Re: It's A Living

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this is beyond, or beneath, facile

W/R/T the analysis of the French, I would say it there is truth to it, but it describes a narrow slice of parisienne society. It's akin to generalizing about Americans based on your observations at NYC gallery openings or Georgetown dinner parties*.

The author makes a feint at acknowledging this, writing "This is probably worse in Paris, and among the professional classes." But then she goes on to say, "But a lot of French TV involves round-table discussions in which well-dressed people attempt to land zingers on one another,", as if the people on roundtable discussions on TV were somehow drawn from a different social stratum than Parisian professionals.

*in other words, not out of character with the rest of the New York Times


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:44 AM
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Yeah, but Ridicule was a fun movie.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:45 AM
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The article is revelatory in an unintended sense. She squeezes a column's worth of prose by regurgitating observations made by Raymonde Carroll and Polly Platt 25 or 30 years ago. Which made me realize this is a valuable example for middle aged professionals at risk of lapsing into irrelevance and being eclipsed by younger, fresher colleagues: mine the wisdom of the ancients from two or three decades ago.

Your younger colleagues won't be familiar with it, so it won't seem unoriginal even though it is. You take advantage of the tendency for ideas to cycle in and out of currency. Obviously you don't want to do this without nodding toward acknowledgement of the original source, but if you do so deftly, you get credit for unearthing unfamiliar / forgotten sources rather than being a derivative hack. It's related to this aphorism.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:54 AM
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some American conversations resemble a succession of monologues. A 2014 study led by a psychologist at Yeshiva University found that when researchers crossed two unrelated instant-message conversations, as many as 42 percent of participants didn't notice.

This is stupid. Jammies and I do this all the time on IM - he's jabbering about one topic, and I'm jabbering about another, and we're reading each other's words and following both threads, and then come together and comment on the other's, then drift apart, etc, repeat.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:58 AM
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Nothing at all ironic about disputing whether or not American conversation resembles a series of monologues, in paragraph form in a comment thread.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:59 AM
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The squirrel outside my office window seems nice.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:00 AM
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That seems pretty wearying. I am not a particularly good conversationist. I can go to a happy hour and talk about things, but I am not really good at it. Would not be happy if people would be dropping zingers.


Posted by: Lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:00 AM
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Those multi-nationals are always like this: overgeneralizing.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:03 AM
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Re 3

https://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/inflections-forever-new/

Guernica: A lot of the theorists you draw from, and the other thinkers you're engaging with, are of an older generation. They're not your contemporaries.

Maggie Nelson: Put very nicely! [laughs]. Unfortunately, it's probably more a sign that I dropped out of keeping up with academic theoreticians in 1994. Someone who read the book recently said, "I love how you're not afraid to date yourself with the theorists that you mention." That was a slightly less kind way of putting the question.


Posted by: Lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:09 AM
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The big snowsquirrel outside my building has turned into some kind of horrific maimed beast.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:10 AM
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I'm upset that it's too sunny for me to open my shades all the way. It's March. Bring back the clouds.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:11 AM
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Both the articlke in the OP (which article stereotypes only conversational style and superficial behavior, are those really worth more than 700 words? She doesn't touch on greed, lust, cruelty, empathy, or reason) and 3. seem right to me. I actually like talking with Brits usually-- there's at least an illusion that they enjoy conversation.

We would rather speak ill of ourselves than not talk about ourselves at all.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:16 AM
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VTSOOBC slightly, I was just telling another commenter yesterday that in my undergraduate program, the statement "It sounds like you are making a national character argument" was considered a particularly insulting way of dismissing someone else's argument.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:17 AM
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4. I say not stupid at all, conversation and conversational style is definitely worth paying attention to, though maybe not in TX.

I really enjoyed Erving Goffman's "Forms of Talk," which is an extended and detailed analysis of converstaional style, developing how far tha "human jukebox" model of conversational interaction goes. Goffman is perceptive, intelligenet, amoral in his in thinking style, was likely a personally deranged little dude. I would very much enjoy listening to any existing recorded interviews, roundatbles, or seminars that he participated in.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:21 AM
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14: The stupid part is the implication that communication has not really taken place, just two echo chambers.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:22 AM
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14: If he had a newsletter, would you prescribe?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:23 AM
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13: It seems to me like all the great 19th century European novelists believed in "national character". It makes for some jarring passages in novels I love.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:24 AM
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13. and the OP, a lot of conversation is not actually an interaction intended to reveal, though admitting this openly is rude.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:26 AM
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Also, Americans are earnest and sincere (although we've all seen tons of people get mocked for taking on too earnest a tone, so it has to be a sufficiently safe space) but the French are never earnest nor sincere but value their privacy because they need a sufficiently safe space in which to be earnest and sincere. Mmhmm.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:27 AM
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In the United States we know that there can't be such a thing as national character, because each state has its own character.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:29 AM
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Also notable that Druckerman's NYT bio doesn't reference her stellar work for Marie Claire.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:30 AM
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15,16. While IM isn't a legitimate substitute for spoken conversation and the reserachers cited may be morons, Goffman is not a moron, and explores exactly communication-free conversation among other topics. He's worth reading. Please consider any typos a semi-ironic attempt to replicate the fragments stammers and false starts which punctuate actual conversatio. Each particular typo is thus an ambiguous gesture that may be intentional.

Alternatly, consider whether a rapidly delivered but basically thoughtless zinger is not itself a performative declaration to the point that much human conversation is orthogonal to communication. Or at least that the communication is more like exchanging cliches or nodding at each other instead of tied to the meaning in the words spoken.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:33 AM
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I once met the then-editor of Marie Claire.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:33 AM
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I'm very comfortable with the idea that Goffman may do real research which this journalist is hacking.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:35 AM
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Maybe you "subscribe" to newsletters. I don't know what the kids are up to these days.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:35 AM
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24. Wow, she apparently hit a nerve-- I don't especially see the column as stupid hackery-- it's an intentionally superficial exploration of an interesting subject that most people avoid talking about. This common avoidance is motivated precisely by the fear of saying something stupid or offensive, which fear she mentions basically politely in conjunction with coping tactics.

This is the newspaper that gives space to that self-absorbed idiot who never smoked weed. Both from a vantage point of venue usage or from a venue-independent assessment of this feuilleton, the column actually seems OK to me. What's objectionable, exactly? That she's punching above her weight by talking about national differences?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:48 AM
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I wish that #3 were true in my field. Calls today are relentlessly concerned with developing new paradigms (note plural): "let 1000 Copernicuses bloom." Heavy rigorosity supersedes the need for either knowledge from the ancients of 20 years ago or any actual point to your research.

Goffman's great but the article in the OP would be ridiculed as banal at one of the dinner parties it describes.


Posted by: No longer Middle Aged Man | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:06 AM
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It seems to me like all the great 19th century European novelists believed in "national character". It makes for some jarring passages in novels I love.

