Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 12th, 2019

Why learning a new language is like an illicit love affair

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Marianna Pogosyan, a lecturer in cultural psychology at the IES Abroad in Amsterdam and at the University of Amsterdam’s Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics (PPLE) college in The Netherlands, writes in Aeon:

Learning a new language is a lot like entering a new relationship. Some will become fast friends. Others will hook their arms with calculus formulas and final-exam-worthy historical dates, and march right out of your memory on the last day of school. And then sometimes, whether by mere chance or as a consequence of a lifelong odyssey, some languages will lead you to the brink of love.

Those are the languages that will consume you – all of you – as you do everything to make them yours. You dissect syntax structures. You recite conjugations. You fill notebooks with rivers of new letters. You run your pen over their curves and cusps again and again, like you would trace your fingers over a lover’s face. The words bloom on paper. The phonemes interlace into melodies. The sentences taste fragrant, even as they tumble awkwardly from your mouth like bricks built of foreign symbols. You memorise prose and lyrics and newspaper headlines, just to have them at your lips after the sun dips and when it dawns again.

Verbs after adverbs, nouns after pronouns, your relations deepen. Yet, the closer you get, the more aware you become of the mirage-like void between you. It’s vast, this void of knowledge, and you need a lifetime to traverse it. But you have no fear, since the path to your beloved gleams with curiosity and wonder that is almost urgent. What truths will you uncover amid the new letters and the new sounds? About the world? About yourself?

As with all relationships, the euphoria wears off eventually. With your wits regained, you keep dissecting and memorising, listening and speaking. Your accent is incorrigible. Your mistakes are inescapable. The rules are endless, as are the exceptions. The words – gracebless youonce upon a time – have lost their magic. But your devotion to them, your need for them is more earnest than ever. You have wandered too far from home to turn back now. You feel committed and vulnerable, trusting of their benevolence. On the occasion of your renewed vows, the language comes bearing gifts of inspiration and connection – not only to new others, but to a new you.

Many renowned writers have revelled in the gifts of their non-native tongues. Vladimir Nabokov, for instance, had been living in the United States for only a few years before he wrote Lolita (1955): a work that has been hailed as ‘a polyglot’s love letter to language’ and had him called a ‘master of English prose’. The Irishman Samuel Beckett wrote in French to escape the clutter of English. The Canadian Yann Martel found success writing not in his native French, but in English – a language that he says provides him with ‘a sufficient distance to write’. This distance, observes the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak of writing in her non-native English, leads her closer to home.

When Haruki Murakami sat at his kitchen table to write his first novel, he felt like his native Japanese was getting in the way. His thoughts would rush out of him like out of a ‘barn crammed with livestock’, as he put it in 2015. Then he tried writing in English, with limited vocabulary and simple syntax at his hands. As he translated (‘transplanted’, he calls it) his compact English sentences ‘stripped of all extraneous fat’ into Japanese, a distinctly unadorned style was born that decades later became synonymous with his worldwide success. When the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri started writing in Italian – a language she had been loving and learning for years – she felt like she was writing with her weaker hand. She was ‘exposed’, ‘uncertain’ and ‘poorly equipped’. Yet, she writes in 2015, she felt light and free, protected and reborn. Italian made her rediscover why she writes – ‘the joy as well as the need’.

But affairs of the heart rarely leave any witnesses untouched. Including our mother tongues. My grandmother has a collection of letters that I wrote to her after I left Armenia for Japan. Once in a while, she takes out the stack of envelopes with Japanese stamps that she keeps next to her passport, and reads through them. She knows all the words by heart, she insists with pride. One day, as we sit across each other with a screen and a continent between us, grandma shakes her head.

Something changed, she tells me ominously, skimming my sentences through her oversized glasses. With each letter, something kept changing, she says.

Of course something changed, grandma, I tell her. I moved to Japan. I hit puberty. I…

No, she laments with teacher’s remorse, your writing changed. First, it was the odd spelling mistake here and there. Then, the verbs and the nouns would pop up in wrong places.

Silence settles between us. I keep my eyes on the procession of English letters on my keyboard.

It’s nothing dramatic, she tells me, mostly to console herself, but enough for me to hold my breath every time I stumbled on errors that weren’t there before.

She opens another envelope.

Oh, and then, she exclaims, the punctuation! All of a sudden, there were too many commas. Then a single dot at the end of your sentences.

She lifts her glasses on top of her puff of white hair and begins to wrap her treasures back into my late grandfather’s handkerchief.

The last one that you sent me, she says with a defeated simper, that’s when everything changed. You wrote in our letters, you used our words, but it no longer sounded Armenian.

