What is context?

I asked Miru what 배 ‘bae’ and 눈 ‘nun’ means. She says ‘pear’ and ‘snow’. But in Korean, bae also means boat and nun also means eye. I tell her that it depends on the context. Context is the concept I want to explain to her today.
“Papa what is that, context?”
-“Context is a story. It is the story you are in.”
“What story?”
-“For example, I say it is a cold day and there is a lot of nun.”
“That is a short story.”
-“A context-story can be short. What does nun mean here?”
“Snow!”
-“And when I say grandfather is looking for his glasses because his nun is not so good any more?”
“Eye!”
-“Exactly. So you know what context is.”

Why am I sharing this? I believe there are some very useful concepts that are generally not taught to children. I already explained her what an oxymoron is. Next up will be paradox, irony, justice, equality, compatibility, intentionality, relativism. Any suggestions?

What is context? was originally published on Meandering home

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Reading: Winged And Acid Dark by Robert Hass

Robert Hass (b. 1941) is another famous American poet who served as Poet Laureate of that immense country and won a Pulitzer prize. I read one of his poems today that I think is representative. In other words: vintage Hass:

Winged and acid dark
A sentence with “dappled shadow” in it.
Something not sayable
spurting from the morning silence,
secret as a thrush.

The other man, the officer, who brought onions
and wine and sacks of flour,
the major with the swollen knee,
wanted intelligent conversation afterward.
Having no choice, she provided that, too.

Potsdamerplatz, May 1945.

When the first one was through he pried her mouth open.
Bashō told Rensetsu to avoid sensational materials.
If the horror of the world were the truth of the world,
he said, there would be no one to say it
and no one to say it to.
I think he recommended describing the slightly frenzied
swarming of insects near a waterfall.

Pried her mouth open and spit in it.
We pass these things on,
probably, because we are what we can imagine.

Something not sayable in the morning silence.
The mind hungering after likenesses. “Tender sky,” etc.,
curves the swallows trace in air.

Hass observes the limitations of language before giving us an incomprehensive fragment. Who is the other man and what about the supplies, the wounded major wanting conversation, and why did she have no choice? In the next sentence, the entire scene becomes clear. Potsdamerplatz, May 1945. Hitler is dead, his Reich has surrendered. The officer and the man are allied forces, making themselves comfortable on the rubble of Berlin. Wine and conversation, what more does a man need?

What about the prying open of the mouth? Looking for gold crowns? And why the Japanese names? The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings occured on August 6 and 9, 1945. Do the frenzied swarming of the insects near a waterfall refer to the nuclear event? I try to imagine, but I fail to understand why they spit in the woman’s mouth. You?

Hass seems to agree with me. He returns to the sayableness of tender sky and the curves we so easily imagine after swallows. This poem is a smart and gripping way of denoting what is unsayable about the war, and the fact that I might have completely missed what that unsayable thing is, well, that is precisely the point.

Reading: Winged And Acid Dark by Robert Hass was originally published on Meandering home

Be Farecul When You Ross The Croad

You learn very fast now. Lately, we have been playing “lettertjes omdraaien”, exchange letters in words. Even though you don’t really get the concept of spelling yet and how several letters make up a word (it is interesting that this mental apparatus is apparently rather complicated; letters are an abstraction, the unit of our language are words insofar as they are the shortest sentences), you understand the fun of jumbling the letters of words.

How I enjoy your laugh when you say “hey! you confused the letters!” Do you want to raw a drabbit? Do you pake a ticture? Do you want to vlay the piolin? What is a Pomcuter? A Sinodaur? Shall I bring you to Dinkergarten? Be Farecul when you ross the croad!

It is a misunderstanding that it would “confuse them”, just like it is a misunderstanding that toddlers wouldn’t be able to handle several languages well. They can, if they grow up in an environment where they are fully immersed in both languages simultaneously. It won’t confuse them, because the correct speech is constantly reinforced. Similarly, my letter jumbling game will only remind them of the correct word and reinforce that. Of course, I always make it explicit that we are joking.

