Monday, August 28, 2006

The Mysterious World of the "Oranda-Tsuuji"
I've been reading James Stanlaw's Japanese English: Language and Culture Contact, and I just recently finished the chapter in which he gave an overview of Japan's historical contact with Western languages. The most interesting thing to me was that I had never realized the influence the Dutch had in Japan. When, in 1633, Tokugawa Hidetada banned Christianity and killed the devout Japanese converts, the Dutch were the only group of Europeans not kicked out of the country, and therefore, for a period of about two hundred years, all Japanese contact and concepts of the West were Dutch. And of course, to conduct trade, someone had to be able to communicate. Since it was illegal for foreigners to learn Japanese, it fell to the Japanese themselves to field adequate translators.

And this leads to my most recent fascination. Ever so briefly, so tantalizingly, Stanlaw mentions the oranda-tsuuji: "Knowledge of Dutch was restricted to the oranda-tsuuji ('Dutch interpreters'), the hereditary interpreter families living mostly in Nagasaki..." (47)

Just imagine. A group of hereditary interpretors, responsible for the bulk of all contact between two societies. What were they like? How did they live? What kind of power did they wield? The possibilities are immense, certainly, but were they as respected as I might think they deserved to be in their own time, or were they looked down upon as some sort of linguistic group of untouchables, those who had to lower themselves to converse with foreigners in a barbarous tongue?

Alas, my cursory searches via Amazon and Google Scholar have not yielded me much information, (at least, not in English,) or even hope of a treasure trove of such, if only I could get to it. Clearly, in the meantime, I am capable of entertaining myself with stories, and certainly there are the nuggets of such interesting ones in there, I may find myself forced to turn to creative writing again, but I still lust for more concrete information.

Friday, August 25, 2006

More Shiny Distractions
I have decided my readers don't have enough to keep them entertained, and I should therefore addict them all to online comics, if they aren't already. I do this out of the goodness of my heart. It is not at all an attempt to keep them placated on those frequent days when I haven't updated. Not at all. I don't know why you would say such a thing. You have such a suspicious mind.

Erm, right, yes, anyway, they're over there in the sidebar for future reference, but here's an explanation for why I chose the ones I did. I am a sucker for attractive art, intriguing storylines, and intellectual humor, so I tried to choose ones for public consumption that fit these bills.

Frazz is quite possibly the best newspaper comic strip running right now. An outdoors enthusiast, low-key intellectual, and a songwriter, Frazz works as an elementary school janitor, and has many witty conversations with the kids and teachers. The most notable of the students in Caulfield, who dresses up as a literary figure every Halloween and objects to the kind of reading the curriculum considers appropriate for his grade.

Sinfest is also in comic strip style, but it'll never make the newspapers. It's got God doing hand puppet shows, the devil trying to buy souls at a lemonade stand, a dragon representing a more Eastern take on religion driving them both crazy, and a host of more terrestrial characters doing their own things.

For my book nerds, Unshelved. Now we know what working in a library is really like.

Wapsi Square features good art, attractive women, a dog, the Aztec god of alcohol, some guardian spirits that once destroyed the world but are now trying to be human, and maybe a vampire. And they all live in Minneapolis.

Real Life, is, well, about the artist's life, except occasionally his friend Tony builds a time machine, or a dimensional door, or a space station. Many very geeky references, which you may begin to see is a theme.

Penny Arcade is an internet staple for gamers, but I read it as a non-gamer anyway. Their comics are often very strange, and they sort of pride themselves on pretty much never having any continuity, but if you have a certain bizarre sense of humor, they do enliven a MWF morning. My main reason for reading, though, is a sense of kinship I get from reading Tycho's newsposts. There is a man who likes to play with language perhaps even more than I do. Whether or not I care about the game he's talking about, I still get a kind of shivery pleasure from his prose. You gotta admire a man who will use proper capitalization and punctuation while typing an entry from his phone.

Though I was late jumping on the bandwagon, MegaTokyo really has me hooked now. I love how the two main characters see entirely different versions of Tokyo based on their personalities, but which clearly coexist. Also, because Piro (the artist, not the character) used to be an architect, the backgrounds of his panels are always amazingly accurately detailed. Kind of weird how seeing a very innocuous but clearly drawn standard Japanese apartment light fixture can make one nostalgic. Also, he apparently has another comic that he actually concieved of before MT, and it's set in Sendai! He totally needs to get on that. Except he needs to finish MT. I may have a long wait.

Applegeeks started as a vaguely real life college comic, but due to the main character's basement lair, the invention of a robot girl, superhero aspirations, and a trip to Tokyo with MegaTokyo crossovers, it's sort of gone beyond that. Oh, and there are ninja squirrels. (And this Applegeeks Lite strip kind of expresses my feelings about the usefulness of my MA.)

