’d say particularly if you already have some exposure to Latin, this book is a good choice. Because ultimately, whether it’s Latin or a modern romance language, or German or any other language that has formal cases—that’s inflected—you’ve already been introduced to the concepts which are the bedrock of these languages as they’re taught. For that reason Mastronarde’s Introduction to Attic Greek would be an extremely good option for you.

So with no further ado, I’m going to move on to the next book because we’re now getting to the meat-and-potato content. These are original texts. You obviously believe in going straight from learning the rules to reading original texts pretty quickly, because over half of your books are legitimate classical, Hellenistic authors. Do you think that we need to memorise a lot of the rules in your first two books before reading these books? Or are these books almost companions to the grammar books that you’ve cited? . . .

Continue reading.

A story from my college days, which I’ve told before but still enjoy. At St. John’s College (Annapolis MD (my alma mater) and Santa Fe NM), the first-year language tutorial is Greek, mostly Attic Greek. Entering freshmen were told to learn the Greek alphabet before showing up, and generally the first thing done in the first tutorial meeting is having the students write down the Greek alphabet. In one tutorial, the students were told to write down the alphabet, and they busily got to work scribbling, except for one student who was hesitating and finally asked, “Do you want this in any particular order?”

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2018 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Education

Nunes demands Justice Department records. Then he doesn’t read them.

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Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb, and Laura Jarrett report at CNN:

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes was livid.

For months, he had been demanding a fully uncensored version of a highly sensitive document from the Justice Department explaining how the Russia investigation began in 2016, but he wasn’t getting it.

As the standoff escalated, Nunes began warning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — the man in charge of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation — that he could face contempt of Congress, or even worse.

“We’re not going to just hold in contempt,” Nunes said to Fox News last month. “We will have a plan to hold in contempt and to impeach.”

Nunes had already been offered time to review a copy of the electronic communication formally authorizing the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but he had publicly demanded to see what was behind certain blacked out lines.

Facing the growing pressure, and outrage from President Donald Trump, Rosenstein finally relented in early April — and granted Nunes and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina access to the document with only minimal redactions to protect the name of a foreign country and agent, along with all members of the House Intelligence Committee.

But when the pair arrived at the Justice Department to review the electronic communication, officials were caught off-guard by his next move. Nunes — sitting with a copy of the document in an unopened folder directly in front of him — opted not to read it, according to four sources with knowledge of the situation.

Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, reviewed a copy and since then nearly a dozen other lawmakers have gone to the Justice Department to read the document, sources say.

As Nunes has moved aggressively to publicly sow doubt about the Russia investigation, the moment marked at least the second time that he has demanded sensitive documents from the Justice Department, only to choose not to read them — allowing his staff or Gowdy to pore through the materials instead. The California Republican admitted in February that he did not read any applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

His supporters say there’s nothing untoward about a chairman being briefed by his staff. But critics say it’s another sign Nunes is merely interested in wielding his power to target his political enemies and give cover to Trump, rather than independently learning about the nuances of a complex investigation.

Asked twice in recent days if he personally had read the document that he demanded detailing the start of the Russia probe, Nunes pointedly refused to answer.

“You know I don’t talk about committee business,” he told CNN.

Asked later for a yes-or-no answer, Nunes repeated the same refrain: “You know I don’t talk to you about this stuff.”

A Nunes spokesman also would not say if his boss read the documents he’s demanded from the department. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

If he had read the documents, he would say so. His refusing to say makes it clear that he has not read the documents.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2018 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP

How a Racist Sheriff Railroaded a Disabled Teenager and Got Off

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Jeffrey Toobin reviews a nonfiction book in the NY Times:

A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found
By Gilbert King
Illustrated. 417 pp. Riverhead Books. $28.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” Martin Luther King Jr. famously asserted, “but it bends toward justice.” Well, perhaps. An alternative view is that progress on civil rights in the United States has been episodic and inconsistent, with victory often followed by backlash. The poisonous aftermath of the Supreme Court’s great decision in Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, forms the backdrop to Gilbert King’s superb new book, “Beneath a Ruthless Sun.” Rather than accept the justices’ unanimous edict on school integration, much of the South responded with defiance in the courts and violence in the streets, especially in the backwoods. Florida has largely escaped the opprobrium heaped on the other states of the old Confederacy, but it’s to the Sunshine State that King returns with a story of mind-boggling racism and cruelty.

“Ruthless Sun” amounts to a sequel of sorts to King’s “Devil in the Grove,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2013. That book told the story of the aftermath of a 17-year-old girl’s claim of rape in Florida’s Lake County, in 1949, and the fate of four young African-Americans who were suspected of the crime. The new book also concerns a rape case in Lake County, this one in 1957, the victim this time the wife of one of the region’s rising citrus barons. The connecting thread between the two cases is Sheriff Willis McCall, the chief law enforcement official in the county, and a figure of nearly incomprehensible evil.