The truth is that entering an intimate relationship with a new language often colours everything. Our eyes expect the new words. Our ears habituate to the new sounds. Our pens memorise the new letters. While the infatuation takes over our senses, the language’s anatomy etches into our brains. Neural pathways are laid, connections are formed. Brain networks integrate. Grey matter becomes denser, white matter gets strengthened. Then, splatters of the new hues begin to show up in letters to grandma.

Linguists call this ‘second language interference’, when the new language interferes with the old language, like a new lover rearranging the furniture of your bedroom, as if to say – this is how things will be done around here from now on. Somehow, writing exposes this interference (this betrayal, as grandma saw it) more than . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 8:21 pm

Changes in perception leads to changes in reality

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From Mindfulness by Ellen J. Langer

A more recent experiment testing this mind/body unity theory, called the “chambermaid study,” involved women who did heavy physical work all day. When asked whether they exercised, they claimed they did not. We then suggested to half the group that they view their work as exercise, like going to the gym. They were told that making beds, for example, was like working out on the machines at the gym. No other changes were made. As a result of the change in mindset the experimental group, but not the control group, lost weight and showed a decrease in waist to hip ratio, a decrease in body mass index, and a drop in blood pressure—all as a function of changing their minds to see their work as exercise.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 7:29 pm

Posted in Daily life

Six months after starting whole-food plant-based diet

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And 3.5 months after quitting my medication for high blood pressure:

That’s from the supermarket pharmacy’s machine this afternoon. When a doctor took my blood pressure earlier this week, it was 115 over 71. Whichever it is, it’s pretty good considering not that long ago I was on meds for high blood pressure.

I think this whole-food plant-based diet is turning out to be a good idea.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 7:03 pm

How the Loss of the Landline Is Changing Family Life

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Julia Cho writes in the Atlantic:

My tween will never know the sound of me calling her name from another room after the phone rings. She’ll never sit on our kitchen floor, refrigerator humming in the background, twisting a cord around her finger while talking to her best friend. I’ll get itHe’s not here right now, and It’s for you are all phrases that are on their way out of the modern domestic vernacular. According to the federal government, the majority of American homes now use cellphones exclusively. “We don’t even have a landline anymore,” people began to say proudly as the new millennium progressed. But this came with a quieter, secondary loss—the loss of the shared social space of the family landline.

“The shared family phone served as an anchor for home,” says Luke Fernandez, a visiting computer-science professor at Weber State University and a co-author of Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter. “Home is where you could be reached, and where you needed to go to pick up your messages.” With smartphones, Fernandez says, “we have gained mobility and privacy. But the value of the home has been diminished, as has its capacity to guide and monitor family behavior and perhaps bind families more closely together.”

The home telephone was a communal invention from the outset. “When the telephone rang, friends and family gathered ’round, as mesmerized by its magic flow of electrons as they would later be by the radio,” according to Once Upon a Telephone, a lighthearted 1994 social history of the technology. After the advent of the telephone, in the late 19th century, and through the mid-20th century, callers relied on switchboard operators who knew their customers’ voices, party lines were shared by neighbors (who would often eavesdrop on one another’s conversations), and phone books functioned as a sort of map of a community.

The early telephone’s bulky size and fixed location in the home made a phone call an occasion—often referred to in early advertisements as a “visit” by the person initiating the call. (One woman quoted in Once Upon a Telephone recalls the phone as having the “stature of a Shinto shrine” in her childhood home.) There was phone furniture—wooden vanities that housed phones in hallways of homes, and benches built for the speaker to sit on so they could give their full attention to the call. Even as people were defying time and space by speaking with someone miles away, they were firmly grounded in the space of the home, where the phone was attached to the wall.

Over the course of the 20th century, phones grew smaller, easier to use, and therefore less mystical and remarkable in their household presence. And with the spread of cordless phones in the 1980s, calls became more private. But even then, when making a call to another household’s landline, you never knew who would pick up. For those of us who grew up with a shared family phone, calling friends usually meant first speaking with their parents, and answering calls meant speaking with any number of our parents’ acquaintances on a regular basis. With practice, I was capable of addressing everyone from a telemarketer to my mother’s boss to my older brother’s friend—not to mention any relative who happened to call. Beyond developing conversational skills, the family phone asked its users to be patient and participate in one another’s lives.

Cellphones, which came on the market in the ’80s and gained popularity in the ’90s, rendered all of this obsolete as they displaced landlines. When kids today call “home,” they may actually be calling one parent and bypassing the other; friends and bosses and telemarketers (if they get through) usually reach exactly the person they are hoping to speak with. Who will be on the other end of the line is no longer a mystery.

What’s more, the calls, texts, and emails that pass through cellphones (and computers and tablets) can now be kept private from family members. “It keeps everybody separate in their own little techno-cocoons,” says Larry Rosen, a retired psychology professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills and a co-author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. Whereas early landlines united family members gathered in a single room, cellphones now silo them.