And Vicious Whispers is just too cute and bizarre not to share. It's new, so the archives take all of about 2 minutes to read. I'm particularly fond of Feebs and Turnips.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Additions, Subtractions, Shiny Distractions
As my no doubt utterly devoted and extremely observant, some might even say obsessive, readers have already noted, I've done some housekeeping on my sidebar. It had gotten rather dusty over there amongst the links, so I blew away the poor blogs that hadn't been updated in more than a year. I also added some new things...

Amongst the blogs of people I actually know, I added Jennie's Biblio File. She's currently working as a children's/young adult librarian near DC, and uses this blog as a listing for various things she's reading, mostly for work, but if you want to know what interesting books are coming out for the young peoples right now, she'll hook you up. Also, Derksen finally got a blog. Go look, he's wordy! And having adventures with the wildlife around his new digs in Florida, apparently.

The newest linguistics blog is Hanzi Smatter, which isn't really new, so much as has been in a queue to be added for a while. Yay, silly people who get tattoos in foreign languages they don't actually speak (or rather, read), from tattoo artists who don't speak those languages either! You provide amusement for us all.

In the "interesting" category, also something that should have been posted long ago, I added MC Frontalot. Nerdcore hiphop! Need I say more? Well, in case I must, he has songs covering everything from Star Wars conventions gone wrong to the sale of the Muppets to a German company to criticism of the current presidential administration. Oh yes, and a celebration of the architectural acheivements of various types of bridges.

Soon to come... More Shiny Distractions! but I'm out of time right now...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Eye-Catching Grammar Awareness
Last weekend, I had my first chance to wear my new "Good grammar costs nothing!" shirt, and for the first time in recent memory,* I had two strangers comment on my clothing.

The first one was an older man in the local coffee shop my family frequents most Saturdays. He told me that he liked my shirt, because too many people today don't take school and the things they learn there seriously enough. When he had been in school in West Virginia, he had only missed 4 days in 12 years. One day was excused, because it was Senior Day in high school. He missed two of the other days for measles, and only one day for chicken pox, because he had fortuitously had them mostly during a school vacation anyway. His most influential teacher was a high school English teacher who had been transfered to his school after desegregation.

The second person was a man at the library, who did a double take and then said, "Oh, I thought your shirt didn't have the 'g' on the end of 'nothing' so it could be ironic." (My bag strap was in the way.) He seemed disappointed that it wasn't. However, when I thought about it, in a way, the shirt isn't terribly true, because for all the students I've actually taught, good grammar was quite expensive, coming at the end of years of study and possibly expensive college semesters abroad. Then again, the shirt is mostly intended to raise awareness here in the US among native English speakers, and goodness knows they need some reminding. As the description of the shirt says:
Spend any time on an internet message board -- hell, even on a professionally produced website's editorial content -- and one thing will become dishearteningly clear: the number of people in the world who can put together a coherent sentence is dropping by the day.
So here's to better grammar on the internet! Please, everyone, do your part.

*The last time I think this happened was when the Gideons became concerned about my "Where the hell is Grinnell?/Who the hell cares?" shirt at college club registration day. I was there representing the martial arts club, and they were set up across the way representing, well, Bibles. Since it concerned them so that I thought God didn't care about Grinnell, I took my shirt off and did my karate demo in my sports bra. I got a lot more first-year guys to sign up for the mailing list that way, oddly enough.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mothers of the "Cured"
Maybe there's something about the upcoming alignment of the planets or a phase of the moon, but for the past two days, we at the bookstore have had run-ins with customers (or not-customers, as the case may be) claiming their children have been "cured" of autism. One woman called to complain that our latest catalog was doing the community a great disservice by only listing one title on biomedical treatment options, because that was what had cured her son, and he was now completely symptom free. (Explanation that the catalog is not comprehensive, and that other titles could be found on the website did not mollify her.) Another woman came in to ask about books on the casein-free/gluten-free diet, saying that her son is now cured through that method, as well.

These mothers, as well as the ones who have written books about the "miraculous cures" of their sons through early intervention programs, bother me. Or rather, their claims do. I'm glad their children have improved in their abilities to communicate effectively with the outside world. That is an accomplishment and occasion for celebration. But pretty much without exception, the people making these claims make them immediately after their child has finished early intervention services.

The mother asking about the GF/CF diet books today has a son who's 4. She thinks he's cured. But what is he going to be like at 8, 12, 16? The behavioral, social, and academic expectations of a 4-year-old are quite different from those of an adolescent. Their claims of a cure annoy me because they are giving false hope to others in an extremely evangelical manner (not to mention making all the parents without access to the miraculous early intervention services feel guilty,) but they also make me uncomfortable because they are so short-sighted. You never see a parent of a teenager or adult on the spectrum talking about how their son was cured at age 3, because they know it is a lifelong pervasive developmental disorder.