Two things occur to me:

A. We've probably gone over the other side of the horse wrt national character. Is every German a self-righteous prig who looks down on Southern Europeans? No, but maybe more of them are than you'd find in, I dunno, Poland. You get this sort of weird claim that different countries take different paths for contingent reasons, but somehow this doesn't result in the people in those countries being in any way different from each other. And yeah, it works at a US state level, too. Texas is the opposite of NY because of history, but supposedly this hasn't resulted in Texans being in any way different from New Yorkers.

B. I wonder if national characters were, in fact, a bit more cohesive in the 19C? People are very susceptible to groupthink, and in a world where your horizons don't extend beyond your borders, it's a lot easier to take a lot of assumptions as given. In a cosmopolitan world, you might still have culturally ingrained tendencies, but they'll be leavened by exposure to the existence of other tendencies. This isn't to say that the facile summaries of national character that one reads in 19C lit aren't usually pretty risible, but I suspect that people who traveled in that era really did experience character that differed quite a bit from place to place (and then made overbroad characterizations). In the US, we've seen a fair amount of that in the past 50 (gah, 70, I'm getting old) years, where regional differences used to be most salient, and now urbanity differences are (that is, all exurbs are more like each other than a Chicago exurb is like a comparably wealthy bit of Chicago proper).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:11 AM
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I just finished reading this book by Goffman's daughter:

http://www.amazon.com/On-Run-Fieldwork-Encounters-Discoveries/dp/022613671X

I am about 50% certain that it is a complete fraud. If it isn't a complete fraud, it is a great book with clear implications for dismantling America's police state.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:18 AM
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28.2: Eugen Weber lived in vain.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:18 AM
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29: I read that book too! I didn't think it was a complete fraud or a great book.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:19 AM
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It struck me as the kind of makes-stupid*-people-feel-smart piece you see a lot of in the NYT. But it all paid off for me at the end with this bit:

After being besieged by British irony and French wit, I sometimes yearn for the familiar comfort of American conversations, where there are no stupid questions. Among friends, I merely have to provide reassurance and mirroring: No, you don't look fat, and anyway, I look worse.

I can't help but wonder how some of those friends felt after reading "sometimes I really miss my stupid, inane friends who aren't witty and clever because I don't need to think about what they're saying or, really, respond to it." My entire image of the author switched from someone reflecting on various cultural differences to someone in this situation.


*Or, I don't know, the "doesn't constantly and reflexively overthink things but still likes to get the occasional glimpse of another way of seeing the world" group which, I guess, is probably both more flattering and more accurate.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:19 AM
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lemmy caution, please say more! I am super skeptical but haven't read the book yet, need to pay my library fines and get it because I don't think I want to buy it myself.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:19 AM
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It seems to me like all the great 19th century European novelists believed in "national character". It makes for some jarring passages in novels I love.

German families are all alike; every French family is French in its own way.


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:21 AM
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And peep, whom I missed by not refreshing rather than because I scorn all his opinions with scornful scorn.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:21 AM
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Malcolm Gladwell thinks, "It's an exceptional book .... devastating." Um.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:24 AM
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After being besieged by British irony and French wit, I sometimes yearn for the familiar comfort of American conversations, where there are no stupid questions.

This. How is she with intelligent questions?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:26 AM
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37: She's fine with them. In America, all questions are intelligent! No matter how stupid they are!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:28 AM
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36 - Hey, she lived there for six years! That must be like 50,000 hours so she the book must contain the collective insight of five experts on the matter.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:30 AM
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Europeans are obsessed with the idea of national characters. I might have told this story here before. A friend of mine (who's German) took me to dinner with a bunch of Europeans from different countries. They spent the entire dinner ascribing every difference between each other to their respective national characters. After the dinner, I mentioned to my friend that I didn't like the way they reduced everything to their nationalities. My friend said to me, condescendingly, "That's because you are an American."


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:30 AM
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In America, all questions are intelligent! No matter how stupid they are!

Talk radio, what hast thou wrought?


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:34 AM
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37. Intelligent questions vary, often take take time to think about and clarify before responding, and lead to long, digressive, and contentious answers. If you can manage spontaneous intelligent questions on varied topics regularly without pissing off the people you're talking with, you're winning-- it's pretty unusual to get a group of people who can do this together.

Most people fake it sometimes, with varied styles and varied success.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:37 AM
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I think 28A is true, and yet it's one of those Things Man Wasn't Meant To Know. It's like gender differences between men and women. Probably for every statistic you care to measure there is some statistically significant difference in the means for men and women. The distributions will overlap a great deal, if not entirely, but once the puny human brain starts thinking about the difference in means, it will completely consume its ability to remember anything else.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:38 AM
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40 reminds me of a conversation I had once with someone who was a strong believer in astrology. When I expressed my skepticism, she asked me when my birthday was. I told her, and she replied, "Oh, of course; you [sign] are natural-born skeptics."


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:39 AM
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44: I had that exact same conversation. I used to use it as a one-liner whenever astrology came up. "I don't believe in astrology. Because I'm a [sign] and we're skeptics."


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:45 AM
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"Cops" is on in the background here. It's making me very nervous about our national character.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:47 AM
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Scorpio, right?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:47 AM
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Scorpio, right?

Nope.


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:57 AM
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41: Actually, that's something my boss tells every attorney during orientation -- not to hesitate to ask, "there are no stupid questions". That's so they will ask us stupid questions, and then we can laugh at them.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:00 AM
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47 to 46


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:03 AM
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29: Dwayne Betts really hated that book. I think he's being overly defensive and sometimes unfair, but he probably has a point.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2014/07/alice_goffman_s_on_the_run_she_is_wrong_about_black_urban_life.single.html


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:06 AM
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The tragic thing about "there are no stupid questions" is that there really, really are stupid questions that you should be ashamed to ask, but it's a productive lie to tell because people are terrible at figuring out whether their question is one of the stupid ones.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:11 AM
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Pamela Druckerman, a contributing opinion writer, is the author of "Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting."
Isn't that the book with a bunch of bullshit about how French parenting skills promote healthy eating and independence and all the other things that really are your your fault for ruining your child with your terrible American parenting?


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:12 AM
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The Goffman book came up here before.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:17 AM
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I love the idea that French playgrounds are tiny reënactments of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:20 AM
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55: ew


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:21 AM
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30: Exactly what I was thinking.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:25 AM
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52. I think this is tricky-- in a way, "why is there evil in the world" or "What's the difference between a fact and an opinion" are stupid questions.

But asking and talking about these is different from talking about "Don't the liberals just want to take our guns?" even if there's no effective way to describe the boundary between question types, or even to generate an idealized taxonomy.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:29 AM
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re: national character

I have an old friend who is from a Pakistani Moslem background. She's also Glaswegian. She lives in another European country.

We had a conversation a while ago where she was talking about all of the ways she finds her moral intuitions and expectations of other people's behaviour at odds with those of the people she works with and is surrounded by.