Be Farecul When You Ross The Croad was originally published on Meandering home

Habit #2: Language learning

Habits seem to work better if you can divide them in smaller chunks that can give you an instant sense of accomplishment without taking up too much time. One very ‘chunkable’ habit is language learning. We have a plethora of resources at our fingertips, so I won’t go into that here. Google yields all the best language learning blogs, podcasts, video’s and websites, most of which offer excellent free material. I’m not going to mention the name of my favorite one because that is not the point here. There are much better blog posts that do exactly that.

I have tried for some time to keep up practicing language with a website that reminded me every day with e-mails. This went well in the beginning but became cumbersome after a while because the stuff I was learning (example sentences illustrating grammar patterns step by step) didn’t have anything to do with what I needed in real life. So I figured the better way to make a language habit stick is to connect it some something you are already interested in. For example, if I see a tweet about Macron’s 26.000 make-up which of course instills into me an insatiable interest, I force myself to read about it in French. Takes ten minutes, a nice little daily practice. The same thing goes for news about Kim Jong-Un’s ICBMs or Barcelona’s youngest tragedy.

I also use apps to read sentences and short stories, never vocabulary lists. A simple rule of thumb is to keep the learning as natural as possible, just the way a child is exposed to her native language. It is vital to make the time you spend on your daily language habit short enough to keep it up for at least 6 months. Bonne chance.

Habit #2: Language learning was originally published on Meandering home

May 25. Weak thoughts about Power.


Open shutter =[ Floating around in the fresh water of the Laguna Apoyo, a volcanic laguna created some 20.000 years ago when a volcano completely and violently exploded, watching over the surrounding hills that seperate the laguna from Lago Nicaragua, indulging in the peaceful quiteness of the place ]= close shutter. We have captured a very nice feeling.

As usual, I have some thoughts, too. And as usual, they circle like sad grey vultures around the subject of power, that insurmountable summit of the philosophical theory I’ll never write. This time I ask the following question: How is power related to language? Is there a power conceivable without language, like the power of a lion with its rhetorically inept roars? The power of a shark that fin-flashes through the water in pursuit of a happy meal, unaware of its entirely absent rhetorical capacities? The power of a cheetah with its fabulous tempo of chase, yet lacking any verbal brilliance to convince its prey of his ferocious intentions? Why should they? The prey takes care of that itself. It will run anyway because mother nature makes it run away. At about the same speed as the cheetah runs himself – it’s a description in terms of equilibrium, not one in terms of power, that suits the situation best. The cheetah is not exercising his power, he is only doing what he is supposed to do.
So we want to distuingish between equilibrium-driven and power-driven events. From a hermeneutical point of view, we have to ask which description suits a given situation best. The best we can get is a post-metaphysical philosophy of power, but for my pragmatical purposes it might do the job. The hypothesis is that interhuman relations based on linguistic interaction are significantly better described in terms of power than in terms of an equilibrium. Of course, a certain equilibrium is kept between the master and his slave, between the King and the People, between the Pope and the Abbots, but describing their relation merely in these terms fails to recognize the fact that we’re talking about individuals with their own agenda, their own intentions. The concept of power is much better suited here, because of its directionality. We consider the perspective of the agents involved, and not the misleading stability of the result. We lend the first-person-perspective for our objective description, as it were, to make it more precise and less exact at the same time.
So we analyse human linguistic encounters in terms of power. We hear “hi how are you?” and look at the alternatives for this greeting, at the way it is spoken, at the posture of the speaker, at the relation between speaker and receiver. We ask them about their deepest subconscious “intentions” and eventually we assign a power-number to it. The number indicates the power transported in the utterance. It says something about the amount of influence the speaker has over the receiver, but it is a better indicator than the resulting actions of the agents. Something like that. I think we can assess utterances in this way and in theory reconstruct the hierarchy of power among all human beings. The striking point here is that we are not concerned about the resulting actions. The reason for that is explained above: the resulting actions are better described in terms of equilibrium, and they don’t affect the assignment of power quanta.

