Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Your Job in Germany

directed by Frank Capra and written by Theodor Geisel ("Dr Seuss")
[HT Ken McCracken, sayanythingblog.com]



Meanwhile a certain Anatol Stefanowitsch is lulling the suspicions of the unwary with an extremely interesting post in English on the death of languages. Readers whose unfamiliarity with German has kept them from checking out Bremer Sprachblog can see what they have been missing. (Yes, it was worth interrupting my vacation in Morocco to bring the glad tidings.)

11 comments:

"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

told nadine that we can no longer be friends and I will be keeping an eye on very, a very close and aloof eye...

Anonymous said...

I guess they forgot about a little place called the Soviet Union....

This is so racist.

Ithaca said...

I think they covered that in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

There were quite a lot of films in this vein on YouTube (I seem to remember one on the Japanese, which is probably every bit as cheering, though i didn't watch it). If they managed to miss out any non-resident aliens at the time, anyway, our leaders are probably making good the omission now.

Kweku said...

Re the Bremer Sprachblog link:

Very fascinating to be re-introduced to that problem. I'd vaguely heard of it years before, but not since in a while. I left a comment, and I was wondering whether you agreed or disagreed/if there was a critical piece of info on language death that I'm unaware of.

Paranthetically, I am maddeningly jealous that I can't speak any German now, that blog seems fascinating. Nonetheless, I've resigned myself to existing primarily in English. Why? I just know English's ins and outs so well, that I simply think it'd be difficult, in fact, asymptotic for me to approach that level of understanding in any other language. But I was looking at the difference in the qualities of your posts and mine, and apart from me being extraordinary uncondensed (it gets much worse in real life, oh yes), I get the feeling I'm driving the English language like a Porsche convertible in the manner of a balding, middle-aged computer programmer. There's something very parseable and tidy about your style, and I imagine your translators found it delightful to work on TLS. I wonder if speaking other languages would clean up my prose.

Argh, goddammit, hypographia Tourette's.

A.S. said...

Hi (again), Kweku. I see your point about knowing one language so well that the limited competence one could approach in another even after many years doesn't seem worth it. However, even knowing snippets of a language can be deeply satisfying, don't you think? For example, I now know (thanks to TLS) the Greek alphabet (and I didn't even have to work at it!). I also know the Korean alphabet, because I once spent a flight to Seoul figuring it out from the bilingual English-Korean menu. And those are just alphabets! As a linguist, I know hundreds of more or less random individual facts about the grammar of many languages that I would not even recognize if I heard them spoken, and each one of these facts is a little marvel in itself. One of the coolest facts is that in Kiowa, some words are inherently plural and some words are inherently singular. You then have a suffix that will change this inherent number (if you add it to a plural base, the word becomes singular, if you add it to a singular base, the word becomes plural). That fact makes up half of what I know about Kiowa, yet whenever I think of it, the sensation is similar to that of reading a tiny but beautiful poem.

Kweku said...

Say, a.s., where I can I start reading up on grammars of different languages? I'd love to know more about interesting grammars. Like for instance, I think the Arabic use of consonant roots for related nouns is fascinating. And your description of Kiowa is absolutely mouthwatering.

You know, while writing my response to your post, it was occurring to me that English has an peculiar way in which it evolves and will evolve, perhaps there is a pattern in there somewhere to extract, something probably of interest to linguists and more, something that a merely archival treatment of a dying language wouldn't capture.

Admittedly, my position is slightly biased - being Ghanaian, all throughout my growing up my parents insisted that I learn a Ghanaian language, that it's a part of our culture, how can I be truly Ghanaian without speaking a single Ghanaian language etc. and after many many years of having had maybe three Ghanaian languages forced down my throat, I promptly gagged them up once escaping to America and haven't looked back since. But I do envy the polyglots of the world, and you're right that there is something to a translation that's lost, for even my middling French can enjoy a missing nuance here and there.

And this probably goes without saying, but thanks more for your responses - definitely very thought provoking.

Jack Waldron Semple said...

In the beginning of the video, the letters on the clanging bell spell "LIBERTY F THE ASS"

Jack Waldron Semple said...

"Trained to win by cheating ... trained to pick on the weak." What's most interesting to me about this video is how effective it likely was in shaping the perceptions and heuristics of the occupying GIs. I particularly like the gravel-y, guy-next-to-you-in-the-trench voice of the narrator.

So sternly does the video warn against the dangers of Nazi propaganda that the American viewers - trained to trust their military leadership and receive orders without thinking - were likely only dimly aware that they themselves were being cunningly manipulated.

Jack Waldron Semple said...

(he answers himself) right - because the video doesn't take the form of an order, or a directive. It comes across as friendly advice from the old hand next to you in the trench. (Gravel-y narrator's voice) It's advice ... that could KEEP YOU ALIVE.

The little touches of humor and acknowledgements of the male sex drive (i.e., the mention of pretty sceneary while the camera shows us German women) only serve to reinforce the credibility and down-to-Earth-ness of the narrator.

This is a masterful work of propaganda.

Anonymous said...

In egalitarian societies, instructions and signals are anonymous (though publicity, advertisement, social pressure to conform, unquestioned slogans) expressions of what has been called a "soft ideology," so that people internalize them and respond to them as expected. The resulting neutral culture uses a meaningless wooden language, so nondescript and "safe" that it denies meaning and distinction, the very function of language. And, it is not very different from the Party-approved communication in communist regimes.

Thomas Molnar

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