'Matt, for years I've been putting this down to the fact that I was brought up Moslem. Then, recently, I had a revelation. It's not because I'm Moslem, or because I'm Pakistani. It's because I'm _Scottish_.'


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:53 AM
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59: That's hilarious.

My default assumption when I seem different from the people around me is that I'm weird. I guess that's because I'm American and individualistic.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:01 AM
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re: 60

Her revelation sparked by the fact that she'd recently had a bitching session with another Scottish friend, and then with me, and found we were all spookily in agreement.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:03 AM
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knecht has it all correct in 1 wrt the frenchies she's talking about.

Exhausted by my own N Cal hippy upbringing (lashings of earnest but unhelpful emotional spewing), I've always found my very middle class English inlaws very relaxing. Endless flu of mildly pleasant inconsequential chit chat, ahhhhh. When a dear friend got serious with her own English dude, knowing her history of torture by American boyfriend's So Cal Jewish - Israeli family (guilt inducing emotional spewing) I extolled to her the delights of English inlaws! Alas, there is a passive aggressive dark side to the lèvre supérieure rigide.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:09 AM
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flow not flu


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:10 AM
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I love 59.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:17 AM
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Echoing 3, and maybe 1, the difference in conversation she points to in the article was actively taught to me in my high school French class, so whatever its truth it's not a new observation about Franco-American differences. In my experience in Francophone countries it was ... sort of true? I dunno, UMC Parisians are basically dicks, except when they're not, but I'd say maybe more dickish on average than your average UMC USian. Certainly more neurotic. But whatever I'm not a reliable informant and who the fuck knows.

Just to push the stereotyping further, my high school French teacher had the (apparently popular in France) belief that African American conversational culture was much closer to the French style than that of anglo Americans. More focus on wit in the conversation, similar kind of one-upsmanship, greater fear of being boring or ridiculed, etc. But this is all against the weird background of French identification with/condescension towards US African American culture.


Posted by: Tim "Ripper" Owens | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:17 AM
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It's what children say in the schoolyard here after they've proved someone wrong, or skewered him with a biting remark. English equivalents like "gotcha" or "booyah" don't carry the same sense of gleeful vanquish

She lost her cred right away, because she doesn't know about "snap".


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:25 AM
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Yeah I thought about "snap" too. Or the variant used in my elementary school, which was ubiquitous then but AFAIK never moved out of central LA, "moted" (short for "demoted" like "you're moted dude hahaha.")


Posted by: Tim "R" O | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:28 AM
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AIHSMHB, a friend was at one of those insufferable Parisian dinner parties, and as the guest of honor was leaving and cheek-kissing everyone close by the door, an American guest urged him to wait for a second for his (the American's) wife to come to the door so he could "baiser ma femme". "Si généreux, ces Américains", he replied.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:32 AM
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"Moted" made it out to the San Fernando Valley, I'll have you know.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:33 AM
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AFAIK never moved out of central LA, "moted"

The full version I learned was "moted, corroded, yo booty exploded." M grew up in south San Francisco, and had something similar.

Also, "burn."


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:35 AM
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She wrote this very likable sentence: " I was growing up in Miami. My life plan elegantly combined the city's worship of bodies and money, and its indifference to how you came by either." Via Wikipedia.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:40 AM
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If a perfect body came in a community-edited web page, everybody would have one.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:42 AM
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If your measurements are arbitrarily precise and your samples arbitrarily large there is a difference between any two given groups on any social science variable you could measure.


Posted by: Tia | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:51 AM
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oops, that was to 43.


Posted by: Tia | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:52 AM
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"Moted" made it even to the hinterlands that are Fresno.


Posted by: Mooseking | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:58 AM
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Man, that article is pretty badly written.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:59 AM
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70: My teenagers say "Get wrecked" or "gg" (from online gaming) after they've successfully put each other down. I just asked my 11-year-old if he would use "burn," and was told witheringly "Mum, that's so last year."


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:14 AM
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Colgate. A lesser Ivy. Sorry, Yale.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:16 AM
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Dwayne Betts really hated that book.

It's ridiculous that he has make this basic point, because as he says, it should be obvious.

I'll say what should be obvious, but isn't: Most young black men are not committing armed robberies and burglaries, are not engaging in armed battle from moving cars, and are not murdering acquaintances at dice games. They are not shooting into homes. If Goffman wants to reveal the abuses of a surveillance state, why not focus on characters that aren't so entrenched in the worst criminal activity? Why not give us a picture of Mike and his friends' lives that is broader than the last felony they committed? Instead Goffman only gives us young men who seem to be committing crimes with relative impunity. If these are the targets of surveillance, is the level of policing in urban communities really a problem as opposed to a solution?

Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:16 AM
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was told witheringly "Mum, that's so last year."

Wow. Ice burn.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:21 AM
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My kids still say burn, provincial bumpkins that they are. And yeah, the gamer says wrecked. He seems to have stopped calling me fam though. (Our family Facebook conversation is called famalam.)

Anyway, my 16 year old was in France just last week, and said that there're loads of reality shows on French tv, "even on TF1". Bim.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:36 AM
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And now I find from Google that it's actually spelled rekt. I am so last century.


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:47 AM
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Sometimes the best analyses of national stereotypes come from people who move to another country and absolutely love the people in that country. But sometimes it's the opposite. The zeal of the convert, you might say.

There's a series of crime novels set in Thailand by a guy named John Burdett. It seems to be mostly an excuse to explain how Thai people are better cooks than Europeans, better businessmen than Europeans, better lovers than Europeans, better fighters than Europeans, less whiny than Europeans, more patient than Europeans, better looking than Europeans, more reverent of tradition than Europeans, more open to the unexpected than Europeans, and so on.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:51 AM
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Nobody seems to have taken it amiss, but I should add that 28 isn't buying into national character at any innate level - it's about nurture, not nature. Conceivably you could do twin studies with international adoption* or something to test this, but I don't think a third generation Ital-American is going to be significantly more like Italians than a third generation German-American, except along axes that are pretty clearly going to be passed along in families (e.g., talks with hands).

*actually you'd need some weird reverse twin study, with an Italian and a German both adopted into a single American family at birth. "Fritz always keeps his room so neat, while Sal knocked off a rival preschooler."


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:54 AM
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It should be interesting to read the Knausgaard chronicle of traveling through North America.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:58 AM
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As an expert outsider myself, I told you not one day ago that you're a country of assholes. Azealia Banks seems to agree with me.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 11:59 AM
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Is that the crazy Norwegian guy?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:00 PM
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In (the equivalent of) 6th grade math my kid's class started regularly having debates about mathematical concepts, which he loooooves, so I mentioned how great this was in a parent-teacher conference and got in return a (very earnest ha!) explanation of how critical a solid foundation in the logical explication of one's ideas is to the formation of citizens. Maybe there are middle school math teachers in the US who see it as central to their pedagogy to inculcate specific civic skills and values, but I'd be surprised if that is a widespread attitude. But this prof is by no means an outlier among his colleagues. There really are differences at work here, but it actually is complicated and happening at many levels.