On the night of Dec. 17, 1957, Blanche Knowles called her lawyer to report that a black perpetrator had invaded her gracious home in Okahumpka. The lawyer reported the crime to the police, and McCall promptly put on the police radio his customary instruction in such circumstances: “Round up every nigger you see.” His will was done, and the deputies took special pleasure in corralling Bubba Hawkins, whose chief crime was having an uncle who was trying to integrate the University of Florida College of Law. (Notwithstanding the Brown decision, and thanks to the reactionary Florida Supreme Court, Virgil Hawkins was never allowed to matriculate.) A few days after the crime, events took an unexpected turn. Even though Knowles described her attacker as black, McCall arrested a white man. The suspect was Jesse Daniels, a 19-year-old neighbor who today would be described as having a developmental disability (probably some form of mental retardation). Cornered by McCall’s uniformed thugs, Daniels signed a confession.

The hero of “Devil in the Grove” was a youngish Thurgood Marshall, the cagey grumpus in his days as a crusading lawyer. His counterpart in King’s new book is far less famous but equally compelling. Mabel Norris Reese ran a struggling weekly newspaper in Lake County, and this middle-aged white woman had the courage and fortitude to challenge the authority of Willis McCall. She may have dressed with uncharacteristic fussiness for the flatlands of Central Florida, complete with “her bebopper’s cat-eye glasses,” but not even burning crosses on her lawn (and worse) intimidated her from her pursuit of McCall’s misdeeds. (Watch for a Streep vs. McDormand brawl for the part.) Reese struck up a friendship with Daniels’s beleaguered mother, and the pair did what they could to stop McCall from putting Jesse away.

On the surface, King’s choice of this case as an illustration of a racist system of justice might seem peculiar. After all, this is the story of a crooked Southern sheriff railroading a white man. But as the story unfolds, it exposes the sinister complexity of American racism. Joe Knowles, who was off on a tryst with another woman when his wife was attacked, let the authorities know that it wouldn’t do for Blanche to have been raped by an African-American. The shame for her, and for him, would have been too great. So McCall obliged by manufacturing the case against the hapless Jesse Daniels. But then there’s another twist. A black man named Sam Wiley Odom is arrested for a different rape in a nearby town, and the evidence makes clear that Odom also raped Blanche. So, in an especially macabre development, McCall and his allies hustled to have Odom executed for the second rape before he could be implicated in the first. Odom duly became the last person executed for rape in Florida’s history.

Continue reading the main story

But what of Jesse Daniels? Even by Lake County standards, the case against him was weak, since it was based almost exclusively on his flimsy, and obviously coerced, confession. (Plus, Blanche said her attacker was black.) So McCall contrived to avoid a trial altogether by having Daniels committed to the State Hospital for the Insane at Chattahoochee; there, at the instigation of the sheriff, the doctors found that Daniels’s mental state made him unfit to stand trial. And in that notorious hellhole, Daniels — who was never convicted of anything — rotted away year after year.

The second half of King’s book follows the long, frustrating labors of Reese, Daniels’s mother and a handful of others, including the first African-American special agent of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to free Daniels. As the 1960s yielded to the 1970s, Florida state government took on a more modern cast, and Gov. Reubin Askew demanded investigations of Sheriff McCall in Lake County. But McCall was repeatedly re-elected, and never convicted of anything. As for Jesse Daniels, he was finally released from Chattahoochee after 14 years, on Dec. 4, 1971. A bill in the Florida Legislature to compensate his mother and him for this extended miscarriage of justice kicked around for months, until it was whittled down to $75,000 for Jesse and nothing at all for his mother. Jesse is still alive today, but he has moved away from Lake County.

King tells this complex story with grace and sensitivity, and his narrative never flags. His mastery of the material is complete, though he can’t quite nail down the most provocative theory about the crime that started it all — that Joe Knowles paid Sam Odom to do away with his wife so that he could marry his mistress. King’s occasional detours into such subjects as the history of the citrus industry and Dr. King’s protests in St. Augustine (where he faced some of the ugliest crowds of his career) are welcome and illuminating. The author presents his tale  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2018 at 10:38 am

Mühle synthetic with Art of Shaving Sandalwood, Gillette Aristocrat, and Phoenix Artisan Sandalwood aftershave

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The Mühle Gen 2 synthetic was a deliberate effort to make a “synthetic badger” brush, while the Plissoft brushes are not imitating any natural-bristle brushes. (The Omega S-series was a deliberate effort to make a “synthetic boar” brush.) So this Mühle brush has a different feel from the Plissoft types, but it performs admirably and feels good on the face.

AOS Sandalwood shaving soap is made, I believe, by Valobra, and it is a really excellent soap. I bought the refill on eBay and crammed it into this little tub, where it seems to be happy to live. The lather and fragrance are both first-rate.

My trust 1940’s Gillette Aristocrat, the very razor that adorns the cover of the Guide, delivered a fine shave with an Astra Keramik Platinum blade: totally smooth result, no nicks or problems. And a splash of Phoenix Artisan’s Sandalwood aftershave finished the job (and got a compliment from The Wife).

Update on carbon-steel pan. It has not been really nonstick to date, but I continue to use it daily, cleaning off any stuck food with a nylon-coil scrubber and hot water (no detergent) and then reasoning. I figured that in time it would come around, and this morning I did an over-easy egg that did not stick at all: sliding around the pan and flipping easily. Patience is the key.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2018 at 10:05 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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