My idea is to develop a language without power. Of course, that’s impossible. But HERE is the place to attempt the impossible. HERE is the place to deceive ourselves in a better way than life deceives us anyway. HERE is the place to erect the greatest illusion we are capable of. A language without power, sentences that don’t hit our opponent, that de-identify him as our opponent, sentences that are well thought trough and corrected before they are spoken in order to sooth the consequences of the original sentence. Words that are well chosen to dismantle the power that is inevitably transported by them. Syllables that sound less aggressive. That is the whole idea. Anybody can contribute to it; anybody can suggest idiom, grammar structures, sounds, perhaps a whole language that has been in this business for ages, like Hindi?

I hiked up to a viewpoint and looked over the Laguna from above. Had some excellent fruit on the way back.

May 25. Weak thoughts about Power.


Open shutter =[ Floating around in the fresh water of the Laguna Apoyo, a volcanic laguna created some 20.000 years ago when a volcano completely and violently exploded, watching over the surrounding hills that seperate the laguna from Lago Nicaragua, indulging in the peaceful quiteness of the place ]= close shutter. We have captured a very nice feeling.

As usual, I have some thoughts, too. And as usual, they circle like sad grey vultures around the subject of power, that insurmountable summit of the philosophical theory I’ll never write. This time I ask the following question: How is power related to language? Is there a power conceivable without language, like the power of a lion with its rhetorically inept roars? The power of a shark that fin-flashes through the water in pursuit of a happy meal, unaware of its entirely absent rhetorical capacities? The power of a cheetah with its fabulous tempo of chase, yet lacking any verbal brilliance to convince its prey of his ferocious intentions? Why should they? The prey takes care of that itself. It will run anyway because mother nature makes it run away. At about the same speed as the cheetah runs himself – it’s a description in terms of equilibrium, not one in terms of power, that suits the situation best. The cheetah is not exercising his power, he is only doing what he is supposed to do.
So we want to distuingish between equilibrium-driven and power-driven events. From a hermeneutical point of view, we have to ask which description suits a given situation best. The best we can get is a post-metaphysical philosophy of power, but for my pragmatical purposes it might do the job. The hypothesis is that interhuman relations based on linguistic interaction are significantly better described in terms of power than in terms of an equilibrium. Of course, a certain equilibrium is kept between the master and his slave, between the King and the People, between the Pope and the Abbots, but describing their relation merely in these terms fails to recognize the fact that we’re talking about individuals with their own agenda, their own intentions. The concept of power is much better suited here, because of its directionality. We consider the perspective of the agents involved, and not the misleading stability of the result. We lend the first-person-perspective for our objective description, as it were, to make it more precise and less exact at the same time.
So we analyse human linguistic encounters in terms of power. We hear “hi how are you?” and look at the alternatives for this greeting, at the way it is spoken, at the posture of the speaker, at the relation between speaker and receiver. We ask them about their deepest subconscious “intentions” and eventually we assign a power-number to it. The number indicates the power transported in the utterance. It says something about the amount of influence the speaker has over the receiver, but it is a better indicator than the resulting actions of the agents. Something like that. I think we can assess utterances in this way and in theory reconstruct the hierarchy of power among all human beings. The striking point here is that we are not concerned about the resulting actions. The reason for that is explained above: the resulting actions are better described in terms of equilibrium, and they don’t affect the assignment of power quanta.

My idea is to develop a language without power. Of course, that’s impossible. But HERE is the place to attempt the impossible. HERE is the place to deceive ourselves in a better way than life deceives us anyway. HERE is the place to erect the greatest illusion we are capable of. A language without power, sentences that don’t hit our opponent, that de-identify him as our opponent, sentences that are well thought trough and corrected before they are spoken in order to sooth the consequences of the original sentence. Words that are well chosen to dismantle the power that is inevitably transported by them. Syllables that sound less aggressive. That is the whole idea. Anybody can contribute to it; anybody can suggest idiom, grammar structures, sounds, perhaps a whole language that has been in this business for ages, like Hindi?

I hiked up to a viewpoint and looked over the Laguna from above. Had some excellent fruit on the way back.