But back to the superficial facile and amusing! The BBC interview with the 95 year old dude who broke the 200 meter sprint record was a classic, all "I was just pootling along and all these people started making a fuss!"


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:01 PM
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I was conflicted recently when the EFF got raw data from OPD's automatic license plate readers, including GPS location. Yes, a disproportionate amount of readings in poor/minority neighborhoods could well reflect discriminatory policing, but you'd see similar data even if the police were pure-mindedly focusing on patrolling the places with the most crime, right? But then also disproportionately patrolling those areas necessarily means more arrests for minor crimes in those areas, which could move into Ferguson territory, again starting with pureminded proceduralism.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:06 PM
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28 isn't buying into national character at any innate level - it's about nurture, not nature

But of course. Why would anyone think otherwise? Walt's somewhat odd 43 seemed to draw a parallel to gender differences, but I didn't understand that at all.

To the linguists out there: I'm going to guess that there's been work done on the things emphasized by, or in, different languages. That is, the Germans I've known do tend to be more, um, discerning. Logical, if you will. A kind of chop, chop, chop, let's parse this. I have only a passing reading knowledge of German, but god knows people whose first language has been German have distinguished themselves in matters of thinking. So it seems. I harbor a theory that this has, in part, to do with the language.

Or is that hogwash?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:14 PM
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90: The rules for verb conjugation in German led directly to National Socialism.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:20 PM
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86 is some pretty expert trolling.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:21 PM
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90: Linguistic determinism has a proud history. Did you know that the Eskimos have a hundred different words for snow? And that's they decided to live in places where there is snow all year round?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:21 PM
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93 corrected -- And that's why they decided to live in places where there is snow all year round?

Stupidity requires precision, dammit!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:22 PM
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86 is some pretty expert trolling.

So is 90, if you can still call it trolling when it's earnest / unintentional.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:25 PM
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PET THEORY?!


Posted by: Opinionated Benjamin Whorf | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:25 PM
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93, 94: Back when they lived in the desert Southwest, they just sat around with nothing to talk about. Way to be proactive, Eskimos!


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:26 PM
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97: Yeah, they didn't even have a word for sand.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:27 PM
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87: Yes. On the strength of the first few paragraphs, I now want to read all of My Struggle (a provocative title!).


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:27 PM
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90 is either comic or lunatic, the internet is so confusing.


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:28 PM
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I wonder if the German translation will use a different title.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:29 PM
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98: I just pricked myself on a fucking...you know, those things coming out of the ground, what the fuck are they called?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:29 PM
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I watched part of the Stephen Fry "I'm an Englishman traveling to every US State" TV series in order to get a foreigner's perspective on the US, but the main thing it did was cause me to lose respect for Stephen Fry. So stupid!


Posted by: Tim "Ripper" Owens | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:30 PM
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91, 93: I did not say that this amounted to linguistic determinism. Rather, emphasis. It doesn't strike me as an either/or question: it's not the case that either language entirely forms or frames thinking, or it does not at all do so. Rather, it might can could, likely does, shape thinking. Denying that seems kind of bonkers.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:31 PM
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101: Yep. From the Wikipedia entry:

The title of the first volume of the German translation is Sterben, which means "dying." The work was not published as Mein Kampf in Germany at the insistence of the German publisher. Knausgård says that he did not protest this decision, but that "the German publisher made a huge mistake, because they had a chance to 'overwrite' Hitler and missed it."


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:32 PM
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Sounds like Parsi needs a little Starbucks-ducation.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:34 PM
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95: Confidential to Knecht: I knew that.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:35 PM
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105: That sounds like the kind of guy who would be mystified by how to smoke when he's not allowed to smoke in the rental car.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:36 PM
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103: I couldn't get through, I think, 5 minutes of that. So phoned-in.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:36 PM
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That is, the Germans I've known do tend to be more, um, discerning. Logical, if you will.

I think I have known more Germans than you.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:46 PM
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110: And your conclusions?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:47 PM
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I just pricked myself on a fucking...you know, those things coming out of the ground, what the fuck are they called?

Le cactus. France isn't all bad.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 12:57 PM
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A professor of mine in grad school had a spiel about how the first verb you learned in various languages told you something about that language, but it was obviously pretty tongue in cheek. The only examples I remember now were French (aimer, chanter), and German (arbeiten.)


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:00 PM
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Go to town, parsimon.

Incidentally the view you describe as "bonkers" has been close to the mainstream consensus in linguistics and cognitive science for decades, which doesn't necessarily mean it isn't bonkers.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:14 PM
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110: True! The only ones I've met have been transplants coming over to the US for educational purposes, so it's not surprising that they've been on thinking side. I'm a victim of selection bias here. Still, though, they've seemed to be very big on personal hygiene. Not that that has anything to do with their capacity to think.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:15 PM
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114: Scorpio, right?


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:15 PM
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Thanks for 112, mystery commenter. So awesome.

113 et al: aren't there a jillion lame comedy routines based on making fun of German in one way or another? Charlie Chaplin's German shtick was one of the several things I loathe about The Great Dictator.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:15 PM
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Parsi, you should meet my mother-in-law.

I'm not sure the variation between regions of Germany is really any less than the variation between states in the US. I learned early on that people from Kreis Saarlouis (the next county over) are crappy drivers and that's in the same small state. Don't get me started on Peltzer, or people deeper in the Reich. (Which is what they call it, even if born well after the end of WWII).


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:16 PM
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What is so lovely about this is the reference in ST's link to mystical notions of the "soul of the nation" from German 19 c. scholar. Go parsi indeed!


Posted by: dairy queen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:17 PM
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The link in 114 is interesting, although it makes it sound like the evidence for linguistic relativism is fairly weak.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:19 PM
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I'm familiar with the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. Or Sapir-Whorf. Thanks for the update on recent thinking.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:20 PM
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I don't get the "although" in 120.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:23 PM
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It's a Norse word; you wouldn't understand.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:24 PM
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122: Maybe I was misreading 114. You made it sound like linguistic relativism was the mainstream consensus in cognitive science, which would be surprising if the evidence is as arguable as the wikipedia article suggests.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:26 PM
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You're confused because Sifu linked to the non-mainstream view for Parsimon's benefit, and then noted that the view she described as bonkers is the mainstream view.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:30 PM
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I don't even see streams.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:31 PM
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The Norse had, like, 40 different words for "despite that".


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:31 PM
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(You know why people from Saarlouis are such bad drivers? They're busy thinking of witty things they should have said the night before. It's true.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:32 PM
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125: So does this mean that my German verb conjugation --> National Socialism theory has solid scientific support?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:33 PM
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124, 125: also, my idiolect is ergative-absolutive.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:34 PM
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90: I'm curious what was odd about it. There are clearly average cultural differences between men and women (unless I'm genetically incapable of wearing pink clothes). But someone who ascribes everything about individual men and women to these averages will understand very little.