Just because the biomedically "cured" preschooler can now play in the regular preschool class without rocking in the corner or biting everyone within reach doesn't mean that when he's in 4th grade and kids are starting to figure out who's cool and who isn't, that he won't be completely out of the loop. Preschoolers don't make it obvious that they can't understand facial expressions, tone of voice, metaphorical speech, or other social nuances. They aren't expected to do academic work that requires extrapolation or reading between the lines. They don't have to worry about dating, keeping a job, or living independently. So I feel bad for these mothers, no matter how abrasive that one on the phone was, because they're going to have to go through the realization that their child has autism all over again the next time a developmental milestone is missed or a social encounter spectacularly fails. By claiming their child is cured, they aren't doing themselves or their child any favors.

Monday, August 14, 2006

What Do You Want To Be?
A while ago, I was sitting outside eating lunch, and a trio of high school girls were sitting on a nearby bench. I overheard one of them ask the others, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and this time, my brain came up with the best answer I've ever found to that question. In the silence of my own skull, it said plainly,
Rich enough that I don't have to choose.
Really, I do envy the family of characters in that silly series of Egypt mysteries, because they're a family of wealthy intellectuals, who have the luxury of all pursuing their own studies of interest. I am, of course, particularly jealous of the son, who has made a name for himself in philology. Oh, to spend all the time I wanted on studying languages, often in their country of origin...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Parking Garage Numbers In Many Languages
Earlier this week, as well as over the weekend, I was in Michigan for a wedding. I went out to dinner in downtown Ann Arbor, and when we were returning to the car in the parking garage, I saw a plaque showing the numerals 1-7 in modern Arabic, Egyptian, Mayan, Roman, Ancient Chinese, Ethiopian script, and Hindu. (At least, according to the sign. I'm not sure what makes the Chinese "ancient," since as far as I know from both my modern Chinese and Japanese classes, they're still in use.)

The bottom of the plaque proclaims,
The numerals shown here belong to vastly different regions and historical eras. Chosen for their beauty, variety, and interest, they represent the infinite capacity of the human race to devise, to acheive, to create.
Gotta love a university town. And yes, each level of the parking garage was numbered in each of the listed languages. It made me smile.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Science Writing Takes on Anime
I have discovered an interesting trend. If I wander around a Barnes & Noble for long enough while killing time, especially in the science section, I will eventually find something extremely interesting, but which I never would have considered looking for on purpose. This past weekend's discovery was The Science of Anime, by Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg. I finished it on the plane back from Michigan, and let me tell you, it is the unusual work of nonfiction that can keep me engrossed through a layover in Cincinnati's Comair terminal.

I've decided that these authors must have one of the coolest jobs on earth, up there with puppeteering for the Jim Henson Company and being a Lego model builder. Seriously, they get to watch all the pop culture sci-fi/fantasy TV shows they want, and read all the books they want, and then talk in depth about the plausibility of the science behind the concepts. If you look at the other books they've co-authored, they've also written books on the science behind superheroes, supervillians, James Bond, the computers of Star Trek, and Stephen King. Ms. Gresh on her own has also looked in depth at the worlds of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the His Dark Materials trilogy, the Eragon books, and Dragonball Z. A dream job, I tell you.

The Science of Anime covered a lot of science I already knew, already being a sci-fi geekess, but it also went into a very interesting run-down of the history of manga and anime in Japan, as compared to (and as influenced by) comics, comic books, and cartoons in the US. It also, unfortunately, gave me a very, very long list of anime I have not yet seen and now really want to. If only I could convince myself to be financially irresponsible enough to reinstate my Netflix account... It also offered some interesting thoughts on why anime both is and is not popular in the US, citing mainly cultural differences that make US mass audiences uncomfortable. Some of these thoughts seemed to concur with my earlier musings on the differences between Eastern and Western attitudes towards robots. They even mention a lot of the same examples I did, including the play RUR, which I couldn't remember the name of at the time.

In any case, it was one of the more entertaining nonfiction reads I've stumbled across, so I figured I'd share. And I'll have to look for more of their books at the library.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Definite or Indefinite Dance Styles?
I just started reading National Rhythms, African Roots: A Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance tonight, and a paragraph from the "A Word on Language" section at the beginning of the book caught my eye:
In Spanish, people always say el tango and la salsa, in Portuguese o samba and a valsa - using definite articles. In English, I have left definite articles off for the sake of consistency. Speakers of contemporary English don't say "the salsa" or "the samba," though we do say "the tango" and "the waltz." In contemporary English, the makes dance names sound exotic or old-fashioned. It also makes them sound, well, too definite, which is unsurprising for a definite article, but also undesirable for dance history. The history of Latin American popular dance is all about fluidity and transformation. So, in this book, I speak of salsa and samba, of tango and waltz, and of all other dance forms - uniformly without definite articles.
It's all in the details, isn't it? Ah, the subtleties of language.

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