Cheryl Muller, a 59-year-old artist living in Brooklyn, raised her two sons, now 30 and 27, during the transition from landline to cellphone. “I do remember the shift from calling out ‘It’s for you,’ and being aware of their friends calling, and then asking them what the call was about, to pretty much … silence,” she says. Caroline Coleman, 54, a writer in New York City whose children grew up during the same transition, recalls how at age 10 her son got a call from a man with a deep voice. “I was horrified. I asked who it was—and it was his first classmate whose voice had changed,” she said. “When you get cells, you lose that connection.”

These days, this dynamic is also often reversed. A shared family phone meant . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Bulat chef and paring knife 20% off for 2 days

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I get no kickback or other remuneration, but I do like my Bulat chef and paring knife, and today and tomorrow they are 20% off — their one sale of the year. I have the olive wood grip, but the walnut grip is also attractive. Highly recommended. The chef knife comes with a 17º edge, which I reshaped to 15º just for me. The original angle works fine.

See this earlier post.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life

Imitating the sound of American English

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Vittorio Traverso writes in Atlas Obscura:

BEFORE CHILDREN LEARN HOW TO speak properly, they go through a period of imitating the sounds they hear, with occasionally hilarious results, at least for their parents. Baby talk evolves into proto-words, so that “octopus” might come out as “appah-duece,” or “strawberry” as “store-belly.” But it’s not just children who ape the sounds of spoken language. There’s a long tradition of songs that “sound” like another language without actually meaning anything. In Italy, for example, beginning in the 1950s, American songs, films, and jingles inspired a diverse range of “American sounding” cultural products.

The most famous is probably “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” a 1972 song composed by legendary Italian entertainer Adriano Celentano and performed by him and his wife, Claudia Mori. The song’s lyrics sound phonetically like American English—or at least what many Italians hear when an American speaks—but are clearly total, utter, delightful nonsense. You really have to hear it to appreciate it.

“Prisencolinensinainciusol” fell under the radar upon release, but in 1973—once Celentano performed it on Italian public broadcaster RAI—the song topped charts in Italy, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

It was rediscovered across the pond in the YouTube age, when in 2010 boingboing’s Cory Doctorow described a video of the song as “one of the most bizzare videos found on the internet,” and the 72-year-old Celentano was interviewed for an episode of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” “Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did,” Celentano said.

He wasn’t alone. After World War II, American culture started to exert its influence in many parts of Europe. The phenomenon was especially strong in Italy, where the arrival of American troops in Rome in June 1944 helped mark the country’s liberation from fascism.

“Americanization” was captured in films such as 1954’s An American in Rome, in which Italian actor Alberto Sordi plays a young Roman who is obsessed with the United States. He seeks to imitate gli Americani in his daily life, and one of the most well-known scenes sees him trading red wine for milk.

By the time Celentano’s song came out, the sound of American English had been “contaminating” Italian culture for decades. Linguist Giuseppe Antonelli analyzed Italian pop songs produced between 1958 and 2007, and revealed the ways in which Italian singers have incorporated American sounds into their music.

One way was to use intermittent English words, with preference for trendy terms. The most notable example of this is “Tu vuo’ fa l’americano” (“You Want to Be American”), a 1956 song by Renato Carosone about a young Neapolitan who is trying to impress a girl.

The song, featured in the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley, features mentions of “baseball,” “rock ‘n’ roll,” and “whiskey and soda,” which not only “sound American” but also evoke a kind of aspirational American lifestyle. Other songs alternated sentences in both languages, and still more, such as Bruno Martino’s 1959 “Kiss Me, Kiss Me,” were sung half in English and half in Italian.

Similarly, in the 1960s there was a trend of bands in England singing in Italian—with strong English accents. Both phenomena resulted in a similar hybrid sound, one that Italians responded to. According to Francesco Ciabattoni, who teaches Italian culture and literature at Georgetown University, this Anglo-Italian pop genre grew from Italy’s collective interest in America, as well as the British Invasion of the 1960s. “I am not sure how much thinking they put in it, but producers must have realized that imitating English and American sounds would sell more,” he says. Linguistics may have played a role, too. “The phonetic structure of English makes it more suited to rock or pop songs compared with Italian,” he adds. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Later in the article:

BUT THE ROOTS OF CELENTANO’S song go much further back than the end of World War II. “What Celentano is doing, inventing a nonsense language, was already done by Dante and by medieval comedians before him,” says Simone Marchesi, who teaches French and Italian medieval literature at Princeton University. And that practice, Marchesi explains, goes back even further, to the Old Testament.

Genesis 11:1–9 says that after the flood, the people of Earth, who all spoke the same language, founded the new city of Babel, and planned to build a tower tall enough to reach heaven. In reaction to this act of arrogance, God decided to confuse humans by creating different languages so that they could no longer understand each other.