I know a bunch of Germans, and they don't strike me as particularly logical as a group.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:35 PM
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You don't remember men's shirts from the 80s?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:37 PM
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129: Totally. But the Russians had more declensions and consonant clusters on their side, which made them irascible and resulted in their victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. The Russians had previously counted on their challenging counting system to win the Battle of Port Arthur, but they neglected to consider that the Japanese might have had an even more complicated one.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:40 PM
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It's human biodiversity! I lack the pink-shirt-wearing jean. But I can digest milk, so it's not all bad.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:41 PM
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Wearing pink shirt right now at lawyer starbucks bitchez


Posted by: Tim "R" O | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:42 PM
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(As exemplified by Marshal Ney who was, by all accounts, a lousy driver.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:43 PM
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I've got several pink or lavender shirts and sweaters.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:43 PM
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Did the barista roll her eyes and say, "That is so white"?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:43 PM
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(And went to his death rather than admit he'd become a German.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:44 PM
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134: Usually, the pink shirts were worn with suits, not jeans.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:44 PM
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The fact that Luther's Saxon ancestors kept the genitive case led directly to the Protestant Reformation. A language that has such an intimate relationship with the notion of possession can't help but rebel against the more communal-minded Catholic church.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:45 PM
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135, 137: It's because you try to project a sensitive image. I'm sticking with rugged. I also pose on Tinder with a fish I caught. At Costco.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:47 PM
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While doing unrelated Wikipedia surfing, I found this chart. I think it pretty clearly explains the whole world.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:47 PM
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113 - "être"?

I guess it is true that France exists, so there may be something to that.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:51 PM
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You can see that Ireland is almost Latin America, which is why I like mole so much.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:52 PM
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143 is confusing without background, but it prompts a person to wonder what Croatia, Israel and Spain have in common.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:53 PM
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And if Uruguay applies itself, it can get promoted to Croatian.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:53 PM
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146: Reductionist.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:54 PM
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Pink shirts are supposed to signal that you're man enough to wear pink, but actually signal that you want people to think that you're man enough to wear pink and you think too much about the color of your shirt.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:57 PM
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My favorite part of Whorf, and I'm probably mangling it because it's been more than a decade since I've read him, is how he thought Hopi people understood special relativity purely by virtue of speaking Hopi.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 1:59 PM
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The shape of the dotted line is . . . suggestive.


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:00 PM
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So if that's wrong, then why do the Hopi understand special relativity so well?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:00 PM
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151: Of a snail. You might be on to something.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:03 PM
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Ironically, the person in 59 is a linguist specialising in linguistic relativism and cross cultural studies.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:05 PM
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So you guys (people) really think that everybody, speaking any language, thinks -- or is able to think -- the same way?

I'm going to assume that the answer is "yes", given comments upthread. Let me be clear: I DO NOT mean that some languages are inferior or superior to others. Rather, that linguistic frameworks lend themselves to differing forms of expression, creativity, and thinking.

I'm off now shortly, I'm afraid. Got some stuff to do for this evening.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:14 PM
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Pink shirts are supposed to signal that you're man enough to wear pink, but actually signal that you want people to think that you're man enough to wear pink and you think too much about the color of your shirt.

A former colleague, now a moderately important bigshot at a prominent tech company, had a theory that consultants should a wear pink shirt to the first meeting of any change management project, because employees don't fear getting fired by anyone who wears a pink shirt.

(That way, when the axe falls, their surprise makes it extra satisfying.)



Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:14 PM
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I don't work, so I fear no man, but given that I wouldn't trust a guy who wears pink, I'm at least one counterexample to his theory.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:22 PM
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Has parsimon really upped her trolling game lately or is it just me?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:25 PM
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I'm at least one counterexample to his theory

Her theory, actually.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:25 PM
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belief that African American conversational culture was much closer to the French style than that of anglo Americans.

I did a homestay with a UMC Parisian woman who claimed that there was no real American art of serious significance. Shaker furniture, had its charms, and its simplicity might be appropriate for a country house, but it was a craft and not a high art.

When our teacher, himself Francophone by birth, brought up the example of Jazz, she said, "Jazz was French."


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:26 PM
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I liked 143, and where it puts Japan is why I found Japan interesting. A the very top! Of secular-rational. The US is 2/3s of the way toward the bottom.

Japan seems totally tradition and ritual-ridden, but the difference is that those social structures they follow tightly are constructed and instrumental, and they know it. And this if anything makes taboos even more compelling.

155: I am unable to separate language from history and geography, contingent conditions. A recent study I read showed fairly definitively that truly bilingual people showed the influence of their living situations...so on a scale of a particular value or cognitive pattern, with American being zero and Japanese being ten, a bilingual person living in America would place 3 or 4, A bilingual person living in Japan 6 or 7.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 2:34 PM
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156: So that's where all the conspiracy theories about the shadowy "gay mafia" come from.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 3:08 PM
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Japanese people are mostly just depicted as distant and unknowable, even when they're positively depicted. (Consider the father in Mona Lisa Overdrive, who seems like a good guy and who we're meant to read as a loving parent, but who also essentially drives his wife to suicide because of the Coldness and Loneliness of Japan, etc.) ...Frowner, from thread below, re Gibson

It might be good to look at what "most secular-rational with a tilt toward self-expression" really means in practice.

And I don't see "tradition-bound irrational Americans" in 143 as being driven by the Right at all. I find the American center-left nearly as bad.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 3:09 PM
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IOW for example, look at the chart in 143 again, the reasons women are 8% of management in Japan probably have little to do with the reasons women are oppressed in Pakistan or Mexico.

But American liberals, being tradition-bound and irrational, will be unable to accept that.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 3:20 PM
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change management project

Does change management always mean job loss. I asked, because I was talking to an HR person about a project where they were going to embed social workers in primary care practices, and some of the docs were on board and some weren't. I juShe used the phrase "change management" which makes me wonder whether the ones who weren't might have been justifiably afraid.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 3:21 PM
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So you guys (people) really think that everybody, speaking any language, thinks -- or is able to think -- the same way?

That is a reasonably accurate summary of the broadly empirically supported mainstream consensus and is also what I personally think is likely the case, yes. Or, rather, it is in no way the case that everybody "thinks the same way" but insofar as that concept is well-defined, in terms of the ways that people do not "think the same way" language plays a minimal, largely epiphenomenal, primarily non-causal role.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 3:57 PM
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So, I make no pretense to claiming any scientific rigor when I say this. Nor am I agreeing with parsimon, exactly.

But i feel like my style thinking must have been influenced by the Book of Common Prayer. There are so many subordinate clauses. I can't quite articulate how that translated into a different way of thinking, but--on the simplest level of analysis--I do use a lot of subordinate clauses when I speak.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 4:07 PM
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It would be fair to say that anything you read -- that you can recall -- influences your thinking in that you can think about that thing and what you learned from it, as well applying the logical structure of arguments in it to other domains, and so on. I do not think that is quite what parsimon meant by way of thinking -- but I could be wrong -- and it is certainly not what I meant.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 5:52 PM
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Pfuel was one of those hopelessly and immutably self-confident men, self-confident to the point of martyrdom as only Germans are, because only Germans are self-confident on the basis of an abstract notion--science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German's self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth--science--which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.


Posted by: Leo Trollstoy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:05 PM
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The imprecision and the lack of immediate perspicuity into which English occasionally deviates and from which German occasionally emerges, is quite foreign to Greek.


Posted by: Prof. H.D.L. Kitto | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:09 PM
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The prince again laughed his frigid laugh.

"Buonaparte was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has got splendid soldiers. Besides he began by attacking Germans. And only idlers have failed to beat the Germans. Since the world began everybody has beaten the Germans. They beat no one--except one another. He made his reputation fighting them."


Posted by: Leo Trollstoy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:09 PM
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[Last one:]

All Moscow repeated Prince Dolgorukov's saying: "If you go on modeling and modeling you must get smeared with clay," suggesting consolation for our defeat by the memory of former victories; and the words of Rostopchin, that French soldiers have to be incited to battle by highfalutin words, and Germans by logical arguments to show them that it is more dangerous to run away than to advance, but that Russian soldiers only need to be restrained and held back!


Posted by: Leo Trollstoy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:11 PM
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A professor of mine in grad school had a spiel about how the first verb you learned in various languages told you something about that language, but it was obviously pretty tongue in cheek. The only examples I remember now were French (aimer, chanter), and German (arbeiten.)

You'd never teach arbeiten as the first verb, because it takes that extra e in the third person singular for the sake of pronunciation. Most of the books I've taught out of used spielen.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 6:20 PM
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Hetalia Axis Powers

For the laydeez, WW II allegorized as gay chibi.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 7:03 PM
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168: I know it's not what you were saying. I meant something more about the way the form of the language affects thinking that goes beyond the content, but I'm not being clear.

I only know a tiny bit of German, but I do feel like when I was studying it (and Classics), I thought differently, because I was waiting for the verb in a subordinate clause to come at the end, than I was when I was learning French.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 8:14 PM
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I had the Somewife ask a friend of hers who is an American currently raising children in Paris, and she pronounced the article nonsense. For example, neither her French husband or children knew the word "bim".


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:05 PM
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Do they know "sick burn?"


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:12 PM
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175: I actually think about this a little bit, as I seem to hear the Japanese thinking it with a pause after "Watashi wa..." as they form the sentence. Some info I have says that people who use the subject-object-verb think more relationally. Not strong feelings about it.

More generally, when I read this this morning, I gave some thought to the kind of data we have to work with. I use both media representations and sociological field works which is mostly interviews and some living with subjects. From media, even though I accept as mimesis or acceptable representations, I do understand that although personal interactions may be represented in a way that the audience would feel comfortable with, the thirty minute conversations about baseball won't be included because they don't drive the narrative. And I just don't trust sociology interviews. People lie, and act differently under observation,and the field workers know that, and know what they are working with. I trust media a little more, if you use a lot of it, and understand the way it is tilted.

I am sure the chart in 143 was based on interviews. Japanese are more likely to tell the pollster they are atheists, but also more likely to participate in ritual religious events and practices.

Getting decent sociological data is really hard.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:39 PM
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As I understand them , the Japanese are quite capable of participating in the Obon festival, floating their ancestor's spirits in paper lanterns to the sea, suspending disbelief for the evening and really buying into into it, and then going back to particle physics the next day. Living contradictions and inconsistencies should get in the way, and community formation requires
irrational elements. Secular-rational, in a Nietzschean or Vaihinger sense, says why not with confidence.

It is the people who have trouble performing these kind of rituals that I think are actually religious and irrational, still scared that lightening will strike if they are inauthentic.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 9:53 PM
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I got to have an awkward racist conversation with one of my neighbors yesterday. as I walked up from the pool he was chastising some child who had been playing in front of the bank of elevator doors, on a little scooter, I think. the kid had knocked into the man's head somehow; it is legitimately a terrible place to choose to play in when there are a million nearby spaces not full of people going up and down the building. once inside the lift with me, narnian chinese neighbor said, "aiyoh. so stupid to play in front of the lift like that. they never think. you hit someone on the head and you just say 'sorry,' not enough. I tell you, indian people and mainland chinese people have no discipline. they never take care, and they just throw rubbish anyhow off the balcony." me: "...um, people have different cultural expectations?"

I kind of have to LOL at the idea of having significant stereotypes about an actual BILLION people. having said that when I got upstairs husband x was like, "yeah, but it's true chinese [from china] people will throw trash out the window." me: "in russia in communist times it was an accepted way to clean up your flat. my ex was so astonished the first time a friend rushed around picking up everything in her place to tidy up before a party, gathering all the trash and empty vodka bottles and dumping the full ashtrays into a bag and then...opening a window to the boreal chill and just throwing that shit onto the sidewalk." husband x: "yeah, it's still pretty crazy to think 'mainland chinese people are like this, and SE asian chinese people are like this. ...not that you couldn't maybe make some stereotypes about ethnically chinese people who live on the malaysian peninsula [each of us can think of like 12]. but all of china seems pretty hopeless." meanwhile, people within china are so prejudiced against one another, too! and narnian chinese people think narnian malay and indian people are lazy slackers, while narnian malay and indian people think chinese people are killjoy assholes who have never had fun in their entire lives and don't even really enjoy gambling, the one thing they do for kicks.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:15 PM
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People who are trying to be clever about it point out that Russian has no word for "fun." Which, ok, it does not. You also can't say "thirty one women and children."


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:21 PM
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Russian barely uses present tense "to be", thus causing existential crises.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:25 PM
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178, 179: I agree that japanese people present a split that seems odd to western observers sometimes, in which they don't think of themselves as religious, but do whole-heartedly participate in complicated ritual activity all the time. I mean, my daughter's japanese friends clap their hands and say 'itadakimasu' before every single bit of food that passes their lips. like, if you hand them one of your potato chips. that's actually pretty hectic. agreed also that sentence order allows you to consider the predicate, and I feel like "eto" is more substantial than "uh" or "um" and sounds less stupid or indecisive. so if you want to say 'atashi wa...eto..." you can drag it out a bit without sounding like a valley girl. I do still think it a bit under-motivated to pin your refusal to learn japanese on the prevalence of "desu," though. you should totally do this thing.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:26 PM
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unfortunately for me, though much for the best overall, my daughter is so much better than I at japanese that I'm not sure we can study together anymore. she spends all day in the company of native speakers (she has one korean best friend but all the others are japanese and frequently revert to japanese in front of her.) she has amassed a huge vocabulary by listening for years to songs in japanese, transcribing the lyrics, and memorizing them. she also knows about a billion kanji, cuz, mandarin. she is really pleased that I am struggling with memorizing individual characters, and that I don't like the counting-words. well, both girls are. girl y: "hahahaha! do you know what we have in chinese? different counting words for pieces of clothing that go on the top of your body, like sweaters and hats, than for those that go on the bottom, like pants and socks." me: "dafuq rly?!" girl y: "yes AND I HAD TO LEARN THEM IN 2ND GRADE. can I see that character you think is hard? hahahaha it has 13 strokes. u r so lame." girl x: "all the languages you know have an alphabet." me: "well, some have a syllabary. wait, but chinese is the only fucking language that has no syllabary!" girls: GLARE AT ME OMINOUSLY. "you made us learn the hardest language in the world." me: "it's not so bad! it doesn't have inflection! you're not learning cantonese, that has too many tones! you're not stuck with unsimplified characters like in taiwan! [smiles] [simlefail]."