And so, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the author encounters a giant named Nimrod next to the ninth circle of hell. In non-canonical writings, Nimrod is associated with building the Tower of Babel. He approaches Dante and Virgil, and says “Raphèl maí amècche zabí almi,” a series of words that has no meaning but, according to some scholars, can sound a little like Old Hebrew.

Virgil says, “every language is to him the same/as his to others—no one knows his tongue.” Nimrod speaks a failed language, and failed languages are the result of divine punishment. This is why, Marchesi explains, nonsense languages were traditionally associated with sin. “The medieval period was characterized by a division in ‘high’ aspects of life, associated with the heavens, and ‘low’ aspects associated with carnal, animal existence: the realm of sin.” For language, the high part was “signifiers”—the concepts that language conveys—and the low part was the “signs”—the sounds and symbols that represent those concepts. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 10:41 am

Posted in Memes, Music

A whole-food plant-based breakfast smoothie

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I read in Greger’s book that fresh raw turmeric works better against inflammation and fresh cooked turmeric (or ground turmeric) better against DNA damage. So I got to thinking about how to use raw turmeric and thought a smoothie would work — and Lord! are there a ton of whole-food plant-based smoothie recipes! I looked at a few and decided to make up a recipe using what I have on hand. This will, I think, require the Big Blender, not the immersion blender.

I decided to use:

1 mandarin orange, peeled
1 lemon (or lime): cut off ends, cut in half, place halves on cutting board and cut off peel
4-6 pitted dates
1 cup frozen mixed berries or cranberries
1/3 pkg frozen spinach (or handful of fresh kale or arugula or parsley or cilantro or 1/4 head red cabbage)
1 small raw beet (or 1/2 medium beet), cut into sections
1 small or 1/2 medium carrot, cut into sections
2-3 scallions, cut into sections
1-2 stalks celery, cut into sections
1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider, sherry, red wine, or white)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried mint)
1-2″ raw turmeric root
1-2″ raw ginger root (pretty thick root), cut into sections
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (for turmeric)
1 tablespoon freshly ground flax seed
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
1 teaspoon freshly ground black cumin (nigella satavia)
1 teaspoon amla powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic
1/4 cup goji berries
1/4 cup pepitas or walnuts
1 brazil nut (for selenium)
enough oat milk to make it drinkable but still thick — almonds are not a good crop, demanding too much water; oats are more sustainable.

I formerly used 1 apple, but now I eat the apple (the entire apple, including peel and core but not the stem) because of the findings discussed in this video:

The smoothie and the apple eaten separately take care of a good part of the Daily Dozen checklist: berries, other fruit, greens, flax seed, and nuts/seeds. I don’t use bananas because they are fairly low in nutritional value (e.g, antioxidants). The smoothie recipe above makes a big batch — and it’s very tasty. I drank it all. If I have an avocado, I add half an avocado. to this smoothie To try in future smoothies, some combination of these:

1/2 avocado
1 tablespoon horseradish (from refrigerated section) or a piece of horseradish root (for cruciferous vegetable) — I skip this if I’ve used red cabbage as the smoothie greens
1-2 sheets nori
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil (for flavor)
1-2 good sized jalapeños, cap cut off, or 1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup dried apricots

As an aside: to complete the Daily Dozen, for lunch and dinner, I sautéed a yellow onion with about 1/3 cup finely chopped garlic and a 1″ piece of fresh turmeric minced, then added a cup of steamed broccoli, a cup of chopped crimini mushrooms, a cup of diced homemade soybean tempeh, and 3/4 cup cooked hulled barley, along with about 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (for the turmeric, which works better if accompanied by black pepper). That took care of beans, cruciferous vegetables, other vegetables, and whole grains, completing the checklist (save for exercise — but it’s raining…).

Daily Dozen (1).jpg

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 9:14 am

Maggard mini synthetic, Lenthéric, and Above the Tie’s S1 slant

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A recent comment asking about the longevity of seldom-used shaving soaps (whose life on the shelf stretches first into years and then into decades) reminded me of this excellent and very fragrant Lenthéric shaving soap, which (I’m told) may well have been made by Valobra. It dates, I’m sure from the late 1970s, possibly early 1980s — so about 40 years old. And it’s fine. The plastic lid is fairly tight fitting. My Yardley soap from the same era has a loose fitting wooden lid that sits atop a wooden tub, and its fragrance is not so strong that of the Lenthéric, but of course I don’t know how they compared when new.

And the lather was not only fragrant and of wonderful consistency — a very high-quality soap that seemed to enjoy the Maggard mini synthetic brush. With the only other Above the Tie razor I own, the wonderful S1 (here mounted on a UFO handle), I did 3 passes and obtained a perfectly smooth result, ready for a splash of Wild Coast Perfumery’s Eau de Lavande.

Fine start to the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 8:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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