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 03-18-15 10:37 PM
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I'd like to get into the discussion of Japan but am drowning in deadlines. Just to say that its position at the top of the secular/rational axis in the Inglehart map has to be largely due to self-reporting as non-religious, which is misleading as it doesn't take account of practices and beliefs that are taken for granted as an integral part of life rather than belonging to a separate "religious" category. This is a superb description of the experience of ghosts and supernatural phenomena after the tsunami that gives something of an idea of how present this sense is.


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 1:02 AM
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Thank God no one is reading Bob who actually lived in Japan for twenty years.

Anyway, I have sympathise with BG over Tweety, simply from personal experience. I do think and reason in different ways in different languages. However, I don't think this falls out of the syntax nor even the vocabulary, so much as the culture in which you use the language and it is used on you.

When I was a Swede, as St Paul said, I saw as a Swede; and I thought about what I saw mostly in Swedish. This really was a different way of looking at the world to that which I use in England. And even in English, the use of different idiolects corresponding to different social classes and roles will change the way that I think. So, in practice, the language that we use will change and affect the things we can think, but you could never discover how simply from studying texts -- an extreme example of this horizon of ignorance would be the "wine-dark sea" in Homer. The only way to discover whether the Homeric greeks really thought at all the sea was the same colour as wine would be to go back to one of their ships and talk to them.

Surely there are other people here who have the experience of being able to say, and indeed to think, things on one language and yet have real difficulty translating that to English? If there were nothing to BG's objections, literary (or even technical) translation would be very much easier.


Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 1:02 AM
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178,183: Yes, use of "Watashi/atashi/boku wa" does have an implied comma. You say it to emphasis that something refers directly to you rather than someone else, as in "Well, me, I'm going to the meeting. What about you?" If you just want to say "I'm going to the meeting" you leave out the pronoun entirely and go straight to the verb.


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 1:03 AM
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"Russian barely uses present tense 'to be,' thus causing existential crises."

Polish, by contrast, barely uses pronouns with the present tense of "to be," thus setting the stage for centuries of conflict.


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 1:36 AM
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187: as beginners it has been the construction first taught to us as a way to say what country we're from, what our birthday is, what siblings we have, and all that jazz you normally learn. also for sentences about 2nd or 3rd person we have still been using "wa" as the topic marker. but I can see that once you were more fluent or had been talking about a person or subject for some time it wouldn't be necessary and you could leave it out and have the rest of the sentence go on normally and then the predicate. can the topic marker "wa" follow something that isn't the subject of the verb in the sentence, if it's the case that, for example, the indirect object is the most important, salient word in the sentence? I realize there would be a preposition-type marker also indicating "to." could the indirect object get two markers then? also, why is it spelled "ha"? it seems silly but I've forgotten to ask my tutor this even though I mean to. NOTICE ME SEMPAI!!!11! oh wait, this is japanese and I'm not pewdiepie; I mean rather, I'm sorry for troubling you with all these questions and thank you in advance.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 2:03 AM
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189: Please forgive me for the inadaquacy of my response, but honestly, I have very little idea of the rules for particles (which aren't hard and fast in any case). Most of what I learned 20 years ago I've forgotten as the language seeped into me, so I now use them instinctively with not much idea why one feels right rather than the other in a given sentence. At its most basic, wa is the topic marker and ga the subject marker, and the topic indicated by wa doesn't have to be the subject of the verb - you've probably already learned zou wa hana ga nagai desu (elephants have long trunks) as an illustration. You can use two particles for the object of a sentence, e.g. kaigi ni mo iku (I'm going to the meeting as well [as going to something else]). If you haven't already read it, I thoroughly recommend Jay Rubin's Making Sense of Japanese, which has a great chapter on wa and ga.

I understand the use of は (ha) is a historical remnant; there was a shift in pronounciation in the Heian period (early medieval) from h to w, but the written form remained unchanged.

And now I have 6000 characters to translate by midnight, so I'm going to have to stop procrastinating. 失礼します。


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 3:00 AM
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I can't leave Nworb's comment uncommented on, though, as I agree with it so wholeheartedly. Yes, I think and function differently when I'm speaking Japanese in Japan because I'm embedded in that cultural matrix, and that changes the language that it's possible to use. In turn, language reinforces ways of thinking: to take a well-known example from Japanese, when you may have to use different nouns, honorifics, and verb endings depending on whether you're talking about someone inside or outside your own group to someone inside or outside your own group, that in itself feeds back to reinforce the ingroup/outgroup distinction. It's a bit like faith being deepened by daily prayer: what you say and do gradually becomes part of you and shapes how you see and react with the world.

All I know about Sapir-Whorf comes from reading The Language Glass so I have no authority here at all. But I do tend to think that even though the "strong" theory that language determines ways of thinking has been comprehensively disproved, the current orthodoxy that language has no effect on thinking at all is overly prescriptive, and there is room for discussion of ways in which the language available to you does shape the way in which you interpret your surroundings (e.g. the required differentiation betwen light and dark blue in Russian being correlated with better discrimination between different shades of blue by native Russian speakers).


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 3:28 AM
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No one claims that culture doesn't exist, or that cultures don't affect how you think. The question is if it is language in particular that affects how you think, and my impression is that there is very little evidence that it does. If the ingroup-outgroup distinction is important in Japan, then it will be important in Japan whether or not the language itself supports the distinction. If the importance of the distinction collapsed tomorrow, then it could continue as part of the language long after it ceased to part of the culture.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 3:52 AM
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Of course I am aware of the ancestor worship and animistic practices; they're inescapable and ubiquitous. However there is plenty of discussion in Shinto itself and some lines of historical Buddhism as to whether or in what way those practices are or include or necessitate any form of belief comparable to Christian or Islamic belief. Historically the Church for instance has denied that animism or pantheism are forms of belief at all precisely because they lack a strong sense of the transcendent, and Islam even more.

Immanence ...Catholic Encyclopedia just to confuse you.
see also Gilles Deleuze. It is not that easy.

I consider it a form of cultural imperialism to ascribe religiousness or a belief in the "supernatural" to many Eastern practices, or to trivialize the Japanese self-reporting of non-religiosity. Somebody is not understanding something, which is ok, cause it's hard.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 4:11 AM
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192: As I said way above, I have a whole lot of trouble separating culture and social interactions from language, especially language defined broadly as symbolic practice.

Can't speak for tweety, but the movement he mentions might have to do with post-structuralism, which in part denies that there are essential structures ontologically abstracted from contingent situations. Anti-Saussure and anti-Levi-Strauss.

Daniel Little does a little too much meta-sociology, but he is still as much fun for some of us as language log.

Are There Persistent Social Structures


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 4:27 AM
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190: Oh, god, I just had a thought and put 失礼します into Google Translate. Alameida, I really hope you didn't do that too, because it sure as hell doesn't mean "You rude." It's actually what you say when you have to leave work or a gathering before everyone else is finished: literally "I am acting rudely," with the nuance of "Please excuse me."


Posted by: Ume | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 5:12 AM
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"Watashi wa unagi desu." Not "I am an eel" but "I'll have the eel" - or translated more lengthily, "On the subject of me, [the order] is eel."


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 6:15 AM
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186 - an extreme example of this horizon of ignorance would be the "wine-dark sea" in Homer. The only way to discover whether the Homeric greeks really thought at all the sea was the same colour as wine would be to go back to one of their ships and talk to them.

I actually think there's a lot to the weaker version of Sapir Whorf (that it affects things but not to the point where things are untranslatable), but this example always drives me kind of batty. Why is it being interpreted (when used, regularly, as an example of this kind of thing) as saying something like "the sea was dark and the color of wine" when "the sea was as dark as wine"? The second seems like a way more natural understanding of the phrase as it's translated, anyway. (And depending on the sea I can absolutely imagine it being sort of dark purplish blue, and comparing how dark it was to a sort of dark purplish red like wine* would make total sense.)

The bronze sky or wine colored sheep on the other hand, are a lot more puzzling so it's not like you even need to leave Homer to find odd examples.

*Wine then probably wasn't pinot-noir red, right? I had the impression at least that it was something a lot more zinfandel or even manischewitz looking.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 10:12 AM
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Homer was blind. It's also possible his friends were being assholes.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 10:14 AM
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197: Also, "wine-dark" in the context of a place where a person standing on the beach was likely to see it as crystalline blue or at least light-colored, right?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 10:20 AM
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113 has a lot to recommend it when you have read an introductory Pashtu textbook which demonstrates verb conjugation by conjugating the verb "to cut someone's throat".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 10:31 AM
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189 &c: al, A Dictionary of Japanese Particles by Sue Kawashima is really thorough and includes practice drills. Yoko McClain also has a couple of books on particles which I haven't read but which I'd bet are good, because her Handbook of Modern Japanese Grammar was the single most helpful book I came across when I was learning.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 10:38 AM
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199 - It can drop off pretty quickly. And I'm fairly certain there was a fair bit of sailing around in Homer too.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 10:51 AM
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Outside of Homer, it's too windy to sail.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 10:53 AM
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"Outside of Homer, it's too dark to read" would be funny if it weren't a tasteless blind joke.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 10:56 AM
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Also, if it were "inside of Homer".

Rather to my disappointment, hoohole scholar yields no papers titled "Could Homer see a joke?"


Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 11:08 AM
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Be the change.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 11:12 AM
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200: Reminds me of Newby'a experience with a phrasebook related A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.

I began to form a disturbing impression of the waking life of the Bashgali Kafirs
...
Some of the opening gambits the Bashgalis allowed themselves in the conversation game were quite shattering. Ini ash ptul p'mich ë manchi mrisht warid'm. 'I saw a corpse in a field this morning', and Tû chi se bissgur bitil 'How long have you had a goitre?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 5:16 PM
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Roberson Men and Masculinities in Contemporary Japan; mostly gay, trans, queer, inter- and feminist perspectives.

The ascendance of male stars such as Kimutaku reflects a shift in Japanese canons of taste for young heterosexual men. While previous generations were evaluated primarily on the basis of character, social standing, earning capacity, lineage* and other social criteria (Applbaum 1995; PHP Intersect 1987), young men these days are increasingly concerned with their status as objects of aesthetic and sexual appraisal. The recent emphasis on externalization of personal or social identity has given birth to new businesses which sell beauty products and services to those wanting to change or upgrade their appearance.

Historically, attention to male beauty in Japan is not unusual, so I am interested in understanding how current efforts at body improvement relate to aspects of contemporary social life. I believe that men's beauty consumption is linked to two intertwined forces: it is informed by female desire, while it concurrently symbolizes resistance to the 'salaryman' folk model (L. Miller 1995, 1998c). The model of masculinity being opposed is age-graded, and is associated with an older generation of oyaji ('old men') de-eroticized by a corporate culture that emphasized a 'productivity ideology of standardization, order, control, rationality and impersonality'(McVeigh 2000: 16). Oyaji-rejection also surfaces in women's popular media, where
we find expressions of derision and dismissal for old-style salaryman types (L. Miller1998b). An emphasis on male appearance counters the salaryman reification of menas workers, while women appreciate these new styles because they are aesthetically pleasing and erotically charged.

*Is why I prefer queer theory, I expect feminists to categorically deny objectifying men.

As far as experience goes, y'all know how I feel about that. I am sure y'all don't use Scott Walker as your expert on America, or Rush Limbaugh or maybe this Daughter of Gay Moms Speaks Out Against Gay Marriage. Wait, she has "experience," why shouldn't I take her as an authority?

We usually credit "experience" as authoritative in and only in people we otherwise like and agree with. Well, not me since I make an effort to not like or agree with anybody.

Relying on friends or acquaintances or limited sources as authorities, or even on your own flawed memories and lifelines is literally the absolute worst kind of anti-intellectualism. The libraries full of contrasting and conflicting experiences and scholarship are the centers of civilization. Tribalism, which is all "my workmate says" is, is simple barbarism.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 5:56 PM
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why do the Hopi understand special relativity so well?

There's a reason.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 8:59 PM
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"A Dictionary of Japanese Particles"

The Japanese have baryons but not in a way we can understand.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03-19-15 11:00 PM
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200 is just the best. I think 197 is right and 199 wrong; the very contrast between the glistening shallow parts of the mediterranean and the deep blue parts highlights the "wine-dark" aspect. bronze sky seems likewise unproblematic to me. I always think the sky on a shitty summer day in d.c. looks like the backside of tinfoil: dull and mattely shining with heat. the wine-dark sheep can be so black as to read purplish against a background of golden, sere grasses, with--again--the darkness being the salient comparandum?


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 03-20-15 4:12 AM
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211 is correct.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 03-20-15 5:11 AM
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appropos:
http://www.thenation.com/article/201321/letter-berlin-why-are-germans-so-hellbent-austerity


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 03-20-15 7:06 AM
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